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INTERVIEW: Greg Cornell

Hi Greg, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

Thanks so much for having me. I’ve been well. And busy!

Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Come On Home”?

My friend Kurt Olsen, whom I met in college, sent me some lyrics that I rewrote, added a verse and added a through-line: a story about a man who can’t stop fighting and the woman who loves him. It wasn’t based on any particular event that happened to me or Kurt or to anyone else we know. The man is stubborn and doesn’t know when to quit fighting: first he battles nature, working all day in the hot sun, then ends up at the VA with sun stroke, battles the VA, fights in a war whose purpose he doesn’t understand, then gets his head busted protesting the war he once fought in. And through all that the woman keeps saying, when you’re done fighting, come on home, I’ll be here. I think it could be set in either the Vietnam era or our current time, where we’ve been fighting a ridiculously long and stupid war against an enemy (“the terrorists”) who we don’t understand, or even try to. But I don’t think the song is political, it’s more of a sweet love song. And the music, a light country waltz, kind of backs that up.

Any plans to release a video for the single?

I had not considered it, but that might be a great idea! There’s a narrative and some strong images: working in the sun, fighting a war in a desert, protesting at a peace rally… I have to look into this!

Why naming the album after this track in particular?

When Adam Moss and I were discussing what to call the album, we realized that most of the songs shared a common theme, of coming home. Broken Wings is about a bird that finds refuge after flying through great hardship. Trail of Tears is the story of a young girl who is driven from her home during the relocation of the Cherokee from the southeast to Oklahoma in the 1830’s, and her courageous journey home, alone. Liars, Betrayers and Hellhounds  is about finding, or coming home, to true love after years of failed relationships. I Had A Pony is about making a home through work and love. So it’s in just about every song.

How was the recording and writing process?

We recorded in March 2016 at Brooklyn Recording near Red Hook, Brooklyn. Andy Taub, the proprietor, has collected an amazing assortment of equipment and musical instruments, from antique analog microphones to state-of-the-art digital stuff. I knew when I walked in for the first time that it was the place where I wanted to record. Some great musicians have recorded there, including Punch Brothers and Keith Richards. The song lyrics, music and arrangements were all set before we entered the studio because, unlike the Rolling Stones, we didn’t have the budget to make it up as we went along. It put pressure on me to have all the songs written before hand, but I found that the pressure really shortened the time it took to write a song! That was the case with I Had A Pony, which I finished the day before we recorded it. I had to rely on stream of consciousness writing for the first time, and the story kind of just emerged out of the first couple of lines: “I had a pony, dappled and gray. I called him Apples and Hay, because he liked them.” Pressure can be a good thing.

What was it like to work with Adam Moss and how did that relationship develop?

The producer and fiddle player Adam Moss I met at his fiddle class at the Jalopy Theatre and School of Music in Brooklyn. I have since given up my fantasy of being a fiddle player, but luckily have had the privilege of working with Adam ever since. He’s a regular in The Cornell Brothers and his playing is superb. He also convinced me to attend Miles of Music Camp in New Hampshire, an experience that helped immensely with my songwriting and performing. As the producer of the album, he hired the musicians, arranged a bunch of the songs, co-wrote the lyrics to Song for Nick, and played some killer solos. His contribution was great.

How much did he get to influence the album?

Well, a lot! He was my collaborator on this project. We worked together for weeks on the arrangements and he wrote specific music for the bridge on Heavenly Rain, a duet between him on fiddle and his twin brother David on cello, and he is really responsible for how the record sounds.

What draw you into Roots music?

In college, I was introduced to the roots of the music that I had been listening to in my teens. So I discovered that the more mainstream folk sounds of groups like CSN, Neil Young and Dylan were rooted in the traditions of the blues, old time and bluegrass. And what attracted me to that roots music was that it made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. It was more raw, more true.

What books worked as lyrical sources for this album?

Well of course there’s Walt Whitman, whose poem O Captain! My Captain! I took in its entirety and put music to. Then there’s a line from Henry David Thoreau in The Other Side of Sorrow, which was also inspired by Gregory David Roberts’ novel about India, Shantaram. There’s also an oblique reference to an essay by Kafka in Liars, Betrayers and Hellhounds. He wrote that we have psychological wounds that arrows continue to find throughout our lives: the arrows fir the wounds that are already there.

What aspects of relationships did you get to explore with this record?

How to keep your soul intact despite whatever difficulties the world may throw at you.

Any plans to hit the road? 

Yes. Here’s our upcoming tour schedule.

What else is happening next in Greg Cornell’s world?

Besides promoting the album and touring, I’m going to install a new kitchen at our place in Manhattan! Actually, I’m looking forward to it. I was a carpenter and contractor for many years, and I miss physical labor.

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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