Watch this video by Hamilton Ontario-based singer-songwriter, and filmmaker Kori Pop. It’s the entirely DIY video featuring her take on the children’s favourite “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” (with a “Mary Had a Little Lamb” coda), a track off of her self-released album Songs For Little Bean.
The record is a collection of children’s songs and lullabies originally planned as a gift for friends, parents to Kori’s goddaughter. But, after Kori saw how well her goddaughter responded to the material, she decided that the rest of the music-listening public needed to hear the songs, too.
Before this, Kori Pop had kept herself pretty busy. After making her debut, From The Outskirts, Kori Pop involved herself in a number of projects which engaged the interpretive side of her skills as a singer, and musician. Cover versions of the B-52s’ “Love Shack”, Alanna Myles’ “Black Velvet”, and The Beatles’ “Being For the Benefit Of Mr. Kite” , were all given the Kori Pop treatment.
In addition, she was involved in a show as one of four local performers in Hamilton lovingly titled Heavy Pedal. The show featured some major piano, with not a guitar or Marshall stack in sight. But this new record was something of a labour of love, with her voice multi-tracked to create a sort of choral children’s album of favourites, plus a couple of original compositions too.
I talked with Kori via email about this record, and about what it means to be an interpretive singer of familiar folk songs and pop songs, as well as being a writer of originals.
The Delete Bin: This new record was conceived as a gift to friends, and dedicated to your goddaughter, not meant to be an official follow-up to From The Outskirts. What made you agree to a general release, and how did that change the way you approached the project?
Kori Pop: My friends Tom and Ang – the parents of “Little Bean” – told me over and over again how effective the music was with their daughter who cried A LOT in her first several months. They told me that the music (“Chim Chim Cheree” in particular) caused her to stop crying within the first few seconds of the song.
I honestly thought they were just being nice until I saw it with my own eyes. It was then that I decided to release it to the public. I can’t imagine how difficult it is for parents with fussy babies. My friend Ang would say that she felt so helpless not being able to calm their daughter during her meltdowns. That must be such a tough feeling for a new parent. So I thought that if my music could help soothe even one other baby, it would be worthwhile to share. After deciding to release it to the public, I became pretty excited at the prospect of a new avenue for writing and performing. I am still working on my next “non-children’s music” album, but this has been a nice break.
DB: There’s lots of what I’d consider to be choral music on the record, with some tracks sounding completely a capella, and with a shiver-up-the-spine quality to them as a result. Tell me a little bit about how you actually recorded the songs to get that effect.
KP: Neat! I am glad it gives you that effect! It was a very, very low key project in terms of production. The entire album was conceived, written, recorded, mixed and mastered in my basement apartment using Garage Band and my Beta 58A. Most songs began with a bass line, or a very simple piano part I played, almost like an ostinato.
I then layered harmonies on top and ducked the piano track out leaving the choral effect. I never write down my harmonies (it takes up too much time!) When it comes to composing vocal harmonies I always wait for something to tickle my ear. The thing which I believe added the honesty to the recordings was imaging that I was singing to a child when recording every vocal track. I also played back every track and if I wasn’t nodding off by the end, or (feeling) subdued, then I would get back in there and try again.
When I was mixing, I would play back all the tracks and if I wasn’t nodding off in the first half of the album…back to the drawing board!
DB: The songs on the record could be described as folk songs, since we all learned them mouth-to-ear as kids. How did you choose the tracks, and how did you overcome that familiarity factor to put your own touch to them?
KP: I made a list of the songs I remembered from childhood and then auditioned them. If a musical idea or fragment attached itself to the melody I would run over to the piano and play around with it for a bit. If I was still entertained by it five minutes later than I would develop it. As for how I overcame the familiarity factor, I am not sure! Haha! Truthfully, I don’t ever intend change the songs I cover. I just go wherever my ears take me.
DB: Speaking of familiar songs, you’ve done a number of cover versions of some popular radio hits, and uploaded your versions to YouTube and Facebook. How did some of those cover versions come about, and is there a common approach for you as an interpreter of other people’s material?
KP: Like I mentioned above, I accidentally fall into covers. I have never been interested in covering other people’s songs. Its not that I don’t like covers, its just that I find it easier and more natural to write my own songs. That being said, I have done a few covers, but only because some little part of me forces me to.
“Being for the Benefit of Mr.Kite” is one of them and I seriously have no recollection of how that one came about. People often think that I re-harmonized it, but aside from a few extra colours here and there, its the same chords as the original. I just sing it in my own way.
“Love Shack” was an accident. I was messing around with a banjo one day and came up with the main riff. I started singing a melody along to it and began getting really excited. It felt as though I had was on the verge of writing a hit song! I went downstairs to show it to my mom and a friend of mine and they both started laughing at me. Without realizing it, I was singing “Loveshack” without the lyrics. Hit song indeed, just not my own! So I decided that maybe I was meant to cover it.
“Black Velvet” was an audition I did for the Canadian TV show Cover Me Canada. Truth be told, this song has always creeped me out a little. I am not sure why, really. I took some time to dissect the lyrics and when I realized that it was about Elvis Presley I finally understood its character and the creep factor subsided.
DB: Interpretative skill was once the only thing a singer had to worry about in the days before artists wrote their own songs. But now, singing original material is the norm. How far apart do you think these disciplines actually are for you, as an artist who does both?
KP: I believe the way cover songs were used in the past showcased a specific and unique skill-set the artist embodied. The song was just the vehicle to get people to listen. When I am considering covering a song, I perform it through once or twice and if I can’t convince myself that I mean it, I drop the attempt.
Arranging cover songs is a lot harder than writing new songs for me. And much less exciting. So I guess to answer your question, its just as difficult for me to re-interpret a song as it is to compose one. But the reason I spend more time writing and performing original material is because no matter how well written (it is), a cover song just doesn’t fit as well. It’s like borrowing someone’s Birkenstock’s. They are comfy, but they are molded for the owner’s feet, not yours.
DB: Albums that feature a lot of cover songs is often viewed as a stop-gap, and in this case it wasn’t meant as a general release at all, originally. But, how did this record help build your sense of momentum for your next album of original material?
KP: Although it wasn’t created with the intent to be released to the public, I think Songs for Little Bean is functioning as a stop gap album ~ and I am okay with that. It’s not as though I don’t have the material to release another record. I almost have enough for two albums, but I don’t have the finances to record them the way I want to just yet.
The pressure I was feeling to release something this year has subsided quite a lot. It’s expensive to record an album if you are not doing it in your basement. Of course there is the option to release singles and ep’s in the meantime, but although it may be a little archaic and perhaps even impractical, I still want to make full length albums. It’s a lost art form at the moment, but it’ll be back sooner than later.
People love stories. Someone will re-invent the concept album and the mainstream will be all over it. It’s appetizers versus main course. You can fill up on appy’s but your are never as satisfied as when you finish a full meal! The mainstream just needs to rediscover this truth.
Catch up with Kori Pop on Facebook for updates, pics, and chat (she actually engages with fans, good people!)