An Interview With Corey Balsamo: The Best Version of Himself

I first saw Corey Balsamo perform at a small venue back in 2013. I loved everything about his set and how he interacted with the crowd so when I started interviewing unsigned bands, I knew I had to reach out to Corey to let him tell his story. Read it below.

Where are you from?

Long Island, N.Y.

How long have you been an artist and how did you get started?

I composed my first bit of music, which was just sloppy guitar instrumentals and no vocals, when I was around 10 years old. I would buy these blank cassette tapes and use the “Record” function on an old boom box to catch these open-air recordings in the basement of my mom’s house. Most takes would be accompanied by the hum and spinning of the washer/dryer in the background. Then around 14, I started actually penning lyrics for the first time and taking a stab at the whole ‘singing’ thing. I did that for about a year, never taking it anywhere further than the threshold of my bedroom door.

I remember how it felt the moment I finished my first song because I still get that same feeling now when I complete a new tune. For me, it’s this mounting, glowing radiance that comes from right inside your chest. And, almost too immediately, I want to share it with someone. I’ve been known to blow up a phone or two of some songwriter friends at 3 a.m. with a fuzzy voice memo of a chorus idea I just wrote. Often times, they don’t get back to me ’til morning. So, it makes sense why I innately wanted to share myself and my songs when I was 14 and new to the game. The problem was I just didn’t know where to start. A group of friends and I started writing music with together. They were a few years older and had cars. They began taking me to open mic nights—particularly at this one coffee house on Long Island called Cool Beanz. That’s where it all began for me.

How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard you before?

Such a hard question. Being genre-specific, I fall under “Singer-Songwriter.” But then I begin to backpedal since there’s so many other singer-songwriters, more than a handful, who I love solely as a fan, that I sound nothing like. In the last few years, I feel I’ve definitely, and inadvertently, put a blend of R&B into what I’m writing. I imagine it’s probably the surfacing of what I listened to as a kid before I developed my own tastes—which was really anything my older brother listened to. In my case, it was a lot of ‘90s hip-hop and R&B. That element hasn’t so much shown up in my lyrics as it has in a minor chord progression or some noodling guitar hook.

I like to think Conor Oberst has helped in the way I view lyricism, though I don’t find that my songs sounds much like something you’d hear on a Bright Eyes record. He’s the first artist who ever challenged me to be cognizant of just exactly what I was writing. What I appreciate about Conor is how gimmicky he isn’t. Because of that, I take a fine-toothed comb through much of my lyrics to make sure of a few things:

1. I’m always being the best version of myself.

2. I’m being honest and saying what I mean/what the song calls for.

3. I’m not being lazy by taking cliché lyrical shortcuts (using a hook like “tonight” where it doesn’t apply, unnecessary “lalala’s” and “nanana’s”) which is often overdone and often downright cheesy.

After that, I can only sell someone on what others have told me. Which is that I sound like a mix of Jason Mraz, Ed Sheeran and John Mayer—none of which I resent.

What was your latest release of music and can you talk about that a bit?

I put out a record called In The Middle Of Everything in the fall of 2014. I know a lot of artists get caught saying this, and I don’t mean to sound cliché, but (*air quotes*) it was a really huge step for me. I got the opportunity to leave a lot of my familiarities as a writer—which was in itself a huge transition. I knew I wanted every song to be different, to showcase my versatility as a writer, but still sound like they were coming from one place and one artist. This record allows me to shoot from as many angles as there are tunes. It’s got the high-energy, pop tune with bells and chimes and a big chorus (“More Than Me”). There’s a laid back, beachy love song (“Wrapped”). A folk tune about being the best version of yourself called “Why Wait.” Mysterious, deep church organs echo and haunt throughout, “Left Alone,” and, “Waiting For You.”

And then there’s my favorite, “Think Of Me,” which is just me, a guitar and a harmonica, asking a lost love to still keep me in both her mind and heart. The title of the record is actually pulled from a song called “On Fire” which is this down-tempo, break-up, piano ballad. You’re not always going to get the album title from a song like that so I thought it would be cool and different to do. The more I thought on it, In The Middle Of Everything was the perfect title since it was a record made during a time of huge transition for me, both artistic and otherwise.

What is your writing and recording process like?

Sometimes lyrics first, then music. Sometimes the music comes, then the lyrics. But my best relationships with songs, or at least the ones that came with greatest ease, are when I’ve been actively pursuing both at the same time. I like to believe that ideas and creativity and inspiration exist not just in the metaphysical but also our natural world and are as real as the particles in the air around us right now. However intangible, songs themselves are definitely real, so the only logical explanation (to me) is that the creativity behind the song also has to be a real, attainable thing.

Having my guitar in hand and a steady stream of consciousness flowing at the right time allows me to capture my best work. Whenever I feel that I have the best culmination of songs is when I start thinking about reaching out to producer friends and recording engineers and we take it from there.

What are current projects you are working on?

I’ve been in and out of Nashville a few times this last year. The collaborative writing process is one I’ve taken on moreso down there than at home in New York. That’s just how Nashville exists for me, right now—crawling with songwriters and writers’ circles and great networking. It’s not that you don’t get that in NYC, there’s just a breed of artists here who are very performance forward that is unique here to anywhere else. And the same goes for songwriters who eventually find themselves in Nashville at some point, whether they’re living there or are just in town for work.

In the last year, I’ve written more than a handful of tunes that could be considered and pitched as country songs—and definitely a bunch that aren’t at all. But, so goes my insatiable desire to be a versatile songwriter. I recently wrote something that I am near positive will be my next single. It’s easily the best thing I’ve written to date and I’m crazy over it like a fifth grade crush. I showcased it earlier this month while closing out a show at The Knitting Factory in Brooklyn, asking of the crowd to be kind and forgiving as I introduced it in its embryonic state. It went over incredibly well which only helped reinforce my thinking that releasing it as is a single is a huge next step for me.

What is your favorite memory as an artist?

I love to tour. I’m a transient being by nature. So most of my favorite memories and stories come from when I was away from home and playing music somewhere. I think it’s also easy to feel out of your element when you’re somewhere different so having the right people to work with on the right tour is important. With that being said, I have shared some really cool and unique moments.

Deep talks and Netflix binges in between tour stops with my pal Tyler Hilton. Having Gregg Allman compliment and critique my set, while backstage at a festival he was headlining, where I had the 11 a.m. slot. Getting to know/playing shows with Rachel Platten before she was this “Fight Song” superstar, driving around with her in my ’95 Buick LeSabre in between shows, and being there to witness her blow up like she was always meant to—even after several “well-respected” people in the biz made irrelevant points about her being a tad old to ever “breakout.” And how wrong they were!

But my favorite moment(s) have to be when I get off stages anywhere and some kid I’ve never met or seen before approaches me and begins to tell me that they heard some lyric of mine. And that they’d always felt that way, too, but could never verbalize it for themselves until they heard that song. That’s my favorite kind of moment. That why I do this, and that’s what makes this all worth it.

What are your goals for the future as an artist?

Long term: to just continue doing what I’ve been doing. I don’t see anything wrong with wanting your music to reach as many people as possible, so long as I don’t compromise the integrity of myself as an artist. Short term: I want to have a single out by this summer, and I am thinking a new record maybe before the end of this year. Definitely more touring, too.

Where can readers find your music?

Spotify, iTunes, Amazon.