Taking Leonard Cohen as inspiration, the new single from Ottawa-based Lynne Hanson is an upbeat, feel-good song that will leave you smiling. Phil Shaw Bova’s foot-tapping percussion and Blair Michael Hogan’s pulsing bass give the song an absorbing energy and pull us into Hanson’s good-humoured lyrics. There’s a universal feel to her smart descriptions of dreams, aspirations and limitations, and she speaks for many listeners with lines like: “There was a ceiling to being me.” It’s no surprise that Hanson’s words are engaging as she’s a published poet, for whom language is one of her instruments. Hanson’s voice has a characterful quality that gives the song the feel of a conversation with a friend. Multi-instrumentalist, Blair Michael Hogan also provides keys and guitars and assisted Hanson with song-writing and production duties. His contributions on this song and thee forthcoming album give added texture and help to turn ‘Hip Like Cohen’ into such an uplifting song. Beginning with Hanson singing into the mirror, the video captures that same vibe while taking us to various well-chosen locations around Ottawa, a journey through Lynne Hanson’s everyday. It’s a well-produced, charming visual to reinforce the song’s themes.
The song is taken from forthcoming album ‘Ice Cream in November’, which is due for release on 22nd April 2022. A prolific writer, Hanson has released eight previous albums of rich and varied Americana. From ballads to swampy rock, she brings it altogether and there is much in her back-catalogue for fans of all kinds of roots music to enjoy. However, the new album continues to develop her sound, bringing in new sonic influences and aiming for a more contemporary feel. She explains: “I don’t want to keep making the same record over and over again. Getting outside of my artistic comfort zone and trying new things is what keeps things fresh for me at this point in my career.”
Check out the exclusive Q&A with Lynne Hanson below about the song and video before watching. It’s great to get this kind of artist insight to truly appreciate how everything came together. Enjoy.
Please tell us about this song. What inspired you to write it and how did it come together? Is it ‘Cohen’ as in Leonard Cohen? What about him inspires you?
‘Hip Like Cohen’ started out as a dare. I had been co-writing with Blair Michael Hogan for a few months and he would send me musical ideas to see if I might be able to develop them into songs. He initially thought this idea might be too quirky, which I immediately took as a challenge. I thought I just needed to be hip like Leonard Cohen to be able to work with this idea. The title stuck, and I ended up building the lyrics and vocal melody around that initial idea. I was also in the process of getting ready to be featured in a dance video, which made me realize I’m a terrible dancer. The first line, “I was such a great dancer / when I was three,” pretty much opened the floodgates for the rest of the lyrics. We really wanted the production to capture the tongue-in-cheek nature of the lyrics and the feel good quality of the melody. To me, Cohen was a songwriter’s songwriter. He worked hard at his craft, and famously would fine tune a song for years. So ultimately, his work inspires me to be the best songwriter that I can possibly be.
What was it like recording this song during the pandemic?
It was … interesting. We were in and out of lockdown in Ottawa, Canada where I live, which made being in a professional studio really challenging. This played a part in us deciding to record everything but the drums in our home studios. That part was intimidating at first, but it really ended up allowing us to take our time to try out production ideas. On the one hand, it’s hard to stick to deadlines, but on the flip side it was nice not to feel rushed or that I was costing myself money if I wanted to redo a part.
Let’s talk about the video. Who directed the clip?
The video was directed by Jeff Watkins (Loretta Media). He’s an independent filmmaker based in Ottawa. He’s created a number of videos for Ottawa musicians that I know. It’s the first time we’ve worked together, and it was the most fun I’ve had making a music video so far!
Whose idea was the video treatment? What story did you hope to tell with the video?
We talked through potential concepts for the video over the phone for about an hour, really brainstorming what could be possible, and how I envisioned the lyrics playing out as a story. Jeff just ran with all of that and mocked up a storyboard that included five different locations over three shooting days. The ONE idea that I will take credit for was the split screens at the end.
Tell us a bit about the places where you filmed. What made you want to film there?
All of the places we filmed at were local businesses in Ottawa who are part of the music scene or really supportive of it. The video opens at The Arthouse Café. They have live music on the weekends, and it seemed like the perfect spot to play out the first verse where I’m lonely and have only my super hero dolls for company. It’s exactly the kind of place where no one would actually look at you twice for having such odd coffee companions. We chose Zak’s Diner for the really cool booths they have. We wanted a hip-looking venue for the second verse, and the cassette wallpaper seemed particularly fitting. Right upstairs from Zak’s is a music venue that I’ve played at called Live On Elgin. We figured we’d be able to shoot the entrance up the stairwell and onto the stage so that was super convenient. We filmed the last verse at The Record Centre, which is a vinyl store in Ottawa. The owner used to also have a small record label, and they pressed two of my vinyl records a few years back. The Record Centre has a really cool listening area at the back of the store, and had just opened a second location across the street, so we were able to get some cool shots of us perusing the vinyl collections. That turned out to be an expensive day ’cause I love vinyl!! ‘Hip Like Cohen’ is of course a nod to Leonard Cohen, so that 1939 Oldsmobile seemed like the perfect car for the video. The owner is a fan of my music, so he also doubled as our chauffeur.
Any great stories to share from the shoot?
First off, it was November in Ottawa, so for the film day with the old car it was COLD, and that vehicle didn’t have a heater. In fact, we were really worried it wouldn’t even start because it was so cold! It’s a 1939 Oldsmobile, and we drove it out to a remote area to be able to shoot the drone shots. Driving on the highway was definitely an adventure in a car that only has three gears. Another fun fact: the bartender who created my ‘drink’ just threw together a bunch of ingredients to create my ‘sidecar’ which is supposed to be orange. I didn’t have to drink it, but even sipping it tasted awful, ha ha.
Any other info’ you’d like to share with us about this song or the video?
The photo for the ‘Hip Like Cohen’ single cover art was taken at the top of Mount Royal in Montreal, Quebec. There is a massive 21-story-high mural of Leonard Cohen on the side of a building in downtown Montreal that can be seen from up there. We trudged 10 minutes up the mountain on a bitterly cold day in November so I could have Leonard ‘in’ the photo with me.