‘Lights Out’ for David Corley
An interview with Cara Gibney.
“With everyone’s help, I’ve been trying to quit drinkin’ myself to death and smokin’ like a fiend,” David Corley told me via the transatlantic email conversation we were having. I was asking about his health after the heart attack that had nearly killed him last year.
Indiana native David Corley is a late comer to the game. Releasing his first album ‘Available Light’ last year at the age of 53, his deep, smoke-filled half-talk, half-sung voice spans years’ worth of stories and panoramas. He’s roamed his homeland over the decades, soaking in the minutiae of his day to day experience, quietly building a library of songs that he performs, or saves, or steals from. He’s a strange concoction of otherworldly and down to earth. He is the voice of everyman and at the same time he is intrinsically, weirdly himself and nobody else.
In September 2015 as part of the European tour for his debut album ‘Available Light’ he was on stage at the TakeRoot Festival in the Netherlands when he hit the deck. We nearly lost him. After intensive care at the hospital, and long, patient convalescence when he finally returned home, we gradually got him back.
Fast forward eight months. “I’ve been walking and running (almost up to a coupla miles a day) a bit, just so I don’t drop dead on tour again” he continued. Obviously his near death hasn’t dampened his irreverence. During this time he has also been working on his next release, an EP entitled ‘Lights Out’ that will be set free in mid-April, followed by another European tour of Ireland, Holland, and the UK.
“I wanted to put out a new record this spring, and tour with that, but my heart problems set us back just long enough that an EP was pretty much all we can manage.” Corley told me. The record’s producer Chris Brown is also in the midst of making a new record, so time and resources have been stretched. “We’ve both been burning the midnight oil to pull this all together for the tour in May,” he confessed.
If the EP is called ‘Lights Out’, does that mean all the available light has gone? “Most certainly the Available Light hasn’t gone out,” he got back to me. “It’s actually a misnomer that we ended up calling the EP ‘Lights Out” he continued. Apparently Corley, his partner Kari Auerbach, and Chris Brown, schemed the name up together. “It’s called an EP” Aurbach told me, “but David writes songs that are of such a length (even when edited) that the actual playing time is more like a full length LP.”
“We were originally calling it ‘Down With The Universe’, which will be a song on the record, but thought twice about it,” Corley continued. “On a lark we decided on ‘Lights Out’ because there’s a song on the EP called “Lighting Downtown”. It’s a fun and kind of funny rock and roll tune and “Lights Out” is a line from it. Of course, (the fact) that I flat-lined last fall for a few minutes figures in …”
In the lead-up to the April launch he has released two tracks from the EP on Bandcamp, for sale and free streaming – “Blind Man” and ““Pullin’ Off The Wool”. What was the thinking behind releasing a couple of tracks before the EP is launched? “We, I, personally, want to get music out to people, and our fans,” he told me. “We aren’t trying to make money, just make a living. So it was kind of like, here’s a couple. We have nineteen songs in the works for the new record, and the EP and what’s coming up are just a few.”
So how did they select which tracks to release? “Well, we were going to do “Pullin’ Off The Wool” and “Watchin’ The Sun Go”, (which’ll be on the EP), to have a soul song, and a rock-steady number. But “Blind Man” just happened to come together faster, and it was a deadline kind of decision. Chris and I both thought “Blind Man” was just more put-together at that point.”
I asked if he’d tell me about his muse in the first track “Blind Man”. “Well, that’s a real funny tale,” he wrote back. “Years ago I actually decided to move to California from Indiana in the middle of winter, and left in a blinding snowstorm. I decided to get as far south as I could, for better weather. I ended up crossing through Texas, and the southern route, rather than Colorado or Wyoming, which is a prettier drive. Anyway, after an all-night drive in marginal, white-out conditions, I stopped in Austin, Texas, because it’s a great music town. And well, it was sunny and warm. Unbelievable twist of fate. I hung at some bar there, and talked to this beauteous 🙂 southern Texas bartendress, and we kinda hit it off, and she wanted out of Texas, and I was headed west. The song tells the story of what coulda been, but I wasn’t willing to take it on, and I got back in my ride, and made it to the coast without a beautiful girl in tow. Life is funny that way. Who knows, she might have been the love of my life, but our timing was bad, or I was blind to it.”
The female vocalists on the EP are the same singers who appeared on last year’s album ‘Available Light’. That is Sarah McDermott – “she’s kind of the rock and roll side of things, and I can’t wait for you to hear those songs,” and the “illustrious Kate Fenner,” Corley went on to explain.
On the second released track “Pullin’ Off The Wool”, Kate Fenner “sings with Sherman Holmes, of The Holmes Brothers who she and Chris (Brown) know from back in the days with the Bourbon Tabernacle Choir,” he continued. Producer Chris Brown is a renowned musician in his own right, noted back home in Canada for his role in the 80s/90s R&B-tinged rock band Bourbon Tabernacle Choir.
The Holmes Brothers were an American musical trio originally from Virginia who mixed blues, soul, gospel, country, and rhythm & blues. Kari Auerbach takes up the story. “The Holmes Brothers, famous and respected in their own right, helped out and influenced many a musician. Joan Osborne heavily credits them. They became good friends with Hugh Christopher (Chris Brown) in the mid-nineties and helped him out too. Sherman is a wonder!”
“Sherman is like 70 years old and a soul man” Corley went on to explain. “Such a cool dude, and it was real special to get him over to sing a tune. He and Kate just add-libbed in the backing vocals. Lots of fun.
The EP’s sepia-tinged heart monitor cover art was designed by Kari Auerbach, who has been key to Corley’s recovery since events unfolded in the Netherlands last year. “I felt it would be very powerful at this particular place and time in David’s trajectory to refer to hearts, broken, distress, bandages, the thin line between life and death and good things … gone sideways,” she explained. “That’s how I came up with a distressed sideways heart, broken by an EKG pulse.”
She went on to explain the design in finer detail. “I also felt quite strongly that absence can be more powerful than presence at times … think how Basquat would cross out words to emphasize them or the use of negative space in art. Sometimes a photo can’t convey that. David and I refined those ideas together and I brought them out in the cover, which I called “Bandaged Heart”. The colour and subtle light-leaks came from adding a sepia overlay. (More reference to peering through muslin bandages or sticky plaster band-aids, fading light and greeny- yellow EKG lights).”
The European tour starts in May. As well as the bard himself fronting the band, ‘Lights Out’ producer Chris Brown will accompany on keys, with Gregor Beresford on drums, Joey Wright on guitar and Cait O’Riordan on bass. Yes, that’s the same Cait O’Riordan of the Pogues – they met during the Irish leg of that European tour last year. There are also unconfirmed reports that backing vocalist Sarah McDermott is at this juncture planning on joining them, so we need to watch this space.
“Chris, Gregor Beresford and I are shedding on the tunes and playing a few shows here on the island and thereabouts, to make sure we have our proverbial shit together for the tour,” Corley enlightened me. “The island” he mentions is Wolfe Island, where producer Chris Brown runs his Post Office recording studio.
“I want to get after it,” Corley continued. “We were originally just going to tour with Chris, Joey and I as an acoustic trio … it’s incredible Cait and Gregor will be with us.” (Indeed, I have it on good authority that way back in the day David and Kari would drunkenly caterwaul to the Pogues).
On the Netherlands leg of the tour, Corley and Brown will be joined by BJ and the Wild Verband who toured with them last year. “Fucking (excuse me) really looking forward to all this” an unrestrained David Corley signed off. “I think we have the songs, and the band, to have some fun and get with it, so to speak. Can’t wait.”
4-30 (NL) R&B Night Groningen
5-1 (IE) Kilkenny Roots, Ryans
5-2 (IE) Kilkenny Roots, Cleere’s
5-5 (IE) Carlow, Visual Center for Performing Art
5-6 (IE) Cork, Coughlans
5-7 (IE) Waterford, Grimes
5-8 (IE) Ballina co. Tipperary – Washer Woman
5-9 (IE) Headford co. Galway – Campells Tavern
5-15 Venlo – Down By The River
5-16 Eindhoven – Meneer Frits
5-17 Bergen op Zoom – Crossroads BRTO
5-19 Leiden – Qbus
5-20 Boxmeer – Special guest Hidden Agenda
5-22 Oss – Oude Theater (Railroad Roots)
5-25 UK Brudenell Social Club, Leeds West, Yorkshire