Matt Cohen (The Reasoning)

Matt Cohen - The ReasoningKilled by punk? The British prog scene is thriving, mate. A prog stage at the High Voltage Festival, the birth of Prog magazine from the Jack Daniels soaked thighs of Classic Rock, the inaugral 2012 Prog Awards, the Hard Rock Hell Prog Festival, Marillion playing not one, not two but three biennial Weekend conventions, the annual Summers End festival in Lydney, the Celebr8 festival. What more proof do you need? Steven Wilson, Porcupine Tree, Panic Room, Anathema, Amplifier … music that moves you. I could go on … and on. And, of course, there’s The Reasoning, a band described in Words and Music as “one of the great hopes of the current British prog rock scene”.

I caught up with bass player, songwriter and producer Matt Cohen to talk a bit about prog, a bit about The Reasoning, and a lot about his thoughts and experiences as a rock fan.

Hi Matt, let’s go for it. Can you tell us what rock music means to you?
In some ways it means very little to me. I’ve spent a lot of time recording, analysing sounds and getting involved in the production of music. It’s only since starting this new band [Foxbat, a new side project with guitarist Keith Hawkins] that I’ve started getting excited by other people’s music again. I’ve taught myself to listen again. So ‘nothing but everything’ is probably the answer to your question.

Why has starting the new band made a difference?
How I listened to music and what it meant when I was a kid discovering bands like Purple, Sabbath, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin is nothing like it usually is when I’m writing and producing music. But now I’m listening again. There are three rooms in my house where there’s always music: the office, the lounge and the bedroom. The office is usually where I’m working on The Reasoning stuff. But I’ve moved a sofa in there and now call it “the listening lounge” and I can lie there and listen. I try to listen to one complete album every day – and I’ve not done that since I was 21. I’m getting back some of that initial excitement I felt when I was a kid.

So what did rock music mean to you when you were a kid?
It was excitement and mystique 24/7 – it pointed to a world you never got to see. The music was overwhelming. It got your head nodding and made you want to dance. Not many things do that, and that’s fantastic, that’s magical.

Who was the first artist to make an impression on you?
Queen, then Status Quo and AC/DC. My first single was ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’.  I was only four or five and got it while out shopping with my mum.

Matt Cohen - photo by Ant Clausen

Photo by Ant Clausen

Tell us about an album, song or lyric that means a lot to you?
Song: Iron Maiden – ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’. It was the first time I heard Maiden groove and it blew my mind.

Album: Iron Maiden – Killers. Hearing everything rising up and coming together. The power! The melody!

Lyric: Queen – ‘Mother Love’ from Made in Heaven. Those lines Freddie sings about not regretting a thing and wanting to go back into his mother’s womb. It’s very moving. Also ‘How Far to Fall’ by The Reasoning [from Dark Angel]. Rachel wrote it about a dream I had.

An artist who has stayed with you over time?
Iron Maiden. Steve Harris has been one of the biggest influences on my life musically. I remember seeing Maiden in Cardiff on the Piece of Mind tour. Just to see this guy with long hair flying across the stage and ‘shooting’ people with his bass was awesome. But also the way he used the bass as a lead instrument and the melody of his bass lines. He’s still in my top five bass players of all time.

So who are the other four?
John Deacon, Roger Glover, John Paul Jones and John Myung. John Deacon plays some ridiculously clever stuff. Roger Glover is so solid and plays some nice little things. I also love his production work. John Myung is very flash, not that I really want to play like that myself, and probably couldn’t anyway, but I’ve got to have one flash player in there!  And John Paul Jones is the master of melody. In fact all four, along with Steve Harris, are very melodic bass players.

I often wonder about song writing and bass players. Steve Harris, for example, is a big prog fan isn’t he? I wonder to what extent he writes on bass.
Well, I’ve never been to a Steve Harris writing session (laughs), but I write on bass … usually anyway. I also write on guitar and keyboards as well, as this helps me get a different perspective/feel for a song.

What makes a rock gig special?

Ritchie Blackmore

Guitar God Ritchie Blackmore – kicking fans at a venue near you!

The first gig I went to was Rainbow at St. David’s Hall, Cardiff, on the Bent Out of Shape tour. I reached up to pluck one of Ritchie Blackmore’s strings and he kicked me in the shoulder! I had a big bruise. I showed my Mum and she was worried … “Oh my angel, my angel!” … but I was proud of it: “Ritchie Blackmore did this. Ritchie Blackmore kicked me!” The only other thing I really remember about that gig is it being very hot and loud, and the smell of patchouli.

The last really special gig I went to was Dream Theater on the Octavarium tour, 2005. Jordan Rudess’ opening to ‘Octavarium’ was so atmospheric/melodic/real and it genuinely made me cry.

So, to answer your question, what makes a gig special is when a band believes in what it is doing and gets you engaged, makes you believe that they’ve written songs for you. I saw Martin Simpson at St. David’s Hall. Not rock music, just him and an acoustic guitar playing on Level 3 (i.e. not in the auditorium itself). It was beautiful, absolutely beautiful. Karine Polwart in Swansea. Not rock but classy folk music, and beautiful. Too often these days, things seem to be all about the show rather than the music.

Your most memorable gig as a fan?
I’d have to say Queen at Wembley in 1986. I’d been, and still am, a massive fan so this was a dream come true. There was also a real vibe around Queen after Live Aid, real Queen fever, and it was nigh on impossible to see them. So just to be there was awesome. And Freddie, his voice – he had the best voice in the world.

Your most notable gig as an artist?
Ooh, there have been a few. Some people might expect me to say our first Marillion support at the Colston Hall, Bristol, and that was truly awesome/overwhelming. High Voltage was bloody amazing too, as was the Marillion gig in Cardiff last September. But I’d have to go for our gig at the recent Fish convention in Leamington. The audience were fucking unbelievable. We played out of our skins and after coming back from a great tour, we were gig-ready and so up for this show like none other. It was also the first time, believe it or not, that I realised that we really had something going on.

The Reasoning - Fish support

The Reasoning, supporting Fish at Leamington 2012

Dylan or Morrison?
Neither, I can’t stand them! I just don’t get them. Dylan writes incredible songs, I just wish he wouldn’t perform them!

Gabriel or Collins?
Collins. I like his pop sensibilities plus he’s a shit hot drummer and comes across as a really cool guy with a great sense of humour.

What do you say to a ‘rock star’ after you say hello?
“Where’s the bar?” or “Can I buy you a drink?” or just “Nice to meet you.”

Your best encounter with an artist as a fan?
I’ve met loads of brilliant people. The Marillion guys have been nothing but sweethearts to us. Steve Rothery is one of my favourite guitarists and is a wonderful/lovely man, and I’m sure I have come over all ‘fan boyish’ with him a few times – ha ha ha ha ha.

But to answer the question, I’d probably say Fish. Misplaced Childhood was the first Marillion album I got into and is still one of my favourite albums. The lyrics, the phrasing, the whole way he blends the lyrics with the music. When we played at the convention last October, and I don’t normally go up to people and tell them how much I like their music but, I just had to tell him what his music meant to me at the time and still does. We were having a drink in the backstage bar, the vibe was amazing and everything was friendly and comfortable, so that’s when I decided to say something. It was a cool moment.

It’s an odd kind of thing isn’t it, the relationship between fans and the bands and musicians they like.
Yes, it is.  As I say, I’ve met loads of brilliant people, I’ve had photos taken with other musicians, chatted, shaken their hands, horsed around, but some of the mystique has gone for me now. I still have my heroes but some of these guys I just wouldn’t want to meet. The Led Zeppelin guys, for example. I’d be too awestruck. I saw Jimmy Page walking round at High Voltage, and I thought about trying to get near him to say “Hi”, but what are you going to say to him, really? I met Ade Edmondson once and got drunk. I was mortified afterwards as I made a right knob of myself. Bad News was and still is one of my favourite sketches and I just fell to pieces. Rach laughed her arse off at me. I met Sting too as I was doing some work as a roadie and we had to move a load of stuff into his house for some recording he was doing. When we finished we were sitting down on this kind of window seat when he came in. We jumped up quickly, a bit in awe of him, but he told us to sit back down and thanked us for moving all the stuff for him. That was very cool.

Matt and Rachel Cohen of The Reasoning with Geoff Downes

Matt and Rachel Cohen with Cardiff City fan Geoff Downes

Your strangest encounter with a fan as an artist?
It’s unbelievable some of the things people say to you, it really is. This guy came up to us after one gig, said hello, shook our hands and then said, “So what are the sleeping arrangements in the band?” What are the fucking sleeping arrangements in the band? (Laughs) So I said, “Well, I sleep with the drummer, Rach sleeps with the guitarist and everyone takes it in turn with each other.”

Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll – jaded stereotype or the meaning of life?
It has its place. Everyone does it in one form or another; it doesn’t have to be a rock and roll thing. Most people like a few beers to unwind. Most musicians don’t push things too far – they know what a grind the next day is going to be! Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. It’s a kind of euphemism for life, isn’t it? After all that’s what we’ve been brought here to do – fornicate, eat and get intoxicated!

Rock music – the spawn of the devil or a force for good?
Well, it’s certainly not the spawn of the devil (laughs)! It’s a force for good. Anything that makes you smile and nod along happily has got to be good. Rock music is an escape, a way of life, and hopefully it should make you think too. It takes you out of yourself, takes you away. As a youngster I totally bought into the rock image, long hair, tattoos, I wanted it all.

Your music is often labelled ‘progressive rock’? Do you think that’s been helpful or limiting?
Well, I’ve never met anyone who can define ‘Prog’ and really tell me what it is.  We’ve got good cross-over in our audience, so being labelled prog has not been limiting. Actually, it’s been good to us, so I’ve not had a problem with the prog tag.

Progressive rock is often associated with demons and wizards, fantasy and fiction. Can it, and should it, have social relevance?
Uriah Heep Demons and Wizards album coverI think heavy metal has more to do with that kind of stuff, demons and wizards and so on. I can’t think of many prog bands who write stuff about demons and wizards. People only think like that because Rick Wakeman wore a cape (laughs)! Some of the prog bands had the fantasy artwork, but metal bands had plenty of that too. Yeah, who does write about demons and wizards? Uriah Heep, Demons and Wizards, The Magicians Birthday and so on. That was good, but was it prog? To be honest I don’t know how to define prog, as stated earlier, but music to me is about engaging people and entertainment. What matters is that the music is good, and the melodies are strong. If the music’s good you can write about dragons and unicorns and people will like it – I do!

Someone said in a BBC documentary that progressive rock musicians are frustrated jazz musos who should really have kept away from rock and roll. What do you say to that?
I got into prog much later in life, I was always into the heavier side of music. I’ve never really been a jazz guy but I do appreciate it. I listen to jazz sometimes, but for me personally, finding that one note, that point when everything comes together around that one note, is everything. Why play a million when one will do?

When progressive rock does get TV coverage, things often seem to stop with the big 70s bands. You don’t get a lot of coverage of the scene today.
The scene today is still in the process of re-establishing itself and has probably been building for the last 12 or 13 years.Things have been diluted too by modern media, social networking sites and so on. Everyone today thinks they can be in a band and that setting up a Facebook page or a Twitter account should be enough to get you coverage. But it’s hard work getting coverage and you have to really work to get it. I still go to magazines rather than the internet to see what’s going on. I think the music press still has a huge and important role today in providing a kind of filter for us. You can’t listen to everything and not everything merits public attention. You can’t assume that just because you put yourself out there your work deserves attention.

We could talk about the impact of the internet on the music scene and the music industry, but to what extent do you think the advent of the CD changed the way people approach their music?
I think albums should be a maximum of 45 minutes long, maybe 50. Lots of people don’t usually have an attention span beyond that. Adventures in Neverland is the longest album we’ve done (56 minutes), but I’ll never do a double album and we won’t make one quite as long as Adventures in Neverland again. Just because you can get 80 minutes of music on a CD, it doesn’t mean you should! Shorter albums sometimes provide you with a better listening experience. I like that thing Tom Petty did on one of his CDs when he put in a little spoken interlude telling people where the sides of the original albums ended, helping them to listen to the music in the way originally intended – genius and inspired!

The Reasoning Adventures in Neverland album cover


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