Cory Gray: a man with A Plan to Tell The Future

I first encountered Carcrashlander in 2009 when they released Mountains on our Backs. It was a dark, impressive album that kept me company through my teenage years, making me feel older, cooler and infinitely more sophisticated than I ever had before. Carcrashlander is the project of Cory Gray, a Portland-based songwriter, who works with an ever-evolving team to produce moody experimental rock. In January 2014, Carcrashlander released A Plan to Tell the Future, their fourth or fifth major release (depending if you count their 2010 EP You Were Born in a Hospital). I had a chat with Cory about the record.

It felt like long time between the last EP and the current release. I asked Cory what he’s been doing in the interim. I spent much of 2011/12 in a residency at a recording studio called Scenic Burrows, and began cutting my teeth producing records for other folks. I’ve also enjoyed doing some scoring for a few films and documentaries. And a bit of touring in other bands here and there.”

Carcrashlander’s music has always been fairly filmic – every release so far has been deeply atmospheric, weaving together lyrical and melodic themes. A Plan to Tell the Future is particularly complex in this way, repeatedly returning to the idea of entrapment and enclosure, though Cory reckons that not all of the mentions of ‘walls’ and darkness are downbeat. “There are plenty of dark elements on this record, although I’d like to think that ‘Walls of the World’ is not necessarily one of them. It’s more of an explorative mission into the unknown.”

‘Walls of the World’ is A Plan to Tell the Future‘s opening track, which launches us into the album’s sinister but laid-back atmosphere with breathy orchestration and dual vocals. The most notable departure from earlier albums is in the use of drum tracks and experimentation with synthesised sounds. “There is a lot of re-amping going on here.” (Reamping is a process in which a recorded sound is run through a reverb chamber or other sound-altering device.)

“And there’s a bunch of processed drums. I think I was drawn to them because they were something new for me, and also because many of the tracks were started by myself, and there were plenty of toys around to mess with that had beats to start foundations for songs.”

A Plan to Tell the Future is unmistakably a Carcrashlander record, thanks to both Cory Gray’s breathily-sung, intriguing lyrics and the eeriness of the melodies and harmonies; yet the increase in processed and synthesised sounds has allowed for new and interesting creations such as ‘Interstate Prelude’, in which slightly off-tune guitar sounds are broken by trip-hop beats and echoey background noises.

I asked Cory how this evolution came about. “I think this record is particularly different to the others because it was written, at least the music, in the studio, and because instead of having a week to finish the project, I had no real timeline. That made it possible to try anything and to have anyone who was around play something on it, whereas before making records had usually been a rehearsed and time-constrained process.”

As a result of this more relaxed approach to recording, there are 12 named musicians on this record, far more than in an average band line-up. “I am always being influenced by my peers and friends, it’s part of the process of documenting life with music, and on this record I was fortunate to have a lot of talented folks stop by for an evening here or there. It was not so much a planned team as a circumstantial one.”

At the moment, Cory’s favourite from the album is ‘One Shot Charlie’, one of the jauntiest and most accessible songs in Carcrashlander’s new material. “It’s named after a bar in the mountains of northern Idaho, where Carcrashlander spent a few days one summer between shows. It was the classic “music stops and the regulars turn and stare” type of place, but after a few rounds we ended up making a bunch of new friends and jamming them a few tunes out on the bar piano. I learned that the name One Shot Charlie refers not to the lone bullet hole in the ceiling as you would expect, but to the founder of the place, who had the shakes so bad that when he poured one shot it would fill up a bucket by the time he was done, and you would only need that one shot of booze.”

Cory Gray

Unfortunately, U.K. residents haven’t had much chance to experience Carcrashlander’s intense live shows. Cory has played plenty of gigs in mainland Europe though, and he remembers them fondly. I ask Cory what his favourite musical memories are. “My old band played in every state in the US before I ever travelled abroad, and those poverty-stricken, cheap-beer-drinking, floor-sleeping days are undoubtedly some of the best memories I have. Also playing shows in Portugal has surely earned a place on that list. And this summer playing with The Dandy Warhols in Brittany we had a slot between Sinead O’Connor and Snoop Whatever, which was pretty surreal, as well as a slot in Brussels going on before Madness, who are still totally amazing. Playing with a variety of groups and touring has just been one way to see the world and meet its different sorts. I feel very lucky to have visited so many places I probably never would have otherwise.”

Music seems always to have been a part of Cory’s life, and he’s still attached to formats which more fairweather music listeners have long-since abandoned. As a result, Carcrashlander have released A Plan to Tell the Future on cassette and record as well as the usual formats. I questioned Cory’s decision to release the record like this because it seemed like a niche market to pursue.

“I am a record collector for sure, I love the act of dropping a needle, flipping over the disc. I also much prefer the template for art that is an LP, as well as the opportunity for setting the flow of each side of a record. Jealous Butcher has been making beautiful records for years and I am honoured to be on their roster. Also, tape cassettes are an interesting fidelity because of their dark degeneration. I have found some amazing music on tape cassettes that sounds completely different from their newer digitally remastered versions. And in releasing this record on Curly Cassettes, a tape label that is the home to many of my favourite Portland bands, I was also able to make an alternate version of the record with some different material that is not included on the digital or vinyl release.”

So there it is – Portland retains its reputation for producing quirky musical items – and  I encourage you to listen to some of Carcrashlander’s material in whatever format you can find it.

A Plan to Tell the Future is out now, and can be bought from Carcrashlander’s Bandcamp for just £3, or on vinyl or cassette from Jealous Butcher or Curly Cassettes.