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Leonard Cohen on Collaborating with Madonna Collaborator Patrick Leonard for Upcoming 'Popular Problems'

Leonard Cohen, 2013.
REX USA/Brian Rasic/Rex

Leonard Cohen in concert at The O2 Arena in London on September 5, 2013.

The keyboardist-producer who helped shape Madonna's work in the late 1980s has given Leonard Cohen's new album Popular Problems a consistently bluesy tone full of keyboards, horn sections and an occasional solo violin. Patrick Leonard, who co-wrote three songs on Cohen's last album, co-wrote eight of the nine songs on Popular Problems, which Columbia Records will release Sept. 23, two days after Cohen turns 80. The pair also has half of another album in the can.

"It was a very agreeable collaboration because of an absence of ego and an abundance of musical ideas on Patrick's part," Cohen explained during an interview with Bob Santelli, executive director of the Grammy Museum, after the album was played at the residence of the Canadian Consulate.

"I would have a rhythm in mind and a position" on tempo and accompaniment, Cohen noted. "I had the function of the veto. Most of the musical ideas were Patrick's, with a bit of modifications. Whether there were horns or violin, all of those things were decided mutually."

Cohen, the leading French-Canadian poet-musician of the 1960s whose work found a new audience the last 20 years, especially through covers of his "Hallelujah," said ideas for some of the new songs have been kicking around for decades. "A Street," in which he writes "the party's over / but I've landed on my feet / I'll be standing on the corner / where there used to be a street," began shortly after 9/11; "Born in Chains," the one song he wrote solo, has been kicking around for 40 years.

"I've rewritten it many times to accommodate a change in my theological position," said Cohen. "The chords kind of interest me and we came up with this pure gospel version. It's the one song on the album I'm not 100 percent behind. I didn't nail it, but I've got a thumbtack in it."

If he tours -- he says the road is "beckoning" - and "I run it down 200 or 300 times, I'm gonna get it."

Other songs on the album, Cohen said, came together at "shockingly alarming speed," attributing his usual lengthy breaks between albums to "an addiction to perfection and partly sheer laziness."

"I've said it before -- being a songwriter is like being a nun: you're married to a mystery," Cohen said to hearty laughter. "My methods are obscure. My methods are obscure and not to be replicated. A song will yield itself if you stick with it long enough. But you've got to stick with it for a very long time."