Monday, May 28, 2012
Cory Branan Unleashes "MUTT"
Storyteller, songwriter, and road-blazing troubadour Cory Branan is about to unleash his new album for Bloodshot Records called MUTT. Looking to songwriters such as John Prine and Leonard Cohen, as well as to literary greats such as Raymond Carver and Gabriel García Márquez for inspiration, Cory has fused his influences with his own unique sensibilities to create a singer-songwriter style all his own.
Cory Branan's journey has taken him from the small, state-line town of Southaven, Mississippi, to Memphis’ underground music scene, and ultimately to Nashville, where he is now based. He has won over newcomers while tearing it up at Warp’s Country Throwdown and Chuck Ragan’s Revival Tour, and is sure to gather more praise and admiration now that MUTT is hitting the streets.
MUTT was self-produced and recorded primarily in San Francisco and was engineered and mixed by Tim Mooney (drummer/engineer for American Music Club). Cory collaborated with such notable contributors like Ralph Carney (Tom Waits’ horn player), Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi Allstars) and Jon Snodgrass (Drag The River), Amanda Shires, Danny Malone and John Elliott.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Cory regarding his musical history up to, and including the making of MUTT.
Can you discuss your experiences making your first two albums?
Cory Branan: It's arguable that I know what I'm doing now, but I was definitely green as a weed on the first two records. I was lucky to have Jeff Powell (Afghan Whigs, Big Star) behind the board and helping with production.
The first record, The Hell You Say, was done rather piecemeal; some in Jeff's antebellum living room, and some at Ardent Studios. The next record, 12 Songs, was at the great Easley Studios just before its tragic demise by fireball.
How did they prepare you for beginning to write the next album?
Cory: The second record definitely whet my appetite for deconstruction and experimentation with stranger arrangements. There was a considerable length of time between all three records so I had quite the stockpile of songs to choose for MUTT.
When did you begin writing material that would become MUTT?
Cory: Some of the songs began or were completed years ago, and were chosen consciously to frame the new ones.
Did you have a preconceived direction for this album?
Cory: Not at first, but when I looked over the new things I was writing I noticed many of the songs dealing with what to do with the pieces, or how to re-engage once the veneer has been worn off of life.
Was there a tune that set the direction for the record?
Cory: Both "The Corner" and "Lily" were important songs for holding the record together ("Down on the corner of what I want, and what I tend to get" from "The Corner") ("Lily, I guess the best trick is to see the magic- once you've seen the wires"). And the bookend versions of "Survivor Blues" for underlying the circles and changes that occur with repetition.
Can you discuss your writing process, both lyrically and musically?
Cory: I write often, but usually without a direction in mind. I really dig the William Stafford quote that: “A writer is not so much someone who has something to say as he is someone who has found a process that will bring about new things he would not have thought of if he had not started to say them."
I also like to write in really unromantic public places. Half my first record was written in the food court of a mall. I think I need the buzz of activity with the lack of anything interesting to be distracted by.
Melodically, I wish I had an ear for Bacharach's acrobatics, but I usually let the cadence of the words suggest melodies and they end up rather linear.
How do these processes connect and culminate for you?
Cory: I spend most of my time and attention to detail on the writing of the song and leave the arrangements pretty loose for once I get into the studio. The old Memphis guerilla approach of intuiting with great players in few takes.
Can you discuss some of biggest lyrical influences as well as your own lyrical inspiration?
Cory: Lyrically, I'm definitely indebted to Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, John Prine, Kris Kristofferson, and Townes Van Zandt. I fall way short of course, but a boy can dream.
Along the same lines, which albums and artists are your biggest influences?
Cory: Musically, I mainly listen to Delta, Piedmont, and country blues stuff: Big Bill Broonzy, Lighnin' Hopkins, Mance Lipscomb, and Mississippi John Hurt. Though it probably doesn't make much of an appearance on the record.
What were you significantly inspired by while writing and recording MUTT?
Cory: I was definitely under the sway of Tom Waits. Going as far as getting his horn player, the inimitable Ralph Carney, to play on a few tracks. I've always admired Waits' mercurial shapeshifting and ability to pull from any form of music that suited the song at hand. I may have stepped a little far into his territory with "The Snowman", but the song kept asking me to. No danger of our voices being confused.
How much of a role did "the studio" play in the record?
Cory: It played the role of shelter this time as I ended up sleeping on the control room couch for the weeks I was there. They had these giant stadium speakers in the cutting room so I'd listen back and try not to obsess after everyone went home.
What would you say sets MUTT apart most from your other records?
Cory: The first two records were collections of unconnected songs. MUTT, while not all written at the same time, is my first attempt at an album album with each song casting a small light on the others.
What would you say connects them all together?
Cory: They're all looking for a way out of the roundabout. Many are paired songs with different outcomes of the same mistake/situation, and the others are about what to do once you're aware of the circles. Adult stuff I guess.
Can you discuss the album art?
Cory: Sure, I dreamt it. Supposed to be a folk art Mississippi muse/Madonna with boombox thing- like ya' do. I couldn't find an alligator mask so I had to make one outta paper mache. My gal loves it. It's hanging over our couch.
What are your non-musical influences and sources of inspiration?
Cory: My favorite writers are Eudora Welty, Raymond Carver, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I've read One Hundred Years of Solitude every year for the past 11 years. I have a problem. I'm kind of a film geek as well. My favorite last year happens to be a friend's movie, Jeff Nichols' powerful film Take Shelter. It would have been a favorite anyhow, but pretty damn cool he's making movies that will be watched in 100 years.
What have you been listening to lately?
Cory: I just did Chuck Ragan's Revival tour with Nathaniel Rateliff, Dan Andriano, and Tommy Gabel. So I've been listening to o a lot of their solo stuff, and Hot Water Music's new one. Also, Adam Faucett outta Little Rock, Arkansas. Killer.