Cory Branan: A 'No-Hit Wonder,' Making Small-Batch Country Music Branan's lonesome road anthems aren't likely to make him a Top 40 star. He tells NPR's Melissa Block he's learned to be content playing a smaller game.
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Cory Branan: A 'No-Hit Wonder,' Making Small-Batch Country Music

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Cory Branan: A 'No-Hit Wonder,' Making Small-Batch Country Music


Singer Cory Branan is stretched out with his feet up on the cover of his new album. His boots are all battered, worn down at the heels and he's dozing off. The album's title kind of says it all. "The No-Hit Wonder."


CORY BRANAN: (Singing) Sing a song for the no-hot wonder. It is what it is. Heat sing shovel me under. Boys, it is what it is. It is what it is.

BLOCK: And this is the fourth album by Cory Branan who joins me now from Nashville. Cory, welcome to the program.

BRANAN: Hi Melissa, stoked to be here - terrified and stoked to be here.

BLOCK: Well, don't be terrified, but stoked is good. (Laughter). So this song, "The No-Hit Wonder," I know it's somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but I gather you're pretty much singing about yourself here.

BRANAN: I definitely am there. That's a list of grievances. But no, I wrote it - I started writing it for just all of the road dogs that I know over the years that are just out there with, you know, nothing much to show but the songs. You know, all the lifers. But yeah, I'm definitely in there.


BRANAN: (Singing) Years of living hand to mouth. Years just getting kicked again - East to West - North to South.

BLOCK: This is a song about living blood-to-string and hand-to-mouth, gig-to-gig. When that's been your life for year after year, does that get to you? Does it get you down?

BRANAN: It adds up. You know, it's a charmed life in ways, but now I'm married and have a couple of kids, and so, you know, 130 days on the road - it's in a different light, definitely. Home and a real family cast a different light on the road.

BLOCK: You have a song on the new album called "The Highway Home."


BRANAN: (Singing) Ice is formed between the wheels and the asphalt. Ice is formed between my skin and bone.

BLOCK: It talks a bunch about sort of the dark side of being on the road - right? - and then the tug of what's waiting for you when you come back.


BRANAN: (Singing) Taking the highway home. Taking the highway home. Wade through the ice and snow, I am taking the highway.

BLOCK: Can you talk a bit about writing that song - where it came to you?

BRANAN: Actually, yeah. I was slipping around trying to get a hotel room on a day off. I was in Wisconsin, and everything was frozen, and I stayed in a hotel that had a door in the floor.

BLOCK: Like a trapdoor?

BRANAN: Yeah, it just went straight to the dirt. And so it was a pretty stark contrast from the warmth that I knew was in my house. And sometimes you wonder, what are you doing? You know, why are you out here doing this?


BRANAN: (Singing) You see your sweet country roads. You keep going way to slow. I don't need no scenery. There's only one scene I see.

You know I'm not a very optimistic person, but I have - with my kids and my wife I have this preposterous happiness in my life. And it's really doing a number on my worldview.

BLOCK: (Laughter). That pessimism thing - you're having to rethink that a little bit.

BRANAN: Yeah, you know, it doesn't hold as much water.


BLOCK: I'm talking with Cory Branan. His new album is "The No-Hit Wonder." When you think about where you want to be five, 10 years from now - 15 years looking forward, what's the picture that you see?

BRANAN: Yeah, I don't know. Maybe I'll end up growing a family band by then. How young can you take kids out on the road?

BLOCK: (Laughter).

BRANAN: What are the working laws against that? You know, I - again, I'm very realistic. I play music that's, you know, commerce-proof. I don't want to say that. But no, hopefully in five years I will be just touring places with a door on a toilet stall. (Laughter).

BLOCK: (Laughter).


BRANAN: (Singing) I bought the car by the river - one of our rivers. And of course this song would come on. I let it play by the river.

BLOCK: You said something just now. You said the kind of music that I play is commerce-proof. And I know you're kind of joking, but does it feel that way?

BRANAN: It does, honestly. I mean, it's not for everybody. I try to make it for everybody. I'm not trying to, you know, be obscure at all. I mean, I write sort of - try to write universal, populist tunes. But it's terrible that I keep coming to - drink metaphors are the first thing that pop into my head. Maybe I bartended too long. But a lot of people, like, say - you know, a lot of music is like the fruity shooters - you know, the top 40 songs of the week. And that's great, you know? My music doesn't go very well with a bachelorette party. You know, somebody's music needs to do that.


BRANAN: (Singing) All the rivers in Colorado couldn't wash you off my mind.

Roots music is a little more like a bourbon. And then in that world, some people are fine with whatever the bartender pulls from the bottom shelf. It's brown. It came from a barrel. You know, they're just going to put Coca-Cola in it and pound it until their parched anyway. But the music that I love and strive to make is a little more small-batch, you know? Distilled, hopefully like a sipping whiskey.


BLOCK: Cory Branan. His new album is "The No-Hit Wonder." Cory, thanks so much.

BRANAN: I thank you, Melissa.


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