Arts and Culture

A Broke-Ass Interview with Singer-Songwriter Ora Cogan

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With the excellent Mission Creek Music Festival just over, I figured I’d post this interview I did with one of my favorite performers who played it.  I first came across Ora Cogan at Dead Herring, a loft/performance space right next to the Williamsburg Bridge in Brooklyn.  My good friend Nicki Ishmael (who shot my NYC book cover) lives there and invited me over one night to check out the bands.

As soon as Ora took the stage (ok, actually middle of the floor) I was immediately drawn to her sweet, yet melancholy music and after the show, I chatted with her and bought a copy of her album Tatter.  The whole album is great, but I was particularly drawn to the song “Take Me Home“.  It was getting close to wintertime in Brooklyn and when I heard the lines, “It’s always raining/and everyone’s lonely here” they spoke to me as if they were written for that particular moment in New York City.

So I was stoked to see that Ora was scheduled to play the Mission Creek Music festival and I set up an interview for just before her show at the Argus.  Read below for her particular insights into how to save money on tour, the best cheap eats in Vancouver, and even the elusive Canadian Burrito.

Broke-Ass Stuart: So you’re Ora Cogan.

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BAS: So did you drive or fly down here to San Francisco?

OC: I flew.

BAS: So you are a musician, obviously. Do you tour a lot?

OC: I do.

BAS: And do you have any secrets to touring, like uh, I know as an independent musician you can’t be making oodles of money, you know, so do you have any particular thing for touring that’s a good money saving tip?

OC: Um, I guess I’d be a bad person to ask about this because I’m terrible with money. Like you said, as an independent musician, this whole thing that I’m doing is more for the experience of it and because I love doing what I do. But at this point I’m not expecting to make a lot of money at it. . .I tend to try to just enjoy the place that I’m in and if that means buying a beer, or buying a nice cup of coffee or something every once in awhile I’ll do it. But I guess if I was to give someone advice, it would be that you shouldn’t do what I do. And you know, have your own thermos and buy some teabags and get some hot water and save that couple of dollars and be careful about how far ahead of time you plan things. Because buying plane tickets and stuff like that can be a lot cheaper'I guess this is just common knowledge kind of stuff, but if you wanna save money, don’t do what I do.

BAS: (giggling. Yes I’m a giggler.)

OC: Don’t take that opportunity to like, oh, buy a nice dress for $5 in San Francisco because it’s something to do, or go out for a beer when your not at the show and not getting free beer. And like that kind of thing.

BAS: So don’t follow your example

OC: Don’t, don’t'

BAS: DO NOT…

OC:'do what I do


BAS: I’ve got the same problem. I write books about broke-ass shit, but the reason I’m broke-ass is not because I’m cheap. It’s because I don’t have any fucking money and when I do have it, I spend it I’m like, 'œFuck it! Ahhhh!!! Who wants a drink motherfuckers? Let’s go!', so I understand. I always say that I do not give financial advice because it’s a poor, poor idea'

OC: You really feel broke?

BAS: I mean, I think broke and poor are two different things. I think poor is like a socio-economic-political thing.

OC: Yeah

BAS: Like you’re born poor or…

OC: Or like you’re a single mom with five kids, and there’s no work and you’re living in a one bedroom'

BAS: Exactly. There’s nothing romantic about being poor. Being broke has this weird like, you know, fetishized, fucking bohemian bullshit (here I make the universal jerk off move with my hand) about it, but it’s like a temporary thing. But you know, as artists, we survive, you know, we make money enough to do it and we’re not 'well I mean I’m not on food stamps. I don’t know if Canada has food stamps'.

OC: Well up until recently we had a fairly good welfare system'

BAS: I’m kidding, I know Canada has something like food stamps.

OC: Ok, I see what you mean and I can’t speak for anybody other than myself but I never feel broke and I try not to stress out about money or worry about it. Whether I have it or I don’t. Like I said, I’m doing this for the experience, and I guess I’ve been relaxed about it' and like…yeah, when I was teenager I slept out in the forest and I dumpster dived when I was 'œbroke' as you put it. It was by choice. I was not working, I was wandering around and having a brilliant time with no money.

BAS: Right

OC: You know to be honest, in some ways I try to stay pretty frugal. Like oh, if the venue paid for my breakfast, I’ll have a nice little breakfast in the morning, and then I’ll go the rest of the day without eating until dinner. Now two meals a day is pretty decent. You can go buy a piece of fruit and a big thing of water. But I won’t buy a meal in between while I’m on the road. It’s like if you’re just sitting on a train or driving a car, you’re not using up that much energy so there’s no need to eat three massive meals a day. So stuff like that I’ll try to avoid.

BAS: Do you have a favorite cheap eats spot in Vancouver?

OC: Oh god, you can’t really go wrong because we’ve got sushi all over the city for about $5 or $6 for a meal.

BAS: Wow!

OC: Yeah, you get like three rolls'

BAS: Five or six dollars?

OC: Sushi’s like the fast food of Vancouver. It’s really good. And then there’s 99cent pizza everywhere. So between the sushi and the pizza if you wanna go have a nice time in Vancouver on the cheap, I’d say go to'oh dear'now I’m trying to think of, oh! Budgies Burritos'.

BAS: What is it? Budgies Burritos?

OC: Yeah, Budgies Burrtios. You can get a really nice Canadian burrito.

BAS: A Canadian Burrito huh?

OC: And then you can walk up Main Street and there’s this beautiful little museum, I think it’s called like the Museum of Wonder and it’s free and you just wander in and it’s an antique shop.  In the back there’s a museum of all these really beautiful photographs of this couple and their adventures around the world. They’re a married couple for, I don’t know the exact story but, they were a married couple for most of their adult lives and they dedicated themselves to traveling the world.  It’s really beautiful special little spot and up that street there are a lot of really nice little galleries.  It’s a nice area to spend some time in.

BAS: That’s awesome!  So, you mentioned burritos'uh, have you played San Francisco before?

OC: Yeah (giggling).

BAS: Uh'Have you had a burrito in San Francisco?

OC: Oh come on now, I’m not answering that question.

BAS: Alright, fair enough. I’ll take that as a 'œno'.

OC: I’m more of an enchilada girl.

BAS: I see. I see. Fair enough. Do you have a go to cheap spot in San Francisco you like to eat?

OC: Oh dear, well I’m um, not so good with names, which you might’ve noticed (editor’s note: I agree.  I think she got the name of the museum wrong becasue I couldn’t find it). There’s this really big place on 16th between Valencia and Mission'

BAS: Pancho Villa

OC: Yeah, that place is pretty good.

BAS: Now, I met you first in NY.  What kind of difference do you see in playing a West Coast show than one in New York?

OC: For money?

BAS: Just in general. Like vibe, feeling'everything.

OC: (laughing) I mean, I don’t know. . . I’m a small town girl, like I grew up on an island with the population of about 13,000 people, in a cabin in the woods.  So Vancouver is a pretty provincial city and the neighborhood that I live in there is very much a small town.  Going to a city like New York is a little bit overwhelming still and I kinda recoil from it a bit because everything is too fast for me and everything is a little bit too flashy. But it was a thrill to pick up a Showpaper and wander around Brooklyn to all these warehouse shows. That’s also great thing to do when your broke.  Often times it’s not like it’s a big artist or someone whose is terribly hip, so they don’t charge a very big cover.  There’s a lot of really good music. And it’s cool because you get to see all these people’s studios and homes.

BAS: Yeah, there’s a pretty amazing scene out there in Brooklyn with all warehouses and huge lofts. It’s pretty cool.

OC: I went to see Old Time Relijun play on Halloween in Bushwick, and that was a great show (Here it got all garbled because the next band started warming up).

BAS: One more question and then I’ll leave you alone: When I first met you I bought your'(and then my stupid machine stopped recording. Son of a bitch!)

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Broke-Ass Stuart - Editor In Cheap

Broke-Ass Stuart - Editor In Cheap

Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, poet, TV host, activist, and general shit-stirrer. His website BrokeAssStuart.com is one of the most influential arts & culture sites in the San Francisco Bay Area and his freelance writing has been featured in Lonely Planet, Conde Nast Traveler, The Bold Italic, Geek.com and too many other outlets to remember. His weekly column, Broke-Ass City, appears every other Thursday in the San Francisco Examiner. Stuart’s writing has been translated into four languages. In 2011 Stuart created and hosted the travel show Young, Broke, and Beautiful on IFC and in 2015 he ran for Mayor of San Francisco and got nearly 20k votes.

He's been called "an Underground legend": SF Chronicle , "an SF cult hero": SF Bay Guardian, and "the chief of cheap": Time Out New York.