Meytal Cohen: Versatile drummer and YouTube sensation blazes her own path

Meytal Cohen
Meytal Cohen

Born and raised in Israel and the youngest of seven children, Meytal Cohen started playing drums at age 18. After serving a mandatory two year stint in the Israeli Defense Force, Cohen relocated to Los Angeles to pursue a drumming career. She enrolled in the Los Angeles Music Academy and graduated with a degree.

It wasn’t easy at first, but Cohen caught her first big break when she and some of her friends filmed an audition video for America’s Got Talent of an electric string rendition of System of a Down’s “Toxicity.” The show didn’t think much of them, but the video went on to become a viral hit with almost 10 million views. As a result, she decided to continue uploading YouTube videos of her doing cover songs and her viewership has grown to over 120,000,000 views, with over 1,000,000 likes on Facebook.

Last December, Cohen headlined a sold out performance at the Whiskey a Go Go in Los Angeles and is embarking on a two-date East Coast tour that will hit Brighton Music Hall in Brighton, Mass., on March 24, 2015. At this show, she will play a mix of songs from her upcoming studio album of original tunes and covers that her fans have grown to know and love.

We recently caught up with Cohen who graciously answered our questions for this interview.

LIMELIGHT MAGAZINE (LM): You were born and raised in Israel, graduating with a theater major from Blich High School and serving for two years in the Israel Defense Force, before relocating to Los Angeles and enrolling in the Los Angeles Music Academy to focus on drumming. Why did you eventually decide to play the drums and relocate to Los Angeles?
METYAL COHEN: I remember being drawn to drums from a young age, and even asking my mom if I could have a drum set. But she said no, and put me in the tap dancing class instead (I actually really liked it, it’s kind of similar to drumming in a way) Then, later on, in high school, I got into metal music and that really sparked my interest in drums again, as they’re so prominent in that style of music. So, I decided I was going to get a drum set and take lessons, even though my mom was still against it. I got a really shitty job till I was able to buy my first drum set and started taking drum lessons. My teacher at the time was a graduate from a music school in L.A. so I assume that’s how I got the idea in my head. When I eventually decided to go for it, I wasn’t playing for very long, but felt it was now or never type of thing. I was just released from the Israeli Defense Force and was supposed to go to med school, but then changed my plans and decided to relocate to Los Angeles and try to become a professional drummer. I figured I can always go study in a year or two if it didn’t work out. Of course, it didn’t work out in a year or two. It took way longer, but I just kept hoping and trying different ways to make it work. I really didn’t want to go to med school. It was really my mom that wanted that.
LM: The Los Angeles Music Academy has world class drum instructors on their staff. How did your time there help you as a musician?
COHEN: Since I wasn’t playing for very long when I enrolled at the L.A. Music Academy, I feel that I wasn’t really able to make the best of it. The true school for me was covering my favorite songs. I would pick songs that were way harder than what I was capable of playing, and worked my way into being able to play them. That helped me develop my ears as well as my technique.
LM: Since attending the Los Angeles Music Academy, you’ve made a name for yourself. What advice would you give to aspiring female musicians, especially those that want to pursue drumming as a career?
COHEN: Follow your heart, learn from but don’t compare yourself to other drummers, have patience, and remember there are no rules for how your success will come.
LM: Your website contains a number of videos of you playing cover songs, including songs by Dream Theater, Rush, System of a Down and Tool. You’ve obviously invested a lot of time into your online videos and you’ve reached a jaw dropping number of views. What made you decide to start making drum videos? Did you expect them to become so popular online?
COHEN: Me and some friends shot an audition video to America’s Got Talent of an electric string rendition of System of a Down’s “Toxicity.” The show didn’t think much of us, but the video went on to become a viral hit (almost 10 million views now). I was getting a lot of requests from people for more videos and I was practicing a few songs at the time already. So, I decided to shoot those covers, just by myself, as the girls at the time were busy with other projects. The response was pretty amazing. I have to give a lot of the credit to my boyfriend, Lior, who at the time was shooting the videos and editing them. He saw the amazing potential and really encouraged me to shoot more video. We decided to shoot 100 drum covers and see what happens as a result. I personally never imagined that I would gain so much support and feel incredibly fortunate.
LM: Most of your drum covers are of metal, hard rock or progressive rock bands. What draws you to this type of music? How do you go about selecting a song to cover?
COHEN: I was introduced to metal music through my first boyfriend when I was about 17. He gave me a mix tape and it had Pantera, Korn, Deftones, Metallica and some other amazing bands. I totally got into it and the best thing about it was the drumming. The songs I cover are a mix of my favorite songs and songs people request.
LM: In some of your videos you are playing barefoot. Do you have a preference? Does it make a difference either way?
COHEN: Lately, I’ve come to the realization that I have way more power with shoes on. My opinion already changed several times since I started playing. Both work!
LM: Who are some of your biggest musical influences?
COHEN: Tool would have to be my biggest influence. I love everything about that band. Danny Carey’s drum patterns, Maynard’s vocals, lyrics that make you feel, and melodies that are not that complicated and yet brilliant.
LM: Given your strong following online, have your considered offering drum lessons online or even becoming a drum instructor someday?
COHEN: No, I don’t think I’m the greatest teacher. Doing something and explaining how you do it are two very different things.
LM: You played a sold out show at the Whiskey a Go Go in December. How did that show go? What was the audience reaction like to your set?
COHEN: I was really nervous about that show, but it went great and it was amazing to meet everyone that’s been following and supporting me for so long. The response was overwhelmingly positive and so many good things have happened as a result. I was able to sign with a really good management and booking agencies, here in the U.S. and in Europe, and I was also offered two headlining shows in New York and in Boston this coming March. You should come out!
LM: How much time do you spend rehearsing for a show with your band?
COHEN: For this first show we did, I was practicing like a mad woman because I was so nervous, as it was the first time I played live since I made YouTube my home-base. As a band, we rehearsed for two weeks. My singer lives in Ohio and my guitarist lives in Salt Lake City, which makes practicing very expensive. For these next shows, we’ll probably only rehearse together once or twice before the show.
LM: For your show at Brighton Music Hall in Brighton, MA, on March 24, will you be playing your own songs, covers or both?
COHEN: We’ll be playing songs from my soon-to-be released album. I’ve posted a few of my original songs on my Facebook page already, and the response has been amazing with over 10,000 likes within the first day. We’ll definitely play a couple of covers too, after all that’s how it all began!
LM: Do you already have a band in place for this show? If so, who will be performing with you on stage?
COHEN: I’ve been so fortunate to collaborate with some amazingly talented musicians. My singer, Eric Emery, has the most amazing vocal range I’ve ever heard. My lead guitarist, Travis Montgomery, is like a machine with feel; my second guitarist, Doc Coyle, of God Forbid, needs no introduction, and my awesome bassist Anel Pedrero.
LM: Given your versatility as a drummer, I would think you’d be in demand from other musicians. Are you open to collaborating with other musicians?
COHEN: I’m always open for new and exciting opportunities!
LM: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
COHEN: Thank you so much for this interview!

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