After more than half a decade since his last full-length album, 12 Songs, Memphis-bred singer-songwriter Cory Branan returned earlier this year with Mutt, released via the venerable Chicago-based indie label Bloodshot Records. Branan wraps up his current tour, and plays his first homecoming show since the album's release, at the Hi-Tone Café this week. I talked with Branan about the long gap between albums, his recording process, and his recent move to Nashville.
Flyer: Let's start with the obvious. There was a six-year gap between 2006's 12 Songs and Mutt. Like a lot of people, I was starting to wonder if we were going to get another Cory Branan album.
Cory Branan: Me too. I was wondering that myself.
What took so long?
There were a lot of factors. I'd been touring a lot more. Doing more than 120 shows a year and trying to make more of a name for myself on the road. I did put out a split with Jon Snodgrass and a couple of seven-inches. Ideally, it would have been a four-year gap, because I did record Mutt a couple of years ago. Then it took awhile to shop it. When Bloodshot came on board, there were contracts. And then, once the contracts were signed, you're talking about another five months to get it out. This business — if it's not pop music and they don't stand to make a quick mint on it, it's not the fastest moving business.
You address the delay and kind of the wayward journey you'd been on right off the bat on Mutt,
with "The Corner."
It is about that, but, hopefully, it's not only about that. It's my personal take on frustration and dreams deferred. It came out how it came out, because obviously I was frustrated with that kind of stuff. But I hope the song opens up into something bigger than that. And it definitely opens up into the other songs.
When you wrote that song, did you feel like it was an album-opener or a way into whatever the next record was going to be?
I did, absolutely. I saw from the stack of songs I had to choose from, which was quite a few given how long it took, that a certain number went together thematically. And so I wrote a few to strengthen that, "The Corner" being one. It's sort of an introduction to those songs.
Presumably "Survivor Blues" was one of
those songs too.
To me the key lyric on the record is from "Survivor Blues": "How about you wait to see just what you regret/Until we get what we get."
That's one of them. That and the chorus to "Lily." It's all through the record, but I hope it's not in your face too much.
you had some unexpected breaks very early in your career, and for a variety of reasons it didn't go quite the way some people thought it might or maybe the way you thought it might. It feels like that song's take on the notion of regret is related to that.
Yeah, but not directly. There are far more disappointing things in my life than some of the early press not panning out. [Laughs] But it is a constant thing. This is my work, my chosen trade, and it's frustrating sometimes. Things have gone very slowly, but it's getting better. I've been carving out a name for myself in the toilets across America and Europe. I'm lucky enough to have fans who can find use for the songs. I think they resonate with people in a useful way.
You're known as a singer-songwriter, but you put a lot more studio craft into your records than a lot of artists of that ilk. Do you like to tinker with songs? Do you want more going on than the basic template?
I enjoy that process. I hear these songs in a different way. I play stripped-down at shows. But I have different musical aspirations as far as the records go. I hear them as arrangements. Maybe some people would be happier if I just did really stripped-down, rootsy stuff and produced on the side. [Laughs] But I don't really tinker. I still have that Memphis approach of arrange it fast and record it fast.
You moved to Nashville a little while before the album came out. and I read a story in the Nashville press that made it sound like you were some native that had returned home. It didn't mention Memphis at all. They know you're a Memphis/Mississippi guy, right?
There is that funny rub. I guess we've done it too. Sun's big three were from Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas. The Nashville-Memphis thing is always funny to me. I get Memphis' beef with Nashville, but we would have whored out our musical legacy if we could. But, luckily, blues is impervious to commercialization. Or, when it isn't, it's really awful. That's the big thing — authenticity vs. commerce, with 200 miles in between. But there's a great underground scene in Nashville. And you've obviously got pickers and people doing the hustle. It's not as comfortable in Nashville. It makes for some really awful, raw ambition. But it also lends a support system for actual musicians.
Are we going to have to wait another six years for the next Cory Branan record?
Absolutely not. Now that I've got a home on the label, unless they boot me out, it'll be every 18 months. I'll probably get home from Europe in November, and I'll ideally record the next one this winter.
The Hi-Tone Café
Friday, July 20th
9 p.m.; $10