Californian Cory Wells sits down with VH in the cosy St Pancras Old Church on a freezing cold November evening to tell us all about his debut album, ‘The Way We Are’, ahead of the second night of his three-night run supporting Dashboard Confessional.
You’ve got three nights here at St Pancras Old Church; you did the first night last night – is it beginning to feel like a residency?
I have this feeling it’s going to get better and better every night. It was a bit off-putting playing in a church. But I think maybe yesterday I psyched myself out. It’s weird because I went to Catholic school for like, nine years and it’s not the best memories there. So as soon as I walked in here – the smell of the incense, it was taking me back there, and it was just a weird place for me. But now I’m thinking I’m at peace with it. So I think it’ll get better and better every night.
What can we expect from your headline shows in January?
Well, right now, I’m playing by myself. In January, I’m going to have an electric guitar player with me. I have one in the States right now, but I couldn’t fly him out for this, and this is a solo thing. But I am going to be playing a lot more songs off of the record. I’ll have a bigger time slot. So hopefully I’ll be able to play all the songs I think people want to hear. I’ll post on Twitter and see what people want to hear, and then we’ll do it from there.
The Way We Are comes out tomorrow. Tell me everything about it.
I’ve been working on it for like, two years. Maybe a little more than two years. I think the first song that was written for it was ‘End of a Good Thing’ and that was really where it was like, “Ok, I think I can write ok music.” And then ‘Walk Away’ came after that. Storytelling-wise, ‘Walk Away’ and ‘End of a Good Thing’ kind of go hand-in-hand with each other. At least for me, personally. All the songs are from personal experience. So those are like part A and part B of one experience.
I really liked the record a lot. I feel like I found my centre of what I want to sound like, and then reached out into different corners of the music genres, and hopefully made what I think is a pretty eclectic record.
There’s some songs that have a banjo and a harmonica, and then there’s some songs that sound a little bit more like ‘End of a Good Thing’. And then ‘Cement’ is the last song that came out today, and that one’s the most maybe ‘radio-ish’ kind of one. That one’s the most out of left field, I think. But the record’s, just kind of all over the place, genre-wise. People love ‘End of a Good Thing’ so much, and I didn’t want to just write that song 12 times. So yeah, it was cool. I got to experiment a lot.
Part of it I did in LA with my good friend John, who I recorded my first ever acoustic song with, and I’ve just been working with him ever since. And then Pure Noise had me work with a producer named Anton, and he’s in Toronto in Canada, and he was in LA, and I did ‘Patience’ and the song ‘Lost’ with him. And I just loved working with him and then I couldn’t decide who I wanted to do the record with, so I just did it with both of them.
They kind of each have half of the record, and I’ve co-written quite a few songs with them. And then Anton produced or mixed all of it, so it all sounds cohesive.
You worked with Chris Carrabba from Dashboard Confessional on ‘Falling Apart’, how did that come about?
The label sent me to do all these co-writes in Nashville, and I’m not crazy about them. They’re a bit weird. It’s like a first date. You don’t know this person, and then you walk in, and you have to show them the deepest, most emotional part of you, and it’s just weird. It’s very weird. A lot of times, you don’t get much done because it’s hard to open up with somebody. But Chris… I’ve liked Dashboard for so long, and I tried not to be starstruck and just be like, “Hey dude, how are you? Pleasure to meet you,” not like, “Oh my God, I’m such a big fan!”
I had this song called ‘The Sun’, and it was about a specific thing to me that was really important to me, but I felt like I just needed more – like it wasn’t a great song. So I started playing it for him, and he really liked it, and we started working on it, and it turned into this song called ‘Fall Apart’ that Lizzie [Farrall] is also on. And it was just this cool moment. I really wanted this song to be about this specific thing, and he was like, “I don’t really get that from it,” and he’s like, “I think we should take this song in a different direction and I think you still need to write that song.”
It was really a huge breath of fresh air to me to not have to force the song to be what I wanted it to be. And it was like, “Ok, I get a second chance at this.” And I think the biggest thing that I’ve learned, working with him, is don’t be afraid to start over. Which can be terrifying sometimes when you’ve put a lot of work and a lot of emotion into something, but sometimes the best thing to do is just start over.
So it was like a good first date.
[Laughter] Absolutely! Yeah, it was great. I would love to do it again.
You launched this solo project in 2017. What was life like before that?
I played in a lot of different bands my whole life, as long as I can remember. A lot of metal, and hardcore, and punk, and stuff like that. I think it shows a little bit through the music of the Cory Wells solo project.
But yeah, just playing in a lot of metal bands, and stuff like that. Just thinking that I could do that for a living, and my parents did not get it. My dad loves country music, and he’s like, “I don’t know why [metal vocalists] have to sing like that,” and I’m like, “I don’t know why [country singers] have to sing like they’re rednecks”, because they’re not – it fits the music. I can’t imagine that they talk like they sing.
I always knew that I wanted to do the solo thing. I wrote and recorded my first song when I was like, 15 for an acoustic thing. And I knew that I wanted to do it, but I didn’t know how to sound like me as much as I wanted to. I just didn’t know what I wanted to sound like without sounding too much like something else and pulling too much from something. And then when I wrote the song ‘Avoid the Blame’, was really the first time I was like, “This is it! I want to take this and build out from here.” And it was a good starting place.
So one song was kind of the catalyst for everything.
Do you think you prefer making acoustic stuff?
Yeah, I think so. It was fun. I can’t even play a lot of the metal stuff anymore. I’ve just lost the chops to do it; I haven’t practiced it in so long.
This is you now!
Yeah. I love it so much more, and it’s taken me farther than music ever has. And really, the point of writing sad songs and stuff is… for me, what got me into it was… I’m at a point in my life and I feel like I’m alone and nobody can possibly feel the way that I feel. And then you hear a song, and it’s like, “This is about me!” And then to be able to do that and give that to somebody else is really what it’s about for me. And I think this is just the perfect kind of music to be able to do that.
And even though they’re sad songs, there’s comfort in knowing that you’re not the only one, and somebody else has gone through it, and they’ve come out the other side, and they’re alright.
Does it get lonely on tour, being a soloist?
Yeah. I’ve toured with other bands before, and in comparison to that, it definitely is. Like, the first couple days of tour, there’s other bands that are on the tour, and you’re looking to see who’s going to be your tight-knit family because you’re just by yourself. The last tour I did, I got really lucky. It was with a band called Selfish Things, and I ride shared with them. So they picked me up in Nashville, and it was like, “Ok, we live in this van now for two months.” And they’re just wonderful people, and I think I got very lucky on that tour.
What is the one main thing that you would like people to know about The Way We Are?
That’s a tough one. They’re mostly all about relationships and stuff like that. Don’t just quit and run at the first sign of anything making you unhappy. I see that so much where someone’s dating someone, and they’re like, “Oh, this person likes to party too much.” And they’re just out. And it’s like, “But you cared about that person.” Talk to them about it. It’s not just a black and white scenario.
Things take a lot of work, and that’s what the record is really about. All the hard work that I’ve put into my relationship, and persevering through all these obstacles that are put in your path. Don’t be discouraged. Good things take a lot of hard work.
‘The Way We Are’ is out now. Cory Wells comes back to St Pancras Old Church in London on January 24th, and The Victoria in Birmingham on January 25th. Watch the video for his latest single, ‘Cement’ below: