Cory Wong is a Grammy nominated multi-instrumentalist, producer and composer. We asked him about the albums that made him the musician he is today
Cory Wong is a musician that seems to have done everything. He’s been nominated for Grammys, he is a producer and a composer, as well being as a multi-instrumentalist. Now, he is gearing up to release his latest album The Lucky One, on August 18. We sat down with him and asked about the albums that shaped him as a musician. He took us through the albums chronologically, as they each shaped his life.
Jagged Little Pill, Alanis Morissette
I’ve hung out with Alanis and I think Jagged Little Pill was the first CD I ever bought. The first one as a kid.
I’d heard You Oughta Know and I thought oh my gosh, it makes me feel something. It was cool, it was interesting. I didn’t realise it, but I knew something was happening in the music. It’s such an intelligent album. The way the chords work with the melodies and the rhythms. The bass was particularly interesting and eventually I realised it was Flea, from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers.
I was in fourth grade and I don’t think I knew what was happening lyrically, but I knew I felt it.
Blood Sugar Sex Magik, Red Hot Chilli Peppers
This was my first introduction to funk music that I connected with. I grew up in Minneapolis, so the funk thing (because of Prince) was everywhere. It’s in the water. It didn’t click with me though, until I was older, that this was something unique to Minneapolis. It’s such a specific thing, but that feeling from the raw sound of the guitar had this…attitude.
When I started as a musician, I started on bass, but I was so enamoured by the bass that I wanted to learn the guitar that went along with it. I bought the bass and guitar tabs from the local guitar shop and, every night, after school I would play the album top-to-bottom.
"This album taught me to think about how I work in the context of the arrangement"
Learning it in this way informed how I approach things as an arranger and a producer. Often young musicians learn just the guitar part, for example. I’m guilty of that, just learning my part. This album taught me to think about how I work in the context of the arrangement. I learnt to pay attention.
The Köln Concert, Keith Jarrett
Keith Jarrett's The Köln Concert, is the best selling piano album in history. Credit: Jean-Pierre Roche
I grew up in a household with a lot of jazz. My family aren’t musicians, but my dad is a music nerd. He had everything. I found myself listening to a lot of jazz and there was something about this album. It’s a solo, improvised jazz concert in Germany.
The music, itself, has this dichotomy of music and chaos. If you go deep with it, there is a lot of harmony that is diatonic, which you would expect in something more pop-based. The songs can start as a simple melody, that develops a complex undertone. It taught me a lot about life; sometimes there is a simple, beautiful thing happening in the midst of chaos.
"Sometimes there is a simple, beautiful thing happening in the midst of chaos"
At the first listen, something seems great, then it seems crazy. Things may surprise you, but there’s a simple, beautiful melody there. That really resonated with me in my teen years.
The boldness of just one person improvising on stage was impressive. The command of not only their instrument, but their creativity was amazing.
Live at the Quick, Béla Fleck and the Flecktones
This is an interesting one. They’re led by a banjo player, you might assume one thing about the music. You’d think it’s bluegrass. There’s the most technically proficient bass player in the world at the time and the most amazing saxophone and woodwind player with him though. And, then, on top of that, there’s a SynthAxe, a sort of drum machine guitar. It’s a weird mix. If someone explained that to me, I’d have no idea.
It's completely its own thing. I had the DVD and the album, and it completely changed my life. They took an eclectic range of instruments and created their own sound. It gave me, as a musician, permission to go for it and to try things.
"Live at the Quick gave me, as a musician, permission to go for it and to try things"
I wanted to strive for excellence on my instrument. They seemed to have such a respect for their craft. If you can fill an amphitheatre with something like that, then just try things.
They seemed to have such fun too, despite being so dedicated to working so hard.
Continuum, John Mayer
John has been such an influence of mine in everything and, fortunately, he’s become a good friend. I can ask him anything, he’s the smartest person.
This album is a great example of well done pop music that is guitar forward. A lot of pop music doesn’t have strong guitars, but he shows what the guitar is capable of. His melodies and the tones are just incredible. It has great songs.
It’s a benchmark album. It’s a reference for so many people my age. Incredible album.
Aja, Steely Dan
Steely Dan's Aja would always be in my top three albums. It’s intelligent, witty, quirky; they take risks and chances. They have a high regard for studio musicians. I love how its mixed.
All the musical features on there are amazing. The solo on Peg is amazing, Black Cow is such a cool song and Josie has an incredible solo too. It’s eclectic and the grooves are amazing. It’s rock meets RnB and Jazz.
Honourable mention: Early Prince
Prince is widely regarded as one of the best musicians of his generation. Credit: Levi Seacer
Controversy would probably be my choice for a Prince album, but it's so hard to say a specific album. Growing up in Minneapolis, Prince was everywhere. When I became a working musician, it seemed everyone had played in Prince's band and being a part of the scene meant I learnt so much by osmosis.
Banner Credit: Cory Wong (Baxter PR)
Cory Wong’s upcoming album The Lucky One is out August 18th. See Cory’s live UK dates this autumn at www.corywongmusic.com/tour.
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