INTERVIEW: Cory Branan on his “thesis statement”, preparing for his next record and the fatherhood/career balance
A working musician. It’s something that seems like a pretty glamorous life from an outside view but it’s anything but that. So many “working musicians” go home and work 9-5 jobs while also raising kids, balancing personal lives but it’s just part of the job.
One who is making that balance happen to the best of his abilities is Cory Branan. An artist that has been a relentless road dog for many years and has a music catalogue of five full lengths with a sixth on the horizon as well a mix of EP’s and splits. A catalogue that is constantly growing. Branan talked about writing 48 songs alone since he released “Adios” around two years ago. He talked about the whittling down process and so much more in our chat that went down in Boston recently.
Also, if you’re reading this as a fan of Cory Branan or if you’re coming in blind, you may see some commentary from Branan’s tourmate at the time Darrin Bradbury who I also spoke to that night. The two sat in on each other’s interviews and you can find that one here. Bradbury is spot on with Cory and could easily be a new favorite for you too.
To dive into it, you’re playing these headline dates but obviously touring is not a stranger to you. “Adios” now being about two years old.
Cory Branan: Yeah, I’m “out of cycle” as they would say. I’ve been with my booking agents for a few years now and I was just straight up like I’m not a tour on the album guy. I have to tour and do 120/130 shows a year to pay the light bill. I’m a working musician, so I’m just in the middle of touring. I demo’d up a bunch of new shit and I’ve been sort of trying it out on the road, for better or worse. Try them out as soon as I write them. I was kind of knocking around one today that I might try out tonight. But of course, that means they’re immediately released on an iPhone label, someone’s shitty recording. Then people at the next tour will be showing up and singing it while I’m singing it. Darrin’s got a bit about how I’m a master about not letting anyone else sing it along with me. Because I just kind of shake them off.
Darrin Bradbury: So I just try to sing louder and he knows it’s me.
CB: And he starts to fuck with me more. Initially from the Lucero days, we’re both from Memphis, their crowd, it’s intense, they sing all of it. And that’s fine for a rock band. My stuff, I don’t play in time. I mess with it all the time. It kind of keeps it interesting for me. So when I straighten it out for people to sing, I’ll do it every once in a while, but when they try to do it even when I’m bucking them off, it’s so obvious. But every once in a while, there’s that one guy. You kind of got to love it and it’s obviously not working, and he still goes with it. It might be a metaphor for my life. That guy. “This isn’t working, why are you trying it? You’ve been doing this for 44 years.” So sometimes you just look at people and they don’t care if they don’t know the words. I’ll be playing a song that nobody has ever heard, and there are people up front being like, “ehhh, ehh, la la”. I’m like, thats not me! I love that at a concert. When you look out and see someone singing and you’re like, you don’t know this song.
But then maybe, you talked about how you were even demo-ing a song today, you’ve put out five records at this point.
CB: Five full lengths, is that right? Five full lengths and some EP’s here and there. A split with Jon Snodgrass. So yeah, it will be record #6. Just got to figure out my new home, figure out how I’m going to do it. Things are cooking. We’re shaking the trees, see what nuggets fall out. But yeah, that’s where I’m at now. These days, it’s just going in and doing it. I don’t know, but if course it’s like please sink in the ocean when you put it out yourself. Give you four more jobs that don’t pay. Great, now I’m a distributor?
Considering, I don’t know if “Adios” was planned to be what it was or if that just kind of came out naturally, with calling it The “loser’s survival kit”.
CB: Oh, that’s almost like everything I’ve ever done. That’s my thesis statement. What do you do when the veneers wear off? The “Loser’s Survival Kit”. I think I randomly said that once and they were like, lets throw that into the bio. But yeah that’s almost my MO really.
Do you feel the songwriting process still changes for you despite how long you’ve been doing this?
CB: Oh absolutely, and it’s changed out of necessity since my kids were born. I used to write after I got off tour, I would have all that energy. Now I get off the road and I’m in Dad mode. So I’m trying to write on the road, which is something I’ve never once done for shit. And I just sort of figured out how to do it in this past year and a half. It’s all coming together. And it’s great. It’s like, oh this is so much better then just turning my brain off for the seven hour ride. I get there, and I’m like, I’ve accomplished something. Of course I forget to stop sometimes. Luckily, the new van I have, when it gets down to like fifteen miles, it makes the loudest fucking noise in the world. Sort of gets me out of zombie mode. If not, I would probably run out of gas when I get into writing mode. It’s just he low grade attention it takes to stay on the road. The rest is just fucking the Willy Wonka tunnel.
Then speaking of being a dad, having kids, establishing a balance of career and family. It’s personal but how do you make that balance work? You’re a working musician, it’s how you pay your bills, how you support your kids, your family?
CB: You just got to do the math. If I was not doing this, I’d be hanging sheetrock again. I’d be gone at seven, I’d be wiped again after five and I wouldn’t have any time, except for the weekends. Now when I’m off, I’m off 24/7. So, 130 shows a year, that shapes up to be 145 days on the road but the rest of it is just straight off. It’s not always. I’ve changed the tours. I don’t do the “Put me on for eight weeks”. I try to do three on, three off, start staggering them like that. This tour’s only about 20 days. It’s tricky. FaceTime is ruining my life. Because I don’t know if you’re like me or whatever, but I can compartmentalize like nobody’s fucking business. But with FaceTime, a phone call used to be like “oh man” or like a text. But when I see them or can hear them, there’s no keeping that from breaking my heart. It’s like, dammit. At least it’s not virtual reality. Start hanging out with my kid on the road in virtual reality.
Darrin Bradbury: It would be brutal. Waking up in the van or the motel and Cory’s got his goggles on, sweat covered, puts on “Faithful Love”.
CB: That would be the worst. They’d really have to augment it for the full home experience. Have like a little foot kicking you in your sleep.
I can’t even imagine. It must be nuts.
CB: Yeah, but you know, there are worse ways to make a living. As soon as he starts earning his keep, that little shithead will be on the road with me. Get to work! Play some drums, count it in. I’ll grow a Partridge family.
You’ll have a roadie, he’s gonna work merch. You have a lot going on, leaving Bloodshot, finding a new home record release wise. But I know you self produce a lot. You’re a constant road dog, obviously things changing a bit because you have kids now. But maybe focuses or goals for you over these next few months?
CB: The next record, I mean that’s it as far as music goes. Hunkering down to get the next record down, whittling it down, figuring out what it’s going to be. I’ve written a lot. I didn’t write a lot after “Adios” for a good chunk of time. A year and a half maybe. I jotted here and there, but this past year, I wrote like 48 songs. Not 48 songs that I’ve played in another room with a human being. But 30 of them I did. So yeah, got to whittle that down. And I still got the old ones because it was so long ago to me. They sort of stack. Sometimes I’ll revisit them. With “Adios”, a couple songs were old, ones that I had had for years. We were just monkeying around in the studio after we did what we wanted to do and I threw, “Yeah, So What” at them. Sometimes they find a home but a lot of them are just wandering between world’s.