The low, loud rumble of a train passes overhead, the sound reverberating around the small room on the top floor of Corsica Studios that serves as backstage. Hannah Cohen glances to the ceiling, "um, is there a freeway rolling over the top of this?" she asks, a slight hint of concern in her voice. I tell here that it's a train track, and then assure her that you never hear the trains once everyone's packed in and a band's playing. It's the first time she's played the Elephant and Castle venue, her only knowledge of the space coming second hand from her sister.


"My sister was like, 'I used to go to really fucking, hardcore techno and house parties and be here until three in the afternoon,'" Cohen says. I arrived whilst Cohen and her band were sound checking, the singer's choral vocal loops bouncing around the room, encircling the listener. It was mesmerising and suggested the audience that night were in for a real treat. Backed by a drummer and keyboard player, Cohen has unshackled herself from her guitar and taken centre-stage as the front-woman she was destined to be.

"The main reason why this record has no guitar on it is I just don't want to be a sad girl hovered over a guitar any more," Cohen says when asked about the progression from her debut record Child Bride to the recently released Pleasure Boy. "I also felt it was holding me back performance-wise. I wasn't enjoying myself when I was performing because I worrying about the guitar." Cohen admits that she's still figuring out what her relationship to music is, and what she wants it to be like on record and performed live, but receiving comments about Child Bride being sad, when she's not a sad person, compelled her to try something else. "I'm way more of an energetic person. I'm very animated," she says by way of explanation. "To hide that under sad, folky songs is not doing me any justice."

Pleasure Boy is by Cohen's own admission "a whole different monster". Her debut was the first collection of songs she had ever written and this meant she ceded more control to the producer Thomas Bartlett. "I was like, 'sure, do whatever you want,' I was just so happy to have someone want to work with me on songs. With this record - with Pleasure Boy - it was way more collaborative and we really worked hard on all of the sounds together," Cohen explains. "There were lots of screaming matches."

The reason she gives for theses screaming matches came down to how sentimental (or not) the record should sound. "I want it to sound disturbing," Cohen tells me, something that's repeated in the album's press release which states that Cohen wanted to write songs that hurt. "I kept saying that I want it to be visceral because at that moment I was feeling very raw. They [the songs] are all written on guitar, so there is that folk root to them, but then they have some toxic waste on them." Cohen laughs before adding, "They're nuclear folk songs I guess."


"I remember telling Pat [Dillet - the engineer] that at that part of the song I want the vocal to sound like when you realise that person is not in love with you anymore and you're sort of having a panic attack."

When it came to recording the record Cohen didn't have a particular sound in mind, aside from moving away from guitar. "I think it was definitely just the product of sitting down with the songs and closing everything out from the studio and just working on them there." She talks about how they tried out some 808 beats and bass sounds, wanting to replicate the sensation of a car passing you in the street, the bass bursting from its speakers, rattling your ribcage. "We didn't really have any prior ideas of what the record would sound like it was more of a vibe."

That sound is introduced in the track 'Keepsake' arguably one of the hardest working tracks on the album - it's not only introducing the themes of the record but also Cohen's new sound. "With a lot of the songs," she says, "we recorded them and would then strip everything off of it except for a bass line and a raw vocal and just build back up again." Around one minute fifty into 'Keepsake' there's a sudden shift in the sound of the song, which Cohen and her team worked for a long time on getting right. "I remember telling Pat [Dillet - the engineer] that at that part of the song I want the vocal to sound like when you realise that person is not in love with you anymore and you're sort of having a panic attack." At the time of recording 'Keepsake' Cohen didn't actually think about whether or not it would open the album, but as recording came to an end she realised that it was perfect, describing it as "a piece of everything in the record."

'Keepsake' was also one of the first tracks to be written for the new album. Cohen was touring Child Bride at the time, and continued writing for a short time afterwards. "I then kinda took a break," she tells me, "I was singing backing vocals in other bands and touring, and that took up a lot of time." 'Lilacs' was another early song and along with 'Keepsake' and two other non-album cuts were the first songs recorded for the Pleasure Boy sessions. "Then I started writing more, and more relationship things started disintegrating - so that kind of helped," Cohen laughs at this last statement. Throughout our interview there's a self-deprecating humour present in Cohen's responses and despite the subject matter - relationship breakdowns and cheating exes - there's a lot of laughter. "You can laugh about it," she assures me. "Now I listen to it [the record] and I'm like, 'man, she's such a downer - jesus'. It's therapeutic. Like things will come out that I won't say to myself. I don't go to therapy, so writing songs is my form of going to a therapist I guess."


"It was a very emotional time, but he was so sweet and a beautiful man. I don't know if it's specifically about him - it just kind of affected me."

I ask if she ever worried about putting too much about her own experiences on the record. "I don't really care," she responds in a matter-of-fact way. "I'm a pretty open book and I don't feel like it's oversharing. It's kind of a universal thing, like everybody cheats and everybody gets their heartbroken. It sucks to feel like you're like everyone else but that's the reality of things, so if I can sing about it, then I'm happy to."

The album's emotional peak arrives in 'Clairemont Song' an intense, yet quiet track that pitches Cohen's vocals against piano and strings. "I was in Clairemont in Southern California - I grew up going there," Cohen tells me. Her father's friend, Donald "Duck" Bailey (the legendary jazz drummer) was staying in an old people's home there. "He's now passed away. I spent an afternoon with him," she recalls, "it was Christmas day and he was in a lot of pain. All he wanted was a donut - like a plain donut and some Campbell's tomato soup. So my dad went out to go get him that and I just spent this time with Donald. I'd only met him a few times and he was, you know, in a lot of pain. I helped him get dressed and he was embarrassed about it, but I was totally fine."

"That day it was just - it was sort of devastating, but I saw a lot of beauty in it," Cohen continues. "I felt really happy that I went through that with him. He was like 'you should come back - you saved my life!' I remember just going back to where we were staying in Clairemont and just being so, like happy but also devastated that he was on his own on Christmas day. He had shown me pictures of his kids and they're all - they weren't there for him. I mean, I was only there for him because I was in town - I didn't spend a lot of time with him growing up or anything. I was just really sad for him, but also happy that I was there with him. So I kind of wrote that song inspired by him, but then it wasn't really about him, but like that happened right around the time I wrote that song. It was a very emotional time, but he was so sweet and a beautiful man. I don't know if it's specifically about him - it just kind of affected me."


"I remember him saying 'oh, well some people take pleasure in blah blah blah' and I'm like 'okay pleasure boy'. But yeah he was not a man, he was a boy."

Hannah Cohen, by her own admission, first started making music the year before Child Bride came out. Since then her confidence in her own abilities has grown in parallel to the development of her sound and songwriting. "I think it's about being able to communicate what I want and explain what sound I want," she says. "I'm still figuring it out, but definitely with this record I was able to communicate better, just standing on my own two feet and saying what I want. That's the big difference between the two records. Child Bride I had nothing to say about anything, because I just trusted Thomas. But this next one [Pleasure Boy] I was like 'I don't like that sound' and we'd spend hours going through the keyboard, figuring out what sound was the best." Cohen admits she's still figuring out what sound she wants, going so far as to "threaten" to record an album of electro-disco-funk. "I'd love to sing happy pop songs one day," she jokes. Conversely, she worries that now she's in a happy relationship, will this mean the well of inspiration will dry up? All of Cohen's songs to date have been written about devastating things that have happened to her, though as she admits even the genre she's currently obsessed with - disco - is sad at heart, it just happens to be presented differently.

The conversation moves to the release of the album and the meaning behind its title. I ask if, given that the album is about a breakup, Pleasure Boy is to be taken as ironic. "It was more of like calling him 'pleasure boy' in a bad way. Like someone who is decadent," Cohen explains. "I kind of came up with it while we were recording and it just stuck and then became this theme. Like what would Pleasure Boy do in this song or sound like? I don't know, I'm happy with it. I like that it's like provocative, but I also like 'what does Pleasure Boy mean to you? How does it affect you?'" I'm not sure if the question is directed at me, but I answer regardless, explaining that I see it as a reversal of the way women are referred to as 'girls' as a means to belittle them. "It was kind of a put down," Cohen replies. "I remember him saying 'oh, well some people take pleasure in blah blah blah' and I'm like 'okay pleasure boy'. But yeah he was not a man, he was a boy."

Pleasure Boy is out now.