Interview with Cory Marks: “…One of my goals is to one day tie in air shows and concerts.”

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Canada’s new, best gift to hard rock and country music, Cory Marks, is back again with a new EP, “Nashville Nights,” to tide over the fans over until live shows can start up again. We spoke to him first in early 2020 before the pandemic hit and cancelled most of his plans. With 18 months of pandemic between interviews, surely we had a lot to catch up on, regarding both his debut album, “Who I Am,” and what he’s been doing while his tours have been on hiatus. Watch the full interview here, or read the transcript below…

Hello again! It’s been about a year and a half since we last talked so I know this is a pretty loaded question, but how have you been?

I’ve been pretty good! I mean, we got a new record finished during this pandemic, I finished my private pilot licence, I bought an airplane. So I’ve been doing lots of flying and I’ve got my first show coming up here this Saturday. It’s my first and only show in Canada this year at Boots ‘N’ Hearts Music Festival. I’m really excited to get back out and rock that place.

Have any of your tours been officially rescheduled yet or is everything still pretty up in the air?

Things are still up in the air with regard to the tours that I had last year, but I’ll be going out this fall across the US with my good friend Lzzy Hale and HALESTORM, along with THEORY OF A DEADMAN. And I’ll be playing some great rock or hard rock festivals, Rocklahoma and Inkcarceration. I’ll also be playing in the New York State Fair at the end of the month, so you know, there’s fifteen to sixteen shows there between the end of August and mid-September. Again, just happy to be able to get back out and do what I do.

During the pandemic, you were online doing some acoustic solo streaming on Wednesdays and Saturdays [on social media]. What was it like to get involved with people so directly and intimately on such a regular basis?

It was a little different. You know it definitely took some getting used to. The alcohol consumption was definitely a lot more than it tends to usually be, but you know, we had as much fun as we possibly could nonetheless. It was great to meet and make new fans throughout the whole pandemic. You know, that’s definitely a plus side and as much as we missed touring and traveling, it was kind of nice just to come upstairs to my studio here with my drink of choice and sit here for an hour and play what I want and ow I want, knowing that the fans are loving it. And it wasn’t only just fans in North America, here in Canada and the US, it was all over the world. I think on average there’s probably between 15 and 20 different countries tuning in every live, whether that was on Wednesdays, which I think were the Instagram ones and Facebook was on Friday, so it was very humbling to see and feel the love, for not only my homeland, but just around the world in general, so it was a unique experience and one I’ll never forget. And again, just excited to get back out and do it do for real this time. But it reminded me a lot of when I first started out in my early 20s, playing these smaller clubs and venues, it’s very much like that, where you’re no more than 5 feet away from the first row and sitting on a bench, just you and your guitar and a microphone and a song, so it kind of reminded me of going back to those days and now [I’m] gearing up for the big stages.

I’ve been listening to your album a lot and even sent it back to my parents in Canada, because I grew up listening to country because of them. I thought it might be a little heavy for them, but they thought was really good. The guitar riffing certainly didn’t put off my dad by any means and they called it a good album to put on when the “kids” are around (which means people my age). But with that in mind, have you found a lot of support from the older country generation?

I’m always a little anxious as to what the older folks are going to think, but even some guys – younger folks like myself – have great appreciation for Waylon and Merle and Willie, real country music. You know I still love that stuff and I’m a huge fan of it. Although this stuff – yes, it’s a little more on the hard or heavier side [of country], but the goal of this album was to stay away from the pop side of country, which I think is just totally overkill these days and it’s hard to find a distinct sound or someone that sounds like themselves, because I just find a lot of the artists now sound the same, the production is the same, the melodies are the same, which takes away from the artistry. So we wanted to kind of make something different. That was the whole goal, that no one’s done it this way. Having Kevin Churko, producer for FIVE FINGER DEATH PUNCH, Ozzy Osbourne, DISTURBED, and of course, Shania Twain. You know, we wanted to really do our own country rock the way we heard it. I’m both a metalhead and hard rock guy, but also huge country guy, so I don’t think there’s anyone in rock or country doing it the way we did it, and we’ll continue to do, and then hopefully pave a whole new lane for country. That being said, I still pay tribute to my heroes like Merle Haggard with a song like “My Whiskey Your Wine.” It’s really stripped down, steel guitar and fiddle, and I love singing that stuff. I love writing that stuff. There’s a lot more of that stuff that I do write, it just doesn’t make it to the records as quick. But there will be some of that stuff on the new record. This new record is definitely… we still we still have the rock ‘n’ roll attitude, but it’s geared more towards my country roots, again: Alan Jackson, Brad Paisley, Merle Haggard. So it’s got a little more of a country feel to it, but there are a few hard rock songs on this one.

Obviously your new EP is coming out at the end of August, which has your solo version of “Outlaws & Outsiders.” How do you feel about the no-guests version of the song?

Obviously [the guests] played a huge role and a huge factor in that song and its success, which is still climbing today on a global scale. It just gets me grinning ear-to-ear to think that the song is still so loved and connected with so many people, millions of people around the world. That’s what really art and music is all about, is being able to do that, and I’m very happy to be able to do that. Hopefully a lot more of those songs will come and connect with those masses of people.

We wrote that… I was on an Outlaws & Outsider’s tour across Canada with my good buddy Aaron Pritchett. I thought, man, it’d be a great hook, outlaws and outsiders. That’s really how I was feeling. I frankly still kind of do right now, on Canadian country radio. So that being said, I got started writing and working on the song that was “Outlaws & Outsiders,” brought the idea to Kevin and Kane [Churko] and I’m happy to have them help me write this great song, they definitely added a little more edge to it.

To have that version, I mean, we recorded that in 2015, originally, so it’s been hidden in the vault for quite some time. To just to have it out, it’s been great, but to not have the guests on there, I just kind of get used to singing it by myself every night. So that being said, it’s still a great song in my opinion and I enjoy singing it. I’ve only had the opportunity to sing it a handful of times before COVID-19 hit to an actual live audience, but I do remember the feeling. It was really great to see the crowd light up once that song struck, so it’ll be fun. I love both versions equally.

I’m not sure if it was actually the first song I heard from you, but definitely Travis Tritt gave the song a lot of country music cred and then Ivan Moody gave it a lot of heavy metal cred. I imagine fans of both genres have been very pleasantly surprised to find both country accessible to metalheads and then metal accessible to country people as well.

I was pretty blown away by the reaction of… even the country fans saying a lot of these comments, “this is what country music needs,” which is exactly my thoughts, so I’m glad we connected there. But there’s also a lot of metal hype, like “I hate country, I don’t listen to country, but I love this shit” of “I love this sound.” Well that’s great because again, I am a hard rock, metal guy at heart too. So I love guys like Merle and that classic country, to me is there’s nothing else like it, but I also grew up on PANTERA, LAMB OF GOD, ARCH ENEMY, some really heavy shit. Of course, that started with bands like RUSH and DEEP PURPLE and Ozzy, BLACK SABBATH, etc. So that’s really what I want to do with my music, is to try to mash all that together because it’s really – no pun intended – who I am. But that mix of real country music and hard rock and, again, even a little metal in there, that’s that’s kind of sound that we really tried to create with this record and these singles.

I fully agree with the fans who say that country has been missing this for a while. I wasn’t ever sure if it was just modernization, that ranch life and living in the country isn’t such a thing these days, that culture isn’t so strong anymore. Maybe pop kind of came in because of that?

Yeah. I’m not sure what happened, but hopefully we can fix that quick! [laughter]

Back to “Outlaws & Outsiders” then, I heard that the label used that in the soundtrack to one of Better Noise’s movie releases, Snobabies?

Yeah, that was for the movie, Snobabies.

As I understand, Better Noise Music is involved in a lot of multimedia stuff, not just music but movies and maybe some books and things like that as well. Did I understand correctly that… were you in the movie performing or was it just the song used in the movie?

The song was used in the movie but my song, “Blame It on the Double” – featuring Tyler Connolly of THEORY OF A DEADMAN and Jason Hook of FIVE FINGER DEATH PUNCH – that I actually play the role that movie, that’s gonna be coming out later this year, I hope, called The Retaliators. That’s a pretty cool, badass horror film. And it’s funny, because I’m not a huge fan of horror films. For an outlaw and outsider, I’m pretty scared of them. I tend not to watch them, but I do love Halloween. It’s kind of a weird, weird thing – not the movie, October 31st, because the Halloween movies are what petrified me from horror movies in general. But yes, I actually play the role of Jimmy the bartender. The FIVE FINGER DEATH PUNCH boys, they’re in a clubhouse. They’re bikers in the movie and their clubhouse… I’m their bartender, their server Jimmy, so I play a very small role but it was fun nonetheless. The Retaliators also features the song, “Blame It on the Double.”

Was being in movies something you had initially been interested in or was that just a nice opportunity?

Always. I’ve wanted to be in movies for quite some time now. I really enjoy shooting music videos and the small bits I’ve experienced, that I’ve had in actual movies or TV shows, it’s always been fun for me. I do think there’s room for me on the screen somewhere, some movie, and hopefully I get a lot more opportunities to play a role, maybe some more serious roles, down the road for some bigger movies.

After “Outlaws & Outsiders,” how did you guys compile the rest of this “Nashville Nights” EP, how did you pick the songs and the versions and whatnot?

I think we just put songs together that kind of… We had the “Nashville Mornings” EP, which is more of the hungover and hard-out, you know, had too many Nashville nights. It was more veered towards country, if you will. This “Nashville Nights” is, you know, a little edgier. It’s approaching the end of the summer, although I hate saying that, but it’s geared towards getting amped up to go out. The world’s kind of coming back to normal, in a sense, so now people can get excited and turn up the “Nashville Nights” EP and get ready to go out and go bar hopping again and listen to live music.

One of my questions for you was if you’re a John Mellencamp fan, because of the “Jack & Diane” reference in “Good to Be Us”?

Of course, John Mellencamp is is definitely a legend in his own right and I grew up on his music, but actually, “Good to Be Us” is the only song on the record I didn’t write. But it spoke to me and it was pitched at the time by Ole – now they’re Anthem Entertainment – there’s some writers there, Jeremy Stover and a few other guys that sent me that song and Kevin thought he could do some really cool stuff with it. You know, it is a feel-good party song, so there was room for that on the record. I love that song too very much, so I’m excited to play that one live.

I notice that country is pretty legendary for being kind of depressing, but most of your music is actually pretty positive and upbeat – was that intentional or are you just a positive and upbeat person?

A little bit of both! I mean, I have a lot of down days too, just like anybody, but I think it was… that record and that time in my life, where I was at. I think I was too down to bring anybody else down, so I took my hard feelings and turned it up to something a little more upbeat for a song, like “Devil’s Grin,” and even “Blame on the Double.” So it’s a little bit different than “My Whiskey, Your Wine,” but then there’s also songs like “Keep Doing What I Do,” where it’s me being a little bitter, but instead of being down about it, [I’m] going to keep doing my thing.

“Who I Am” is another one. That was just a song I was just kind of going over… this time of my life, around that time, I just picked up this guitar and after a full day at the studio with Kevin… you know, I wrote that one in about 20 minutes, put it on my phone, and sent it to Kevin, like “What do you think about this one?” “We’re going to cut that tomorrow.” It just all worked out, but that’s one of those songs where obviously I reference guys like Merle and Johnny in there and if you know their music enough, you’ll hear it. That one’s kind of a modern day Waylon, if you will, it starts off a little low, but it picks you back up to keep fighting, keep throwing punches.

You kind of just touched on this, but in the past, country artists have always talked about each other and their music and like you said you’ve, you’ve been doing that too, like you mentioned Waylon Jennings in “Blame It on the Double.” So, do you think that’s actually an important part of country music or is it just something you like to sneak in as kind of a tribute to the elders, so to speak?

It’s just trying to pay tribute to them and again, the music I listen to, and again. a song like, “Blame it on the Double,” something we wrote, you know, six years ago now, in 2015, I was doing it before what you’re hearing on radio, which I think is just pointless name dropping in some circumstances. It was fitting, I’m a Waylon fan, and it just all made sense it was put together. But again, I was doing that before it was a thing. It’s almost like a reference to those comments about, you know, “how can be an outlaw with a man bun,” or whatever for wearing my hair up. I’m an athlete as well, and I’m pretty sure a guy like Jason Momoa and Triple H in wrestling put their hair up too, so there’s nothing wrong with it. That’s because there was a trend that started, and then it becomes overkill, but I just like to put it out there that I was before the trend, both in the name dropping and man bun, which I like to call a “mun.”

People really get wound up over man buns. I’m not too sure why. Maybe in North America long hair is still not that common, but I think every other guy I know in Finland has a man bun.

I guess I see that look a little more in Europe and stuff like that. But I guess it’s frowned upon in some places down here, but… whatever.

Gotta keep pushing the limits!

That’s right!

So of course, you’ve also got the party songs, but I noticed the reference to toke and smoke and, of course cannabis was – I guess not so recently now – legalised in Canada. Do you have any thoughts on that? Do you think other countries should consider it?

I mean, I don’t really see a harmo in it, as long as you’re doing it for the right reasons and not getting too crazy. I mean, alcohol is legal, right? I mean it’s obviously a natural herb. There’s some crazy stuff out there that maybe shouldn’t be legalised, by the way people react it, but nonetheless, if it’s medicinal or, you know, if you have trouble sleeping, it helps with that, or if you have trouble eating, it definitely helps with that. So if it helps you, it makes you sleep better, feel better, be better, I don’t see a problem with it. At the end of the day, in a lot of circumstances, it is a lot better than the pills they give you that are legal.

Speaking of kind of getting crazy… you know, I grew up in Canada, I know what people are like, I’m sure my brothers or at least their friends have spent the odd night in jail in the drunk tank or something. I was curious, have you ever spent a night in jail yourself, or have friends who have?

Oh yeah, I spent some time there. Yeah, back in the younger days, bar fights, sticking up for people, and just being young, wild, and crazy, and I think lucky number eight – I believe -is my count, believe it or not.

Nice [laughter].

Yeah. So I never stayed in a state prison like Merle did, but definitely spent more time than I think… anyone I know. If you add them together, that’s eight nights, that’s the whole week jail. That’s long enough [laughter].

For sure! And you never know, there are a lot of stories that get told in country, so you never sure if they’re from the artists themselves, or from maybe their friends or family.

Yeah, well, that’s one thing I do like to write about is obviously my life and what I feel and think, but also some of the things I’ve seen, you know like heartbreak through close friends or family, and it all impacts us personally, one way or another, whether… if it’s breakups, whether you’re going through it or someone else is going through it, they’re never easy, right? I find even in some circumstances, even if both parties feel the same way, it still kind of sucks, because if they’ve been together a long time, you’ve got to start dividing and going your own way, if you will. It’s just change, is what it is. I just like to sing and write, whether it’s my breakup or somebody else’s close to me.

[ed: in the video, I accidentally merged a couple of my questions here and I’m a bit muddled; in the transcript, this is cleared up a bit]

In Finland, young bands here tend to maybe have a couple thousand followers after their first couple of albums and you’ve got an insane following right now, so I’m wondering if you have any tips for artists or suggestions on how to get their music out a bit?

First of all, I have a great team at Better Noise and obviously on the production side of things, so that definitely helps, having a world class producer like Kevin and Kane Churko. So surrounding yourself with a great team, I think, is number one, but obviously the one thing that Kevin and I were so happy about is that, with this label, in many cases, you’re told what to play and how to play it. I’m not really big into that. Hence, keep doing what I do, and with the success that Kevin‘s had, and Kane, Better Noise has allowed us to create the art we want to create, tell the stories we want to tell. Again, I think that’s really important as an artist, whether you’re country rock or whatever you are, and I’m very thankful to have that opportunity to do that with, again, such great players and great production. I’m happy I’m able to do that and most of all, I think I’m just happy to be writing and making music that many people can relate to, can connect to, from many different ethnicities, countries, to different upbringings, to different genres, so I think it’s… whatever you love doing, whatever you love writing, I think that it’s really important to continue doing that, but find yourself a great team that’s going to help you get that music out there and support you and your art.

Of course, in Finland… not a big country scene. In fact, the first Finnish songs that are kind of country that I’ve ever heard just were released this year by a solo project from a metal artist. She released a solo album this year with a couple of very country influenced songs, but so there seems to be a pretty small fanbase for country here. However, Finnish artists do like to mess around with genres, like Finland’s most recent Eurovision competitors, BLIND CHANNEL, who do “violent pop” that mixed pop, heavy music, and hip-hop, all sorts of things. So I’m curious to know if you have any idea if you’ve got much of a following over in Finland, where we seem to appreciate people who mess around with genres a lot, considering that country’s not so popular here?

I believe the following for CORY MARKS over in Finland is pretty good considering, but I know there’s hard rockers and metal folks out there, so again, they can relate even though it’s a country record. I find there’s still a lot of people relating to my music and are loving it, so it all works out.

I’m really hoping that you get a strong enough following here that we’ll be able to see you live at some point.

I would really love that. I’d love to do a whole European tour and yeah, Finland is definitely one of those spots that I’d like to sell out and rock.

Definitely, it seems like your European following has been growing since the release of the album, so do you have any plans or hopes for any European tours once corona is under control, or is nothing set in stone yet?

“Outlaws” went to number three in Germany at hard rock radio there, so I was pretty thrilled about that. Overall, the streams seem great over in that area, and I’ve always dreamt of going to Europe and places… like I have a German background, my brother played hockey in England and Scotland, and I never had the opportunity to go visit him and see those cultures and territories. So most definitely, I would love to do a full European tour one day and that would be that whole side of the world. That’s the absolute plan.

You just mentioned streams there and I’ve noticed that a lot of music these days really almost feels like business, you know, many artists have to become businessmen and so much focus, especially in the North American market, is pushing followers and streams and likes and shares and all that stuff. Do you find that frustrating at all, that you have to upkeep the… sort of business mentality about music, that it’s hard to just be an artist, or does your team help with that stuff?

Yes and no, but I have such a great team from management to the label to agencies, so that definitely helps. On that note, yeah, I do find that it does take a little bit away sometimes if you don’t have folks that can take care of certain things for you. In my retrospect, my thought is, it’s only helping me learn and be better. I’m big into aviation too and one of my goals is to one day tie in air shows and concerts, like we had here in North Bay growing up. It was such a thrill to have air shows on Saturday and Sunday, from noon to 4 and then from 6 to 11 at night were major international acts on these big stages and crowds of… in a town of 50,000 people, you got over 80-100,000 people coming on the festival grounds over those three days, so that’s definitely one thing, and you need to have a little business sense too. There’s lots of money to be made, there’s lots of people to be paid, so you’ve got to keep your wits about you and stay focused on that when you can, and try to do that as much as possible. I think it can definitely be annoying and it can add a lot of stress, if you let it, but it’s also a bit of a learning curve too. In some cases, you can learn a lot more in real life circumstances and situations than you do when you’re paying for them at school.

Well, speaking of aviation – very Bruce Dickinson of you by the way, I love it – it would be really cool (just throwing this out there), if you ever get to Finland, there is actually a small airport here that has been used for a concert venue a few times that could be theoretically possible to work into a live show, maybe show up your show in an Ultralite [plane] or something like that.

That would definitely be cool. That’s a huge goal, to even do concerts at airports, because there’s such big tarmacs and certain runways in airports, that I think it would be a cool experience to be able to play up there. Again, that’s a goal of mine. There is a big airport here and I already have it all mapped out my head, how that would work. There just tends to be a lot of red tape here in North Bay, when it comes to making great events that can bring people into the city, but hopefully they’ll work with me on that one when that time comes.

So are you just flying for your own amusement, are you doing any commercial flying, or what kind of flying are you doing?

A lot of my instructors think I should do commercial, and it’s crossed my mind. I could do it. Basically, commercial, in a sense, is basically a piece of paper that allows you to get paid to fly, but I can get get multi-engine, I can get IFR, I can get night ratings, I can do all that stuff with the licence that I have. So that means that I’ll probably add on to my private pilot license, maybe one day just write the commercial tests just to say I got it, but I think for now, it’s just more for my amusement, for my thrill of aviation and flying, my passion for… Actually, today I’m going to go up in my plane and go for a flight and go anywhere I want. Like a lot of bike riders, it’s a freedom that they have, they just prefer to be on two wheels. I prefer to be 1000 feet up, or more, and get places a little bit quicker. I think I’ll definitely add on and continue training and be better pilot and work on that. You’re always learning in aviation, you can never really get too comfortable, because when you do that, that’s when you know, small mistakes turn into big ones, so I don’t plan on that happening, but you never know. So, I’d like to be ready for it. I’m just having fun doing lots of flying right now before, I move on to something else, whether that’s getting a night rating or float rating or doing something I always wanted to do, getting into aerobatics and formation flying.

Cool! It’s shame [in some senses] that there’s no mandatory military service in Canada, because I know lots of people got to play around with that just in military service if they went into the aviation side.

I was actually enrolled at RMC before this music career started. As a pilot, that was going to be my plan, play 5 years of university hockey, get a degree, fly aeroplanes, doing that and getting paid to do it, and doing something I love. But I ended up picking up the guitar and the rest is history.

That leads right into my next question. At points in my life, I have felt like I missed a calling as a country music singer. So, as a Canadian kid listening to country music, did you ever imagine that you would be a country music star when you grew up, or was it more flight and sports for you back then?

It is a bit of everything. You know there’s an opportunity for hockey. Obviously, my passion for flying was always there and still is. I’m probably even more passionate now that I’ve learned a lot more while getting my licence and flying, but to be honest, I always thought I was going to be more of a Tommy Lee. I was drumming from the age of 10 and that was kind of my fallback for everything. “If this doesn’t work out, i’m just going to be a rock drummer.” Until you figure out how that really works. It’s pretty tough being a steady musician and even just being in a steady band and making a good living doing that.

Well, you’ve already told us that you’ve finished your next album already. Is there anything else you want to share about it, or tease about it, or have you given us all your secrets already?

I think I’ve given quite a few secrets already. I just know that there will be new music coming out very soon, this fall. We don’t have a set date yet but we’re hoping we’re going to release something while I’m out on the road and I can promote it and really push the music. I know the new album will be coming out in 2022 and hopefully the earlier side of 2022, but new music [is] coming out very soon this fall, so I’m excited.

Did you find the extra free time from not touring, was that an oppressive feeling, or did you get inspiration in that time, or a bit of both? How did it work for you?

A bit of both. I miss the energy and I’m not used to being home all the time anymore, so it takes some getting used to. The gyms are closed too, so it’s not like you can just go burn off that energy, so it was definitely tough, but it definitely gave me room to write and work and, again, finish things like a pilot licence. So now I’m just ready to move forward and start playing shows again and get back to normal here.

Incredible. Well, that’s all my questions for you. Do have any last words for our viewers and readers?

Well, thank you for listening. If you haven’t heard the record yet, listen to Who I Am,” it’s available everywhere on all streaming platforms and don’t forget to follow me on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook @corymarksmusic. I look forward to being in Finland at some point in my career, hopefully sooner rather than later, and rock Europe and have fun.

Awesome, thanks so much!