Korby Lenker Biography
Lenker's composition "My Little Life" brought him the Kerrville honors this year. It doesn't seem possible that one song could work so well in such disparate worlds, but it also proved its powers as a galvanizing piece of indie-pop, drawing a small army of likeminded, rising Nashville artists and personalities-Jeremy Lister and Katie Herzig to name two-to make lip-syncing, ukulele-strumming cameos in Lenker's music video.
The song-which is on the Heart of Gold EP he co-produced with A-list keyboardist Tim Lauer this year-itself points to the uncommon mixture of abilities Lenker has honed. It's imminently accessible and effortlessly tuneful, plus the lyrics express a familiar idea in playfully unexpected ways while pointing to thoughtfulness just beneath the surface. You can tell the guy's well-read, but he never comes off as too clever for his own good.
"I like it simple," says Lenker. "I just do. As soon as there's a weird chord, I'm like, 'Why? That's all been done. Who cares?' What's really hard is to hit people in the heart and to reach them. That's what I'm trying to do: make music that's easily likeable, but with a kind of secret sophistication. I'm always trying to write a song that you can hum along with on the first listen. You're like, 'Yeah, I'd like to hear that again.' Then maybe you hear it 20 times and you're like, 'Damn, that's actually something I'm going to think about now.'"
But there's a lot more than that to his instinctual, unorthodox journey from being brought up as a mortician's son in rural Idaho to being recognized as one of the more innovative voices in Nashville's current music scene.
Back in high school, Lenker had a cover band that enabled him to try on various alt-rock identities. "We covered 'Under the Bridge,' by Red Hot Chili Peppers," he says, "and I didn't know this at the time, but I listened to it recently and I'm like, 'Whoa, that's Korby trying to sing like Anthony Keidis. And this is Korby trying to sing like Trent Reznor.'"
After that, he got really into transcribing Trey Anastasio guitar solos as part of his music theory studies at Western Washington University. He also spent a semester in West Virginia with only his Martin D-18 acoustic guitar for company.
Here's a bit of insight into the spontaneous spirit that makes Lenker's music so interesting: He picked up a bargain bin copy of the journalistic snake handling memoir Salvation on Sand Mountain, and, with that alone to go on, decided to drive until he found one of the mountain churches mentioned in the book.
Lenker got new perspective, and a song about a snake-handling preacher, from the experience. "I ended up going home with one of the families," he says. "We rode home with the snake in the box in the backseat. And I got to be friends with this kid who was my age-I was 23 at the time, and he was 23. We couldn't have had more different backgrounds. He had an 8th grade education. But we somehow also had a lot in common. We ended up trading letters back and forth for years."
Lenker returned to the Pacific Northwest inspired by his Appalachian adventures and fully immersed himself in the region's bluegrass scene, forming a band called The Barbed Wire Cutters that proved to be an immediate hit in those parts. And he found ways to apply his pop-honed sen
"I like it tight," he offers about his experience fronting the 5 piece bluegrass outfit, which SPIN magazine called "The Young Riders of the bluegrass revolt". "I like the solos short and I like harmonies in tune...it was all song-driven for me."
All this time, Lenker was also making solo albums, and that became his primary focus with the folk-leaning Bellingham, which went over wonderfully in the U.K. and landed him on Bob Harris's BBC Radio 4 show. After a move to Seattle, he got the urge to plug in again, hooked up with Candlebox drummer Scott Mercado and made a nimble modern rock record called King of Hearts that got lots of spins on KEXP and a 4 star review in UK mainstay MOJO magazine.
Toward the end of the last decade, Lenker followed his muse down to his present home of Nashville where he's not only continued to hone his own unique artistic voice, but launched a stripped-down series of performance videos dubbed Wigby, spotlighting kindred musical spirits he's found.
"I love those videos," he says, "because it's just people being great. It's not production-it's just, 'Can you sing? Can you write a great song? Can you play your instrument well?'"
Deep down, Lenker is drawn both to the sort of unadorned expression the discerning folkie crowd treasures and to the sort of playful pop embellishment and electronic textures that may land one of his tracks in a primetime T.V. show or film any day now.
And there's nothing at all wrong with having it both ways musically when it comes this naturally. "I can't abandon either one of them," Lenker says, "because they're both so me. One of my favorite musicians in the world, bassist and composer Edgar Meyer once said in an interview 'The boundaries of music have been and always should be limitless.' I couldn't agree more."