MusicMusic Features

Cory Branan Finds Common Ground Between Country, Punk

Don’t let the title of Cory Branan’s new album, The No-Hit Wonder, out now on Bloodshot Records, fool you. It may be a self-deprecating jab at not making it huge in the music industry, but that doesn’t mean the songs aren’t total earworms.

Asked to elaborate on how his new LP departs from the gruff aesthetic found on earlier records, like Mutt, Branan doesn’t recognize any inconsistency. “People have been saying that The No-Hit Wonder [has bigger production],” he says. “I don’t know. There are never more than four instruments playing.”

Brannan says he pulled from songs that were “five, six years old” to round out the sequence. “It’s usually so long between records just because of business bullshit,” says Branan. “But now that I’m on Bloodshot, where I can put out a record every year and a half, it’s nice to do the stuff that I’ve been working on [for a while].”

The No-Hit Wonder ventures somewhat from the roots-based country music of Branan’s past. He says “it wasn’t a conscious decision” to wade into honky-tonk and other country subgenres, adding he’s simply not out to “make [just] one sound.” As Branan puts it, the goal is to remain as “genre-less” as possible.

Citing some of his favorite artists that defy the expectations of a single sound, Branan says it’s a good practice to “let the songs go where they need to go,” rather than worrying about how they’ll be categorized. “People never bust Tom Waits’ balls, because he ties it together with that unmistakable voice,” he says. 

To add some Nashville flavor to his new record, Branan, who originally hails from Mississippi, enlisted musicians with their own unmistakable voices to lend their talents. “I always like to have buddies play and sing on my records. Now that I’m in Nashville, they’re all around,” he says of the guest appearances from alt-country superstars like Tim Easton, Jason Isbell and several others.

People never bust Tom Waits’ balls, because he ties it together with that unmistakable voice.

Branan notes that all the guests on The No-Hit Wonder “go way back”—except Craig Finn, whom he met 20 minutes before having the Hold Steady frontman lay down a vocal part on the album’s title track. Being a “huge” Hold Steady fan, Branan was thrilled to have the opportunity to include the singer on the song. “It was fun to watch him work. He’s the only guy I’ve seen that sings through the entire word… the whole fucking word. It’s amazing,” Branan says.

Having toured with artists as diverse as Austin Lucas, Chuck Ragan, Isbell and Against Me!’s Laura Jane Grace, Branan has also developed a reputation for navigating between country and punk crowds. 

“Both [punk and country], in their most stripped-down sense… are trying to get at something with the least amount of bullshit in the way,” he says. “There’s an immediacy to [those genres] and a narrative that’s consistent.”

Much like The No-Hit Wonder, Branan says that his live show is something of a mixed bag. Sometimes traveling with a full band and at other times relying only on his acoustic guitar for accompaniment, Branan notes that his live arrangements differ mainly “out of necessity.” 

“It’s on the fly,” he says. “If you can read a room and not think about it, you have to play different. If you stay open to that, some interesting shit can happen.”

When asked if touring in support of The No-Hit Wonder feels any different, Branan simply expresses gratitude that he gets to tour and make music for a living. 

“The crowds are always responsive. I’ve been lucky like that,” he says. “I’ve been lucky enough to have some loyal fans. And, without that, what’s the point?”

WHO: Cory Branan, Betsy Franck
WHERE: Caledonia Lounge
WHEN: Thursday, Sept. 25, 9 p.m.
HOW MUCH: $5 (21+), $7 (18–20)