“Some musicians practice scales or have a couple drinks before a show while we’ll get dolled up and get on stage.”
Every band wants to stick out from their contemporaries in one way or another. This could be in what they wear on stage, how they put on a show, their stunningly original sound, or a combination of the three.
Starting out in Lowell and now based in New York City, indie rock act Corner Soul pulls this off by wearing colorful makeup and performing music that’s a mix of shoegaze and post-punk with slight funk and r&b sensibilities wrapped in a sheen of noise.
With the band returning to the scene where they cut their teeth for a headline Monday night special at O’Brien’s in Allston on Feb 28 with Couch Prints and Albany dream rock duo Laveda, I spoke with guitarist and vocalist Tom O’Donnell about moving to the Big Apple, drawing inspiration from ’70s glam, giving people something to look at, and Corner Soul’s latest single plus the album that will follow.
What made you want to move?
When the pandemic hit we hit a wall with gigging and that sort of thing like every other band. Everyone else in the group is in several different bands and we’re also working our jobs during the daytime, so it seemed like the appropriate time to get away. My fiance and I moved down to the Lower East Side of Manhattan around a year ago just to get out of the same repetitive creative thing. Being stuck with the pandemic going on kind of freed us up a bit to do some new stuff, which has been fun. We recently moved to Brooklyn actually. It seemed like the appropriate time to escape. It kind of freed us up to start over, I suppose.
What would you say inspires the band’s glam aesthetic? It kind of reminds me a lot of what Lou Reed, T. Rex, and David Bowie did during the ’70s where it’s not overdone but it’s enough to where you have substance to what you’re wearing and how you look.
Some of it is just from the acts we’re into. It’s obvious that I’ve taken cues from Bowie, Prince, T. Rex and all that stuff, for sure. Artists like Grace Jones have always had a distinctive look, the look was almost as much part of the vibe as the music was. A lot of it is also kind of reactionary, when we first started we played with a lot of punk bands and you see everyone in t-shirts and jeans, they all kind of looked the same and sounded the same. It was a way of differentiating from that and it always seems like we’re playing with these college party bands so it was a bit of a fuck you where if you were going to be on stage then fucking do something and give us something to fucking look at.
It’s kind of like what Lemmy Kilmister from Motörhead said, people don’t want to see the guy next door on stage, they want to see a being from another planet.
Yeah, and in a way I kind of look like that anyway half of the time I’m going out so I guess it was a natural progression to have the band all dolled up in that same respect. After a while it just became part of the ritual, it wasn’t as much of a deliberate thing as much as it was our way of preparing ahead of a show. Some musicians practice scales or have a couple drinks before a show while we’ll get dolled up and get on stage.
Back in November, Corner Soul released the single “If It’s Loud Then It’s Near.” You and the rest of the band handled the recording, producing, mixing, and mastering of the track. What was the experience like?
To an extent, we pretty much did both the single and the record that it’ll be off of ourselves. Every experience we’ve had recording in other people’s studios with other producers was never quite as fulfilling as what we would come up with ourselves. Maybe I’m a bit of a maniac in that respect, but I kind of need complete control over my shit, which I don’t really feel comfortable putting out sometimes. As far as that’s concerned, it’s more utilitarian than anything else because we’ve always wanted to do things the way we’ve wanted to do things. We’ve never wanted to sound like some other thing, we’ve never wanted to try to imitate, we’ve always wanted to work completely from the ground up and do it the way we wanted to do it without relying too much on any other outside influence or whatever.
The inspiration behind the song I’d like to think kind of eschews what it was trying to do, but a lot of the record was written just after the pandemic hit or just as it was happening. A lot of it didn’t get finished until I moved to New York City where things got revamped and I had the opportunity by myself to work whatever magic in the post-production, I suppose. It was initially written and recorded in Lowell and then it kind of got fucked with over and over again on the computer after the fact so we could get it to sound the way we wanted it to. I guess a lot of the upcoming record, which should be out hopefully in the next couple of months, was written as a panic prevention and as a way of getting that out of your system in some way shape or form.
The accompanying music video for it captures the fast paced life of living in a city with a lot of moving shots. From watching it, I felt like I was sitting in a subway car and looking over a city from the window. Who made the video and what made you want to structure it that way?
I shot it, pieced it together and pretty much did the whole thing while my fiance shot the shots that I’m in but pretty much everything else is basically exactly that. It was shot outside a subway window and at the time I was commuting from lower Manhattan to Brooklyn every day for work. It was kind of one of those things that after we’d been down here for a couple of months and the immediate luster of moving to a new city had kind of worn off, it was pretty much what every day looks like in New York City. I think a lot of the record has that feeling where it was the question of how do I put what I’m seeing every day onto tape? When I was working on the video I got a little worried because anyone who takes the M train to work every day is going to recognize every single shot and it was going to take all the mystery away by knowing exactly where this is.
You’ve mentioned that Corner Soul has a new album coming out titled Wishful Thinking. What can people expect from it?
It’s kind of hard to say. I hope people get what I gave to it, I guess, but it’s definitely an outlet as far as things you don’t get to just say in everyday life but are part of your everyday life. Generally a lot of the record is one of those post-pandemic projects where you’re finishing things up in that constant state of fucking panic where you don’t really know what tomorrow is going to look like and what world you’re going to be putting it out into. A lot of it had to do with documenting a very specific set of time and a lot of the larger political anger that comes with that. I guess more than any of the other Corner Soul records I would say that it’s kind of an outside album, it has a lot more to do with what was happening around me than what was happening internally.
I felt like the last record was very much written for and by my friends, loved ones and the people around me. It was me trying to say a bit of thanks to the people that helped me with it and after that chunk of time ended and we were isolated for such a long time, the new record became a bit more of a lashing out against whatever bullshit the world is throwing at you at any fucking moment. There are institutions that are designed to not let you live as harmoniously as you would like. I suppose I hope if there’s anything people get out of it is that your anger is rational, valid and there’s a place to put it, there’s always a place to put it. There’s always a productive way to utilize it and beyond that I hope that it’s a good fucking rock & roll record because I think the last couple ones were pointedly not really rock & roll albums.
We were trying to stretch as far away from that as we could get and in doing so I think the band had more to do with this record than in our previous releases. Especially when it came to recording the tracks and doing the instrumentation, it’s the pure sound of a band for the first time in a long time which I’m very excited about. If you’ve ever seen us live, this record has a lot more to do with our live performance than the previous ones did.
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.