A Chat with Cory Chisel

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Technology is a finicky thing; Cory Chisel’s cell dropped a call and then my recording program didn’t catch his line at all. That’s a Monday for you.

But Cory was very accommodating and gracious and left behind an excellent (second!) chat. He came off a great show this past Saturday night at the Paradise, opening for Murder by Death while staving off a raspy throat. He recovered, continuing with the Wandering Sons on tour this summer as they close the first act on the east coast and gear up for a second half out west with Norah Jones.

Before the technical mishap, we touched upon the teamwork of The Wandering Sons; Cory started on his working relationship with Brendan Benson. Being so close on a personal and professional level, Chisel admitted that they can interact with one another like “two bickering old ladies.” Brendan is also helpful in nudging Cory into the studio because he finds it challenging to record for a mic. Cory’s a one-take man, preferring live performances and sessions to the faceless microphone.

I mentioned to Chisel that his partnership with Adriel Harris reminded me of the chemistry that Tammi Terrell and Marvin Gaye had, funny thing, said Cory, because he and Harris had some plans to record some Marvin and Tammi songs down the line.

On Old Believers, Cory Chisel and The Wandering Sons struck a balance, having achieved an intimate yet relatable collection of songs; so we spoke again about the songwriting process, creative wavelength, and the joys of B-Sides.

CM: Talk to me once more about your inspirations, you know, how you’re really good with your songwriting craft and you’re able to separate yourself from imitation and replicating other artists.

Cory: Yeah! I think we were saying, you get better as you get older, definitely feeling more comfortable and certain than I was at 18. I think a really good thing about songwriting overall is like, it definitely moving more towards understanding what different musical styles resonates with you personally and what is authentic as opposed to something that I just like about other bands.

CM: Right.

Cory: You know, when you start making music it’s like you write reggae songs, you write rock songs, you write…you ‘re just getting used to what it is to be a writer. And, you know, eventually you get old enough to really …you know, just all of a sudden you need a speaking voice and you can change that too, you can speak the way that you talk—you can put an accent on—but there is one true voice that you have…that’s working yourself towards that point and being comfortable in exposing too, is the other thing.

CM: So you’re collaboration with Adriel and Brendan is just really…it just seems so natural with all of you, you just push each other along and that’s fantastic.

Cory: Yeah, we’re looking for that…natural’s the right word, I mean that’s sort of a quest to find you know, who the Wandering Sons are, mostly by who is natural to be with. And meeting those two was like meeting someone who I already knew in a way, you know? I mean, it was just fast and easy and we understood each other intuitively, and that’s a really beautiful feeling.

CM: How many years would you say that took to cultivate, would you say, because I’m sure you work with some people and it doesn’t always gel.

Cory: And sometimes it doesn’t last, you know?

CM: Yeah.

Cory: Sometimes you have a season where it works, and sometimes that season passes. So, I mean, we don’t have it perfectly, still I would like to have even more in my circle. But, we’re making—some new people we’re playing with right now—our guitar player’s 23 years-old and I feel like I’ve known him for a long time. Definitely one of the best parts about travel is that you kind of run into more people you would than just living on a street, say, in a neighborhood.

CM: Now, the material for Old Believers…did you hope to strike a chord with listeners so that they too could find it relatable, other than the songs being your own experiences?

Cory: Yeah. Well we try to take what is universal about the experience and sort of ponder on that rather than the sort of intricacies of exacting the details, like a diary entry. I think in that way it becomes something that, rather than just with sort of pitching this narcissistic way to look at myself, it’s a way to communicate and talk to each other.

CM: So once again, I’ll touch upon the Boston show. I’m glad you did have great time and that was one of your favorite shows!

Cory: Boston’s amazing for shows, I think they understand music intuitively, like it’s a part of the culture in Boston.

CM: Do you have any favorites off of Old Believers that you just love performing, that you find will be timeless in say, future performances down the line in tours and what have you?

Cory: Yeah, my favorite song to play right now is a song on the record called “Foxgloves.” It’s really turning out well in front of a live audience. And of course I really like “I’ve Been Accused,” it’s fun to play the song that people know, but it’s fun to find the other songs that are kind of deeper on the record. I’m really a B-Side writer, I spend a lot of time looking at the back half of a record, because I feel like it’s what people are left with, kind of like the closing of a movie. Some artists spend a lot of time upfront and I’m more of a back half, so it’s fun to see those songs coming to life live.

CM: Yeah! B-Sides are always gems.

Cory: I’m a B-Side fan. I care more about that. When someone really gets into the B-Side of our record, it really makes me happy.

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