Here’s a clip from Maccaesque indie singer-songwriter Kori Pop (her real name, kids). It’s the self-made video for her song “Nowhere Near My Heart”. For the video, Kori used scrapbook materials and paper dolls which she also made herself. You can get the full story on the making of the video when you click through.
Kori Pop writes pop songs that demonstrate an exceptional feel for nuance in tone and texture. Her influences that draw from a classic period of pop/rock songwriting don’t make her music sound like a cynical stylistic calculation. Rather, her music sounds like a continuation that the self-same classic pop era hoped to inspire.
I spoke with Kori via email about her song and video, about this sense of songwriterly inheritance from the heyday of singer-songwriters in the 60s and 70s, the DIY spirit needed to be an indie musician in the Twenty-First Century, and about how earning a listener on one’s own steam is a far greater reward than being a part of a calculated hype machine.
The Delete Bin: The video for “Nowhere Near My Heart” is delightful, and perfect for the material. And you made it yourself! Is filmmaking an area you’ve had an interest in exploring in addition to songwriting?
Kori Pop: Filmmaking is actually a new creative curiosity to me. One day last fall when I was about to sit down and start designing a poster for a show, I started thinking that a moving poster had a better chance at grabbing people’s attention than the classic poster. So I started creating commercial length videos I called “Vosters.” People liked them so much they started asking me when I was going to do my own music videos. So, I thought; why not at least try?
The response to the Nowhere Near My Heart music video has been fantastic. I am now very much inspired to combine my music and film more often. In the new year, there will be another music video or two. After that…I have some more ideas up my sleeve.
DB: The song itself is a pure pop tune, and yet it seems to me that you weren’t afraid to put some twists and turns in it when it comes to texture (like the crackly radio effect in the “it’s too late … she’s packed up and she’s leaving” section), and arrangement (the gorgeous “ah-ah” choral section). As a songwriter, how much of the texture and arrangement is imagined at the writing stage for you?
KP: The arrangements are always imagined at the writing stage for me. The textures are a bit tougher to catch – sometimes they don’t show themselves until the recording stage. Both the examples you used in your question – the choral ‘ahs’ and the crackly vocals in the bridge – did show up in the writing stage though. It’s funny, when I sit down to write, it feels as though I am wading through an orchestra trying to find the one instrument that is playing what you could call the “seed” of the song. When I find the seed (sometimes a melody, sometimes a riff or a chord), all the parts that are playing start to fall into their places.
It’s a little annoying at times because the completed song takes a lot longer to surface when you have to sort through all these musical details first. Sometimes it takes months. After the tune is written and the parts are in their places, it’s just a matter of finding the right sounds and textures, if they haven’t arrived already.
DB: With this tune, you’ve taken up the McCartney-esque practice of being a third-person narrator, which isn’t as common in pop writing these days, it seems to me. What inspired that decision, and what did you find you were able to do with it in terms of narrative that you couldn’t have done otherwise?
KP: Writing in the third person opens up the perspective of the song, I think. It also builds character better and throws a shield up between the songwriter and the listener. When an artist uses “I” there is always a chance the audience may be more interested in the role the songwriter plays in the story rather than the characters. It’s also possible that the listener will automatically place themselves in the shoes of the “I” of the song, when perhaps it may do them good to relate with a secondary character. However, I have to admit, sometimes I use the third person out of shear cowardice! It’s scary to own what you really feel sometimes.
DB: You’ve been aggressive in marketing yourself using social media platforms, using Twitter, Vimeo, Facebook and other platforms to your advantage. Did you have any mentors to guide you through the marketing aspects of your career without a traditional record label marketing team?
KP: Most of what I have learned about self-marketing has been through consistent research (books, blogs, ezines, magazines) and observation (studying my fellow musical com padres). The best piece of advice I got was from the man who produced From the Outskirts, Dave King. He told me that some people have all the skills it takes to manage their own careers, where others need the help of a record label. Dave thinks that if you can build your own army, you’ll trust that they will protect your vision better.
It’s an insane amount of work to slug it out on your own, especially at the start when you are only one person. But, I think being a musician is an uphill battle regardless of the path you chose. Even though I am usually overwhelmed by the end of the day, I love the connection I am building with my fan base. I am not under the wing of some label that’s telling people that I am worth their time. Instead, I have to earn their time. I think this is a key difference between having a lasting career as opposed to a fickle one.
DB: Another avenue you’ve explored and had success with was pursuing and getting a provincial arts council grant, which helped to finance the record. How did this come about?
KP: Ah, the Ontario Arts Council Popular Music Grant. I honestly felt like I had won the lottery! I’d heard about it through a friend of mine who is a past recipient. Even though I knew it was a long shot, I thought in the very least, a new group of ears in the industry were going to hear what I was up to. Better than nothing, right? What I got from the grant was so much more than money though. It really focused me. I think understanding this is the main reason I was awarded the grant on my first attempt.
The questions you are required to answer in the application are actually quite deep and thoughtful. At the end of it, I not only understood myself better as an artist, but I had a clearer idea of what I wanted to do with that role. Unlike FACTOR who seems to be more concerned with your contribution to the economy of music (which is understandable), the OAC cares about how you plan to contribute to the arts as an artist.
DB: To my ears, your music is linked to a classic pop music tradition from the 60s and 70s. I don’t mean that it’s retro. But, that it hearkens back to an era when pop songs were written to be catchy, but also texturally varied as well. Do you feel that “pop music” as a term has become a liability?
KP: Hmmmm. My nose would be growing if I did not admit that there was a time in the recent past where I was offended when someone called my music ‘pop.’ However, my views on this have now completely changed. Rising out of the dust of a crumbled major label empire, is a new Pop Music. This is just my perspective mind you, but I believe that in the past “Pop” music was the stuff you heard on mainstream radio and television. It wasn’t so much a genre, as it was a status – and a status that was controlled by tastemakers rather than the people.
I honestly feel like there is a new movement of musicians and press treating pop music as an art. Using the word ‘retro’ is actually very accurate, not offensive. The popular music of the 60’s and 70’s was brilliant because it pushed the boundaries of simplicity. It challenged its listeners without drawing a gun! The main point is that it challenged at all really. What has been considered ‘pop’ music since then has been rather fluffy and inconsistently entertaining, boring and predictable, with obvious exceptions! I am incredibly flattered if someone considers me a ‘pop’ artist – and not just because it is a pun on my name (wink).
For more music from Kori, along with other interviews and news, check out the Kori Pop official website.
Don’t forget, too – you can download “Nowhere Near My Heart” for FREE, along with buying the full album.