It was The Insider who spotted Cor.ece, through their own work on the artist`s forthcoming Razor-N-Tape Reserve E.P., Dance To Keep From Crying. In The Insider`s words, “There aren’t enough superlatives in the dictionary to describe the talent here.” I’ve had a listen – how could I not with that recommendation – and the music is indeed incredibly accomplished, very cannily arranged. Moving from impassioned house – gospel via The Garage – with catchy pop hooks, to a jazz-funk rollerskating jam, and flickering, fidgeting electro-boogie with a rare groove delivery. Cor.ece`s vocals drawing on all sorts of sources throughout. Squeezing Soul Train skits in between the classic late `80s vibe-d title track – an inevitable anthem – and the acidic What’s The Word, which is, seemingly effortlessly, timeless.
In my opinion, the E.P. is outstanding. The carefully chosen cast of gifted producers really showcasing the singer / songwriter`s vast potential. It`s been a long, long, time since anyone could have called me a “House Head”, so the closest comparison I have, in terms of invention and range is Romanthony – and even that doesn’t do Cor.ece justice. I kid you not, on the strength of this release someone major will surely snap Cor.ece up.
Here The Insider quizzes Cor.ece on coming of age in St. Louis, a place with a huge musical history / legacy, about the influence of doo-wop and the church, about soulfood, about Brookyln and L.A. – the two places Cor.Ece now calls home. The conversation touching on the joy of performing, Cor.ece`s live band, collaborations, and on-going work with Luke Solomon and Honey Dijon.
There`s a line in here that I absolutely love.
“Let`s make room for any and all honest expression.”
Get ready. It`s a long one…
Interview conducted by our favourite four-to-the-floor expert, The Insider.
How you doing Cor.ece? Where are you today and how are you spending your time?
I`m very present, and in the moment today – something I’m actively working on, because every day this year has been extremely busy leading up to the release of Dance To Keep From Crying. I`m a working and inspired artist, so that makes me very happy. Today I`m in downtown Los Angeles looking up at the sky a lot, dreaming and soaking up as much inspiration as I can. I just wrapped composing the music for a short film called, The Baldwin Project, about the late James Baldwin. I’m proud of that.
Time is very important for me right now, because I feel like I use every moment of the day to do something, but in general I’m spending my time preparing for the release of my E.P. on August 5th on Razor-N-Tape.
Are you mostly living in Brooklyn or L.A. these days?
It’s funny you should ask that because I will travel to Brooklyn very soon. I’ll be at a retreat coming up, with a project with my good friend, Mickalene Thomas, at her creative oasis in Connecticut, then back in Brooklyn just in time for the release of the E.P. Yes, I will be celebrating all of the hard work that we put into this project.
What’s the difference between the two bases for you? What do you get out of each city respectively?
That`s a good way to put that question, although I have a different answer depending on what I’m doing. I’ve been going to New York city to visit family since I was a kid, and I have the same feeling every time I land. Now, however, it’s such a barometer of where I am creatively and professionally. I’m almost always in town for work nowadays, and not just to hang. I hope to steal some time to get lost and walk across the Brooklyn Bridge or from The Village up to Harlem. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done those things and never regretted it because I always discovered something interesting. Once I stumbled into a front row seat at a Robert Glasper concert. Only in New York.
In Los Angeles, the stereotypes are true. It can be all beaches and sun if you let it. Yet, if you are creating, and building up your stuff, Los Angeles can be a very rewarding city – and relaxing – because you`re getting things done and finding that zen space. It’s hard to be zen in New York because something is always around the corner.
You were born and raised in St Louis. What was it like growing up there?
St.Louis is at the center of the United States, so if you are a dreamer, like me, you’re always wondering what’s around. I spent my entire childhood trying to figure out ways to be an artist and create, even when no one else understood. I had a lot of freedom so I would go to Legacy Book Store to perform music and poetry. I played my guitar in The Delmar Loop for hours, or sang the same melodies until something else came. I didn’t know it then but I carved a lot of space to really be me. I was the only kid into wheat grass or vintage stores, because I had the room to explore my identity. All of those things are cumulative so therefore I am the sum of so many years of exploring and thinking about stuff. I was a super intellectual kid because I loved learning. St. Louis is a metropolitan city so it was there where I learned to be a citizen of the world.
There’s a whole heap of great singers out of St Louis. What’s in the water?
Vess soda, dill pickle juice and ancestral secrets.
I had a long debate once about the best male vocalist of all time, and my conclusion was, and still is, Donny Hathaway – He’s from St Louis too. As a vocalist, how much of an impact have local artists like Donny Hathaway had on you?
Tina Turner also got her real start there…Josephine Baker, Chuck Berry and many other lesser known heroes of mine. All of those people are in my musical DNA, but singers in my family were drinking from the same water so I’ve been singing my entire life. My Uncle Nookie and his friends where skilled doo-wop singers, and they expected a lot from me when I filled in first-tenor harmonies – or wherever the needed me. I still practice a lot because it’s so much fun to be able to come up with arrangements without a piano.
What other artists from the past inspire the style of music that you make today?
It depends. I’m like an encyclopedia with the pages ripped out and all over the place, so I’m not always aware on the surface, but then I’ll listen back and say, “Oh I sound like Babyface here”, or that’s a D’angelo reference; most recently I sang something and I felt really connected to the singer 6lack. I was classically trained in chamber music so I’m always interested in the non-traditional stuff. I left the choir my senior year in high school – like Lauryn Hill in Sister Act II – because I wanted to make my own sound, but I’m grateful for the foundation.
There are not enough folk doing what you do Cor.ece. There`s much dance music without vocals, or with the minimum of words. Do you think dance music has lost its ‘soul’ in some ways?
Nah. Firstly I’m no authority on any genre. I’m an artist, so I’ve lost the right – and the will – to be a critic. I’m inherently very soulful at the centre, so no matter what I do it will be there. I think what’s happening is that a lot of DJs are finally playing what’s been there all long…and look at it this way, that other stuff is fun too. Let’s make room for any and all honest expression.
I wonder, is it possible for music to be soulful, without a vocal? What do you think?
Oh yes, soul has little to do with words. Have you ever had soul food? It’s a real thing. My mother can make you food passed down to her that will make a trained chef angry. I’ve cried listening to Charles Mingus’ soul or Hypnotic Brass Ensemble – and felt the Earth move from a simple organ sound. Soul is visceral, and it’s undeniable.
When did you first find your voice? Was it in Church?
This is so funny to me because the singer-songwriter, Rob Milton, was just making a joke about how every Black person did not learn how to sing in church as some of them only went on Easter. No, I did not. I envied the gospel singers across the hall, but I learned from just opening my mouth and singing as a kid. Then I began recording and learning choral traditions. I’m still allowing space for my voice to grow.
You’re giving out some serious Freddie Jackson vibes and I mean that as a huge compliment. At the same time your vocal refrains and shapes are so unique. Did you set out to deliver something unique or does this freshness just flow naturally?
I’m dusting my shoulders off right now because it’s all from the heart. In all seriousness, so much great has come before mine. I’m forever a student, and although my particular colouring is my own, I know that it’s due, in part, to everything I’ve ever listened to and loved. I find the melody first and everything else follows.
Cor.ece the songwriter, is ever hopeful. Does this represent your personal demeanour? Is it your intention to make light of darker moments where possible?
I’m known to be very chill, or very direct, so that I can be chill again. I was just talking to my father today about how I have so much to live for, so I’m always looking for true resolution to a situation, and then the brighter side. I don’t write things that aren’t true for me. I don’t shy away from feeling sad, or less than hopeful. I do, however, work on exiting that place as swiftly as I can.
You are an artist with a richly textured vocal palette, but you’re also very strong visually. How important is the overall ‘aesthetic’ in what you do?
Thank you. The best relationships are ones where you can allow yourself to be the most vulnerable you. Art is the same way. The aesthetic is important to me because it’s another layer of expression that is also truthful. I’m ever-evolving, so I’m trying to invite people in and I not put on and pretenses. As I say in my song Nothing But Me: “I can’t survive in this life trying to be nothing but me.” I mean that.
I saw your short film, Between Something and Nothing. Tell me about this project and what is at the heart of its message?
That’s an oldie but goodie. OK, before I answer that, can I say that the second song in the film is a Vic Mensa cover and I met him two days ago and he asked to listen to it on the spot. He was super into it and I was floored. I had so much trouble getting that cleared and I had a feeling that he`d never heard it.
When I wrote that project I was in a dark place, and it had a lot to do with the masculine energy in my life. I needed to work through that in a big way. The film allowed me to do that. We didn’t do a bunch of takes, everything was just what it was in real time. The other artist in the film, Carlos Martiel, uses his body in many ways, so I knew that we’d arrive at the place I wanted to go to together. I wanted to show the importance of healthy confrontation, and how physical touch can either be healing or harmful. It’s a tool we all have so use it wisely.
Is film an art form that you are keen to explore further?
I just wrapped directing a music video for three artists, SeeMeNot, Dave + Sam, and just yesterday, Honey Dijon. I think it’s safe to say film and I are in a bit of a dance right now.
Can you tell us about Cor.ece the live performer. What live stuff have you done? What does you live consist of?
I love performing. The stage is a place where I can work out so much shit through music. I’m getting emotional just reflecting on it because the stage might be my favorite place to be. I don’t really care to be seen very much off stage. I’m not shy at all, and I don’t mind listening either…but the stage, that’s a whole other thing. I get to be at the centre of the sounds I love. I get to use every inch of my body to try and say something to people. So much of all of this, for me, is about hopefully feeling things with people.
I like rehearsing a lot with my wonderful band – mainly because it’s fun but also so that we can feel so good about what we are doing that we aren’t thinking about it. That’s magic. I’m always after that.
There’s footage of you performing with – The Gathered. Are these guys your regular band? What else are they up to?
Yes, Cor.ece and The Gathered are my family; truly a gift from the beyonds. I’ve been with most of the members for a few years now. It consists of Prisicilla Perry, on keys and background vocals. Priscilla is a beast of a solo artist herself. When she asked to join my band, I said yes without even thinking. Zeth Marra, who plays drums and several other instruments, but is the drummer on stage with me. Jimi Blaze on bass. I’ve also recorded a few records at his super cool studio. When he isn’t playing with me he has an Anime band that he’s in. Michael Clark on background – who is a multimedia artist when he isn’t singing the house down. Lastly, this wildly talented guitar player called Fleece Kawasaki joined not too long ago, although we’ve been hovering around each other on the streets of Los Angeles for years. One day we stopped hovering and actually talked for like 45 minutes. I left feeling very grateful I had met that human being. Now he plays with us. Yeah, sure they are talented, but they are also really good people that I happen to love.
Tell me how you hooked up with Honey Dijon?
I was introduced to Honey Dijon by Luke Solomon over at Classic Music. I met Luke as I left the stage after opening for Dave + Sam at Rose Gold in Brooklyn a few years back.
You worked on Honey’s tracks for Defected Records, Unleash and Work. How was this for you? Are there plans to collaborate further?
Both of those records were made with Luke Solomon in the mix as well. I really like making records with them because it’s such a fucking honour, but because also I need to really write some of my best stuff, and even then I have to come harder than what I think is my best. I’m endlessly inspired when I work with them. Honey and I have had a really cool collaborative evolution across mediums these last two years. So to answer your question, yes we have plans to create more jams.
Luke Solomon is a pretty cool dude to have in your corner. Would you say you`ve learnt stuff working with him? What do you feel you`ve gained?
Firstly, I’m constantly discovering all of these gems from Luke, so you are right about that. When Luke and I had coffee after exchanging info at the Dave + Sam’s show, I was just struck by how genuine he was. I brought my now business manager, Selma, and Luke showed up with Eli Escobar. We all really connected and then the music came. Luke’s ear is king. I trust it and respect it so much. He really knows how to massage the kinks out of a record while keeping the soul of it intact. This is a business too and Luke has been a great example of how to be an artist and a business person.
Honey Dijon is owning her space and is flying the flag for the LGBTQ+ community. From your own exeperience, what`s the current temperature in the music industry towards to LGBTQ+ community? Has it come a long way, does it have a long way to go?
I know that all of my identities have been assets to me creatively. Anyone that I work with can see that as well. New spaces have been carved out for LGBTQ folks, and people like Honey Dijon have been doing this for a very long time. In many ways I feel like a beneficiary of all of the sacrifices, and all the work done before me. So, for me, I must push to take it further, which is reflected in my work – especially visual pieces. As long as we have to ask this question we have work to do.
How long did it take you to complete the Dance To Keep From Crying project?
It took a couple of years to make.
Would you say you`re a perfectionist?
I’m more of a vibe chaser. If the vibe and the feeling is right then I’m OK, but if that’s not there, well, then we have to keep working until we all feel that special thing.
I’d love to know a little about each track if that’s cool. Possibly Impossible, what’s the story on this cut and Dave Gilles II`s vocal?
I originally wrote that in a studio with Snakechild – who produced my first album and is credited as a writer on the song. It was the first song that I recorded for the project. It’s funny because at the time none of us – including Dave – were where we are now. In a few short years we’re all doing our thing respectively. It’s wild to think about. Dave is one of my favorite writers, and MCs, so I knew he would be perfect for the track.
Nothing But Me, shines a bright light on your vocal dexterity. It sounds like such a happy song.
Thank you for that. I’m glad you take it as a happy song, because I wrote it out of a place of frustration. We’re all confronted with questions about who we are in relation to the world around us. All I want is to keep exploring my interests and to express myself fully. I also say in the song that I’m not interested in changing you, so why can’t you let me be? If I’m not me I’m dead.
Soul Train Babies. Tell me about these excellent interludes and Darell J. Hunt. What’s the story on Darell and the lyrics?
Oh man, to be honest, those interludes have been haunting me for years. I basically created this project for those. I don’t think people realize how iconic they are for the culture. They were a youtube sensation for a long time, so them being on this E.P. is such a gift; I just wanted them to live on in a new way and celebrate Darell – who, by the way, can sing the house down too.
SKY85 has got a ‘UK Street Soul’ meets Cameo flavour. What was your inspiration for this track?
SKY85 was made all under the tutelage of the producer, TimK. He`s made many lasting statements in music over the years. We worked together some time, because of Honey and Luke, and we kept in touch and eventually wrote this song together. I was on a date with someone who I felt was holding back and missing out on the beauty of the possibilities of love in general, not just with me. I wanted to capture that experience in a giant ball of funk led by Tim.
Dance To Keep From Crying is a one killer tune. You worked closely with JKriv on this. What do you feel he added to the music?
To me, Dance To Keep From Crying is such a special track. I hadn’t written anything like that before. I hope people get into the intricacies of that song. It feels more like a duet between my vocals and JKriv’s production, which is really cool. His abilities are so vast – his catalogue is just too much to handle – and this song is just another example of that depth. The opening line “Say things that you’ve never said before” was really me talking to myself. I felt like the song was too good to do anything with it that I’ve done in the past. I took that line and connected it to the notion of how dancing and moving can be healing. House music, and disco, has been that from the very beginning so I wanted to pay homage to all of the people trying whatever they could – like dancing – to make this life make sense.
It’s hard to choose a standout from this collection, but if I had to it would be What’s The Word. It brings a tear to my eye and makes the hair stand up on my arms. It’s got that kind anthemic, Love Endeavour, or White Lamp / Ron Basejam vibe. It’s HUGE. Did you feel that when you made it?
That song is weirdly already floating around the internet, so I feel like it meant something. I really appreciate your words. Shout out to Danny Kane for allowing me to take such a heartfelt trip. I didn’t know what the reception would be, but I do know that it’s a very truthful song. We take a chance every time we utter a word, and sometimes we have to just ask, what should I say, or what do you need from me? Love is unfair in that way. It doesn’t always work for a number of reasons. In the spirit of house music we explore those deep emotions, unabashedly. I’m dying to hear this in a club.
Who’s idea was it to put the acid lines in? It`s a genius touch.
Danny Kane! Don’t you just love it when producers produce?
The path of a musician is never an easy one. How hard has the journey been for you?
What path is easy? It’s probably boring if it is. Listen, I had the privilege of choosing to follow my passions and whatever I dreamt in my mind. Every setback and door closed, ignored email, or empty room has been worth it. My image of me is who I hoped to be – to reference Donny Hathaway. Yes, sure I’ve been penniless, slept on many couches, and missed out on a lot of parties over the years, but it has really paid off. I’m doing what I want to be doing.
Have you ever felt like giving up? What kept you pushing on in those moments.
I have many times. My family has really held me together on many fronts, so I have to give it up to them. I also worked on finding strength in myself too. When I doubt myself, I go back to old work. You can’t erase art that is already in the world. All I have to do is turn on my first album, HIM, and I’m reminded of all of the power I have inside of me.
Who, or what, has been your rock in your endeavours?
I’m lucky. My tribe is deep across the world, I must say. My mom is at the centre for sure. I’m so lucky to have parents who say nothing, except go for it and do your best.
What advice would you give to young artists who are trying to make a life in their chosen art form?
Just make art indiscriminately; never mind the marketing, or the money, or anything else. Find your voice and your superpower. L.A. Reid said this – and I agree – once you know your super power as an artist you are ahead of the game. Also, put you and your mental health first. I have a therapist on deck, and my friends know if my mind, body, and soul, aren’t balanced. I’m not doing anything but focusing on that.
Is there something you would like the world to know about Cor.ece?
Most things that I want people to know about me is in the work I put out. Just keep coming back because I have so much more.
Are you playing live anywhere soon?
I am. I have a very personal newsletter people can sign up for on corece.net – to stay connected to shows and all things Cor.ece.
What else are you working on right now?
I’m working with my friend, Mickalene Thomas, again on a really cool visual project. She produced Between Something and Nothing. We`re getting the vinyl out for Dance To Keep From Crying later this year. I just wrapped a couple songs with Walker & Royce and Bad Colours – oh and I’m writing my next album.
Congratulations on this stunning E.P.
My pleasure. Thank you so much.
Cor.ece`s single, Possibly Impossible, featuring Dave Giles II is out now. The E.P., Dance To Keep From Crying, will be released August 5th. Both are available to purchase / order from Razor-N-Tape.