The French restaurant is very dark, and very loud. I’m at a high table in the corner of an alcove made of dark wooden panels, and the first I see of Corey Hines is a sweep of hair and one eye peeking from around the wall. He sits down, hands in his pockets, the abnormal Savannah cold still clinging to his face and sheepskin collared coat.
Corey first started making music in the seventh grade with the help of a Fender Stratocaster and the power chords he learned from Blink-182 songs. Since those days, his demeanor has pacified, and being around him feels almost meditative. When he speaks, it’s slow, and he seems to lean into each phrase. The same can be said for his music.
Corey has put out two albums under the name Black Water Choir, inspired by the dark sediment-filled rivers of the low country and the layering of his own voice when recording songs. But even with those layers, one of the things that makes Corey stand out from other Savannah musicians right now is the simplicity of everything that he creates. It’s a simplicity that’s stronger in its bareness. With tracks like “No Place You Can Rest” and “Some Nights”, he plays the guitar with the warmest austerity, crooning along in low breathy rasps, painting entire environments in your head as you listen. Winding interstates, snow dusted mountains, old leather, the heavy glass of whiskey that made you crash your car into a tree.
Most influenced by the weather and time of day, Corey is always making sure his music captures that intangible feeling of atmosphere. “It’s something you can’t really define,” Corey says, “and that’s where I try to touch with my music. Something that you can only listen to in a certain setting, and it has to be perfect.” One of Corey’s biggest musical inspirations is Broken Social Scene, so I asked him to describe the setting of one of his favorite songs, “Safety Bricks”:
“You’re driving down the interstate, you’ve got all these mountains around you, and it’s cold as fuck outside, but inside the car it’s warm, but you still need a jacket. You’ve got a couple of buds in the car, and you put that song on, and the clouds are just hanging on the tops of the mountains, and the sun is still kind of red in them, but it’s getting dark. You’re going somewhere that you’re excited for, and you’ve got a case of beer in the car, and you’re feeling humbled because everything around you is humbling. Maybe that.”
Corey was born in Knoxville and moved to Asheville around the time he started making music. He speaks of Asheville very fondly, crediting much of his early growth to the open-minded culture. “There’s an old Native American saying, it has something to do with the mist that rolls off the mountain to the valley,” Corey says. “Asheville is almost like a bowl, just surrounded by mountains, and it’s sort of like the mystic fog that comes over and just enriches the entire place. I’ve always felt that there’s something incredibly special about Asheville. You could go out on the corner and bang a bunch of pots and pans around and people would gather and want to listen, whereas you go to a subway in New York and you could be an amazing musician and people don’t give you two seconds, you know?”
That early inspiration combined with a degree in writing has given him an edge in both recording stories and creating them. The narrative drive in his songs is so strong that it leaves you wondering if the stories are real. “It’s like the fine line between fiction and non-fiction,” Corey says. “What’s really real? But in my head it’s all real. It’s very narrative, but it’s strange because I’ve never really thought about my lyrics that much. A lot of musicians will write a whole set of lyrics then go back and take them all out and rewrite them, but I never do that. What goes on the page stays on the page.”
Most of the time his writing is a relatively easy process, finding the music first and then just free writing with his voice until he finds the right words to fit in. He feels that some of the quickest songs to write were actually the best, and he attributes that to an old Spanish idea of duende, which is the heightened state of emotion and energy experienced while in the act of creation. “Some of my best songs I’ve written in a fifteen minute sitting,” Corey says. “And I think that’s the spirit, right? It’s all about duende, that creative process. I’ve always sort of felt that idea but never knew that there could be a word for it. But that’s duende. And so I let that be the beast that runs my hands and runs my fingers and runs my mouth. And that’s who’s really writing. Not me.”
And it’s that exact spirit, that relinquishing of control and opening to his surroundings, that enable Corey to create what he does. His stories will softly sit you down, and remind you of the things that matter most. The honest work, the rough edges, the friends that love you, the indescribable humbling you feel in the mountains. It’s all about allowing yourself to feel somber when necessary, and letting others lift you up when it isn’t. It’s about giving the earth permission to move through you with all its singularities until it’s too much to take, and about loving the cold because it makes you hold the moments of warmth closer to your skin.
Corey will be playing a show at Graveface Records this Wednesday, November 19th, at 7:00 pm. It will do your soul some good to attend.