ABOVE: CORY CHISEL. PHOTOGRAPHER: MARC McANDREWS. STYLIST: ROBERT JAMES. GROOMING: LESLIE ESPINOSA.
Old Believers is something of a new beginning for Cory Chisel. Three years after his last album, Death Won’t Send A Letter, and following several line-up changes, Chisel joined up with Adriel Harris to form Cory Chisel and The Wandering Sons. The musical partnership was born from a tragedy, when a mutual friend of Harris and Chisel passed away.
While Death Won’t Send A Letter focused on one particular event—Chisel was going through a painful divorce at the time-Old Believers, captures a collection of short stories.
We spoke with Cory Chisel about those tough times that create great music, reincarnation and settling down in Nashville.
ILANA KAPLAN: How’d you end up moving to Nashville?
CORY CHISEL: I kept coming down here for one reason or the other—making our own records or working with other people on music. [For] the amount of money I was spending going to and from this place, I could pretty much just rent a place. That sort of just perpetuated the move down here. One of my friends was living in this cool, old apartment building from 1905; it was really beautiful. I kind of always thought if he moved out, we would take his place. [When he actually did] decide to move out, it just forced our hand.
KAPLAN: That’s awesome. Had you ever lived in Nashville before?
CHISEL: No, but we made two records here. We kind of figured out that it’s become the spot to be at; so many creative people are living down here, and the rent is so low. The town is so open to the idea of tragically impoverished bohemian kids running around.
KAPLAN: You guys are “Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons.” Who are the “Wandering Sons?” Is this an allusion to religion?
CHISEL: It’s actually, if anything, an allusion to a more esoteric version of what religion brought about. W—and a lot of the people we associate with—feel pretty outside of the constructs not only of religion, but also of popular culture. Not feeling that the hipster movement really fits you, or any sort of religion or political movement. The Wandering Sons is a rotating cast of people we identify with for many different reasons—most of which are musical. I think a lot of us [came together out of] a sheer sense of needing to create a community that makes sense to us, because it isn’t just an obvious place.
KAPLAN: Did you always feel like you didn’t fit into a specific category, like the hipsters, the jocks or the “cool kids?”
CHISEL: I just think I’ve always been really aware of the paradoxes that they embody. I maybe didn’t fit in with the jocks because I was listening to the Sex Pistols and The Clash, but I still loved professional hockey. I still love working in the woods and yet really don’t identify with anyone that has a giant truck that’s driving around in the mud pushing weird kids around. I feel like I’ve never been comfortable in any counter-cultural—or whatever hipster is—you feel a little bit “anti” even from them because you’re aware that, as uncool as it can be to follow professional sports, you still fucking like the Blackhawks. The older you get, the more you become okay with those things. You find out that those things make you an individual. You look for other people that are kind of like you in that way. I don’t know if that made sense, but I tried my best.
KAPLAN: You grew up pretty religious. How did your religious beliefs and upbringing contribute to this album?
CHISEL: I’ve been an intensely spiritual person my entire life who’s really aware of shifts in myself and cultural shifts. I think I learned that skill growing up religious—being hyper-aware [that] everything had an added level of weight to it. Anything that would happen in my life, I was drawn to this otherworldly force behind it. Even if you didn’t understand that shit, you understood that we were all connected in unimaginable ways. You can feel drawn to make a piece of art about a person and maybe within weeks this person walks into your life. I was acutely aware of the things that lead you to make a piece of music. A lot of our music is inspired that way, from a lot of careful listening to what [you] feel is going on. I don’t think I would have that approach to making music if I didn’t grow up the way I grew up, but it’s not like I talk to any “God” about what I’m supposed to do.
KAPLAN : Your country-rock style seems to match your music. Is that an accident? Is that your personality coming out?
CHISEL: I’d be lying to you if I said the clothes I wear are an accident. I certainly didn’t accidentally fall into a pair of Cuban-heeled shoes. I was influenced a lot by Western movies and shows when I was younger. Maybe my true life’s goal was to be in one of those movies, like Pale Rider. I’m attracted to clothes that are [both] very flashy and very functional. I mean, a hat is just a good thing to wear; it keeps the sun off of your face. It also looks pretty sharp too. Music is like that too. Country music and blues are definitely rootsy and organic, but they’ve got something that’s cool about them that isn’t just “old-timey.”
KAPLAN: Your song “I’ve Been Accused” has a lot of heart to it; you say “You’re my only son” repeatedly. Is this an autobiographical track? Who are you referring to in this track?
CHISEL: I think I am [the “son”]. It resonates with me. My relationship with my father has definitely changed a lot since I was younger. To be perfectly honest with you, I don’t remember where the line came from directly; I know that it is symbolism of the way a father can feel about a son—desperately wanting him to do the things he should. It’s definitely something that’s in my real life, with my father. It definitely resonates me, but maybe it isn’t automatically about me and my dad.
KAPLAN: Old Believers and Death Won’t Send a Letter each have a mystical quality to them. Do you believe in spirits or anything like that?
CHISEL: I guess, I do. I definitely don’t feel like this is my first time being here. I feel like a lot of my life—things I’ve fucked up —I’ve remembered while doing them that I’m not supposed to live a certain way. Maybe I’ve tried something before. It is something I’m sort of aware of—I think a lot of people we associate ourselves with that really get our music easily fall in those realms. I don’t think we’re everybody’s band, but there are people that have experienced life in a similar way. We do end up resonating with those people.
CORY CHISEL AND THE WANDERING SONS NEW ALBUM OLD BELIEVERS COMES OUT ON JUNE 26.