Cory Chisel currently calls Nashville home, but the folk country Americana rock band leader certainly hasn’t cut ties with Wisconsin, the state that he called home for many years before hitting the road and making it big.
For one, he helped establish the Mile of Music festival up in Appleton last year. Now, he’s returning to Wisconsin for a gig – the Concert 4 MACC – alongside fellow local favorite Hugh Bob & The Hustle at Turner Hall Ballroom on Friday, Sept. 26. Before the show, OnMilwaukee.com caught up with Chisel and chatted about the Mile of Music, growing up without pop music and the exciting things on deck for the singer – including some new records and a new addition to the family.
OnMilwaukee.com: Even though you’ve moved on from Appleton and are now living in Nashville, you still have a connection there with the Mile of Music. What was the inspiration for starting that?
Cory Chisel: In some ways, my connection’s really only deepened with being away from home. I think when your standing away from a city, sometimes you can have even more perspective on just exactly what it is. I miss it in a different way.
Really, what happened was we spent, in between the time when I moved, two years playing everybody’s festivals – Bonnaroo, Newport and all of these. SXSW had begun to be something I really don’t look forward to in a way that I used to. It’s sort of being bought and sold by different companies. So I started thinking with a friend of mine if it would be possible to ever do a music festival in Wisconsin, because we love to get outside and drink our beer. That’s one thing we do better than most people.
We started doing our homework and realized that we had up to 72 licensed bars in a one-mile stretch, and we knew no even Austin could boast that kind of layout. Then we thought wouldn’t it be cool if Appleton was just one of those towns that was known about, like a Newport, R.I. I mean, you wouldn’t know about Newport if it hadn’t decided to built an amazing culture and music festival. Why not Appleton?
OMC: Where do you see this festival growing from here?
CC: We want to keep going with it. Ultimately, the goal is to keep expanding, but this is one that I think is different. This is one that’s about the actual community. We don’t take portions of beer sales, and we’re staying out of revenue lines that the city desperately needs to stay vibrant.
We’re really going to focus on emerging and up-and-coming musical talent, like a lot of people’s cool side projects that you won’t see. We’re not going to be Lollapalooza, and we’re not going to be Summerfest. Those things take millions of dollars and huge corporate sponsorships. But we have a lot of relationships and friendships and kind of a taste for the beyond-the-fringe kind of stuff. I think we could, at some point, be known as the festival to see not only your current favorite band, but to see six of your new favorite bands.
OMC: Growing up, your bio notes that you were mostly sheltered from pop music. What was that like for you?
CC: To be honest, I’m like sitting on the precipice of having my own child, and I’m not sure I would do it any different.
CC: I think sheltering them from awful music is probably a better way to do it. (laughs) I think, now that I’ve gotten older, I think my parents just didn’t want to listen to everything that was playing on the radio and not just for reasons that my dad was a minister. There’s just a lot of awful music out there that they sort of forced me to weed through.
If I really wanted to buy a record by, like, Pearl Jam or Nirvana, they basically made me give them a report as to what it meant to me and why I wanted to listen to it. It helped me articulate things, and it helped me fight for bands that I knew I desperately needed. Like, I knew I needed "Incesticide" in my life; I needed that record. They kind of humored me and let me tell them why it was important, and then I got to bring it in under that auspice.
OMC: Do you remember what your arguments were for Pearl Jam and Nirvana back in those days?
CC: Yeah, I think it was stuff that represented me. They weren’t very eloquent, I’m sure, but it was expressing something that I felt at the time, which was kind of this middle American angst, your first pangs of existential crisis. That was kind of the thing: They didn’t want me to raise myself necessarily. They said that a lot. At a certain point, I was going to be a child until I was informed enough to make a decision on why something was good. Until then, Johnny Cash was just going to have to be good enough.
In the end, I’m not totally sure I would do it all that different. Of course, at the time, I felt like I was under some, like, tyrannical dictatorship.
OMC: Do you remember what your first taste of pop music was?
CC: I think some of the first groups I really heard were those late ’90s R&B groups and stuff like that on the radio stations at friends’ houses. I really like R&B music anyway, so when I heard Boyz II Men and all these kind of things, I was, "Wow! There’s just so much out there!"
Really quickly after that, my cousin walked me in through the punk rock gates of heaven. I heard The Ramones, The Clash, Sex Pistols, Nirvana all in one great summer. It was like a deluge, and I was pretty changed after that. You can’t unhear that music. That’s when I started getting really serious about needing to have my own records. They say The Clash is the only band that matters; well, to me at 13, that was also true. (laughs)
OMC: Do you have a new album coming up soon?
CC: I have a couple of things, yeah. I have a record of really obscure soul 45s – a record of songs that weren’t written by me – that I’m going to have coming out later this year, and then also a new full-length that I’m pretty well ready to pull the trigger on. I’ve just got to set the date, go in there and hope the whole studio magic thing happens. I’ve never really been one who makes records really fast. I should probably make them faster, but I’m careful.
OMC: What was the motivation for this record of soul 45s?
CC: Myself and quite a few other friends who play on it have pretty extensive soul collections that are treasures to us. I love the singers; I love the songwriting. We started compiling my favorite mixtape of soul and R&B. This is to say nothing about "These Arms of Mine" and "I’ve Been Loving You Too Long" and all these songs that I’ve loved, but after a while, you work your way through the classic greats and you get down deep and get more serious to find something you haven’t heard. It’s not obscure for obscure’s sake.
I basically had what was the perfect mixtape that I would think if I had to turn somebody onto to soul music. You realize most of these people had only released one 45, or you’d have to have found some sort of bargain bin type thing. We were, like, what if we did a project that was ongoing, where every artist did nine or 10 of their favorite hidden gem songs. We’re hoping it’ll be kind of a series. We’re calling it "Cory Chisel’s Soul Obscura," but it may go forward from there where we all put out a mixtape of some of our favorites.
OMC: Do you know when that might be coming out?
CC: I would love it to come out after Christmas some time. I was ready for it to come out earlier this year, but that’s how things go with contracts. If you think records are slow, contracts are even worse. (laughs)
OMC: And you said you’re hoping to hop back into the recording studio for a new Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons album?
CC: I’m at the point where that could be finished at any sort of point in time; I’ve kind of just been waiting on my little guy to see how he comes into this world and make sure I’ve got the time to put the attention into it. If he comes out healthy and happy and mom is stable and well, I think that’ll be done fairly quickly here. It’s amazing as this little guy approaches, he starts to consume a large part of your brain. I’m also pretty aware that there might be some pretty important songs that come shortly after his birth, and I don’t want to miss those either.
OMC: I was going to ask if impending fatherhood was going to be a theme on the upcoming album.
CC: I think even when I’m not noticing, it is. I don’t know if you have kids or not, but the internal expansion that you experience through letting this soul come into your life, it’s almost impossible for it not to push things to the surface. They’re not all songs, like, "Son, I want you to grow up and play real country music" and that kind of thing. It causes you to experience a whole lot more about the world. You start looking at everything as though it will have an effect on this child.
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.