“You gotta live a life to write about it” explained David Corley in a recent press interview when asked why he released his debut album at the age of 53.
Available Light released in May of this year, received glowing press reviews internationally from an artist who was virtually unknown no more than six months ago. The album reflects the a journey of an artist, often harrowing, through a succession of career changes, desperation, relationship breakdowns, bad health and finally recovery, liberation and recognition.
The impact of the album resulted in a European tour with dates in Italy, The Netherlands, UK and Ireland.
Lonesome Highway met up with David Corley before his sold out show in Cleeres Kilkenny.
For me the Available Light is a 70’s album regardless when it was written. Was that the intention?
Thank you. I really wanted it to be that way, that is the thing I intended. I love that time and Christopher Brown, my producer and dear friend, he records with all analog equipment before he finally throws it on to pro tools or whatever he uses. I love that old bold sound something like when you put the yellow filter on a camera and it’s 1974 again. I did want the recording to have that warm vinyl feel. We actually wanted to make vinyl but it was just too expensive. If I can sell enough records we will definitely reissue it on vinyl, just not in my budget at the moment
Just how influential was the 9/10 review of Available Light by Allan Jones in Uncut Magazine earlier this year in terms of your profile in the UK and Europe?
Hugely, it was a real shock for us all. Bernadette Quigley, my publicist from New York, has been so great, she was sending our press kits to Uncut pretty consistently and to so many publications in Europe and the States. Uncut, like Rolling Stone have a policy of not often reviewing debut records so the exposure was mind-blowing and really gave us all a shot in the arm as far as getting the record in people’s ears and getting it out there.
Bernadette Quigley seems to be incredibly aware as a publicist. I’ve been so impressed at how swiftly she and the rest of your team have reacted and got you on tour in Europe
Bernadette has lots of Italian in her, a hard charger. She was originally only going to help us with the album release but she’s still with us a year later and we’ve become such good friends. What has helped is that she fell in love with my music straight away. She follows every lead and is a big part of our team
Why have we had to wait over thirty years to hear Available Light?
I have my partner Kori Auerbach and producer Hugh Christopher Brown to thank. I’d been writing songs since I was about ten years old but had no idea where to go with it. I was 18 years old, a songwriter and piano player in high school. I knew I was going to write songs all my life but didn’t think there was a future for me in. I didn’t grow up playing in bands or anything and then I moved to Athens and the music scene was really organic and almost bubbling up out of the earth.
I went to school in Athens Georgia in 1980, right when REM hit, The B52’s, Natalie Merchant and 10000 Maniacs, they were young acts back then in Athens. I could see REM playing Murmur live for a dollar in a club like this to maybe fifty people. Michael Stipe still had all his hair. Seeing Natalie Merchant at the 40 Watt Club when she was underage, like sixteen year old, she had to have her parents at the bar as chaperons because she was underage. She didn’t have 10000 Maniacs at that stage but there was a glow around her, you could see she was going to be huge. This really turned m on.
I’m from a small town in Indiana, when I told my mom I was going to write songs, she’d say fine but you’re going to business school first and going to graduate. So that was that, I got the degree somehow, while still writing songs on the side.
The whole Athens scene really changed my life and I thought I’m going to write songs and go for it. I saw that these little local guys could rise up and go international. Of course it didn’t really work out that way for me (laughs) so here I am thirty five years later and it’s finally happening.
I ended up drifting from job to job, playing weekend bands and still writing songs without getting anywhere. I knew it was a dead and street and was frustrated and so Kori took me up to New York where I was going to make a demo for a publishing deal. I was thinking I have about a hundred songs and I should be able to make some money from a life time of work.
I had taken a couple of shots in big studios during my career, correction, during my life, I haven’t had a career. Producers wanted to turn me in to someone else or slot me in a genre, I had to walk away, just could not do it.
Anyway, Kori got me to throw about thirty songs to Chris Brown to get a reaction, and he really liked them. The next day the three of us went out for dinner and Chris just said, David, how about making a record, and that was that
Had you known Chris Brown prior to that?
(Laughs) Funny story. Kori and I had been together in our early twenties, drifted apart but always kept in touch. We are back together now for eight years.
She had known Chris for about twenty years. His original band The Bourbon Tabernacle Choir was out of Canada, a nine piece band that had a lot of success at the time. When they would come down to New York City the whole band would stay in her loft. She was an artist and a jewellery maker down there. When that band broke up, Chris and Kate Fenner, who is his musical partner, they ended up living with Kori for five years, so I had been hearing about Chris and he had been hearing about me for probably twenty years without actually meeting. Chris has had an amazing career, great song writer and producer, has recorded solo albums and was a member of Barenaked Ladies for a spell.
He was in New York and I was in Los Angeles or I was in New York and he was in Canada, but we were finally introduced. I was 53 years old with a little home town band in Lafayette called Medicine Dog, just a weekend band playing all my music. What followed was wonderful and so much fun making the record. We spent as much time laughing in the studio as recording, the whole process was very organic. He has such a large collection of musicians that he plays with so we just played mix and match and he brought in whoever he thought would work. Gregor Beresford from Toronto who has played all over the world. Tony Scherr who has played with everyone including BB King, wonderful musician. Kate Fenner on backing vocals who Chris has played with for years
So have you been writing the album over those thirty five years or writing it recently based on your life experiences over the period.
No these songs are spread over and written throughout my career. End of my run I wrote when I was twenty nine or thirty probably and then there are two or three songs on the record that I’ve written in the last year. That’s whats kind of weird about it that the songs seem to fit together although they are very different and thats because I’m different now, I’m not thirty.
What is the plan going forward after the European Tour?
Well Chris and myself are already working on producing another album. We have a few bed tracks, I swear I’m going to make a more rock and roll record this time not as mellow as Available Light. I’m really taking Chris ’lead, he is such a talent, playing since high school, actually quit high school to play music. For this record I just gave him about thirty songs and he is sifting through them.
Available Light is more mellow than I had intended but Chris took the lead and said these are the songs. We have three or four tracks that did not make the album which will be on the next one. We have the acoustic and the foundations for these songs. I’ve also written three or four new songs that will probably make the record. Going to play some of them tonight and see how they go down.
Will the album be as confessional?
Well it will certainly be more rock and roll, more epic, bigger songs. I don’t know quite how to describe it because I don’t write rock and roll songs per se, though I do write heavy hitting up-tempo stuff. One song we are going to put on is called Vision Pilgrim, which I love. I’m putting on some of my favourite songs this time but still within the context of letting Chris decide which ones will work
What were your expectations for the album, where did you think it would go?
Funny we were just talking about this earlier. After we made the record Chris decided he would shop it around the world as he has so many different connections in so many different ports. I was just thinking, great I’ve made a record but will still probably make that publishing deal. I was ready to go back to work as a carpenter for Bob Talbot who I’ve worked with for the past ten years with the intention of taking over the business from him. I actually love carpentry and am pretty good at it. Things changed though and when Bob asked me when I’m coming back to work I had to break the news to him. That was a year and a half ago and the whole thing has been such a surprise to me, a wonderful surprise I have to say. I’m having the time of my life, I’m not really trying to get anywhere, just sell enough records to make enough money to make the next album. Not cheap even though we’re low budget, musicians have to be paid.
I’m sure it can’t be easy, what realistic opportunities are there for artists like you in New York?
It’s impossible. Have a look at my Kickstarter campaign video, it tells the story. It was a lightning strike juncture for me at this stage of my life. Just for some reason, serendipity or whatever, everything has just worked out perfectly for me. With Chris he just got me, my songs are pretty simple and structured but they are fragile and it takes someone with understanding to see where you’re at and understand you.
We can get gigs in New York now but can’t tour the States, it’s just too vast. I describe Europe as a dolphin and the States as a whale. You just can’t get your arm around it unless you have the music machine in your corner, which of course I don’t have. But the music scene in Europe is more congealed, people seem to listen and care. I’m not knocking America, I love my country, it’s just a fact.
The track End of my Run, was that written at rock bottom for you?
Yes it was. My life was a wreck at that time. Around thirty years old, working as a bar tender in New York, girlfriend just left me. I was up to this and that, living like a vampire, up all night and sleeping during the day, not in a good place. A good friend of mine used to come in to the bar I worked in. He was a roofer and I’d worked with him for a while.
Anyway, he used to come in to the bar and I’d give him free drinks and he’d borrow money from me at the end of the night and not pay his tab. Anyway one night he came in to the bar and put a napkin on the counter that said, it’s the end of the line, I’ve had my fun. I thought, that’s a song and it came from there.
How have the dates in Ireland been going?
The reaction in Ireland to the gigs have been crazy, you guys know your music.
Interview by Declan Culliton Photograph from davidcorleymusic.com