Here's one for those of you who like your country more on the "alt" side. Cory Branan is a Nashville singer-songwriter who's been on the scene for some years now, but is attracting a fair amount of critical attention with his latest album, Mutt--a work that calls out the native Southerner's gift for storytelling as well as his uncategorizable knack for blending various musical styles (including country, of course--as well as blues, pop, and rock).
Branan's put out two records before this one, but Mutt marks his first album in six years. I had the opportunity to sit down and ask him a few questions about his career to date, how he describes his unique sound, and his thoughts on the Nashville music scene. Enjoy, and get to know this "one-to-watch" better!
Our Country: In your own words, can you explain your musical style or strengths, and what you think personally separates your work from other songwriters out there?
CB: Well musically it's kind of a grab bag --so much so that I ended up calling the record Mutt. Coming from Mississippi, I was obviously around the exposed roots of American music, but growing up I took whatever I could get ahold of musically--from Fugazi to Eazy-E. I work hard distilling the songs and then throw whatever else into the blender.
As far as what separates me from other songwriters, I really couldn't say. I don't necessarily see the need to be separate. I like being part of a long tradition of storytelling. The etymology of the word "original" meant more like tapping into the origin than being completely different.
Nashville is an extraordinarily competitive place for musicians. Can you describe your history with the town, and how being based there has helped or hindered you?
I'm a pretty recent transplant here, but lived here years ago as well. I've always lived in music towns though from Memphis and Austin to L.A. and New York. They're all really different, but have the common element of young and hungry talent. I dig being in a place I can get inspired, and occasionally have my face ripped off on a Tuesday night.
How do you feel about the Nashville music scene in general these days?
I really dig it here. There's much much more happening than the big hat, big boot that FM puts on repeat. There are the heavyweight songwriters you'd expect, but also thriving garage, indie, folk, and whatever flavor stuff you want.
What country artists specifically have influenced you over your life?
The heavies like Hank, Merle, George, Johnny, Dolly, and Willie of course (ones that only need one name). And great writers like Tom T. Hall and Keith Whitley.
How many instruments do you play, and which instrument is your primary songwriting go-to? Can you explain your songwriting process--do you start with a melody or a story first?
I play tolerable banjo and I own a piano--so really just guitar. I have a beautiful new handmade Bayard guitar that's my new favorite to write on. I have no set approach to songwriting. It does tend to be words first, but they're not usually set down around an idea. The song usually comes from the writing itself as opposed to "I'm gonna sit down and write a song about fill in the blank."
What would be your dream collaboration on stage or in the studio (any artist, living or dead)?
John Prine. No doubt about it. I mean, it'd be nice to sit and pick with the late Mississippi John Hurt...but yeah, the very much living, John Prine.