Cory Branan: "It’s not an anti-cop song. It’s supposed to push some buttons"

A press shot of Cory branan

Straddling country and punk rock, Mississippi singer-songwriter Cory Branan returns with his new album Adios, which he describes as a “loser’s survival kit”. Stuffed with wry storytelling, it tackles a range of subjects including personal bereavement and American racism with a wit that makes the subject matter hit home all the harder. “A lot of the songs are about how temporary things are,” he says. “I just try to find a new way to see things, to find some sort of re-enchantment and something that’s real, more of an authentic experience once the idealism and the veneer’s worn off. That’s what I meant when I called it the loser’s survival kit.”

You’ve described Adios as your “death record”. What did you mean?

I lost my father a few years back, and a lot of the songs were about death in one way or another, even if it’s just death of ideals and what you do with the leftover pieces.

Your songs always have dark humour.

Americans, we don’t have death as part of our culture. We don’t want to think about it. But being from the south, there are old European connections where there are ties to death. It’s more worked into the culture in a healthy way, so you have humour that arises from it. That’s the way we deal with everything in the south, there’s not much bullshit. I don’t like songs that are too introvert. Pain doesn’t come in a solid block where you have no other emotions, everything keeps going while parts of your life are torn apart. The world keeps spinnin’, and if you don’t have any perspective on that then the songs aren’t useful for people.

You tackle racism in Another Nightmare In America.

It’s unfortunately a timeless thing. That song was just born of cops killing unarmed black teenagers. To make the song appropriately terrifying, I wrote it from a racist cop’s point of view, and I wrote it to be catchy as hell. I almost dared people not to listen to it, to bury their heads in the sand and bop along. But I got a little bit of kickback from that. There was hate mail. How can you be pro-police brutality?! People come up to me at shows and say: “My uncle’s a cop.” Well, good. He probably hates this racist shit bad cop too! They’re making cops look bad. It’s not an anti-cop song. It’s supposed to push some buttons.

Do you see yourself as a storyteller first and foremost?

Absolutely. I work with little vignettes. I try to let you know that things are left out. I’m a big fan of Raymond Carver’s short stories, and there’s always these chasms of things that are unsaid in there.

How did Against Me!’s Laura Jane Grace and Dave Hause come to be on Adios?

I’ve known them for years. I just knew Dave Hause was going to be perfect for Nightmare In America. So I said: “Let’s do a three-part harmony on I Only Know.” Laura was in the studio already on that last Against Me! record, so the timing was perfect. They knocked it out of the park.

Weren’t you in metal bands as a kid?

Yeah. I played with whoever wanted a guitar player. We used to play at a place called Bad Bob’s Vapour in Memphis. There were people getting knifed. My poor father used to have to go and stay with me cos I was fifteen and I was underage. He definitely earned some dad points.

Adios is available now via Bloodshot Records.

Emma has been writing about music for 25 years, and is a regular contributor to Classic Rock, Metal Hammer, Prog and Louder. During that time her words have also appeared in publications including Kerrang!, Melody Maker, Select, The Blues Magazine and many more. She is also a professional pedant and grammar nerd and has worked as a copy editor on everything from film titles through to high-end property magazines. In her spare time, when not at gigs, you’ll find her at her local stables hanging out with a bunch of extremely characterful horses.