At the tender age of 21 Corey Bowen is a veteran of two of the biggest musical festivals in Green Man and T in the Park. He has released two superb singles in the startling psychedelic debut of ‘If Birds Wish To Fly’ followed by the fizzing pop of ‘Back To 95.’ He now has his sights firmly set on a third release. You could say Corey Bowen is coming of age as one of Middlesbrough’s brightest musical hopes.
Corey Bowen is described by BBC Introducing’s Bob Fischer as being “quietly eccentric (which I like)” and creating music “as fresh as a daisy.” Bob’s first contact with Corey was hearing “If Birds Wish To Fly” which the BBC Tees man described as being “a lovely, loopy bit of psychedelic pop.”
I can only agree. I fell in love with the song immediately on hearing it. So, I was excited at the prospect of meeting the new Middlesbrough music guru.
I caught up with Corey, on a gloriously warm and sunny summer’s afternoon at the doughnut bar in Linthorpe Road. I reflected it was such a fitting day to meet and chat with a young man who released such a slice of summery pop as Back to 95. It has all the upbeat optimism for your summer holiday perusing and musing.
Q: Tell me a little bit about your background Corey.
Corey: I got into songwriting and playing instruments when I was about 13. The first thing that I really thought to do within music was write songs. I was never really that keen on being a fantastic guitarist or anything like that it was always about words and writing as opposed to the instruments. I suppose when I got a bit older I got more of an interest in the sound of guitars and different synthesisers etc but it has always remained the most important thing writing the actual words.
It came from a lot of the music that my mam was listening to at the time. She was listening to a lot of The Smiths CDs and somehow through that I discovered Nirvana and that side of it. Just a classic teenage music fan story but I always credit Morrissey and Nirvana as the first artists that actually made me want to do music when I was that age.
Q: So, artists from before you were born.
C: Well, yes, it is strange really.
Corey’s friend: A lot of music on the way to football as well.
C: We played football as kids, age 10 or 11 our dad’s would have CDs on in the car. My dad to this day buzzes because he had the first ever Arctic Monkeys demo in his car. There were probably a few dodgy ones. But my dad used to listen to Ocean Colour Scene and Oasis, so he got me onto a lot of Brit Pop, from quite an early age I was quite familiar with that. But my dad also got me into Billy Joel as well, who is one of my favourite songwriters ever.
Q: A crafter of songs.
C: Yes, absolutely. He is. It is a lot to do with my parents in terms of first getting into music. They are not musical people as such but it was the first time I was shown music. It was the first music I knew and listened to properly. That is kind of how I got into it.
Q: You have a single out now. But how and when did you start performing?
C: I have at the minute yes. I started performing after 2 or 3 years of playing. When I got to 14 or 15 I was thinking where can I go with it now. In school I was looking for people that could play instruments. At the time a couple of my close friends in school were getting into playing instruments so it was a natural thing to start playing together. So, yes I was probably about 15 when I started playing live.
The first gig I played was in Middlesbrough Music (used to be near the bus station). Do you know where the acoustic instruments were at the back? There used to be nothing there. So I used to go in and would ask Tony, “will you let my band play?” and he said, “yes.” And he let us use all the nice guitars from the shop because we had ropy equipment at the time. That was the first time we played live.
Q: When did you go and play in a live venue.
C: With bands when I was younger I played in venues around the town at various gigs that mates were putting on. I didn’t start getting gigs that had real significance until I started performing under my own name. I didn’t start writing and recording under my name until I was about 18 or 19. I am 21 now. That was when I started to really take it seriously.
I think starting to write and record under my own name for me was symbolic of me dedicating all of my time. It is a cliché but it is my life now. I don’t have any other commitments.
When I started performing under my own name or writing under it and releasing stuff that is when I started getting gigs around the country. I put a demo on line and it was the first thing that I had ever released under my own name. Right off the back of that, a couple of weeks or maybe a month later I ended up being asked to do a tour. From there it started to snowball and I started to get better gig offers and bigger gig offers.
Q: It is a great starting point that people made you offers after hearing and liking your music.
C: Yes definitely. When I put that first demo on line I was very much doing it for myself, for something to do. That was what I enjoyed doing. It wasn’t doing it to go out looking to tour or even play live to be honest. It was never something that I envisaged with this guise. I’m happy that it happened, very much so. I have played some really good gigs since.
Playing live isn’t the focal point of what I do. Although it is the root of a lot of factors. But it has never really been the main thing. It was after that tour that I started getting interest. People were getting in touch to work with me. It was off the back of that tour that I got in touch with my management team. All that sort of thing came after the tour. It just goes to show when you play live and you do the big gigs show you see things come of it.
So it was probably about 2 or 3 years ago that I started playing outside Middlesbrough.
Q: And you have played at festivals haven’t you?
C: Yes we did Green Man last year down in the Brecon Beacons in Wales. That was an amazing festival. But I am not really much of a festival goer myself but that was a really cool festival and a really nice place to play. That was just after the first single went out. We were meant to play at 2 in the afternoon but because we were playing 2 weeks after the single came out we ended up being pushed up to play at 10 on the night. I think that was the biggest crowd I have played to.
Q: How did that feel?
C: I was on a buzz to be honest.
Q: That is good it could do one way or another with such a big crowd.
C: Oh definitely. Even though I am still quite young and it is very early doors in terms of career or whatever you want to call it. I have been playing live since I was 14 or 15. It is something that I have grown up with. So, over time you gradually become confident. Without wanting to sound big headed, I am confident enough in the songs to be able to comfortably stand on stage (am not going to say be proud because that makes it sound a bit desperate) and play them to how ever many people.
Q: That must have been superb that prime slot at Green Man.
C: Yes definitely. The people were there to see us play live and that doesn’t go unappreciated. The people are at a festival and they can pretty much do what they want. And 10pm is peak festival time. So for people to take time out and come and see us when we are not really well known at all..
Q: They are discovering someone.
C: That is right. I think that festival Green Man is a great place to do that as they do highlight the smaller acts. It is just acts that they believe in as opposed to those that are going to draw the biggest crowds. When a festival does that and you can see the purity of the booking scheme, it is just bands that they are in to; it tends to attract a crowd anyway. That is a really good festival, I really enjoyed that one.
Q: Do you have two singles now then?
C: If Birds Wish To Fly was the first single followed by Back to 95.
Q: You were talking about the music you first listened to and those artists in turn would have listened to music from the 60s and this has influences of both.
C: Oh definitely. I always say when asked that I write really naturally. The lyrics and guitar chords or progression becomes not stream of conscience but comes very naturally. I try to write really naturally and it has got to come from within. But with both singles I made a conscious decision to try to try and make a song like that. With 95, the latest single, I knew that I wanted to make that type of song and it had to be upbeat. Have a radio friendly feel.
Q: Very summery as well.
C: Yes it is. And it was a very conscious effort to make that type of song. And it is the same with “Birds” the first single which is like you said more 60s, a lot more psychy, spacey in the production. That was a conscious effort to make an upbeat, organ led 60s sounding pop song.
It is the songs that have not been released or no one has heard that are the most important for me in terms of artistic identity and integrity.
Q: Do people hear those songs when you play live?
C: Yes they will do. I always try and squeeze in as many songs that people will not have heard before. We always tend to play a different set every time we play live.
We make a decision a few weeks before and rehearse those songs. Apart from on the tour we have never played the same set two gigs in a row. I think that is a cool thing as well. Certainly one of things I take from going to a gig or seeing an artist is the idea that it is a momentary thing. That performance isn’t just going to happen again the next night. That is something that I appreciate so it is something that I want to try and keep doing. It keeps it interesting too. I wrote the single Birds two years ago and 95 when I was 17, nearly five years ago. So releasing it was a strange thing but I still like it.
When we do play live I like to keep it fresh. More a momentary performance.
Q: So if I went to see you tomorrow and I had seen you a couple of years ago I would hear a different set.
C: Absolutely. But I do like to draw a straight line through a project. As you said if you had seen us two years ago it would be a different set to tomorrow but you would be able to draw some sort of straight line through it in that it has got identity stamped on it. I like to think it has got those sort of properties.
Q: We would know it is you.
C: Yes, although it is a different band and it would sound like a different band but I still feel it has got my identity on it. I have a vision of what I want to write, if something doesn’t fit into that I find it hard to care about it.
Q: It has integrity?
C: Yes, definitely. I find if I don’t feel attached to a song or a live set then I feel like it wasn’t us. I can’t get a buzz out of it. Or I can’t get think of the positives about it. I might just be a control freak (laughs).
Q: What are you doing next?
C: I am in the middle of recording an EP. I have a studio of sorts set up at my house. That is where I do all my recording, demo’ing etc. We have been in studios to do the two singles. Recording at home is something that I have always done since I first started playing instruments. To get back into that now in a more serious, work based, to see it in that light, to work on something that means something is I think going to be the way forward. It is always something that I have pushed but for obvious reasons like sound quality you have got to go in a studio now and again I think.
Q: Will it be released on a label?
C: I am not entirely sure. The last two singles have been released independently and while a record deal seems to be the be all and end all or make or break, whether “means something” or not. It is usually a record deal that decides that.
Q: But it depends what that record deal actually covers doesn’t it?
C: Of course. It is open to the label’s interpretation or the artist. But either way I am going to be happy to release it.
I feel the EP coming up is the best possible representation of where I am at the minute as a songwriter and as a person. It says a lot I think. And being primarily a lyricist that is what I want to do. I am not really too fussed about a wicked riff, it is all about having a good melody and good lyrics for me. So, yes I am really excited to get that out but whether it is on a label or not I am not entirely sure yet. But either way it is going to be good.
The EP should be out in the summer.
Corey Bowen was recently selected to play on the BBC Introducing Stage at T in the Park in Scotland. He has long been championed here by BBC Tees Introducing host Bob Fischer who did not hesitate in recommending Corey. Such a prodigious talent Corey Bowen is set to fly.