I’ll be honest: I don’t know how to introduce Cory Branan. Sure, there are the press release bullet-points:
–Critically-acclaimed singer/songwriter from Memphis
–Released The Hell You Say in 2002 and 12 Songs in 2006
–Performed on Letterman and Carson Daly
–Toured with everyone from Jamey Johnson to Lucero to Dashboard Confessional
–On tour now, and gearing up for the release of his greatly-anticipated third album
But there’s so much more to it. When I first heard Cory, I was a kid sneaking into his shows, often playing alongside Lucero. It was a huge source of pride and inspiration seeing this new generation of artists emerging in my hometown. In the years since, he’s continued to make Memphis proud, evolving from a songwriting prodigy to a master craftsman. As a performer, as a songwriter, and as a poet, Branan isn’t just a rare talent; he’s been a major influence on my own music, and on so many of my peers.
We’ve crossed paths several times, but we’ve never talked at length about his music, his creative process, his upcoming record, or his time in Memphis. We talked about all that and more at Otherlands last week. So please, enjoy…
…Another Cup of Coffee with Cory Branan!
[Note: Cory Branan will be playing at the Hi-Tone in Memphis, Thursday May 26. To stay updated on all of Cory’s news and tour dates, click here. To read all the past Another Cups of Coffee, click here.]
So you’ve been in town for a little bit?
Yeah, yeah. Laying low, helping out at home, being with family.
Where’s that–Southaven? Did you grow up in there?
Mm-hmm. Born in Memphis. I always joke that the hospitals sucked, but it’s the truth–there was no Baptist Southaven then. So they came up here and had me.
Southaven’s different from even ten years ago. Lots of development.
Yeah, I’m one of those old dudes now, “remember when this used to be…” But where that hospital is now, where all that craptacular clusterfuck of fast-food places is, that used to be dirt. My old man made model planes, we used to fly model planes up there by the hospital.
So, when’d you come to Memphis? Did you immediately start playing around town?
Started playing guitar young, played in some bands, nothing anybody would’ve heard of though.
I think everyone’s read the metal-band-to-Leonard-Cohen press release by now.
Yeah! It’s true and not true. I guess I moved up here and started bartending at the Peabody.
That’s a good gig.
Yeah, it was fun, and it got me out of my shell. Because I was more of a shy kind of kid.
It’s funny, I always talk about the two things that are really influential on what I’ve done: the church and the bar. It really is true. You can’t underestimate the power of hearing the poetry of the Old Testament read to you every day in a really fundamental church; and then shooting the shit at the bar. That really got me out of my shell.
Were you already performing in town then, too?
Yeah, about then. I guess I started playing at the Daily Planet first, just getting on open mic nights, playing covers. Didn’t start writing until that summer when I was between 24 and 25.
That was a cool time in Memphis. Lucero was really getting started around then too.
I ended up running into the guys when we were both starting. I think I first ran into them at WEVL, the radio station. We’d play after each other on some radio shows.
I was introduced to you, Lucero, and Pawtuckets all at the same time. I was in Nashville, my family had just moved to Arkansas, and I was missing Memphis, feeling displaced. Then a friend gave me The Hell You Say, Tennessee, and Dogsbody Factotum all coming out of Memphis, all at that time. Knocked me out. Still, three of my favorite albums.
Hell yeah! We used to go see Pawtuckets all the time.
Next thing I know, I’m forcing everyone around me to come watch you on Letterman. Tell me about that.
Ah, stories for the kids, I guess. It was a fluke that we got to play it. It started because I had a killer publicist who took on the record as kind of her pet project. She was a monster, worked with Moby, Ben Harper, Jack Johnson. She got it in the hands of the people. They put the record on as load-in music–you know, when they were getting ready for the show, it would be playing. So he heard it every day and I guess he liked it.
So Letterman personally did it?
Yeah, least that’s how it was told to me. He was like, “let the kid come on.” The best part of it was getting the guys together for the gig and not telling them what it was for, then telling them all at the same time.
Then the Carson Daly performance was around the same time. Letterman was full band, Daly was solo acoustic. Really different performances.
The Carson thing came out second but it was shot first. I’d never done anything like that, so I thought it would be funny to just do the song like I do it at each show–walk out and do whatever the fuck comes off the top of my head. So I did it that way that night. Walked out, picked a couple people in the crowd, and said, “alright, I’m going to give this song to them.”
It might be a terrible version, I don’t know. I watched it once. I’m actually kind of proud that I did it that off-the-cuff.