Intro by Amanda Sigman // Interview by Bre Cura
Driven by the desire to make music that matters and inspired by all the beautiful and tragic things in life, indie/folk artist Corey Kilgannon brings a refreshingly genuine perspective to the music industry. Born outside of New York City but raised in Florida, Corey’s carries an overabundance of real, raw life experiences that he masterfully crafts into gorgeous songs. In each piece, he never shies away from the difficult topics, rather he uses them to bring a whole new level to his writing. Corey’s incredible talent has led him to share a stage with Jon Foreman, John Paul White, Joseph, Penny and Sparrow, David Ramirez, and Johnnyswim. We had the honor of hearing a little more about Corey and his song writing process, inspiration, and growth over the years. Check out the interview below!
As a songwriter you are able to capture little moments and big life revelations all in the same song. Where do you pull your lyricism from? Or rather, how does the songwriting process evolve for you?
I think the question itself hints at the answer in that the songs that tend to stir something deep within us do so because of some specific relatable detail that opens us up to consider the universal. Songwriting for me has been a very organic and chaotic process, a place to process deconstructing faith, to ponder love and how it feels when love ends, and to grieve the passing of a dear relative. The more I write about these things, and realize how connected we are as humans in our suffering, the more I’m inspired to refine my process and make beautiful songs that contain more intentionality and health within them. The lyrics are pulled from random moments, I’ll jot something down on my phone that is interesting, and I’m consistently journaling and writing poetry and things to keep words accessible. As life evolves for me and deepens (at 25 I see I have so so much to learn, at 22 I thought I had the whole duality thing figured out! Ha!) I anticipate the songs deepening and hopefully allowing me to further understand myself.
Many of your songs pack a sort of punch in the way that they indirectly call out quite a few people, even yourself, in a somewhat humorous but still “oh sh*t” kind of way. Was it always your intention to use your songwriting as a platform for these kind of topics to be discussed, or is that more what it has developed into?
I think I’ve always had a bit of a flair for angst and a passion for making things right that seem wrong. I am learning to do that with patience and kindness, and didn’t necessarily mean to make an “oh sh*t” call out record, but times are also very turbulent right now and the strongly worded language felt necessary. I heard on Joe Pug’s great podcast “The Working Songwriter” that young writers are often able to criticize the world scathingly without grouping themselves in as a part of the problem. Making the last record was the process of seeing myself as a part of all the ego and cruelty and diminishment that happens in our world (often at the hands of privileged white men, woof!) and wondering how to make sense of it, better yet how to do something about it. As I mentioned, the process has been rather chaotic for the last few years, doing very little favors for my mental health, so I wouldn’t say I set out with clear intentions, but this year those discussions and topics have been very present in my consciousness and they inevitably become a part of the tunes. It has, however, always been a goal to make music that inspires deep thought and inward reflection; I love thinking of my career as a platform that carries responsibility and I feel strongly that I want to use it to ease us along toward love and acceptance.
How has the climate of the world (politically, racially, religiously, etc.) played a role in the creation and evolution of your music?
I guess I don’t know how it could possibly not play a role! I love history and thinking about patterns and it really does seem like we are at some pretty major crossroads, for American history sure but even the world some of this stuff is unprecedented. We’ve never had more information available to us, and yet no one seems to know what truth is. Our inner compasses are so skewed, we are so quick to blame our problems on Trump or Catholics or whoever really, and the tension feels palpable. I’ve been pretty obsessed with Trump (as we all have) because in the least political way he just seems to represent the oafish greed and entitlement and fear that runs deep in the veins of our country. I think we are finally being forced to face the reality that we aren’t a “great” nation by any standard of fairness or kindness, power certainly but our path to it is riddled with the bodies of the poor and the vulnerable. It’s easy for me to reach conclusions of peace, but my life has been mostly unmarred by true suffering, certainly oppression. It is my spiritual belief that the world has all the potential for peace and harmony if we could put down our differences and communicate, and my job in that is to write songs that help others reach the same conclusions. It’s idealist in nature sure, but if everyone bought this hippie mumbo-jumbo we could literally create systems that work for everyone and all just get along. As the climate gets increasingly tense, I hope to keep reiterating that everything is going to be ok (somehow) and that the tension is ultimately illusory. We share the same cosmic fear!
Some of your older work is centered more on matters of love and self-reflection, rather per se than the state of the world as a whole. What were those earlier days creating music like? How do you think you have grown since your first releases?
Well the early days were fueled by the basic youngster desire to succeed, to be famous (toxic!), and to attract people to me. I got into performing at a very young age and think I sort of relied on music to express myself, often stunting my ability to express myself verbally or to my close friends and family. I don’t think there’s anything necessarily wrong with that outlook, it is probably perfectly normal in the early stages of artistry, but now I’ve got a handful of successes and a few failures under my belt and I feel more balanced. To revert to your first question, I see it as a process that is deeply personal and I realize I am allowed to make things for my own self-exploration, while also knowing the gravity of what some of these songs do for others and hoping to create things that speak to them on a deep level. I have become increasingly mindful of the process of each song, and I’m definitely working on slowing the process way down. In the early days you think all your songs are perfect and amazing and I am learning to trust myself more while also being more critical of what I release (critical in a kind way… that’s key!) In many ways I like to imagine I’m not so different than the kid in high school and college desperate to record and hustle and be the best artist I can be, but as a human I’ve grown to see that each and every moment of waking life is art so I don’t need to take myself too seriously.
How did you decide on the old-timey sound found in many of the tracks on the album As Above, So Below?
Well for starters I’ve been obsessed with 60s-70s era recordings for the last 3 years or so. I didn’t grow up listening to the Beatles and all the giants of that time, and I truly feel it was a musical and recording renaissance. I don’t know, I just listen to so much modern music and it’s totally lost on me. I think so much of it relies on computers and digital sounds, effects, and flash and I’m personally drawn to stuff that sounds like a couple people in a room jamming. There are obviously so many amazing artists that currently make music of that fashion too, but for this album I did want to lean into that old-time sound. Perhaps a bit of it was to draw parallels to the protest music of that time too, it seems a few other quite notable acts have released protest type albums in the last year, everyone that can should! Plus, there’s nothing like throwing an old vinyl on and feeling like you’re back in time. We just got the album on vinyl and I really think that will be the most enjoyable medium for it! The old sound certainly isn’t helping me get on playlists and all that jazz, but I’m happy with what we made, it’s wonky as hell and spits hard questions at you.
What do you want listeners to to walk away with after they listen to As Above, So Below?
An open mind and some challenging thoughts. I think “we all see the same things different ways” is a pretty major thesis for the album, seeing yourself as one small perspective on a planet of billions is humbling and ought to inspire us to grow in compassion for the many who are less fortunate. I also hope it ignites a bit of righteous anger at our world for the way we have treated women, we need to more boldly call this out and do things to make it a safe place for everyone. The irony of being a privileged white male on this soapbox is not lost on me, and I hope it sets an example for all the college kids and the well-to-do folks that it’s not wrong for us to have the experience we were born into, but it is wrong to be indifferent in situations where we directly profit off of the oppression and injustice of our forefathers, and our current situation. We should all be activists!
Do you feel that what you have to say as an artist, the thesis of your work, has remained the same as you’ve grown? Or has that changed with you?
I think I’m some ways it’s changed and in some ways it’s constant, though calling it a thesis makes it sound like some big intentional argument that I’m making, when I see it more as venturing further into themes and into self-knowledge. There are moments making music that feel very pure and innocent and connect me to how I felt as a youth making music, but there are also moments that feel more developed. I can’t emphasize enough that having success as an artist (from a worldly perspective) and perceived failures, really sent me on quite the identity crises as to why someone would make music the way I do and work so hard to promote it. Some of the intentions are good, some bad, so it’s a constant journey to investigate my motives and purify the process. I try not to think too hard about the big picture of what it will all look like in the end, and just focus on bringing beauty into each moment of it.
What role has religion played in your career, as it is something often highlighted in your works?
I’d say it’s played a pretty central role. I literally learned how to play guitar and sing and work a crowd on stages at church growing up. I was young and am thankful for the heaps of experience I had with music, but it also left a lot of spiritual emptiness and doubt about Christianity as a whole, especially as expressed by the American church (especially in the south-east!)
For years after my cousin passed, I was unable to construct any kind of reality that included religion or spirituality, depression was my god of sorts and I worshipped in bars. Lately, through Buddhist teachings, writers and poets like Rumi, Ram Dass, is Richard Rohr, I’ve had a profound and renewed interest in spirituality. I have very little interest or patience for dogmatic thinking, and really hate to see how often religion is used as a tool to separate “us” from “them” and leverages fear to coerce people to join and cooperate. No genuine spiritual leader talked like that, Jesus was a far out dude and taught radical inclusiveness and forgiveness. Those are ideas I can get behind and need help practicing. That’s what religion is to me, and I’m eager to keep exploring it in music.
It was an absolute honor to learn more about Corey and we’re excited to see all he does in the future. Coming up, Corey is releasing a new album on vinyl through his website! Best part? Half of ALL proceeds will be sent to RAINN, an organization that seeks to help survivors of sexual assault and prevent further violence.