Emily Bindiger is probably best known to Leonard Cohen fans as Cohen’s backup singer, along with Erin Dickins, during the 1974 and 1975 Tours and as a vocalist in the recording of New Skin For The Old Ceremony, including performing “Who By Fire” as a duet with Cohen.
In addition, her extra-Cohen career has been long-lived and varied, as indicated by her biography at The Accidentals site:
Emily Bindiger … has performed on hundreds of recordings, including commercials, movie soundtracks, industrials and records, as well as concert stages worldwide. … Emily has performed with … Leonard Cohen, Buster Poindexter, Ann Hampton Callaway, Joan Osborne, Lou Reed, Steve Van Zandt, Oscar Brand, Mary Fahl, Andy LaVerne, The Klezmatics, Peter White, Kevin Mahogany, Deodato, Michael Amante, Lesley Gore, Kathie Lee Gifford, David Friedman, Christine Lavin, Ben Vereen, Bobby Caldwell, Black 47, Laurie Beechman, Patti Austin, Ronnie Spector, Catherine Russell, Julie Gold, and the legendary Neil Sedaka, with whom she toured for several years. National jingles include campaigns for Advil PM, Downy, Pepsi, Wendy’s, DHL, Kodak, Crest, Verizon, Bounty, American Express, Gillette, Toyota, Hanes, and Disney World … She has sung on “One Life to Live,” “Live with Regis and Kathie Lee,” … “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” and “The Drew Carey Show,” and can be heard on dozens of movie soundtracks including Woody Allen’s “Bullets Over Broadway” and “Everyone Says I Love You,” “Donnie Brasco,” “The Hudsucker Proxy,” “Michael Collins,” “Mission to Mars,” “The Stepford Wives,” “A Chorus Line,” and the animated feature “The Tune.” She sang the theme song for Disney Channel’s “The Babysitters Club” and is known by fans of Japanese anime for her voice work in “Cowboy Bebop” and “.HACK.” She produced and performed on a holiday CD for popular folk artist Christine Lavin called “The Runaway Christmas Tree” to glowing reviews, and produced, co-arranged, played and sang on “The Girl I Found,” the latest CD from Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Julie Gold. She is currently producing a CD project for renowned NY songwriter, David Friedman.
Emily Bindiger first captured my attention, however, because she is an articulate writer who appreciates humor. Her report of Leonard Cohen’s comic antics was featured in the Feb 3, 2010 post, If You Need Someone To Crack You Up, Leonard Cohen Is Your Man.
Consequently, I was excited when she agreed to participate in a Heck Of A Guy Q&A, and I am delighted to be able to publish her responses.
The Emily Bindiger Q&A
1. How did you get your job singing backup for Leonard Cohen? (Yes, I know how this happened – it’s just too good a story not to retell)
I had been cast in an off-Broadway show (which had a pre-NYC tryout at the Shaw Festival in Canada) called “Sisters of Mercy”, a musical based on Leonard’s songs. Leonard was very much involved and it was a thrill to be singing his songs. A year later he was recording “New Skin For The Old Ceremony” and through mutual acquaintances I got a call to sing backup. I got to be on the tour that supported that album as well.
More about the Sisters Of Mercy musical, including a review and an interview with Leonard Cohen can be found at Tangents From The Sisters Of Mercy – A Musical Journey Into The Words Of Leonard Cohen.
2. You have worked with a batch of artists and, as far as I can tell, have performed on every television show ever produced. Other than your performances with Leonard Cohen, which work are you proudest of? What project are you currently working on?
To this day, Leonard’s tour has been my favorite gig of all time! And that was over 40 years ago! But lately I’ve been involved with a show called “Women of a Certain Age”, written by my friends Margaret Dorn (music) and Karen Kantor (lyrics). It’s work that I’m very proud of.
3. You and Erin Dickins were the backup singers in 1974-1975. Can you describe your relationship with her and how that evolved?
Erin and I met while recording “New Skin…”. We became friends on the subsequent tour, then we lost track of each other for 30-odd years! Through the magic of Facebook, we re-connected and she and her husband and my boyfriend and I all went to Leonard’s concert 2 years ago at Radio City. Erin and I sat next to each other, held hands, cried, sang…we are very much in contact now (and she and my boyfriend, Robbie Kondor, go back many years as well) and plan on getting together in the not-too-distant future.
4. I know you and Erin play guitar. Did you either or both of you play as well as sing during the Tour?
We did sing AND play. Something I’m very proud of.
5. How different was it to sing with Leonard in the studio compared with playing during a concert?
Well, in the studio, you get a few chances to get it right. Not so on stage! We tried very hard to get it right every night. I think we mostly succeeded!
6. By the time Leonard Cohen toured with Jennifer Warnes and Sharon Robinson in 1979, television performances and, especially, audience videotaping of concert performances were common enough that even newer fans (like me) have seen YouTube videos of Leonard Cohen with those backup singers as well as Perla Batalla, Julie Christensen, Anjani Thomas, and those in later tours. There are relatively few such videos of performances with you and Erin and many of those are of low quality. Could you give readers a sense of what we would have seen at one of the shows in 1974 or early 1975? Was there, for example, a lot of stage banter? Was the setlist rigidly followed or did it vary night to night? Were the musicians and backup singers instruments following Leonard’s lead or did you share the spotlight.? How did audiences react to the shows? There was a time when Leonard Cohen would walk off the stage when things went wrong but now his shows are disciplined. How were things in 1974-5?
I wish I could see videos of that tour! I will see though, that Javier, who is in his current band, told me that when he saw us in Barcelona in 1974, he was inspired to become a musician, remembered the concert quite vividly, and told me it was perfect. I don’t know about that, but to hear someone recount his memory of it was quite wonderful. Leonard was very funny on stage, but his concerts were like church for many audience goers, and there was always this sense of reverence and awe. When he (we) would perform “The Partisan”, for example, in Germany, for example, there was this sense of the audience wanting redemption for their country’s sins! The hall would explode with emotion!
The setlist was fairly set! Of course, Leonard would sometimes go off with a poetry rap, we would improvise behind him, but mostly, my recollection is that we did what we had rehearsed. He never walked off the stage in a temperamental snit, he was always professional.
7. What was the tour like between shows? How did you spend the off-days? Did everyone go separate ways or did groups of musicians and/or backup singers hang out together? Did Leonard spend time with all or was he off by himself or with other friends?
Usually, days off were travel days, either by train or on a tour bus (England and Germany). Erin and I would go shopping! The guys would sort of go off together. Leonard had his own agenda, although there were occasional times when he would get together with a fellow artist. I remember sitting in our hotel lobby in Brighton, England and in walked Joni Mitchell. She and Leonard hung out for a while. There was another time, I don’t remember which American city it was, where Leonard and Bob Dylan got together in a coffee shop. We were all kind of hoping for a meeting of the minds, but it really was just watching them have a sandwich together.
8. Did working with Leonard Cohen change you, professionally or otherwise? If so, how?
Working with Leonard changed me profoundly. I had been a fan from the time I was 12 or 13, so to work with the person I idolized was mind-boggling and so normal at the same time. His generosity of spirit lives with me always. My mother recently passed away, and while going through her things I find the “New Skin” album that he autographed for her. What a treasure that is for me.
9. Did Leonard Cohen himself change over the time you knew him. If so, how?
It would be presumptuous of me to say that Leonard has changed in some way, other that what is known about him publicly.
10. What 3 words best describe the Leonard Cohen you knew?
Beautiful. Musical. Romantic. And a 4th thing, more that 2 words, which would be PROFOUNDLY FUNNY.
11. What is
a. The strangest thing you’ve seen happen on a Leonard Cohen tour?
b. Your most difficult concert or studio session?
c. Your favorite concert from the Cohen tours you worked?
d. The funniest story you’ve heard from or about Leonard Cohen?
e. The aspect of Leonard Cohen that would most surprise his fans?
Hard to answer these. There was a very funny day in England when our bus broke down – of course this was way before cell phones or car phones – and Leonard thought we had to get the attention of motorists who were just driving by. So he stood on his head in the middle of the road. It kinda worked. The most difficult concert, well, maybe it was when I was sick as a dog in Paris. It was most upsetting to me because it’s hard to sing when you’re sick (although I did, of course), but also because we had a couple of days off there and I was anxious to get out and about because I had lived in Paris when I was 16 and wanted to see friends and walk around but instead, I was in bed.
To reiterate, Leonard is FUNNY! Most people believe he’s this depressed and depressing individual, but he’s quite hilarious.
I will forever love and pay honor to this man. His music shaped my life, my musical arranging sensibilities, my approach to background singing, and his poetry touches me so deeply.
Credit Due Department: Emily Bindiger contributed the three photos featuring her. The two Sisters of Mercy programs were contributed by Dominique BOILE.