Fast Times and Wild Hallucinations with Korey Dane
We talk to the LA singer about the road trips, bad decisions, and sobering reality checks behind the Springsteen swagger of his new album, 'Chamber Girls.'
A couple of years ago, when Korey Dane was gearing up to record his breakout LP Youngblood, producer Tony Berg gave him a bit of advice:
"Grow the fuck up," Berg told the singer-songwriter. "Go listen to The Rolling Stones. Go listen to The Replacements. Go listen to Leonard Cohen. Go listen to proper things"—proper things being anything but the navel-gazing, open chord "boring folk shit" to which Dane says he was dangerously close to defaulting, had Berg not intervened.
"I had like a hundred songs written when I met him, and he trashed every one of 'em," Dane recalled. "He was like, 'Not a single one of these are worth being recorded.'"
The Long Beach born, skate park-bred Dane was already a fan of those artists, but coming from someone like Berg—whose resume includes Bob Dylan, The Replacements, and Aimee Mann—it hits a little differently.
"It's crazy that there's this disconnect from a sense of self, and the things that I was taking in as my lifeblood," Dane said on a sleepy LA afternoon, citing Neil Young's self-titled debut as helping him ditch that comfortable earnestness for good.
"You listen to the density and musicality of that record, and you go, 'Oh, holy shit.' So much of what, at an early age, I thought was good, or was the kind of compass for a lot of this, was just dictated by everyone nodding along. He wouldn't allow me to swear by mediocrity."
The lesson stuck. 2015's Youngblood, with its subdued vocals and lovelorn lyrics, could've been another scrap on the indie pyre, but instead ended up a world-weary cut of Americana packed with literary elegance and a starring voice that suggests an heir to Nick Drake. On the 27-year-old's new follow-up, Chamber Girls (out now via Innovative Leisure), Berg's lesson has aged for the better, with Dane taking the reins from his mentor to prove himself as capable behind the boards as he is in front of them.
Chamber Girls sounds both younger and older than the rootsy Youngblood. It's a bright, relentless road rock album, confident in its loaded arrangements—Danny Federici-style organ fills and corner bar choruses abound—but reckless in spirit, the sound of youth trying, futilely, to outrun wisdom. Accordingly, the album pays sonic homage to American youth philosophers like Bruce Springsteen, The Replacements, and Blonde on Blonde-era Dylan, but avoids feeling too on-the-nose, thanks to an undercurrent of anxious, go-for-broke energy that's all Dane.
"I woke up a little bit," Dane says, laughing, a point underscored by the album's opening salvo, "Half Asleep."
That didn't come as much of a choice. The album was recorded live in a handful of takes over a frenzied 96 hour stretch at North Hollywood's Valentine Recording Studios (clients include the Beach Boys, Frank Zappa, and Bad Bad Not Good), less the product of intention than a limited budget, two rolls of tape, a crammed schedule, and the need to shed a year of career frustrations and the introspective, dreamy kid behind Youngblood.
"I feel like making that record the way I made it was a real cathartic, fucking helpful thing in my life," Dane says. "It's definitely not in line with a way that people were wanting to work when the process first started, and when we first started talking about the next album. I think the record was an exercise in exactly what I was supposed to be doing."
Dane has done a lot of growing up between albums. When we met up a year ago at a cafe in Silver Lake, he may or may not have still been baked from the night before, which he may or may not have spent in his friend's truck. Still freshly a disciple of Berg, he was as quick to dole out opinions about Kanye as he was to backtrack and insist he didn't know what he was talking about. He's an old soul with a rascal streak, the son of an English professor mother and "vagrant, elusive" father who punctuates musings on art and John Steinbeck with "some shits" and "you knows," as in, "I don't need everything to be some fucking piece of classic literature, but some shit, like East of Eden, the purpose is in every single word, you know?"
Dane tried college but it didn't stick, so he dropped out and hitchhiked around the country with a friend, sometimes living in the streets, and often talking with strangers late into the night. By the end, he'd amassed the stories and experiences that would inform Youngblood—his Cherokee last name—titled to honor his chain-smoking, race car driver grandfather.
"It felt so good, 'cause it was like a big fuck you, going out there and finding happiness in crevices and fucking weird places," Dane said. "I was a burning ball of energy living and dying by that, and making terrible decisions, but still growing and learning. Now I'm at a place where it is just my life. I don't have structure, I haven't had a job for years [thanks to publishing deals]. But I feel like right now is when people start sinking. Like, the record's out, and then it's like, ok, what do you do, you know?"
The answer, over the ensuing year, would include touring, a collapsed relationship, broken friendships, management changes and business frustrations (about which he remains vague), and other sundry disillusionments that arrive ahead of the reality check that is turning 27. The day before Dane and his band would hit the studio to record Chamber Girls, a fortune teller warned him hard times were coming. Yeah, no shit, he thought.
On the resulting album, which clocks in at a palatable half hour, you feel it all right along with him. The record ranges from the live-fast fever dream of "Lovesick in a Hotel Wildfire," whose video premieres today on Noisey, to the heated, prophetic romp of "Hard Times" (written before that fortune, but amidst the social injustices of 2016), to the sober acceptance of the smokey ballad "Always," inspired by Dylan's "Don't Think Twice It's Alright."
"It's not inherently a sad song, and it's not an optimistic song, it just sits there, and when you're done with it you're not quite sure what it was supposed to say, but it's poignant the whole time," Dane says. "Not that Dylan and I are even living in the same universe, but in my wildest hallucinations, that's the attempt."
These are the gray areas and self-aware uncertainties that anchor Chamber Girls's pluck and urgency. Together they amount to a fine study of the importance of not overthinking—a visceral reminder that growing up isn't just about finding your voice, but the resilience to stick with it, because most of the time, one take is all you get.
"Such a strange bell we've been ringing / Like rock n roll on a church organ," Dane sings on closer "Steady Forever 9th Ave (Sunset House, Stand Forever)." "It's trouble like we always knew / Honey watch me blow my fortune."
Andrea Domanick is Noisey's West Coast Editor. Follow her on Twitter.