Cory Branan’s got an evil streak / And a way with words that’ll bring you to your knees / Oh he can play the wildest shows and he can sing so sweet.
Ben Nichols’ ringing endorsement from Lucero’s 2003 single “Tears Don’t Matter Much” says all you need to know about 41-year-old Southaven native Cory Branan. From his 2002 debut, The Hell You Say, to his joint efforts alongside big names like Jason Isbell and the Thrift Store Cowboys, this Southern storyteller fuses wailing chords of punk rock with soulful old-country structure. This month, Branan returns to his North Mississippi roots to perform at Oxford’s Double Decker Arts Festival.
Click Magazine: What was life like growing up in Southaven?
Cory Branan: My old man was from Arkabutla, he worked on the jets at FedEx. It was just like any old small town when I was growing up. I remember how we used to fly model airplanes where all the fast food and hospitals have popped up now. Stateline Road was pretty much all there was at the time.
CM: How did you get started playing music?
CB: I grew up alongside it in church my whole life and my family played a lot. My father was a drummer, grandfather a fiddle player — there were lots of instruments around. I didn’t start on guitar till I was around 12 or 13 years old. At the time, I just played for whoever needed a guitar player for fun. I didn’t really start writing music and playing in coffee shops till I was in my twenties.
CM: Your songwriting skills earned shout-outs from local legends like Lucero, Steve Selvidge and JasonIsbell. What is your songwriting process like?
CB: Well, now that I have kids, any sort of structure has gone out the window. I tend to just go at it, you know? I don’t really like to write a lot when I’m on the road, so a lot of times I’ll be pretty amped to go when I get back. I’ve never been much of a pressure writer. I’m not quite like Ben [Nichols] from Lucero. That guy will just lock himself in a room for days before the record and write a bunch. I don’t write well under pressure — or maybe I do, but I’ve never pushed myself to.
CM: Is there anyone you’d like to collaborate with from the Mid-South but haven’t had a chance to yet?
CB: I’ve actually talked to Paul Taylor about working on this newest record. The guy’s a genius, and I don’t know too many geniuses. I’ll be recording in April at Tweed just outside of Oxford with Andrew Ratcliffe.
CM: Have you ever attended Oxford’s Double Decker Arts fest? What can we expect from your performance?
CB: I played it several years ago, the same year as Wilco. Who knows what to expect, I never make a plan, just wing it. It will be solo. I’ve been playing a lot of electric lately and I haven’t decided if we’ll go electric, acoustic, or both.
CM: Your music has drawn comparisons from old-school indie punk to RyanAdams ballads. How would you personally describe your style?
CB: I don’t. I honestly don’t describe it. I like to give myself the freedom to do whatever I want at any given moment. I’ve pulled from a lot of American roots forms in the past and I love the blues, country and a lot of traditional folk writers like John Pine. I’m also a huge fan of Tom Waits, and what kind of music does Tom Waits play? Whatever he wants.
Cory Branan will appear at this year’s Double Decker Arts Festival in Oxford on April 22 and at the Lucero Block Party in Memphis on April 23.
Singer/Songwriter and native Mississippian
Cory Branan returns to his roots
Story by Casey Hilder