Q&A: Tanlines' Jesse Cohen On Winning The Best Band Twitter In NYC Award, Zucchini-Borne Controversies, And Comedy As Soccer

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Jesse Cohen and Eric Emm of Tanlines.
Giving the Best Local Music Twitter award in our Best of NYC issue to @tanlines was pretty much a no-brainer. The account, which is run by the duo's Jesse Cohen, is heavy on the wry observational humor and light on the "come see our band" or "here's somebody saying that we're awesome" self-promotion that bogs down way too many social-media outposts for musicians. Social-media gurus (and people who just want to be less annoying online) should take note; Cohen knows how to do it right. I talked to him on a chilly afternoon outside Blue Bottle about all things Internet; a condensed version of our lengthy chat is below.

So congratulations on winning! I have to read Twitter accounts for my job and yours is very enjoyable. Have you gotten a lot of new followers?

There was definitely a little bump. For some reason, hearing positive feedback in real life about my Twitter presence means more to me than anything else. When people say, "I really like your Twitter," or "You should follow him; he's really good at Twitter," it makes me feel so validated. And when I saw this, I shared it with everybody. When people say anything nice about our music, I never share that stuff—I'm not like, "Check out this nice review." But with this I was telling strangers—well, not strangers, but I told the woman when I got my hair cut that day, I saw someone on the street, I was like, "I'm great; check out this thing that happened." I sent it to a lot of friends randomly. It unabashedly made me feel really good about myself.

I don't know why that is. I think it's because even on Twitter—where people can respond and people can retweet you, so there is a forum for feedback built into it—it still feels like you're just alone typing a text message to the Internet over and over and over again. You don't really know if people are into it or not. So when someone tells you in real life that they like it, it makes you feel like it's worth doing. I mean, I would do it either way because I really like Twitter. I really believe that everyone has one social platform; there are Facebook people, Twitter people, Tumblr people, Youtube people, Flickr people. I'm definitely a Twitter person. I think it's great.

How long have you been doing it?

Since 2009.

Have you had any shift in the way that you've approached it since you've started?

No. I've noticed as you have more followers, it sort of changes because there's more feedback—more replies and stuff like that. But in terms of how I've used it, it's been pretty consistent. Do you mean as far as posting or consuming it?

Either/or. It's such a recursive thing, where you're reading and posting at the same time; in the beginning the two were more isolated, because it was all done through texting or the web interface. But with the smartphone apps, you're in the loop a lot more.

For a while at the beginning I would read anything anyone wrote. I would scroll to the bottom and start from there. I don't do that anymore. I just check in and I see what's happening, and I check out and I don't feel like I need to see everything everyone wrote in between. It's more of a stream now, and I think it's a lot better use of my time. But the other thing I notice is I don't really look at the Internet anymore. I'll look at [Twitter] and if someone posts [a URL], I'll click on it. But I don't like to just open up the Internet and think of a website to look at.

I don't really do that anymore either. I use it as my RSS reader in a way.

Exactly. I'd say like a handful of the things I follow are sites that just post whenever they put up something new.

In terms of what I've done, I just sort of first started doing the same thing.. I'd say I communicated roughly the same amount. I responded to roughly the same amount of things. The same ratio between observational humor and actual content about what we're doing as artists, which I would say is about 1 out of 20, and some of those ones out of 20s are sort of obscure—like we were in Miami mixing a record, but I didn't really say what I was doing there.

I think the worst thing you can do on Twitter is just repost positive things people say about you.

Yeah, like just reposting every Follow Friday recommendation. That's the most irritating thing... the Lil B approach, kind of.

It's terrible. Who's that?

He's a rapper. He'll go through and retweet things that mention him, like a hundred things at once. It's like OK, dude, we get it. People like you. Ladies are into you.

I would do that if it was someone really cool... [laughs] I'll reply to people and say thank you, but no one sees that.

Exactly. It's the whole idea of amplifying compliments that people might not see otherwise.

Yeah, I would never do that. I want to use it in a way that's somehow productive.

Do you think it's because you use Twitter for your observational humor that the Twitter accolade means so much to you?

Yeah, definitely. Also it's nice to know that I'm using this platform well, because a lot of people don't and a lot of people think it's a stupid platform. There's the sound of laughter on Twitter; when 100 people retweet it, that's the sound of laughter. It's fun.

One of the best things that's happened on Twitter recently is some guy that's on Grey's Anatomy started following me. I noticed because I got all of these weird comments from people who don't follow me, and I realized that this guy from Grey's Anatomy started following me and retweeting all of these things. He's a model/actor and he has all of these women followers—like 100,000 followers—and I think it's funny because I'm just assuming that he doesn't know that I do music. It's just a hilarious thing that I can make a joke that is retold by some guy on Grey's Anatomy.

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