Mississippi-born, Nashville-based singer-songwriter Cory Branan was always going to be heavily influenced by his surroundings. The deep south of America is the birthplace of blues and roots, and while that sound sits heavily upon his music, he still grew up as a skater kid gorging on grunge and metal. Thankfully he’s found a home on Bloodshot (the record label also home to Justin Townes Earle, Murder By Death and many more) and as such, a place for him to create music that somehow manages to be at home in some truly eclectic spaces. It’s almost always him alone onstage with his guitar and yet he’s opened for bands as contrasting as The Gaslight Anthem and Chuck Ragan.
Branan’s heavy southern drawl sounds almost like a parody and is the perfect disguise behind which he’s able to blend a pleasant balance of confident charm and self-deprecation. “I’ve been doin’ a whole lot of nothin’ today,” Branan laughs. “I’m sitting in on electric guitar for a friend’s gig tonight, so I’ve been learning her songs. She’ll probably never ask me to do it again but it’ll be fun this time. She normally plays with her husband and he’s a spectacular guitar player. I get the job done, you know? But, you know…” he trails off in an almost diabolical chuckle as the innuendo is left to hang in the air.
His latest album, Mutt, was released midway through last year to a bevy of praise, and was followed by a heap of touring. Playing solo gives Branan the freedom to keep things interesting after a year of playing the same album, but you can’t help but get the distinct impression that if he became bored with the gigs, he just wouldn’t bother. “Because I play solo mostly, I’m not beholden to any arrangements,” he says. “I can keep myself amused when playing the songs for months and months. You know, I think that’s what keeps other people interested too, if they can see that you’re actually enjoyin’ yourself on stage. The newer stuff is a little rootsier and a little more country-influenced but it’s still all over the place. Growing up in Mississippi I was exposed to all kinds of roots music, but I was still a little hood rat with a skateboard and MTV, and it all came at me at the same time. I was listening to American folk at the same time I was listening to Iron Maiden – it was just whatever I could get my hands on.”
You can hear that in each and every track as well as see it in the gig choices Branan has made – but has the scattergun approach made it difficult for him to aim his career in a sustainable direction? “Not really. That’s why I was so happy to be working with Bloodshot. They’re a label that do a heap of music that doesn’t really fit in any designated area of the freezer section – you never know what you’re gonna get when you reach in there – so it’s great to have a label that supports that so much. Using the word ‘career’ [for] what I do for a living is a very generous word [laughs]. But yeah, I do get the chance to tour a lot with a whole lot of different artists; I’ve got to open up for Dashboard Confessional … and also play with my friends in the punk world. I’ve always believed that a song is a song, you’re just playing music for people, and when you’ve got less up there for them to baulk at they have to really take in the song. Unless they just hear my accent and write me off immediately as a hick.”
BY KRISSI WEISS