Sam Evian and Hannah Cohen Found Time to Melt in Their Catskills Artists’ Retreat

Photo Credit: Anna Burch

When Sam Evian and Hannah Cohen shifted their lives from bustling Brooklyn to the wilderness and open landscapes of the Catskills, it was with the vision of an artist’s sanctuary in mind. Their spacious and warm home, known as Flying Cloud, provided both a working space and a comforting retreat for their collaborators and friends. Only months after moving in though, pandemic restrictions forced the revolving door of houseguests to stay shut. Evian (producer for Blonde Redhead, Cass McCombs, and Widowspeak) and singer-songwriter Cohen used the time out from touring and hosting guests to work on their own respective albums, though never without the other’s input; Evian’s Time To Melt arrives first, on October 29 via Fat Possum Records, following his 2018 LP You, Forever and 2016 debut Premium.

When they talk with Audiofemme from their Catskills home, they are joined by their (very beloved) dog. Cohen is in the midst of baking. There’s a sense of ease to their conversation, in which they sweetly finish each other’s sentences and bat questions between them. The couple had become accustomed to the grind and hustle of city life. Evian’s touring and Cohen’s extensive travels as a model from the age of 17 had instilled a weariness in them.

“We were in Brooklyn before this, so it’s pretty much 100 per cent different,” says Evian. “We were living the city life and grinding and paying rent and just trying to survive day to day… It’s been amazing to have a space to open up as artists and bring other artists here to collaborate. Escaping the city, [we’ve been] getting out into the woods to reconnect with ourselves and nature, and how we want to live our lives.”

Cohen is currently working on her next album. It will arrive almost a decade after her 2012 debut Child Bride, though only a few years after Welcome Home (2019), redolent with folksy acoustic ballads that reveal bloody-edged truths about love and loss.

“Usually, I start writing something on my own and once I’m feeling good about it, then I’ll bring it to Sam. But I’ll work on a song for two weeks, I’ll send Sam a voice note, then I’ll run away or something! I’m like, ‘Is this cool, or maybe it’s not?’ Sometimes I’ll only have part of a song and then Sam will come in and help me pull together a bridge or a new verse. It’s very collaborative,” she says.

She will record it, as Evian did Time To Melt, in their home studio. The plan is to create a clearer divide between their home and work lives, though. “There’s a barn on the property that we’ll be moving the studio into, but we’re in the early stages of doing that,” Cohen explains.

“We’re renovating the barn so we can make a bigger working space for music and also separate work and life a little bit,” adds Evian. “We just need, maybe, fifteen feet of separation. It’ll give us more space to have multi-dimensional art projects happen. If anyone wants to do a retreat, it will be a good space for that.”

Their artist friends and collaborators have already begun to make the 2.5 hour drive from New York, or to arrive by plane, train or bus from elsewhere. Everyone they work with is vaccinated and when guests arrive, they are cooked for and cared for, only leaving the house to hike or forage for wild plants and mushrooms. But, it was during the lockdown period through 2020 that Evian found his footing as a solo artist and recruited Cohen as a collaborator, when she wasn’t writing for her own album.

He took a deep dive into the demos he’d recorded over the two years prior. The 60-plus instrumental tracks revealed the magic and majesty that the patina of time had enriched. Evian and Cohen began to mould the tracks into songs and gradually they amassed a cohort of friends to collaborate from their respective homes. Spencer Tweedy, Chris Bear, Jon Natchez and social media fans submitted their input. The resulting album, Time To Melt, is both a throwback to the soundtrack of good times and gatherings the couple missed, but also a lyrical inquiry into the many injustices Evian was witnessing via relentless news reports.  

“I’d always had the goal for this record of going down the rabbit hole by myself because I’d never let myself do that,” he says. “My goal with this record was to test myself and my abilities with the different studio techniques and get obsessive over arrangements for things, like the saxophones on ‘Knock Knock.’”

Evian describes himself as a “jack of all trades and master of none” when it comes to his instrumental skills. He undersells himself.

“I would play along to a drum machine and build from there. I did most of it alone, then I’d have certain musicians send me performances because it was the deep part of COVID when no one was seeing one other… I’d have a friend record some drums and send it to me and things like that,” he shares. “I play mostly everything on the record except for the drums… bass, guitar, saxophone (the instrument that I studied in school), keyboards, some clarinet…”

“Flute?” offers Hannah.

“I don’t play flute,” laughs Evian. “I wish I could play a flute! I’m trying to get instruments under my belt that people usually want on records. Music is a language and if you can hear it in your head and communicate it with your voice then it’s usually pretty easy to cross-communicate with different instruments.”

Evian was very specific with the sequencing of tracks, and it is the first five tracks that are his pride and joy. They are designed to seamlessly flow into each other, much like a DJ set. They are funky, downbeat disco numbers, slinky and sequined, sultry with a distinctive R&B soul groove to them. Cohen’s gorgeous harmony on “Dream Free” shows off her lovely voice, which is both smoky in the lower ranges and gorgeously warm and bright through the midrange. It partners perfectly with the deep, anchoring bass line and trembling, sunshine-blinding, woozy atmospherics.

Evian and Cohen want to perform live, but both have also had time to reflect on how touring could be a healthier endeavour. “It was interesting because we’d been hustling so much, Hannah and I, touring and having people here to make records…then everything stopped…” Evian muses. “Maybe going on a five-week tour is not the healthiest… it can be really destructive.”

“For me, touring has always actually been an expense that I write off on taxes, but touring has always put me in debt and Hannah too, has just paid off her debt from touring before COVID. I don’t think people realise how crippling it can be to tour,” he adds, rattling off the litany of travel costs, paying musicians, hotel costs, venue bookings, insurance and feeding everyone. “Touring is really for the 1% of the music industry. It’s for huge venues and stadiums.”

“Bigger artists in the industry do really well, but we’re not that big, so… we’d both end up going into debt,” he concludes. “We both love playing and it’s been hard not having that catharsis of just playing music and speaking that language out on the stage with our friends and sharing that connection with people.”

Evian does have some shows lined up in New York, Washington, Philadelphia and Chicago. In the meantime, he and Cohen are cooking, dancing and playing with their canine “pandemic baby” to the soundtrack of Time To Melt.

Time To Melt is like a party, a disco. It’s so funky… it’s such a fun record,” says Cohen.

Adds Evian, “Most records I usually get tired of, but this one I still get a kick out of listening to.”

Follow Sam Evian, Hannah Cohen, and Flying Cloud Recordings on Instagram for ongoing updates.