To hear my interview with Cory Chisel click the play button below.
Cory Chisel Interview
Back in March, I received an email from Billy Mellon. Some people may know Billy as the charismatic owner of downtown restaurant manna. Beyond that, he is one of the major driving forces behind Wilmington Unplugged, an initiative dedicated to bringing new artists to Wilmington and encouraging rising musicians to come back and stay awhile.
Billy sent me a somewhat cryptic message: “Wanted to see if I could count on you for a little publicity for a big musical event that I am organizing for July 5.”
“I cannot say who it is because they are still not under contract, but he is an awesome musician (and very handsome and stylish).”
Ding, ding, ding! Now he’s talking my language…
My only clues beyond being “handsome and stylish” was that this would be his second time performing in Wilmington, he was/is on a supporting world tour with Norah Jones and has had appearances on both Conan and Letterman.
Turns out the mystery artist is Cory Chisel. Since I was not already familiar with his music described as “Americana, folk rock” with musician Adriel Harris rounding out his band The Wandering Sons, it took some of the fangirl nerves out of the equation.
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Since we would be discussing his personal style, I contacted Cory via email to set up a Skype interview. New to Skype, he set up an account just for the interview but we had some technical difficulties. Even though Cory is based in Nashville, he had set up camp at a hotel in Wisconsin, where he’s originally from, to prepare for a music festival he’s working on. He asked if we could push our interview back since he was the official babysitter and was busy “kid wrangling” for his “younger, wiser, more responsible sister.”
“When I come home, I’m always at a hotel with a pool and there’s ice cream and stuff so I get elected to be the babysitter often.”
There were no swimmie emergencies or brain freezes to report, but between my Skype update glitch and Cory’s Skype virgin status, we abandoned Skype and “met” on FaceTime instead.
Billy wasn’t lying. He was handsome and stylish.
They met at a beer festival in Wilmington several years back where Cory ended up staying an extra day because “Wilmington was just so beautiful.” Billy was the promoter on their show.
“Dude like that can make a town really cool.”
To listen to my interview with Cory Chisel click the play button, or continue reading.
Here we go!
“Functionally eccentric (laughs). I like wearing things that reflect the personality of what I do. We’re artists so we get to pull off certain things that other people might be pushing it if you work in a mill or something.”
“I like hats, work boots – things you can unload a van in, haul gear and are still fashionable. The nice part about wearing hats a lot is that it’s a good travel look because you don’t have to be in the best shape to look smart (laughs). You can roll out of a bus and wear a hat and get ‘Oh, he looks intelligent’ instead of what it’s hiding beneath.
I’m of the belief you can wear Levi’s, a Hanes t-shirt, nice boots and a leather jacket. Corpus gifted me this nice leather jacket. It makes even a dirty shirt look like it still works.
What I wake up in is what I wear on stage. It has to be natural. Not in a crumbly, I don’t care way. If I play Carnegie Hall (laughs), I’m gonna put a new shirt on. Nine times out of ten, what I start the day in is what I finish the day in. When you wear big hats and stuff, it kind of naturally transfers to the stage.”
“Depends how much my girlfriend packs. She plays in our band as well. She has a specific set of clothes she needs to have around her at all times. I’ve learned to pare down.”
“Good question. I love country and blues. The working man’s music has a look to it. Not a lot of rhinestones, tank tops, headbands and things. Stuff your grandfather wore but not in an old-timey way. Hopefully that’s the way our music is.
I have a little bit of trouble with …. there’s a style sense right now like – I’m wearing a vest and I’m old timey. I don’t like to look costume-y. Not really my thing. I guess my style is kind of on the line of that (laughs). You can tell people that wear hats all the time and with other people, it’s so noticeable.
It’s important to not be uncomfortable in the clothes you are wearing. Same thing goes for women. You can tell when you’re like ‘That girl does not wear those shoes every night!’
Anything that is overworked, in general with music or style, it’s missing the point.”
“I love Levi’s jeans and ABC denim. My leather jacket. I feel like it’s easy for guys. If you have the right pair of old jeans, it works. I have an old pair of vintage Justin boots probably from the 70’s. I think I paid $20 for them. The more fucked up they get, the cooler they are because they are made well.
With a nice jacket, pair of boots and a hat, you can go Hanes t-shirt all day long and it’s okay. I don’t know if I’m right but this is what I’m standing by.”
“Yeah, I’m a bit of a klutz so massive tears happen often. I’m not as graceful.
Going on David Letterman, we had an issue with me running into a part of the stage. Thankfully I had a jacket…”
“Paul Simonon, member of The Clash, bass player. I’m probably knicking his entire look.
He wears some ruffle shirts and shit that I won’t get into but he’s pretty cool. And I’ve always loved Western movies to a dorky degree. Pale Rider and Deadwood.”
“That’s a good question. I’m a mid-Western kid so the woods have a lot of imagery I draw on. I guess with fashion too. Being outside in the woods, tall Birch trees, lakes. Rural places with really honest beauty. I’m not going to Miami to get inspired.”
“I do. Living there is mostly a business decision. There’s so much music there right now. It’s insane. You can walk down the street and see every band everyone is paying hundreds of dollars at Lolapolooza, playing at some little bar.
New Orleans – also one of my favorite cities. I’d move there too if it wasn’t so damn hot.
Austin – that’s definitely on the list of towns you can be happy in. Not a lot of awesome places in Texas but Austin is a jewel. And, I always see some stylish folks in Charleston. Also one of my favorite places. If I don’t have a gig scheduled there now, I need to get one.”
“You ask some good questions! Let me think… I’ll call you like 10 times and be like No, this one. No…
Several hours later, the text message arrives:
“Guns of Brixton by The Clash is the most played song on my iPhone. Gotta be my theme song. Maybe not an autobiographical theme. Just the beat that moves my feet.”
“I always revert to ‘Go BIG’ at first. I imagine wearing some aubergine suit and think I want to stand out and make it different, but I have very specific things I feel comfortable in. I actually despise doing photo shoots. They suggest you wear certain things.
Simple and clean lines work best in general. I don’t like bright colors. I always end up in black, blue jeans and boots.
It’s always a fight (laughs) When you get photographed in the same stuff all the time, people want to see something different. But I look to people like Johnny Cash, that iconoclast look. I hate looking back in photos and being like ‘Why in God’s name did I have zebra stripes in my hair?!’”
“Los Angeles is one of my favorite places to shop. The whole town revolves around fashion. There are so many great showrooms to check out. I love meeting designers. My favorite right now is Billy Reid. I could basically just walk in and out of his store everyday and feel sharp. His aesthetic is very much my own. It’s hard for a dude to screw up really.
“I know it is! You can wear the same jeans everyday and noone’s gonna say – – “OMG, you wore that yesterdayyy!”
“When I was younger, you know you’re trying to make a statement all the time. I was a lot louder, my look was a little more intentionally rebellious. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve tried to simplify – something in my life in general I’m trying to master.”
“I’ve never been nervous on stage. I actually feel more comfortable there. When I get nervous, it’s when I come off stage. I feel like there’s pressure to say something smart. The stage is their weird, safe place for me. It’s controllable – unlike the real world.
I really enjoy people but certainly that can be the more awkward moment… there’s almost this pressure to deliver intellectually.
You forge a bond with people when you share your music and you try not to bum them out. Sometimes they might believe your politics are one way or your spiritually is another way. They can ask really pointed questions about your lyrics, and you feel compelled to have an answer. I have a special relationship and am very grateful to people who connect with the music we make. You just don’t want to let them down. In a social setting is sometimes where that happens.”
“Billy Reid again. Honestly. From bow ties to workshirts, he’s got the full look.
And Musician Justin Townes Earle (love him too!) Whenever I see him I’m like, ‘Damn son, where’d you get that?!’ He’s always got a good look. He’ll wear an ascot though. He’ll go all the way if he needs to. Also love Andre 3000… all the guys in The Roots dress real well, even some of the pro basketball players right now.”
“Ahhh, how long do you have? (fangirl giggle) Living in Nashville is really great. Girls look sharp all the time. Girls are playing more like the boys right now. It’s more about being functional and comfortable more than like, big hair and illusion.
Going shopping with the ladies is always a tricky situation because I can like a lot of different looks. I think I may just…. LIKE GIRLS.”
“Someone gave me very good advice once – Whatever you’re wearing, if someone handed you a glass of scotch, it should not look out of place.
Find the greatest picture of your grandfather that you just know he looks cool, and knock it off. With that classic, timeless look, you’ll never regret what you wore.
I like vintage but not pretending you’re in the 1950’s. There is so many great artisan designers right now. That seems to be a trend. Buy a leather jacket, pay some good money for it and you never need to buy another one again. It will age well and show all your travels.
I think it’s cool when your clothes tell a story about where you’ve been and things you value. By the way, I don’t know if I’m the most qualified person to speak on fashion..Maybe I should interview you about fashion?!
Billy (Mellon – back to Wilmington) is a stylish man right there. He finds a way to look stylish all the time.”
And the compliment is returned.
Reminds me of one of Cory’s recent tweets (just started following him):
“Someone told me it was National Text Your Friends Bizarre Compliments Day. Turns out there’s no such thing. Sad.”