IN CONVERSATION WITH: Cory Wong
WORDS BY: JOEL MALLEN
Funky, fun and full of cartilage, Cory Wong is fast becoming a global leading light in a renaissance of uptempo funk. A consistent collaborator with Vulfpeck (to the point where they have a full track reserved just for him as an album closer), he is making a noise with his giddy, positive vibe and bafflingly loose spider hands, somehow sounding tight and rich in musicianship. I had the honour of catching up with him over a vegan burger and sweet potato fries, just before his headline show at Gorilla.
What would be your blurb? How would you describe yourself?
I am a musician that plays music to spread joy to the world. A lot of guitar-led bands, it’s about the guitar player – it’s about “look what I can do”. For me, my guiding light is not about showing off flashy moves. If those come out, great! But my guiding light is to leave my show and listening to my records thinking “Oh wow, that was really fun”, or “oh wow, that put me in a good mood”. It might sound cheesy, but that really is a thing for me.
How does your right hand just, like, do that? Is it dislocated?
Well, I am able to have it very loose but in control – I have a very flexible wrist, and I guess I’ve just practised a lot.
Growing up in Minneapolis, you’ve mentioned how Prince was a real influence on you – did that influence your style from a very young age?
Yeah, I mean I started as a punk rock and ska kid: Green Day, Red Hot Chili Peppers, that sort of thing. But Prince is just kinda everywhere; it’s in the water, it’s in the air, you can’t really avoid it. It’s just how it is.
Was your main source of development rooted in experiences with rhythm bands growing up, or more from discovering artists like Prince?
It’s more from discovering artistry. Even developing my own sound and style was a by-product of learning so deeply the catalogue of Prince, Pat Metheny, Earth, Wind & Fire. Learning it so intimately, and then completely abandoning it to find who I am. I had some mentors that were like “Dude, you gotta stop sounding like Prince, you’ve gotta sound like you. That’s what people wanna hear – nobody’s ever gonna be as good as Prince at being Prince, just as no-one is gonna be as good as you as being you”.
What’s your main impression of the Manchester scene and the UK scene? I know you do a lot of work with the RNCM, masterclasses and the like.
It’s fun to see that there are so many scenes, from all over the world, that have a vibrant arts culture and music business culture as well. The UK in general is such a thriving area for musicians. It’s fun to experience and see this music college that reminds me so much of my own school; it’s very global now.
Your last album The Optimist came out last August – what was your favourite moment or song to record?
My favourite one on there is 91 Maxima. It was a fun song to record, I had an idea of what I wanted to do video wise. I just had some fun little tricks I wanted to do, I didn’t think I would pull it off, but I did! I really enjoyed Jax and Light As Anything, because I was able to pull off the palindrome, a two drummer drum-kit, a lefty and righty with one kick in the middle. That was a fun, cool thing.
What’s the next step in terms of your recorded music? Are you planning on getting more adventurous with your sound?
I have a bunch of music already recorded for my next record that I feel really good about. Some of this upcoming record is some more collaborations, which I’m really excited about: some that have already happened, some that are coming up which I can’t believe are going to happen. I don’t wanna jinx it, but there’s some big ones, some heroes of mine. I wanna continue to step out as a guitar player led ensemble, in general that’s adventurous to me as a non-shred guy.
Your music seems a very positive force, would you consider that more of a release from you and the music justifies the means, or would you consider that just your outlook on life?
I consider myself a positive person in most areas, but yes I do believe there is a bit of that feedback loop thing, it grows and grows. But I’m mainly just a positive person.
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You’re famous across the pond for your jam night in Minneapolis. How important is jamming? What would you say to any young player that is a bit tentative to get on stage?
I’d say it’s formative to them. The word “jamming” can mean a lot of different things to different people.
Because in the higher jazz circles for example, it’s viewed as more like a “cutting session”. Do you think it should be competitive?
Well I’m always out for blood, but I’m not gonna cut any heads. I’m always looking for great musicians to play with. I try to push myself and others in those situations to see how great of a moment we can get. But I think it’s a good thing for growth. The other thing is just to go and hang and be part of a scene, I think that’s the most important thing, and finding a scene that you belong in musically and personally, seeing who you align with.