We spoke with Cohen, who adeptly manages the group's witty Twitter feed, about social media, positivity, and his unabashed admiration for Dire Straits and '90's underground rap group Da Outsidaz equally.
Let's talk about your internet presence, how you jumped from posting videos and remixes of songs to blogs to Twitter.
That's exactly what we did. When we first started doing music three or four years ago, YouTube was really exciting for music. There weren't ads, there was a lot of unofficial content. It's gotten a lot worse I think, since then. When we would reference a song in the studio we would always go to YouTube, and when we started making songs, which were originally remixes, we would always make a little video and that's how we would release it. Since then, we've changed a lot about what we do. We've become more like a band than anything else, and we've also professionalized the way that we work, so we don't just make videos anymore, really. We'll shoot videos. The way we work changed, and that coincided with YouTube being less interesting, less of a creative space and Twitter becoming, for us at least, a more creative space.
It's very different, obviously. There's no music on there. But in terms of expressing what the vibe of band is, Twitter definitely became more of a space for that, for our internet presence, and it also coincided with Twitter taking off. Twitter is a very stakes-free form of releasing content. It's just your thoughts, you know? You can only release so much music, if you do an album a year, that's like eleven songs, right? And videos, you can only do so much, but Twitter's a sort of endless stream of thought, or whatever it is, and it's a way to just keep communicating with people. I really like it. I love it, actually, I gotta say. I don't think it's going to be around forever. I don't think it's gonna be around honestly much longer than anything else has been around, but the idea of it, I think, in some form or other, will stick around.
I assume you handle the Twitter for Tanlines?
Pretty much, yeah. Eric has the Instagram for Tanlines.
Yeah, and I have a personal Instagram account.
So you're like the identity. If I'm a fan, you're Tanlines, and your thoughts or jokes are Tanlines. How do you feel about that? You could offend people, you could offend fans, your jokes could be over the edge or you could be drunk and that would change the way they feel about the band.
Absolutely. When I said it was low stakes, I'm not taking that into consideration. I'm talking in terms of artistic stakes. Our little joke is much less a reflection of our artistic side than like, a song, or a video is. But I think you're totally right. I don't know. I feel like I just try to be honest and open and positive. I'll never ever talk shit about another musician on Twitter. I would just never do that. There's plenty of people out there who do that. I also don't swear on Twitter, and I cannot explain why that is. I rarely do, and I swear constantly. But I think that my approach with it just naturally was just to be open, honest and kinda positive, and I think because of that, people don't get upset or offended. People will try to correct me, if I'm like "balsamic vinegar is over," or whatever, which is just kind of funny, I think, people will be like "I love balsamic vinegar!" people will get upset about that, but that's like, you don't give a shit. Or yesterday I tweeted about Tom Hanks, his old moves, and how much I love Splash and The Money Pit, and people are like "How could you not mention Bachelor Party?" I was like "OK, I ... whatever." People will always say that kind of stuff.
Last night I was at this thing, and I was talking to a journalist, and they were like "The more followers you get, the more people start listening to you, the more you have to be careful about what you say, because people get upset about stuff, and that changes the way they think about you." I definitely think that's true, but I don't really worry about that for some reason. I don't really worry about it because in my actual life I don't have a lot of drama. I've said some things that I've thought about later and I was like "that's stupid. I shouldn't have said that," and I have deleted them before, but I was never like "Oh my god, how could I have said something like that?" It hasn't happened. You just have to trust yourself, and not worry about it. This is a joke that I made on Twitter before, but "You can't please all of the people all of the time, but you can not be something that they even know exists." I'm sure that there's plenty of people out there who won't like what I have to say, but fortunately they don't know that I exist.
It's weird because you can go on Twitter and see celebrities tweeting at bands, or, in your case, a news anchor...
Yeah! Yeah. I love that. I love that! That stuff to me, is what's amazing about the whole thing. It's incredible.
Watch Tanlines' "Brothers" Video
Let's talk about being a fan of both Dire Straits and Da Outsidaz. Which is closer to your heart?
The Outsiders the book?
No, the rap group. You tweeted about it.
Oh! Da Outsidaz, from Newark. Remember that record?
I feel like that's one of those records that nobody under 27 has ever, ever heard of, and ever will. I don't know how old you are, but from that era of underground rap music, just like five things lasted, you know? Definitely El-P did, and everything else is just like gone. I love ... I think that I could win a contest for knowing lyrics to that record.
I wonder who's the winner in that contest, though?
I don't think anyone wins that contest [laughs]. I love that album. That's an album that I bought on vinyl, and I lost, and I bought again. But, yeah, and also liking Dire Straits. I don't know. That's me. That's an honest reflection of my taste and my personality, and I think yours too probably, right?
Yeah, pretty much. I feel like now actually is the closest to that era for rap music, where it's like Danny Brown and Kendrick Lamar and A$AP Rocky.
Oh yeah, there's so much! But it's totally different than it was back then. All of those guys that you mentioned are way bigger than any of those earlier guys ever were, I think.
Totally, and there's no "us vs. them" mentality.
I think the Da Outsidaz probably got a good deal when they signed. I don't know now, because of the internet, there's just so much more out there. And so much more rap now, if you just don't pay attention for like three months, you're out. You're gone. You can't get back into it. That's really exciting, but I can't do it. It's not uncommon now for me to look at Twitter and be like "Oh, everybody I know is talking about a rapper that I've never heard of." Do you talk to a lot of rappers? Is it a good time for them? Or are they like, stressed out?
It's a really awesome thing, you've got these guys, they're into music and they're into drugs. One thing they all have in common is rapping about drug use, like way crazier than anyone did before. Not just weed and forties, they're like really open about like, "Yeah, we want to do molly and pills." Where can you do that at? At the Jacques Greene show, maybe, at the rave. And Jacques Greene is a hip-hop head, so I feel like everybody's starting to meet in the middle somewhere. It's a cool time for independent music.
Yeah. It's really obvious that you can just do it on your own terms. I think it's great.
Are there people that you would like to produce for?
A little bit. When we start to have more time, that's something we're definitely going to be focused on. I think, for it to work, we have to be working with someone who's a fan of ours. I can't imagine a situation where we send it an someone's like "This is a hot beat, I can't wait to rap over this!" I don't think it's gonna work that way. We're not in that world, and I don't think we'd succeed in that way.
I could see a young rapper jumping on, or trying to rap over a Tanlines song.
I would love that. I would love for someone to sample us and I would love to get in a room with somebody and be like here's a bunch of weird stuff that we have written, see what you think about it, and if you like something, let's go. We did a beat like three years ago for Das Racist, which they rapped over. Our job was, in that case, pretty lazy, but it was really fun. Totally different way of working, but I think that's always a good thing to be forced to do.
Tanlines' Mixed Emotions is in stores now.