Wisconsin native Cory Chisel talks about playing Electric Lady Studios, his stirring brand of songwriting, and his metrobilly ways.
Like many artists before him, Cory Chisel first connected with the power of song and the spellbinding possibilities of live performance through the music he heard in church. The gospel's rich vernacular of loss and redemption also informed his innate poetic sense and lyrical range. For most of my life, he says, my dad was a Baptist minister, so I learned a lot about being a showman, and I learned a lot about music. Many of the hymns from church still are the most beautiful songs I know. I'm thankful for growing up where stories and the pursuit of happiness were on everybody's mind. I think I'm still trying to achieve the same euphoria I felt at a very young age, when I would be completely taken over by these rhythms and these sounds and these stories.
An equally potent influence on Chisel's worldview and wellspring of musical storytelling is the American heartland from which he hails. Based in Appleton, WI, where he's lived for almost twenty years. His family's roots, on both sides, reach about 500 miles north and west to Babbitt, Minnesota and neighboring Ely, beside the pristine Boundary Waters, the largest wilderness preserve east of the Rockies. The vast, open spaces and clear, deep lakes of the wild north are ingrained in Chisel's songs, which sound as if they come to him as naturally as breathing.
In an upbringing where he was largely sheltered from pop music, Chisel's fluency with music comes in great measure from always having played it with his family, for as long as he can remember. One of his grandfathers had nine brothers and, he notes, they're all great guitar players, and half of them play harmonica too. He also cites his Uncle Roger, a blues musician whose epic record collection exposed him to Howlin' Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Robert Johnson, Johnny Cash, Tom Waits, Bob Dylan and countless others as a chief source of inspiration. He was a musical force, says Cory. I always felt like I possessed something similar, that I understood the exorcism I saw him receiving through music.
Death Won't Send A Letter, Chisel's full-length debut for Black Seal Records, is a dark and urgent rock and roll vision. It takes a romantic albeit gutsy stance on the meaning of love and spirituality, as the songs seek to make sense of the world outside and human desires within reconciling the call of the road and a longing for home, literally and figuratively. With Grammy-winning producer Joe Chiccarelli (The Shins, The White Stripes) at the helm, Cory's songs have transformed into lush and nuanced recordings that never sacrifice his emotional vulnerability or his rich and unique vocal tone.
The songs on Death Won't Send A Letter were recorded primarily at Blackbird Studios in Nashville, TN with Chisel's backing vocalist/keyboard player Adriel Harris and Little Jack Lawrence (The Raconteurs, The Dead Weather) on initial tracking. Cory, Adriel and Little Jack were then joined by Jack's longtime collaborator Patrick Keeler (The Raconteurs, The Greenhornes) on drums. With Patrick and Jack's driving rhythm section the albums' sound took on a grittier hue. And in Brendan Benson Cory found a writing and arranging partner that birthed the lead album track Born Again. Carl Broemel from My Morning Jacket also contributes on guitar.
The album, released on Black Seal, follows up Cory Chisel & the Wandering Sons' 2008 live EP Cabin Ghosts, which Chisel co-produced with Tony Berg.
Cory Chisel and The Wandering Sons' Death Won't Send A Letter will be released September 29th of 2009 in the US.