Sharon Robinson on Leonard Cohen: He Spends a Lot of Time Trying to Uncover Truths

Sharon Robinson and Leonard Cohen - H 2014
Jillian Edelstein

Sharon Robinson and Leonard Cohen - H 2014

The musical artist opens up about her longtime collaboration with Leonard Cohen and her new photography tome

Singer, songwriter and record producer Sharon Robinson is perhaps best known for her longtime creative collaborations with the legendary Leonard Cohen. Backed with exclusive access and an iPhone, Robinson took five years of photographs which she curated for a new book, On Tour with Leonard Cohen, currently available from Random House. The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Robinson at her Los Angeles book signing (another event is scheduled for Dec. 13 at SoHo's Morrison Hotel Gallery in New York) to talk about Cohen, her creative process and the current state of music.

Your association with him goes back more than 30 years. What was most important to you to convey about Leonard in these photographs?

Well, obviously if you know Leonard’s work you know that he’s an extremely thoughtful person and that he spends a lot of time trying to uncover the truths of our existence and the path of the human heart and so on. The privileged access that I had to him enabled me to capture moments that might not otherwise have been captured. ... In some ways it’s an opportunity to let people know that everything that Leonard seems to be, he really is. He is a gracious and wonderful and generous and kind person and he’s funny and fun loving, which sort of goes against the preconceived notions to some degree, but he’s just a wonderful person to have worked with so closely for all those years. 

For people who have not seen the book, are there any famous musicians or artists in these photographs whom people should look out for?

Actually no. These photos really consist of our little touring bubble, which is what we sometimes called it. We worked together for so long and so closely and also, of course, influenced by the music we were all playing together every night; we became a kind of family, so the experience of this bonding and the music and the overwhelming love that we got back from fans was something that glued the whole thing together. The photos I selected sort of bring the viewer along with us on that ride.

Read more The Enduring Legacy of Leonard Cohen's 'Hallelujah'

Do you have a favorite photograph? 

You know "The Laundromat" is a lot of people’s favorite photo, but I think I prefer — I mean I like them all — I love the one that was taken at Royal Albert Hall in London. It’s captures a thoughtful moment of Leonard. The same with the black and white photo on the airplane.

Was Leonard always aware you were shooting photos?

No, no, no. Toward the beginning of the tour, people were staring to take a lot more pictures as digital photography became more and more widespread. At first, there was a feeling of invasiveness or intrusion in taking Leonard’s picture, but as time went on it became a little more relaxed and he became more relaxed with me. There was a sense of trust and comfort there. So sometimes I would just go ahead and take a picture without asking.

Did he say no to any photos?

No, because he knows that I know what photos not to take.

You’re a Grammy winner, and the Grammy nominations were just announced. Do you have any opinion on this year’s crop of nominees? Any artists that stand out to you? 

Oh gosh, I have to say I haven’t been following it that closely because I have been working on my own album and I try to shut those things out, quite honestly.

Read more Leonard Cohen at Madison Square Garden

Huge understatement: Music has changed so much since you got in to the business. What is your opinion on the current state of the music business?

It’s a mixed bag. I think it’s fantastic that so many more people have the opportunity to be heard, but there can also be a downside to that. The filtering process is not that same as it was, and the development of artists is not the same as it was — that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just different.

Tell me about the new album you are working on?

It’s going to be called Caffeine and will be out early next year.