Adrian Cohen is not a teen pop-star aching for the cover of Tiger Beat. He isn’t a leather-jacket-clad rock & roller sneering at his audience. He doesn’t don a fedora to signify he’s from some distant era more authentic than our own. Adrian is a 17-year-old calendar-counting savant, outsider artist & piano phenom. He eats 200 cantaloupes a year, he says, and his cheery, keys- and synth-laden songs are the epitome of honesty and earnestness.
His third LP This Is School (out March 3) is a fresh and quirky collection of eccentric piano-pop. The first of his albums to heavily feature electric guitar, This Is School is a step forward for Adrian as he explores more creative orchestration and instrumentation. His offbeat but ingratiating vocal melodies remain front and centre, however, transforming the songs from baroque piano-pop to modern pop-rock earworms.
At the center of Adrian’s music is his unique songwriting partnership with his creatively jocular father, Derek Cohen. The two work in the classic musician/lyricist songwriting tradition of Elton John & Bernie Taupin or Brian Wilson & Van Dyke Parks, Derek providing the words, and Adrian the music. Derek’s playful, mercurial lyrics are inspired by everything from childhood innocence to people watching, pizza, medieval fantasies & more.
The duo works throughout the week on the old baby grand in their family living room in suburban Rhode Island. Then every Saturday, they drive to Providence to hole up in the studio with This Is School engineer Alex Krepkikh, who was born in the Soviet Union, studied music in Moscow and made a living as a young musician by touring Russia and Eastern Europe. “We recorded in three-hour spurts spread throughout the majority of 2016,” says Derek. “There was no sleep deprivation, no weary sessions—everything was carefully calculated so that Adrian and Alex were always at the top of their game.”
This Is School is Adrian’s third LP, the follow-up to 2016’s Sticks And Stones, 2015’s There Is No Tomorrow and his 2014 debut EP, I Gotta Rock, the latter earning him three ballots at the Grammy Awards.
Adrian is a fascinating individual who genuinely sees the best in everyone he meets. In elementary school, his job was to play his own souped-up version of the school song over the PA system every week. For the last three years, he has been a finalist in the New England’s Got Talent competition. “The first year, I played the theme to Downtown Abbey,” Adrian says, “and last year I got to visit that castle in England, too.”
His trip to Downtown Abbey’s Highclere Castle was one to remember, but what was even more extraordinary on his recent European jaunt—while visiting Liverpool, Adrian was able to play a few Beatles songs on the old piano in the living room of Paul McCartney’s boyhood home.
Looking forward, Adrian aims to attend Berklee College of Music, studying his craft and continuing to write his quirky piano pop tunes. With his focused work ethic, the sky’s the limit for this kid.