“I sort of became that guy last year, I went down the rabbit hole and I spent a lot of time learning.”
Regardless of whether it’s folk, country, blues, or whatever you want to call it, the Americana music scene has a lot of imitators and ripoffs. There’s always someone trying to sound like somebody else, and anybody who has a sense of anything can hear when it is happening.
All that considered, it’s refreshing when a musician forms a unique identity and seeks a separate path while abiding by the style. With somewhat of a punk edge, Memphis’ Cory Branan is one of those musicians who stand on his own.
He brings that distinct approach to City Winery Boston tonight at 8pm. We spoke ahead of the show about the first record he ever bought, Memphis having a chip on its shoulder, learning a bunch of covers while in quarantine, and looking forward to getting back on the road.
You’ve been considered too country for punk and too punk for country so you’re right in the middle of both musical styles. So which kind of music came first for you? Was the first album you ever bought a punk record or a country record?
The first record I ever bought was Prince’s Purple Rain, so .
You know, that’s just sort of press stuff and people wanting to define something. I grew up in Mississippi in a suburb of Memphis like a little hoodrat so I took whatever music I could find. There was music at the church, there’s roots music in my family with fiddle players and the like but I was into metal, I was into punk, early rap and just whatever. When I started playing guitar when I was 12 or 13, I was mostly in metal bands and then I went into playing in country bands and for whoever needed a guitar player. I didn’t write my own music until I was almost 25 so I didn’t start the songwriting thing until later.
I like all kinds of stuff. I know it’s generic to say that but I’m sort of Generation X so we were the first era to really start mixing things together.
There are a few bands from Memphis that walk this line between country and punk in their sound. For example, Lucero, Reigning Sound and The Oblivians have been doing it in their own way along with yourself. What do you think makes the music coming out of Memphis different from what’s coming out of Nashville or other cities in the south?
Both Nashville and Memphis are music towns but Memphis has a bit of a chip on its shoulder and it has such a huge burden of a legacy. A lot of music coming out of there is not what Memphis has created, there’s not a lot of soul coming out of there and there’s not a lot of powerpop coming out of there. There isn’t a lot of rockabilly coming out of there either but some people find a way to sort of distill the things they love about a town like Memphis. Also, you react against it in a way. We all have a chip on our shoulder from there and in Nashville country music found a way to stay commercial.
There’s studios, there’s radio stations, and there’s a whole machine there, while the blues in Memphis is just commerce blues, there’s no machine. It kind of burns off the chaff in a way. I’ve joked about how in Nashville you’ll play on a Tuesday night and there’s a chance that someone in the crowd can see you and do something for your career. In Memphis, shit no. You’re playing for crossed arms and people who think they’ve heard everything because there’s such a rich heritage there.
It kind of puts a fire in your belly and weeds out people who are in it for the wrong reasons. It definitely puts a chip on our shoulder. I feel very lucky to be from Memphis because I got steeped in tradition but I also got kicked in the chest.
Memphis is definitely more of a rougher town than what Nashville is.
While in quarantine because of COVID-19, you kept yourself busy by releasing five albums under the name “Quarantunes” which features covers, originals and home & studio recordings. Were all these tracks just laying in a hard drive somewhere and you figured to put them out while not being on the road? How did these albums come about?
They all happened in real time. I just sort of scrambled, I was like “Oh shit, I could be out of work for maybe two years. Depending on how this thing goes.” I had to figure something else out so I went down the rabbit hole of learning to record, mix and master. It’s a thing that I’ve avoided for years, I’ve been in nice studios doing records and I’m always interested in the engineering aspect of it but I’ve always on purpose never gone down that rabbit hole. I tend to obsess when I get into something so I instead let the guy who knows how that stuff works do his craft.
I sort of became that guy last year, I went down the rabbit hole and I spent a lot of time learning. In a way, I was using these records so people would request a tune. For a certain amount of money I would do an acoustic tune and for a certain amount of money I would do one electric. I played all the instruments while programming drums and including violin samples from the keyboard and stuff. There were no rules, I would cover anything.
As I was doing these I started putting them out as direct records, they’re only available through the website and they’re gonna go away once touring starts again. They’re never gonna go on Apple, Spotify or anything else, just direct to people. I ended up covering stuff you’d think like The Replacements and Springsteen but I also did “Fuck The Pain Away” by Peaches and just crazy stuff. Somebody had me cover that “Blurred Lines” song by Robin Thicke and it has super creepo lyrics so I did it in a Tom Waits hellscape style all slowed down like it was on quaaludes.
That’s good for your skills that you were able to learn new songs and home recording techniques while also having some money come in.
Yeah, I think it’ll pay off down the road with arranging.
I totally agree. You just alluded to it, but how do you feel about heading back out on tour after such a long time at home? Are you more excited than ever, a bit nervous or both?
All excitement, no nervousness. I’m just ready to break the door wide open. It’s always been a consistent joy for me when it comes to playing live. Everything in between such as getting off the stage and getting on the next stage is a pain in the ass but playing has always been a consistent joy. It’s going to be nice to see people, I’m not very sociable but the road is kind of my own social life so yeah I’m totally stoked. I needed it, frankly.
Yeah, like a lot of other musicians who definitely want to get back on the road and have that connection again. It’s been over four years since you put out your last studio album, Adios. Can we expect a new record soon?
I’ve been talking to a few labels so hopefully there will be ink to paper very soon. My idea is that I’m going to be touring until the fall, in the winter I want to get a deal done and then I’ll get into it in the next couple of months and knock this next one out. I got four records stacked up and I have it completely envisioned in my head. I don’t know which one I’m going to record first but last year I didn’t write anything. I wrote maybe three songs last year because I was so busy doing this other stuff.
During the year before that, I had written around 50 songs. I had a prolific stretch that year so I’m sitting on a sack of stuff raring to go. Hopefully ink will be on paper soon. I hope to have it out sometime in the spring.
Rob Duguay is an arts & entertainment journalist based in Providence, RI who is originally from Shelton, CT. Outside of DigBoston, he also writes for The Providence Journal, The Connecticut Examiner, The Newport Daily News, Worcester Magazine, New Noise Magazine, Northern Transmissions and numerous other publications. While covering mostly music, he has also written about film, TV, comedy, theatre, visual art, food, drink, sports and cannabis.