In 2012 Serengeti released three exceptional records, a big three even, written with the potential to break his career wide open. He collaborated with Son Lux and Sufjan Stevens as s/s/s on the Beak & Claw EP, which went disgracefully overlooked. His alter-ego Kenny Dennis issued shots at Shaq-Diesel and those truly to blame for the Cubs missing the ’03 World Series on an EP produced entirely by Odd Nosdam and Jel. He finished 2012 off sans the comedic Bill Swerski’s Superfans accent on C.A.R., also masterfully produced by Anticon label mates Odd Nosdam and Jel.
One record, if not all of them, digested properly should have led to a special poet laureate honor created specifically for his achievements and bearing his namesake. In the 10 years since his debut, Dirty Flamingo, he’s methodically written back stories to his characters, collaborated on one-off projects never to be revisited, and dug himself, the man born David Cohen, into artistic purgatory. He is the freest of free thinkers. He may do as he pleases but it comes with the consequence of outcast. On “Geti Life” (off C.A.R.) he professes to Yoni Wolf of Why?, “I really need a hit / Something quick / this shit has been an embarrassment.” Never afraid to admit how far off from success he remains, Geti is a man undeserving of his station. And yet, it feels as though his inability to string together a win streak has led to his most honest album.
Released on Graveface, Saal is a brilliant collaborative record with German producer Sicker Man, deserving of an honest listen, much like most Serengeti records. Unfortunately, Geti did not write the hit he truly needs. David Cohn’s skin should be thicker than a rhinoceros hide, and it is, in a very Midwest manner. But, for an artist who sports a fake moustache for one of his characters, he's hesitant of what he puts out there, never one to make a declaration. “I feel weird about statements, just over worry about things you said,” he said. “No one really cares. The Twitter thing, I erase tweets sometimes. It just gets stuck in my head of how it’s being perceived.” Geti keeps on with the keep on in a business indifferent to his art. It makes “Day By Day” (off Saal) hard on the stomach as he raps over a mobile-twinkle that “It’s fine. It’s cool. It’s great. It’s great. It is. It is.” and knowing he’s trying like hell to convince himself of this. Hell, beyond the song he still is as you'll read later when he used the lyrics to answer a question.
Are you currently calling Chicago home now?
It’s a temporary thing that’s turned into months now. It is what it is.
You’ve been out in LA and recorded Amnesia was done out in the Bay, how does it feel given your travels to be back in the Midwest?
The thought of home seems better and once you get back you think, no I wanna go somewhere else. It’s all about getting to this fictitious place called Ahh Everything’s Cool. The perceived life of others is what I want to obtain. It’s not a reality, but I think it is for them. Everything is straight for them. They have really nice friends. Girlfriends. Park district stuff. Nice work. Everything is going A-O-K.
You grew up Midwest right? Do you think that’s a condition?
Yeah, man. Being from here, either you stay around and become the happy local or you strive to go to LA or New York or a fictitious life in London or Paris. It’s always about getting outta Dodge.
It’s a condition from the movies too. The Karate Kid, he goes from living in Jersey to Cali and lives this exotic life of a new girlfriend and he knows karate now. The western states are all artful and mystical, a place where you can reinvent yourself – become somebody totally new.
I was reading the SPIN interview and you were thinking about seeking employment again. Have you fallen back into that?
Yeah, I got a regular gig. I came back from that last Why? tour and it was like, ‘wow these tours are few and far between’. I’m not the best networker. I can’t say ‘hey, can I jump on your tour?’ I did a couple shows out west and just felt like I needed to come back and get a job. It’s just too stressful traveling all the time and coming home with $100 bucks.
It turned into money. It was about just playing. Then I started asking how much am I going to make? It ruined it not being as bright-eyed anymore.
In seeking that more grounded mentality I feel as though your music, at least in the Saal record, is headed that direction as well. You’re less guarded in the identity of Kenny Dennis or even who Serengeti is. Was it a decision to allow some maturity in your music and glimpses of your identity as David Cohen?
I was trying to have a catharsis. Just let it all go, man.
It was mostly fiction, but true to heart. It takes a lot of actual feelings and life situations and applies them.
Would you say Sicker Man’s production pushed you in this direction?
I was really comfortable working with him. We did all that stuff in a week. We did probably 30 different songs. The whole experience was relaxing. A lot of it wasn’t written down; it was just going with the flow. I didn’t have too much stuff pre-planned for that record. We just got in there and let it all come out. Freestyle, sort of. Like my version of freestyle.
Where did the album title come from? Is Saal a character or just the German word for room?
Yeah, saal is a room. The German definition is a room used for recording or room used for theatre or performance. I guess the room we used really was a saal. We would record after [Sicker Man] had his rehearsals.
This record adds to a dozen other collaborative projects and various record labels you’ve released music with over the years. What’s your philosophy on collaborating and who you release projects with?
I’ve always been a guy who’s at a job. I was never a guy who had a lot of time to sit back and record whenever I felt like it. I always worked a job and doing music was an escape from those gigs. So, I enjoy putting projects together and I apply that everyday waking up at 6 o’clock mentality to getting the music done.
With the Kenny stuff, I flew out to Berkeley it was like ‘alright, we’ve got a week’. We just worked at it. I’ve always been like that with my music. Most of the projects are usually done within a certain time. Except for the first record I did.
Are there any collaborative projects you’re looking to revisit? Like Friday Night or the stuff with Polyphonic?
The Friday Night I definitely want to finish the whole trilogy. We haven’t done the Sunday. But, it’s really difficult to find the time. We all really have to be there to do those projects. I’m over the “send me a file” shit. We have to be there together.
The second [Grimm] Teachaz record, you know, definitely want to get one again. Me and Tobias [Sicker Man] have plans to do more stuff. I’ve got three things in the Kenny world. I got the new Kenny LP coming out. I’m excited about that.
It sounds as though recently you’ve hit a stride in which all your records are complete and focused.
That’s been the goal. To make something I feel really good about.
Do you view your art as a process that can be realized over time?
Yeah, I think about that. I’ve had some really cool things happen throughout music. I’ve always thought if this happened I’ll feel like this, but I never feel the way I thought. It’s the plight of the guy… well, I was never part of a scene. It’s all fine. I’m getting more comfortable with that.
It’s fine. It’s fine… [Breaks into the lyrics of “Day By Day”]
Any plans to make a full length of the s/s/s record?
Ha-ha. You know I don’t know what I can talk about. Let's go with we'll see.
You put out excellent records and records with people, like Sufjan Stevens, who are on this higher level of music fame, but things stay fairly even with Serengeti music. Do you get discouraged?
That is what it is, man. I’m fine with having a job. It’s good to get up and go to work. When I was touring I didn’t have a day job. I’d get to feeling bad and stew when I didn’t have a show for a few weeks. I need to do something I don’t want to do in order to get focused on stuff I do want to do. You get some bonuses here and there, but I’m not going to be the cool guy with the cool stuff.
Being solid with that, I’m proud of the Saal record. People seem to like it and that feels good. I got some honest stuff off my chest. What more could you ask for really besides everything in the world? [Laughs]
Serengeti's Saal is out now on Graveface.