Cory Gray in his temporary basement studio.

Quarantine Creativity Interview Series: Cory Gray

Ben Allen, music editor
It’s August 2000 and Desert City Soundtrack has just finished a phenomenal set at Rumours Lounge in Eureka, California. My band, Relapse, has just returned to Humboldt County earlier in the day after more than six weeks on the road playing shows in ten states. While performing with such consistency has made our live show very refined, I am confident that Desert City Soundtrack will be the most memorable band for everyone in attendance. This is the night I first meet Cory Gray.
Desert City Soundtrack was signed to Deep Elm Records, a label that defined the early 2000’s sound of “post-hardcore” or “emo.” However, DCS set themselves apart from other bands on the label primarily with Gray’s distinctive approach to songwriting and his instrumentation (keyboards, trumpet, vocals). The trio also included Matt Carillo (guitar, vocals) and Brian Wright (drums).
Upon the dissolution of Desert City Soundtrack, Gray started Carcrashlander, a band where he is the only constant member, does the songwriting and has a huge rotating cast of contributors. Carcrashlander successfully merged some of Gray’s more indie pop-oriented instincts with complex, challenging arrangements.
Cory currently leads an “experimental instrumental project” called Old Unconscious. They are a difficult ensemble to categorize and describe, but maybe something like “indie psychedelic jazz.” “It is a balance of composition and improvisation and frequently features guest players and percussionists.”

Gray is also currently a member of The Delines, self-described as a “retro country band.”  Their second album, The Imperial, was released in January 2019.
In addition to the bands and projects where he writes the material, Cory has recorded with numerous notable Portland bands, worked as a recording engineer, composed music for films and television, toured all over the world, and recorded and mastered material for numerous artists at Old Unconscious Music Workspace and Recording Studios, his space in industrial North Portland. He also makes hot sauce and co-owns a company called Saucesome.


Ben: Hello Cory. Based on your musical output as of late, you seem to be staying pretty busy. What does a typical quarantine day look like for you?

Cory: I set up a little studio in my basement, so my commute is just some stairs now. Way less traffic. I’ve still been mixing records, working on some new tunes and scoring a film. I definitely take more breaks now because my backyard and kitchen are both pretty solid distractions. I got a hummingbird feeder so I’ve been hanging out with those little rippers a bunch.

Ben: What can you tell us about the two COVID-19 compilations you’ve contributed to?

Cory: The first one, “F is for Flakes,” is an ambient music collection that was put together by my friend Brendon Anderegg in Brooklyn and released by Thrill Jockey. Everyone made something in F. Really great tracks on that comp, and a gorgeous video too. Proceeds go to National Domestic Workers Alliance

The other one is called the “Golden Sounds of Covid 19” that my pals Greg Olin, Curly Cassettes and Perpetual Doom compiled. A bunch of people I know and a bunch I don’t. Twenty-eight different songwriters tasked to record a reaction to the quarantine times in their own way. Really all over the map. I volunteered to master the comp so I got a lot of listens in. Some very rad stuff. My track is pretty goofy but I had tons of fun making it, and recruited Ryan Stively to play the shortwave radio and ebo guitar and Brian Wright to email me some midi drums. All proceeds for that one go to the Covid-19 Fund at Sweet Relief

Ben: What are you enjoying most about sheltering in place? Have you been going days without showering, doing a lot of day drinking and wearing pajamas all day?

Cory: I really thought at first my sweatpants were on to stay. But as time rolls on it turns out that I have a hard time focusing on making music without putting my jeans on. Honestly I feel kinda ripped off. And yeah day drinking for sure, not that it’s an entirely new concept to me. 

Ben: As a working musician, have you taken a financial hit from performance or tour cancellations?

Cory: Oh yeah, big time. I had a year of cool things to do that were all cancelled. Well postponed, hopefully. I was looking forward to some recording sessions and a cool festival out in Montana, and a summer European tour. Fingers crossed for 2021.

Ben: What’s one thing you’re looking forward to doing once this whole apocalyptic pandemic thing passes?

Cory: Mosh pits and orgies and public transportation. But other than that it’s just been a bummer not getting to play music with my pals. I’m really missing that. And traveling too. And restaurants. But I have it pretty good here with a yard and whatnot and I like to cook so I’m not complaining. There is a lot to be upset about with the handling of this pandemic situation, and the injustices and inequalities and all that, but once we get started on that stuff it’s hard to stop. 

About Ben Allen

Ben is a guy that likes music.

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