Everyone is searching for themselves in some way. The struggle to accept whatever they find is a weight that many artists, including Rafe Cohan, feel with every song they create.
Helping Cohan to venture further into that journey of self-discovery and acceptance is his project White Cliffs, a moniker for his electro-rock creations. His latest “Just Like You,” is premiering with American Songwriter. The new tune started off with a different pursuit into discovery and experimentation—a new Roland synthesizer—an experience Cohan has embraced many times in White Cliffs.
“The underlying chords for the song started with the arrival of a new instrument,” Cohan told American Songwriter. “We got this wacky Roland organ/strings synthesizer in the studio and immediately started playing some progressions on it. It’s thick, it’s wobbly, and it provides the underlying heft to the instrumental. The lyrics came about when my roommate Juan started singing ‘it walks and talks and looks just like you’ on my guitar. My buddy Jeff came over one day all fired up about the song and sat with me for eight hours while we completely arranged the breakdown and final climax.”
Though Cohan had a little help from friends on the genesis of “Just like You,” he is the sole performer in White Cliffs, writing, recording, and performing every instrument himself, since the project’s inception in 2017. As much work as it is, it’s is a labor of love for Cohan who has developed an infatuation-like connection with learning new instruments. Though he’d still appreciate the support of a traditional band if the opportunity came.
“When I started White Cliffs, I was still in school. I was making beats on Ableton and had a much more electronic sound going on,” Cohan said. “As I’ve built my studio in Brooklyn, I have really fallen in love with instruments and leaned much heavier into more ‘band-y’ sounds. For now, I like the solo project setup because I get to have the fun of playing the parts myself. It’s nice to be one person when you’re starting out touring because the costs are lower, and you only take up one seat in a van. Ultimately, I’d love to tour with a band though. It’s hard to replicate the energy of a full band by yourself.”
It is apparent Cohan has no need for a band. He is competent in crafting great songs such as his previous double single “Six Cylinder Run”/“On My Mind,” written after a cross-country road trip and “Just Like You,” built up from wavering, ambient notes and psychedelic tones leveled out by his conversational lyrics, and coastal- vibe guitar textures that carry the song through its own adventure of individualism. The journey in the song mirrors Cohan’s real life as a musician and the introspective transformations that come along being a creative type and how important it is to embrace that experience and yourself.
“I wrote the song about our playful and hypocritical struggle with accepting our true selves. And that struggle is just a part of pursuing a career as a musician,” Cohan explained. “You’re constantly drawing this attention to your project, and in the process, you end up learning quite a bit about yourself, both good and bad. Usually, you experience some denial or imposter syndrome, but after time passes, you are left with acceptance.”
After sitting with the demo, Cohan also quickly acknowledged that a traditional vocal chorus wouldn’t do the song justice. He decided on an instrumental chorus, explaining, “sometimes musical ideas can say more than written words. This way, the listener can form their own relationship with the chorus section.”
Offering unique opportunities for listeners to foster their own connections to his songs is important for Cohen and equally apparent on the White Cliffs’ forthcoming EP Stockholm, out February 19. The EP features “Just Like You” along with three additional tracks, which dive into other lyrical concepts and styles such as blues and folk.
“It’s definitely a good all-around sampler of the project,” Cohan said about “Just Like You” in relation the EP track list. “It has plenty of synth-y goodness while still keeping the rock edge alive. The other three songs have slightly more specific storylines to them.”