By: Michael M. Humel
I recently sat down with former Las Vegas resident and singer/songwriter Micah Kohn. He has been living in New York City while going to school and working on his music. He just released a new single called Real Right Here. He also played a small show of mostly original songs at the Arts Factory while even playing a cover of Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen. The message of the song is universal and important. The song has an honesty I wish more songs had. It talks about the truly important things in life. I have known Micah Kohn for a couple of years and it doesn’t surprise me that these words of love, money and which is most important comes from an intelligent beyond his years nineteen year old. I enjoyed this single very much because I love and appreciate simplicity a singer/songwriter has with a beautiful voice accompanied by a guitarist or piano. This single reminded me in some ways of Jason Mraz.
Culture of the Senses: When did you first have an interest in being a singer songwriter?
Micah Kohn: I never really had an interest in being a singer-songwriter. I kind of started writing songs by accident and then it just spiraled out of control. When I was really little I remember idolizing musicians, particularly singer-songwriters. They were after all the people we put on pedestals and in some cases perceive as almost more than human. However, I wasn’t the most confident kid and never really thought of being what I wanted idolized. I started my path as a musician in middle school where I picked up the saxophone and did the jazz thing all throughout high school. The jazz kids had a phase where freestyle rapping got really big and I got crazy into it. Like any fad, it came and went but I was hooked. When everyone else stopped I started writing verses which eventually turned into full rap songs. I started off singing little hooks on my rap songs and then before I knew it I was singing on the whole thing and had become a bona fide singer-songwriter. Although I am focused on the songwriting thing right now, I’ll still rap from time to time.
Culture of the Senses: Who are your influences?
Micah Kohn: I came up around a lot of jazz and blues. In early high school I was deep into Muddy Waters, BB King everyone else who did the blues guitar thing, although I hadn’t picked up guitar yet. My father also performed through a lot of my childhood so I always considered being on stage a pretty normal thing. All of these things influenced me in a psychological sense, I wouldn’t say my music sounds like any of that. Lulled in by his world-class blues playing I fell in love with my first pop record, John Mayer’s Continuum.
When I was first really getting into songwriting I figured I’d listen to the top selling record at the time just so I could be cognizant of what was going on within songwriting as a community. So I downloaded Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream and proceeded to have my life changed. Now I am not going to get all sob story on you and complain that life is hard but I felt a pure joy and happiness when I listened to that record and that was really missing from my life at that time. At that moment, it didn’t matter that they weren’t playing tons of chords, I couldn’t care less if Katy Perry had auto tune on her voice or not. What mattered was I felt a sense of peace that I hadn’t experienced in years. I knew immediately I’d live and die trying to create that feeling for other people. These days I’ve been really influenced and inspired by songwriters like Bonnie McKee, Max Martin and Dr. Luke. You look at the work these writers put out and it’s remarkable. It all feels great, their sense of craft and musicianship is nothing short of incredible and their passion is so obvious.
Culture of the Senses: Do you think a song being over produced takes away from the song itself?
Micah Kohn: I think the question of “does production diminish impact of the song?” is completely situational and should be treated as such. First let’s define a song as the accompanying chords, the lyrics and the melody. If you take a hit like “I’m Sexy And I Know It” by LMFAO and strip away all the production, well you aren’t left with much of a song. Now I am not trying to make a negative statement about the record, it is rather to say that the intense production really makes the record the powerhouse that it is. However, I heard some acoustic versions of Justin Bieber songs and I was blown away by how incredible the songs were. Maybe I just hadn’t really listened to anything since “Baby” was on the radio but taking away the incredible production allowed me to see the songs in a whole new light which in turn, allowed me to appreciate the produced versions in a deeper way. But if you put dubstep pop production under Bob Dylan songs, yeah you’ll almost definitely ruin it. So it’s situational.
Culture of the Senses: What is your writing process?
Micah Kohn: My writing process reads like this: desperation, hard work, and disappointment, repeat. Just kidding-ish. One thing that I’ve learned is that I don’t have a distillable, predictable process. The steps that transpire are pretty much always the same, but the order always differs. It’s kind of organized chaos. The songs that I am happiest about come like this. I’ll have a little melodic idea that I like and a song title. The title is so important because it’s the punch line of the song. I mean go to listen to Justin Bieber’s “As Long As You Love Me” and think about what that song would be like if the writers didn’t have the title from the beginning. Once you have the melodic hook and the title, the hard work is done. Then you’re just filling in the blanks as plainly and poetically as possible.
Culture of the Senses: Where do you get your inspiration from?
Micah Kohn: For me inspiration and motivation are almost indistinguishable from one another. I used think “oh I can’t write right now”, well that’s stupid. If I don’t want to write because it isn’t easy right now and I, like everyone else enjoy the path of least resistance. However, some of my best work has come from me just locking myself in a room with no ideas and saying “I’ am going to sit here write for the next hour and I am not leaving no matter what”. There’s a Steven King quote I love that reads “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”. Now sure I’ve had songs I’ve written in 40 minutes that I love and I thank the mighty songwriting gods for giving me one. But it’s like those subway cards that they hole punch every time you buy a sandwich. You have to pay for a lot of sandwiches before they give you one for free. You can’t just go and “wait” expecting a free sandwich to fall in your lap. This metaphor is done. Now to actually answer the question, I take a lot of things from conversation. I am always surprised by some of the poetic things people say when I just shut my mouth for five minutes. Also there are so many little techniques for manufacturing what people consider inspiration, especially when you’re strapped under a deadline. Often the best songs don’t come from profound bursts of inspiration, they come from a writer who really has command over the craft. A quality that just comes from writing a ton.
Culture of the Senses: If a song isn’t going in the direction you want, do you abandon it or change your idea of the song?
Micah Kohn: Lately if a song isn’t going in the direction I want I tend to just step away from it. Lately I’ve been writing songs in a day or two or even in a few hours. I’m willing to sit and grind a song out if I think it’s worth it. However, if something is moving exceptionally slowly it’s usually because something isn’t quite right with the song and it would be more time effective to try and start a new song that will “work”. For my own personal process I have a number of songs that I like to finish in a week and as long as I am meeting that, I don’t really care how I get there. It’s great practice to sit and change a piece that isn’t working. I’ve often found it makes a much more capable writer but it doesn’t necessarily mean the song you worked on will be one you enjoy. I’ve read interviews with a lot of renown songwriters who say they finish close to every idea they have. I feel like that might be the ideal way to do things, but it isn’t a practice I’ve really adopted yet.
Culture of the Senses: What do you think of the music industry as it pertains to the music and how the industry treats its artists?
Micah Kohn: The music industry is in a really remarkable place right now. The internet has democratized, reorganized and obliterated the music industry as we once knew it. If you take a look at the rise of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, it’s a success story that would have been impossible 10 years ago. They are the picture perfect example of stars who truly built their way up from nothing, reaching fans through the internet. So the consumer has a power never before seen and it’s having a huge impact on the music we see on the charts.
I love so much of the music that is out there right now. I’m a huge fan of Katy Perry, Carly Rae Jepsen, Bruno Mars and Ke$ha. I still love my Oscar Peterson, Bob Dylan and Jeff Buckley records, but in a completely different way. So I’ll take the paradoxically unpopular stand and say that I love popular music.
Culture of the Senses: Do you think views necessarily will equate to sales?
Micah Kohn: Do You tube views translate into sales? Sometimes. I’d say in most cases sales translate in You Tube views. For your average artist You Tube could be more accurately considered a barometer of your existent popularity than a way to expand it. However, in the event that something goes viral of course that will help with sales. However, if your cover gets a million views, don’t expect a million people to be interested in your original music. They’ll want more covers.
Culture of the Senses: Do you like collaborating with other artists?
Micah Kohn: Sometimes! I’ve had some really positive co-writing experiences, I’ve had some really rough co-writing experiences and I’ve had some neutral experiences. It’s beneficial as you have someone to bounce your ideas off of and you have someone to help you work through sections that are giving you trouble. That said, I’m really into pop writing and not every other songwriter is. Also a potential struggle comes from the fact that you have to explain what you’re thinking to your co-writer which can be a little uncomfortable and can sometimes slow down the process considerably. Also, as a good co-writer you have to be patient, diplomatic and respectful of the other persons ideas and process even when you’re sleep deprived, overworked and you just want to be left alone. So under the right conditions I love it. There’s also so much to learn. What I wouldn’t give to write with someone like Bonnie McKee, Max Martin or Dr. Luke. Even if the song never saw the light of day, when you collaborate with a consummate songwriter, you learn so much.
Culture of the Senses: What has your experience in New York been like?
Micah Kohn: New York has been a wonderful experience. I’ve learned a lot about myself and life in general. The first thing I learned, is that I don’t know anything. The second thing is that you never “arrive” anywhere. I had this vision that I would move to New York and everything would magically fall into place. I’d move and immediately be happy. Spoiler alert, that didn’t happen. However, once the shock wore off I felt like a character in a Disney coming of age movie where the protagonist realizes the hometown he left behind for bigger and better things is all he really wants. I came to realize that we’re living the good ol’ days every day. I’m much more likely to yearn for my yesterdays and romanticize the future than I am simply to appreciate today. However, here’s the catch, yesterday and the future are intellectual notions, not destinations that exist in a literal sense. So there are some life lessons I’ve been trying to metabolize. However, it’s much easier to intellectually comprehend concepts than it is to emotionally apply them. In a more practical sense, I’ve had a lot of amazing experiences being in New York. I’ve had the chance to spend my time with so many talented songwriters. I’ve had great mentors like Wayne Cohen and Carl Sturken who are incredible songwriters with a history of writing great songs and I’ve made friends who are bound to be successful songwriters in no time at all.
Culture of the Senses: Where would you like to go as an artist?
Micah Kohn: What do I want as an artist? I’ll be honest, I want to sell records. But let’s talk about what records sales really mean. Record sales are neutral proof that you are contributing value to someone’s life. For me it isn’t about the fortune and the celebration of excess (which I find rather gross), it’s about recognition and potential. It’s about recognized as a capable songwriter and artist. I want to have the potential to impact the world in a powerful way. The potential to take my limited life span and do something that will last forever. I want my message to reach a large population and I want to leave behind a world that is moderately better than the world I entered. Basically, I want the same things that most humans want. However, I perceive my fundamentally human desires through the lens of pop music.
Culture of the Senses: Tell me about your new single?
Micah Kohn: My new single! It’s called Real Right Here. It’s a fun little pop song with a Carly Rae Jepsen meets The Script kind of feel that I did with a talented New York producer named Zach Miller. It ties back into my realization that we never really arrive anywhere. It’s about how the realization that sometimes you have everything you need, even when the rest of the world disagrees. It’s about ignoring the lightning and dancing in the rain for a second and it’s about my fear of never being able to financially provide for myself or anyone else. That is what the song means to me. At this point, I’m more interested in hearing what you think of my new single than telling you what I think of it. It doesn’t really matter what I think.
Culture of the Senses: Thank you
Micah Kohn: Thank you.