Nov 18 • 1HR 21M

Life as a traveling musician in the 21st century

A conversation with singer-songwriter Cory Branan.

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David Roberts
Volts is a podcast about leaving fossil fuels behind. I've been reporting on and explaining clean-energy topics for almost 20 years, and I love talking to politicians, analysts, innovators, and activists about the latest progress in the world's most important fight. (Volts is entirely subscriber-supported. Sign up!)
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Beloved Volts listeners, today I bring you something a little different. Okay, a lot different. One of my goals in starting Volts was to get out from under any bosses who could tell me what not to do. They probably would have told me not to do today's podcast. But I have no bosses now, so I'm doing it! Long story short, I'm interviewing one of my favorite musicians. It's a bit off our beaten path here at Volts, but since you're already here, you might as well listen. I think you'll enjoy it.

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So, way back in 2002, I was newly married, newly a father, and fitfully employed at best, so I had a lot of time to listen to music. My wife had gotten me into alt-country and singer-songwriter music, so I picked up the debut album from a young singer-songwriter named Cory Branan. It was called The Hell You Say.

Cory Branan: The Hell You Say
Cory Branan: The Hell You Say

A couplet at the beginning of the second song, “Crush,” caught my ear:

That time I mentioned I was moving / and you said you'd help me move
I almost went out and bought some shit / so I’d need your help to move

It made me smile. And it stuck in my head. So I listened again. And again. And I learned a lesson that I would learn repeatedly in years to come: the longer I spent with Cory Branan's songs, the deeper they wormed their way into my consciousness.

Over the next 20 years, Branan released an album roughly every three to four years, and I bought them all. They were with me through all the phases of my life, through marriage, kids, finding my job, traveling — every time he had faded from my mind he would come out with a new album and I would fall in love with his music all over again.

Cory Branan

You know how sometimes you come across an artist and you feel like you just get them? You get their sense of humor, their worldview, and why they make the artistic choices they make? You get what they're going for and feel what they're trying to convey? It's like they're making their art just for you?

That's how it's always been with me and Branan, who is responsible for a startling percentage of my all-time favorite songs. Not only have I enjoyed his music, his career seems to have oddly run alongside mine. He never quite broke out and became MTV or radio famous. He's always cruised along beneath the surface, the kind of artist that other artists love, with a relatively small but incredibly passionate fan base. Every one of those fans believes, as I do, that he ought to be ten times more famous than he is, though he seems temperamentally disinclined, if not incapable, of doing the kinds of things that make people famous.

Cory Branan: When I Go I Ghost

One of the great serendipities of my life was a spontaneous opportunity to go see Branan play in a small club in Denver when I happened to be there, in the 2010s at some point (the past is a blur). After the show we got to talk a bit in his dressing room and we’ve kept in periodic touch since. Now he's come out with a new album, called When I Go I Ghost, and it is an absolute banger, already in my pantheon, so I am super-excited to get the chance to chat with him about his career, life on the road, and how the new album came together.