Now/It's: An Interview with King Corduroy

There’s no shortage of (perceived) hallowed grounds in and around Nashville. Whether or not such vaunted statuses ascribed to certain spaces are warranted or not remains to be seen, but I digress. It seems as though Nashville loves to leverage it’s current popularity to inauspiciously over-emphasize the importance of certain locales (looking at you, Hattie B’s), more or less diluting the importance of a Ryman or Arnold’s. But then there are cities like Muscle Shoals, whose reputation to many is built solely upon the buried tubes and forbearing status of Rick Hall’s FAME Studios. I’ll spare you the history lesson (aka "who’s who”) of FAME, but with all due respect to the 14,000 or so residents of Muscle Shoals, most of us wouldn’t otherwise bat an eye at Muscle Shoals were it not for Hall and The Swampers (house band). So to that point, the fact that a studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama would draw a Nashville-based King Corduroy (and many others) to its hallowed grounds, must really mean it’s something worth making the hajj for. But don’t take my word for it. King Corduroy shares what drew him to FAME to record his recently released EP, Avalon Ave, as well as his troubadour ways, among many other fascinating anecdotal stories, to boot.

Now/It’s met with King Corduroy at his home in the Riverside Village neighborhood of East Nashville, Tennessee.

King Corduroy - My man! How you doing?

Now/It’s - I’m doing well!

KC - Pleasure to meet you man.

N/I - You too. Thanks for meeting with me.

KC - Oh yeah! I appreciate you taking the time. [Pointing to two chairs in the living room] I figure we can chill right here….

N/I - Sure. Wherever is most comfortable for you.

KC - There’s another table over there if you need it.

N/I - All good. This should be perfect.

KC - Dig it.

N/I - Well how are you? 

KC - I’m doing well. I’m a little stressed….

N/I - I was about to ask, your EP comes the 16th?

KC - It comes out the 16th. It was so expensive, the last part, which is kind of the most important, which would be having the physical CDs at the release show - I put that off at the last minute. And then there’s merch. And I’m going on a tour - a two week tour right after we release it, so I’m trying to be on point for that. I’ve been emailing all morning - I switched CD companies at the last minute to get an assured fast time turnaround, because I was getting a three day window with this one company, and I just didn’t trust it. Anyway… That’s what I’ve been focusing on all morning, so it feels good to shift gears and just talk about the record [laughs].

N/I - Sure. So you’re basically running the show as far as King Corduroy is concerned? 

KC - Yeah man. I don’t have anyone behind me as far as all of that is concerned, except for Baby Robot, the PR campaign, and then having Jimbo [Hart] as a producer on the record. Otherwise, one man. 

N/I - I guess that’s the one - I wouldn’t call it the “downside,” but rather, one of the less appealing aspects to being an independent artist. You have to handle everything, and you will have situations where you will have to decide to change CD companies at the eleventh hour, adding a little extra to your plate. But at the same time, through your own wits, you managed to get yourself connected with Jimbo. How did that come about?

KC - The universe lead me to Jimbo. We had met in… I reckon 2009, probably. I went to Muscle Shoals because of my good buddy Clayton Colvin. I was living in Austin at the time, but I’m from Alabama. So Clayton and I took a journey back to Alabama from Texas for Christmas, and he invited me to come to this jam in Muscle Shoals at the Mexican restaurant. [Laughs] It was an interesting place. The back room was huge, though. It was just filled with people, a lot of cigarette smoke, and a lot of great musicians. So Jimbo and I jammed that night, and then we hit it off, and then I didn’t see him until we came across each other again damn near ten years later. I was actually doing a session for Clayton - I played on his new record that Jimbo produced as well. So we hit it off and then I was like “Man, I should try to get that cat on a gig.” I knew he was really busy, or always shifting side men, so I was like, “I’ll just ask if he wants to do a gig with us.” And he really dug it, and I really dug the way he played, and I knew I wanted to make a record in Muscle Shoals, at FAME, and he’s from there, so he knew all of these players and Rodney, the owner, and Giff, the engineer - everybody. It was like plug and play with Jimbo, because he had all the context. I knew I wanted to make a record in Muscle Shoals, but part of that is to use the local musicians, because that’s how you get the feel. That’s part of the Muscle Shoals sound - the hands that crafted it. 

N/I - Absolutely. It absolutely is.

KC - So that was cool, man, getting him to plug me in. He knew exactly what we needed and got a lot of those players on there.

N/I - So are the players down there in Muscle Shoals - do they differ a lot from players from here in Nashville? Or Austin? Is there a different feel when it comes to getting warmed up with them?

KC - Well, that’s the cool thing about music is that it’s a universal language, for sure. There are cats that play with certain styles and all that. I would say that Austin and Nashville musicians in these two towns are coming from a similar place. There are always subtleties, of course. If you want to say “the best of the best” for country guitar player or whatever, you might be looking for a specific thing, but as far as “feel” is concerned, I think that there’s a lot of cats in Nashville that can play with that Muscle Shoals feel, but a lot of those people from Muscle Shoals do things that they’re probably not even cognizant of. Like very minute details. I think it’s all about feel, where you put the notes, because having something a little bit behind the beat can be nice, but even where you put that, sometimes the subtleties of the grooves can change. Chad Gamble, as a drummer, has a very unique feel that I’ve never played with before. I’ve never played with anybody before that plays like him. His pocket is crazy and he’s always working the hi-hat. It’s like his left foot is part of his special sauce, for sure. I know he spent some time in Memphis, and that’s where his brother Al lives. So he’s got some of that Al Jackson kind of thing, too. And we got Al on the record, and he slayed. But I’d definitely say that Nashville cats and Muscle Shoals cats have some similarities. Plus, way that the economy is, there are a lot of people moving. So there are people from Austin or wherever all over the place, in all sorts of different towns. You realize how small it is, because I spent time in LA, too. Four years out there. When we talk about feel, there’s definitely a specific way the musicians play. 

N/I - For sure. Just on the subject of drummers, [James] Gadson is one of the most famous LA drummers, and that dude has been with everyone from Bill Withers to most recently, D’Angelo. That’s a lot of time there, but that dude has the smoothest pocket, and it’s unreal. But that to me, with you talking about LA players, I immediately think of James Gadson. 

KC - Well dude, he’s the man, and for me for sure, if you’re going to dig deep like that, Jim Keltner is one of the greatest of all time. Jim Gordon. Hal Blaine, if you’re going to talk about the Wrecking Crew and what not. But I feel like the cats of our generation who I’ve seen, as far as the R&B blues scene, it’s a lot more cats who are into the contemporary gospel sound, which is way more drumrolls, way more cymbal work, and a lot less pocket, like you’re talking about, which is what I’m searching for. But LA in 1972 is not LA in 2019.

N/I - Of course. Not even close. So when you’re going through this scenario of players. Jimbo’s connecting you to all these different players - how do you feel in that process? Do you feel like you can outright say “No” or is it more of a thought that if Jimbo sent them your way, they’re the right person?

KC - Dude. I love that you asked that, because, yeah. I asked Jimbo to produce it, so whatever he suggests, I’m going to go with, but actually…. We were talking in the beginning about whether it’s just me or whatever - I moved here with a cat that I met in LA - Kaleb Patterson. We met at this place called The Piano Bar. I should say, we’re a team, and we moved here together. He helped out a lot in the album process. But I’m mentioning him now, more specifically, because we’re both guitar players. We had two guitar players, but I never thought we needed another guitar player. But Jimbo wanted to use a third guitar player named Barry Billings. And not only did he want to use a third guitar player, but he wanted him to play acoustic guitar on every song. Even when I told Kaleb that, he was like “You know, I don’t know if we need that.” And I said the same thing, but if Jimbo wanted to do it, I was going to trust his instincts. Barry has a 1959 Epiphone acoustic….

N/I - Oh man….

KC - Yeah! And Jimbo says it’s his favorite sounding acoustic guitar in Muscle Shoals. The way Barry plays it is there, but that texture was what he thought would be nicest. Dude, his parts were incredible! And now Kaleb’s playing a couple of his parts on the live set now. So the musicality and the ideas everybody brought to the table were perfect. There’s a little bit of Moog synthesizer on there, which I wasn’t really sure if I wanted that either, but one of the guys from his band did some really cool things with that. But I went with all of his instincts.

N/I - It’s always amusing to me, in those those situations - you don’t strike me as someone who is unwilling to defer to whoever is producing. If you wanted Jimbo to produce it, there’s a reason you wanted him to produce it. You trust his instincts, his view, and perspective, but at the same time, you’re going to a place that is known for the music that’s made out of there. I would imagine that if you’re recording at Fame, there’s a hope for a high value result. So I’m always interested in the pressures that coincide with recording at Fame, a place where Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, and countless others have recorded there. How do you keep yourself in the moment of “We’re here to produce a great EP” but also appreciate the setting. Can you take the time to appreciate what’s going on there?

KC - Dude. That’s such a great question. That’s so true. I went there, and there’s so much history already been there, and I can tell we’re coming from a similar place - we actually know the place, the players - so yeah dude. Not only did all of that happen there, but there are also pictures of it all everywhere. But at the same time, I went there to make a record, and I wanted to be focused on that. The first day, I don’t think I took it in so much, I just worked it. But then the next day, I went back and I was like “Hey, I need to appreciate these things and take it all in.” But I also took a camera guy down there, and a photographer - Michael - so I knew he’d be taking in stuff. We also made a great live video for “Shamrock” that’s in the recording studio, so I’ll always have that. In a way, I’ll never forget what that moment is like. But for the most part, I was trying to focus on making the music. 

N/I - That’s one of those things, that for myself, I feel like I would go down there and try to force myself to appreciate it all, but it almost certainly wouldn’t be until after the fact. Hopefully you’d have something like a video to hold onto forever, for posterity’s sake, to ensure anything you might have forgotten doesn’t become just that. You might see some little corner of the studio and it triggers a memory. But that’s a bit of a digression on my part - how long have you been in Nashville, now?

KC - Well, I’ve been here two years, but I came in the summer of 2014. I spent the summer here, and I made a record with Mark Thornton, who is Jerry Reed’s guitar player. I met him up at the [Nashville] Palace. So being here for that summer allowed me to already know a lot of players here, and get to know the scene. I already had gigs lined up. I came with a purpose, so I wasn’t discovering as much as some people tend to do. On top of that, all of these people are moving here, so I know all these people from Austin, people from LA, and I grew up in Alabama, so there are people I know from there.

N/I - Well Alabama’s close enough, so that makes sense. 

KC - So that makes it a more familiar town. 

N/I - That’s funny, because I’ve seen you at the Legion or the Palace a thousand times over, and you think, “Man, he could have been here for all of about nine months, or he’s been here for forever.” So that’s a credit to you for showing up in 2014 with a purpose, I think that’s something important. Especially in Nashville, you notice when people who up with a purpose versus showing up and waiting for whatever may come. Having a purpose obviously pays off. 

KC - Well that’s what Austin did for me. From Alabama, I went to Austin, and I was there for six years. When I got to Austin, I was like “Holy shit” when I started playing with cats round there, especially coming from Alabama. So I think that was my incubator period where I wasn’t so much concerned with my career as much as I was with just making music. So that helped me when I came to Nashville to be like “I didn’t come to fuck around, I came to work it.” 

N/I - That’s something that I think is lost on a lot of people, there does need to be a bit of an incubating period, that’s a great way to phrase it. You have to figure more stuff out about yourself as opposed to “What am I going to do with King Corduroy from this point on?” It seems like at this point, you’re starting to hit your stride with that. Through those past two more concerted years of effort in Nashville, how do they differ from that summer you spent in Nashville back in 2014? Because both periods of time were equal parts filled with purpose, and career oriented purpose, I would imagine. I don’t want to say “What’s the gameplan?” but is there a discernible difference in being able to tell that a visible path has opened up?

KC - Absolutely. I think with everything, it’s about longevity in this game. So all the years start to stack up. I came to Nashville with a purpose of making a record and surveying the scene and considering the move, but knowing that eventually I needed to do it. I think the only thing I was lacking in my LA game was the money to put behind the art to push. Because really, it doesn’t matter how good the art is, all that really matters is if you can get it out there and take some money to get it to the people. So by moving to Nashville, it’s so much cheaper here, and there’s more of an abundance of work, then teaming up with Kaleb I was able to harness the energy of the past two years to be business minded, and not just focusing on art and growth as a musician. So I think that’s paying off now.

N/I - To the point of the business-minded side of Kind Corduroy, was that something that came naturally? Or was that something you needed to learn?

KC - The business aspect? Whoa buddy. I guess you just find everything as it comes to you, and you figure out the way you do after it works. To be honest, I don’t think I “know,” which is one of the reasons I went to LA, because I knew there was a lot of people there with money, and I thought I could get an investor in the project, and that way I could just keep working it once I get people behind it. By the time I got down here, I learned that I need to stop waiting on somebody else, and I just need to manifest. So that’s when I switched my mindset and made myself a little more business oriented. But all the stuff I did in the meantime led to me meeting Kaleb, and I found myself in Mexico for four months playing with Joe Firstman from Cordovas, and I did so many cool things, and I lived in Topanga in LA and met a lot of spiritual people there. LA, as crazy as it might sound, kind of helped “center” me, because of the path that I was following there.

N/I - So with the songs on the EP, how did they come about? Did they all manifest themselves in Muscle Shoals, or was it more of a time consuming process? Walk me through the songs on Avalon.

KC - Sure man! They’ve been stacking up, because I’ve been writing songs for a long time, and this is my fourth record, so I’ve kind of got that going for me, as I’ve got a lot of songs in the bag. So for this record, I wanted to write storytelling songs. I like writing storytelling songs, and I feel like that’s the essence of what a troubadour is - it’s telling stories. So I just chose some stories, man. 

N/I - Well what are the stories?

KC - I guess if you’re going to go down the tracklist to touch base on all of them, the first song, “Everyone Has to Love,” the genesis of that was a phrase from a cat that I met in Mexico, and he told me that he had been to every continent, so I asked, “What’s your favorite place?” and he said “It doesn’t matter where you go, it’s what you do when you get there.” And I thought, “Man, that is really groovy.” That’s been kind of a common theme in my music, and something that I’m always trying to tell myself, to live in the moment. So that’s the essence of that song, combined with, we all want to love someone, and there’s kind of that journey to find that special someone, so I think that’s what that song turned into. It’s living in the moment, but it’s about getting to that moment where you’re sharing it with a special person. And I found that here in Nashville.

N/I - That’s great!

KC - It’s wonderful. I didn’t even realize that when I was writing that song. Then the second song is about working on a farm when I was trimming. I used to play around, and every morning we would get ready for work, and I would literally just sing about what we were doing. 

N/I - That’s incredible. 

KC - That was when I also was coming up with the plan to exit LA and go to Nashville. So it really made sense to put that song on the record. And on that song in particular, I was tweaking the lyrics up until the last minute, to the point that the day we were going up into the studio I was still changing some of the lyrics. 

N/I - That tends to happen from time to time. 

KC - Then the third song, “The Shamrock Inn” was about a cat that I lived with - I say “lived with” - he was like a tenant at this rehearsal complex in East Hollywood. I was living there…. Dude, that’s crazy story. 

N/I - Let’s hear it.

KC - I found this place on Craigslist, it was a 24-hour lockout rehearsal space, and it was all pretty much metal bands. I had a ten by ten room, and that was what I lived out of with my two dogs. That was part of the struggle in LA, I had two dogs, and one was a wolf-malamute hybrid. 

N/I - Oh man, big dog. 

KC - Over 100 pounds. I had another one that was over 50. Every time I thought I had something lined up, the dogs were the issue. So this was the way to figure that out. Anywho, there were a lot of crazy people at that place. This one guy, Moses, was always wandering around and usually he’d have no shoes or one shoe on. That song was all the things that he’d say to me. He’d knock on my door, he’d borrow my phone, he’d be like “I have to call my son,” or “I need to get some work,” and he’d disappear with your phone for hours. He had this routine every morning and get a bottle of Mad Dog 20/20 and he’d drink it halfway down and fill it up with vodka, and he’d go around just sipping on that, which is insane!

N/I - Oh god, that’s disgusting. 

KC - Totally. At this rehearsal space, they had a piano in the front, so I’d play that from time to time, and I just started riffing these lyrics on him, and I was singing…. He would call everyone he talked to “fool.” “Hey fool!” so that’s why the chorus is “Some people call me a fool,” because really he’s the fool [laughs]. An ironic statement coming from him. So I started singing that, but he loved it. I just had it in my back pocket, and I used to play it live, but when I knew I wanted to put that one on the record, I put some energy into coming up with an intro, and then gave it a little more to the song. So I’m really happy with how that turned out. “The Queen of New Orleans” was actually a song based off a story I heard on NPR when I was in Austin, it’s called Snap Judgement. They had an author on there, Chris Wiltz, who wrote a book called “The Last Madam,” and it was about a brothel owner who was said to have invented the lap dance. The story was incredible, dude. I was taking some notes - I like doing that, finding a story and writing a story about it with the facts, because you have your outline, and all you have to do it put the puzzle together. Then I searched for it, and they put those stories online, and there was an entire transcript of it. 

N/I - Well that was just a goldmine for you. 

KC - Oh man, it was great. So I was able to write the song and then fact check to make sure I had the address right and all these other little subtleties. I’m really proud of that, and I really hope that song finds Chris Wiltz and he’d get a kick out of it. The last song, “Emerald Triangle Blues” is about…. So that one farm I referenced earlier was in Southern California, in a city called Paris. Which I never knew there was a Paris, California. I knew about Paris, Texas. 

N/I - And then there’s a Paris, Tennessee, as well. It seems like there’s a Paris out in the middle of nowhere in just about every state. 

KC - Right!? Man! So I wanted to put out a song about that one, but I spent more time up in Northern California doing all that type of work up there, and I met all sorts of wacky, interesting people. They’re people who are working on a large scale, just to the point that you have to be insane to be doing it. But this one cat, he went by “Einstein,” and he just told me all of these incredible stories, and I asked him if I could take notes and write a song. I was out in the middle of nowhere with him. It was the middle of the mountains, basically a shipping container that had food and a bed for him, and I was literally sleeping out in the fields. He provided a twin mattress that was in the middle of this field, and then he wanted me to sleep there with a shovel. Then I had my native friend, Sam Greyhorse, who I went there with, and we had a horse and a mule - it was an incredible experience, that whole time. But there was a lot of downtime. So I worked on that, which turned into a straight blues thing. But then, Jimbo wanted to do this other real funky number, and I flipped that thing on its head and shake it up sonically. Was that too much?

N/I - Not at all. That’s great. I try to invite the tangents where I can. Whether you mean to or not, the thing that sticks out in the story of King Corduroy is the whole troubadour focus, and all of that right there is the true blue troubadour experience. 

KC - [Laughs] Right on man. 

N/I - But at the same time, I’d be curious to hear, what appeals to you about that whole troubadour existence?

KC - Well, I would say, part of it is a journey for authenticity, because we’re all born into a certain life. I feel like part of my journey was earning my stripes, for you to be able to make that statement, but I also think it unintentional, with the way it happened, it was just me following the universe. When I made the choice to say “I’m following this path, and I’m going to follow it wherever it may go. So I’m going to make decisions that seem irrational to most people, but I’m going to do it, because that’s what the universe and my gut are telling me to do.” So that’s how I did everything I just described to you. And that’s the magic, dude! That’s where all the magic came from! But I think it’s just when you give in and don’t try to do the safe play, that’s how you do it, because it’s never the safe play to follow the path of the troubadour. I think you either let go and go for it, or you fight it. But that’s why I’m thirty-six and having this conversation with you, and not twenty-two or nineteen and having this conversation. 

N/I - That’s fair. In entertainment, there’s an inordinate amount of young people who have experienced great success, but over time, that’s hard to sustain, because over time, there’s not enough experience. I think in certain instances, no matter how successful you are, it begins to show how green you are in due time, and you don’t really know how to interact or react to these situations. I would like to think an experience like yours serves one better in the long run than if you blew up during that incubation period in Austin. What if something had come up and you didn’t know how to react to it? Would it have prevented you from being able to defer to someone like Jimbo in the studio? That’s pretty substantial in the long run of being a recording artist. 

KC - Dude, I totally agree. I do feel like that helps me. It’s a good way to appreciate your journey, and know that you’re on a trajectory, so you saying that some people make it really young, sometimes they don’t even have the full development as a musician. I agree, people can fizzle out, and especially when you pick apart what’s going on in the pop world and the mainstream, sometimes there’s a lot of smoke and mirrors. That’s the deal, if you hone your craft and develop your voice, and you do become what your authentic self is, then I think if you follow that and you have to tools, you’ll know it. I know that for the rest of my life, if I can find a stage somewhere, where they’re paying, I can go play, even if it’s just me. I would consider that sustainability and success. But my expectations for success are not warped because I didn’t have great success when I was younger. Because if you do - if you’ve been playing arenas your whole life and shit, then going up to Kimbro’s in Franklin might not tickle your fancy at all.