Percussionist/Drummer Jordan Cohen was one of the original members of Powerman 5000, and after leaving the band in 1998, he became one of the longtime members of the much acclaimed Blue Man Group in Las Vegas. He’s also been involved in other projects, and this interview will shed some light on what he’s been doing the last 20 years!
AudioVein: What have you actively been doing in recent years? – Full on projects, bands, recording, anything of the like?
Jordan Cohen: I’ve been mostly writing for Sons Of Jupiter, a long term studio project of mine. People have likened it to Queens Of The Stone Age, Faith No More/Patton, Beck, Jellyfish, Bowie, The Flaming Lips, etc, for reference. This record is definitely my weirdo Bowie record disguised as poppy hard rock, and metal in places. Scary Monsters by Bowie is a huge influence. I’ve just started recording at my friend, and Blue Man band mate, Thad Corea’s studio (Jaguar Recording Studio). Thad is engineering and doing a bit of producing, and we just tracked some guitars with an amazing guitar player, Mike Burns, who’s in the Chicago BMG show, and bands Electric Hawk, and Mouth Captain. The record is going to have a lot of guests – kind of like a Gorillaz record – but I’m primarily writing everything. It will be done early next year. There’s no plans for a live thing at this point, but maybe in the future. I’m kind of doing it for arts sake, I guess, and adding to my modest body of work as a songwriter (I have a previous record called Sentia that’s available on different music sites). I’d be happy to get any songs placed in film, TV, media or whatever, but it’s really me representing myself as more than just a drummer, and writing a soft Sci-fi concept record that I hope people will dig.
Other than that, I occasionally play with an old band of mine, Uberschall, which for lack of a better description, is an improv tribal rock band with two guitarists, bass and three drummers. In the past it’s been made of primarily BMG Vegas band members, but now has a rotating cast that represents many different parts of the Vegas music community. They play the last Sunday of the month at this punk rock dive bar in Vegas called The Double Down Saloon.
Recordings….I played a few songs recently on a record by a kind of 60’s psychedelic pop rock band called Earth Rising. That record will be out soon. I’m on a couple tracks of the last Blue Man Group, Three, as well…both very cool records, in my opinion. I’m also working with a guitarist in the BMG show, Richard Belgard, and a DJ/producer Obi-1, on some recordings under the name Antisocial Media Group. This is a very slow organic process as we all work solo, and combine audio files to create pieces. This project will be geared towards placement in TV, film, and whatever else may come.
My main gig though is playing with Blue Man Group at the Luxor in Las Vegas. There are 14 shows a week, and I play in half of those!
AV: How did you end up in Las Vegas?
JC: I moved here for the Blue Man Group show opening.
AV: How did the gig in Blue Man Group come about, and how long have you performed with them?
JC: I heard about the Las Vegas show casting through a fellow Boston rock scene alumni, Todd Perlmutter, who happened to be one of the music directors for the show. He got me an audition, I got called back, and got the gig… and almost 18 years later (!) am still doing it!
AV: Where did your adventures in drumming and percussion begin?
JC: Around the age of 10 I started thinking about trying out the drums, and my father got a loaner kit from Joe Calato Jr, of the Regal Tip drumstick company. I fell in love with drumming immediately, and at that early age, had constant musical interaction with my father, and his musician friends and my brothers. I appreciate it a lot more now, as a lot of kids just practice for years alone and then in high school start to do the garage band or school band thing, but I was a bit experienced by the time I was like 15 or so.
AV: What were some of your first experiences as a musician, and as one in a band or group?
JC: We had a family band called Strange Anatomy. It was a very 80’s new wave type thing, kind of like Oingo Boingo or The Tubes. We played bowling alleys and video game halls, and eventually did some club dates, including CBGB’s in 1983, when I was 13, which was super cool. I remember the soundwoman being particularly good, and being so excited to hear my drums well captured and really loud through that PA!
AV: Tell your side of the beginnings of Powerman 5000 and how you joined and took the role you played:
JC: Well, my two older brothers, Jon and Adrian, knew Al Pahanish and Spider/Mike Cummings respectively. John went to Berklee Music School with Al, and Adrian worked with Spider at Mississippis, a sandwich shop in Boston. So, I heard about the project from both of them and contacted Al about the audition, and went and played with them at their rehearsal space…and it was a good fit from the start. You could sense excitement around the band and music, and also that it was moving towards better things for sure. I think they were tossing around the idea of a DJ vs a percussionist or something to that effect, so by me coming in, I added to the rhythm section, but also took an approach of sound effects artist, so I had the latitude to experiment a good amount.
AV: What were the first few years like as an indie/local band in the Northeast?
JC: It was fantastic. Great bands and bills, rowdy crowds, a growing fanbase and buzz around the band. You kind of felt like a rockstar in your hometown as it kept growing. The whole Boston rock scene in the 90’s was just amazing. You always were on the bill with bands like Stompbox or Tree or G Love or Sam Black Church, amongst many others… so everyone was kind of killing it. A documentary has to be made about that time in Boston!
AV: When PM5K were signed by DreamWorks, and you moved to LA, did you personally feel things were on the rise, as well as the other guys?
JC: I did, but I protested a bit, as I thought it was not the right thing to do… I guess I thought it wasn’t “keeping it real” or something. Spider would talk about the need to be able to drive down to the record company and handle business face to face, and be proactive in directing the career of the band. He was right on that, I believe. Anyway, I did think that we were on our way to bigger and better things. There was definitely that collective hunch. We kind of jumped right into the big leagues in being booked with major bands and tours… and I think we handled it well, and kicked ass live. I mean you kind of had to!
AV: When did you know you were done with the band, and was there anything in particular that lead to your exit?
JC: Well, as I said, I protested the move a bit, and at the same time was dissatisfied with being excluded from the songwriting process beyond my percussion parts… and thus, protested not having enough money to live, because of that creative dynamic in the band and how it affected our percentages, basically. So, I think Rob Zombie and Andy Gould of Concrete Management saw me as a liability more than an asset… It was pretty mutual, so I kind of left AND was fired. There was a misread of my thoughts at the time, however, where guys in the band thought I was disgruntled ’cause I wasn’t playing drumset. That wasn’t the driving force behind my issues… it was always about wanting to be more creatively involved as I write songs and music, and I though I had more to contribute.
AV: Was there any negativity, or have you kept in contact with any of the members?
JC: Maybe for a bit after my departure, but nothing of any real consequence. Bands are like relationships. You just kind of slink off into the next thing and compartmentalize things, or forget over time. My feelings and memories are all pretty positive. You grow up, you know? I was talking to Al a few days ago on Facebook, and saw him at the NAMM convention in LA in January. I was texting with Spider yesterday randomly, and we talked about collaborating in the future, which would be really fun. I talk to Adam and Dorian here and there as well. I love all those dudes.
AV: Were you a fan of the direction they went musically?
JC: I definitely liked the Stars Revolt record a lot… very exciting record. The records after that I know less but have seen them live a few times over the years. I’m biased towards our incarnation, of course, but I saw them in Vegas a year ago or so with Knee High Fox, and it was a great show. I’m happy to see us all still making a living doing music.
AV: How is the dynamic of playing percussion against/along with another percussionist/drummer?
JC: I love it. You have to squash your ego a bit and be supportive which is a specific skill. You can’t just blow and expect it to work or make for good music. I’d recommend to younger drummers to practice with another drummer, and try to deconstruct what they think it is to be “a drummer”. It’s a great team building exercise. And it helps with the the focus needed to play and write good, musically sensible drum parts. Then there’s the fun of just bashing the hell out the drums together and saying F it, too!
AV: Who and what are your musical influences?
JC: There are so many. I’d say hard rock and metal, and hip hop from the very start are in my DNA for sure. Sabbath, Van Halen, Queen are a few major ones for me. Public Enemy is my favorite hip hop off all time. I played a lot of reggae in bands so I love that – Especially some of the esoteric dub stuff like Yellowman. I grew up in a household with lots of r&b and jazz, so Coltrane and Miles, and Stevie Wonder and Sly Stone are huge. I love hardcore punk like Bad Brains, Black Flag, Minor Threat and the like… modern classical like Stravinsky and Ives are huge. Prince. Amy Winehouse. Blondie. Aphex Twin. Nirvana. The Clash and The Sex Pistols. Manu Chao. The Police. Genesis. Pantera. Johnny Cash. Captain Beefheart. Zappa. Bowie is a god to me. Eno. Lately, Radiohead, The Bronx, The whole Odd Future Crew, Thundercat, Gorillaz, Deangelo, Kendrick Lamar, Meshuggah, Little Dragon, Tame Impala, Refused, Rammstein, Gojira… I could nerd out forever!
AV: Do you have anything coming up in the future?
JC: The first question kind of relates to all that! I’m rehearsing for a big BMG corporate gig where we play The T Mobile Arena and the Thomas and Mack arena in one night, and writing recording Sons Of Jupiter, so that’s my immediate focus.
AV: If you have anything else that you’d like to add or say:
JC: Thanks for the opportunity to talk and for thanks for supporting working musicians like me!
Interview by Marcus Miller
I’d very much like to thank Jordan for the response, and I hope any old school PM5K fans will enjoy this, as well as any fans of the Blue Man Group. I personally haven’t checked out any of the other projects he’s involved in yet so, now I know what to look forward to!