Solo Show No More: Henry Kohen's Prog Rock Project Mylets
To celebrate MYLETS recently releasing new music, LOUDER is running an interview with HENRY KOHEN from back when his next-generation prog rock project was still a one-man band.
Once a teenage guitar prodigy, Henry Kohen never intended to become a one-man band. But fans of his next-generation prog rock project Mylets are glad he did.
Growing up in a sleepy town with no real music scene, Kohen faced a common dilemma for many guitarists: How can you perform live when you don’t have a band? Not content to noodle around with incomplete songs or being confined to never playing in front of an audience, his answer was simply to become the band.
Working under the name Mylets, Kohen is armed with just his guitar, a drum machine and an impressive collection of pedals. He plays everything live, building songs using samples and a looping pedal. The result is a potent mix of next-generation prog rock combining crushing power chords, soaring harmonized leads and delicately picked arpeggios.
He explains his method while home for the holidays in Indiana: “I’m more interested in guitar playing than the effect pedals or specific guitars or amps. Technology is something I’m very reliant on. But it’s a means to end that you can really be creative with and have a lot of fun with.”
Hailing from part of the Midwest not exactly known as hotbed of live music, Kohen’s isolation became his inspiration. After his brother went off to college and another bandmate developed other interests, he learned how to layer tracks in real-time and build his own unique soundscapes.
Signing to the select Sargent House label at the tender age of 17, he moved to Los Angeles and underwent the transformation from musical prodigy to seasoned performer and recording artist. After releasing several EPs, his 2015 full-length album Arizona garnered critical praise and dramatically expanded his fan base. Now 22, (This article was originally published in the 2017 LOUDER Guitar Edition. -Editors.) Kohen is widely considered one of the most compelling young guitarists in the world.
As to be expected, his guitar influences are many and wide-ranging, including King Crimson, U2’s The Edge and Kim Thayil from Soundgarden.
“I’m listening to a lot of a band called Gentle Giant, who were very consistently ahead of their time without much recognition or acclaim,” he says.
His vocals have prompted comparisons to Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, but it would be just as easy to hear the influence of Cedric Bixler-Zavala of The Mars Volta and At The Drive-In fame. And ultimately, Mylets is Kohen and no one else.
Affable, articulate and contemplative in conversation, he is the thinking man’s guitarist.
“My inspiration is coming mostly from real world events, not that the music I write is remotely political, but more in the sense of trying to capture a wider shared experience,” he says.
After his early aural explorations, Kohen says he’s slowly continuing to refine his sound. “It’s the natural process. Especially starting off so young. The very first stuff I did was sonically and song-wise all over the place. Arizona was little bit more focused,” he says, adding that the technology he uses on stage has influenced his songwriting. “There’s de-finitely always an awareness when I’m writing songs that I’ll have to play them live. And up till now it’s always been I have to play them within the context of this setup that has very defined limits to it.”
But Kohen says it is important for audiences to know everything is created live and no canned tracks are simply being triggered at the push of a button.
“When I started this project I decided I’d never have a laptop on stage. There’s always the question how much of the sound is coming from it,” he explains. “It would be easier for me. But you don’t know how much is authentic. The performance aspect is also import-ant. I want to bring people along for the ride.”
Kohen’s current main guitar is a 1985 Peavey Horizon II that he discovered in a music store in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. “It was advertised in the eighties as having 23 different pickup set-tings, which is crazy, but they’re amazing,” he says. “You can split the humbuckers. You can do coil tapping stuff. It’s weird. They’re just these really dense, sensitive pickups.”
But he said he was talking with Guild about possibly using some of their models during his next tour: “I’m really excited about it. I’m a huge Kim Thayil fan and he plays a Guild S-100.”Kohen does most of his song-writing these days on an acoustic-electric Taylor T5Z, which could partly be because he is currently in-between amps.
“I’m borrowing a Fender Show-man from Tim Collis (from the UK band ttng and Mylets label mate) until he comes back to the US to tour,” Kohen confesses. “Before that, I was borrowing a really nice Peavey Session 400, which is a solid-state amp from the eighties that was used primarily by lap-steel players. I loved it and it was great for layering, but I couldn’t afford to hold onto it.”
Perhaps the good people at Peavey will read this article and help sort out an amp sponsor- ship deal before Kohen’s next tour. Until then, he will be getting settled in his new home of Austin, Texas, where he moved after spending the holidays with his family in Indiana. He says that Austin’s lively and supportive music scene had lured him away from the bright lights of LA, where he’d spent the past four years.
And that tight-knit community could be crucial as Kohen begins working on his next album this year.
“I have no idea whether that means playing with a full band or expanding the already pretty extensive technological setup for my live show,” he admits. Besides the increased musical possibilities, there is, of course, another key advantage to having bandmates: Kohen would have help lugging around his massive pedal board while on tour.
Words: Marc Young
Images: Jose Ruiz / Gerhard Kuhne
Hear the first new track from Mylets in four years on Bandcamp.