Native American tradition holds that upon exiting a plane you should set aside a reflective moment to sit in the terminal and give your soul a chance to catch up to your body, since humans weren’t meant to travel at speeds of 500 mph. Offering concrete proof of that kernel of wisdom or its origin gets tricky, but Glen Hansard likes to reference it in his onstage banter during shows and if anyone can testify to the physical and mental effects of nonstop globe-trotting, it’s a road-weary musician.
Fellow journeyman Cory Chisel murmurs in agreement when asked if his soul could use a breather. He spent the last 12 months reeling in frequent flyer miles with his band – The Wandering Sons – promoting their second full-length, the stunning, worn-in (and IE‘s top album pick for 2012) Old Believers. An opening slot on Norah Jones’ tour took him overseas where he drank from the fruit of the vine in Madrid, splayed out on the beaches of Thailand, and nestled a koala in Australia.
“I’d say right now I’m at a maxed out point where I’ll eventually need to stop,” Chisel confesses over the phone during a rushed visit to his old Appleton, Wis., stomping grounds with only 24 hours to squeeze in face time with family and friends. But he’s not quite ready yet. The tattooed 30-year-old with a Humphrey Bogart-like commitment to donning fedoras revels in his nomadic lifestyle and admits to feeling great relief at finally circumnavigating the planet.
“Something definitely feels a little lifted off now that I feel I made my way around [the world], like I can relax a little bit. I’ve had anxiety my whole life surrounding not being able to see so many things. You get only one go-around, as far as I know, and there’s just so much to encounter,” he says. “I set out really early to try to create an existence that would foster the things I knew were necessary for me. I always found that if I stayed too long in one place, in order to make that one place interesting, I just brought a lot of drama to my life just to make it seem exciting.”
Appearing: 5/3 at City Winery (1200 W. Randolph) Chicago with Rebecca Rego.
No matter where he lays his head or guitar, the son of a preacher man who grew up humming hymns and Johnny Cash (there’s always room for the Man in Black) always strives to achieve the status of “universal local.”
“I love to find one restaurant where you really get to know the people working behind the bar, behind the counter,” Chisel explains. “When we got to Thailand, we quickly sought out a place where we felt connected with this bartender who could take us to the parts of Thailand that were the real Thailand, away from the beaches, and play with local musicians that we couldn’t speak to.”
He also acknowledges that a cheese-loving Packers fan, even one with an adventurous palate, sometimes needs to force the cuisine of exotic locales down his gullet. “I didn’t eat a whole lot of chicken hearts growing up,” he jokes. While keeping that delicacy at bay during his Thailand excursion, he did consume eyeballs – “I don’t usually like eating something that at one point could’ve acknowledged me” – and a guinea pig. Chisel swears, with all of his Midwestern sincerity, the furry household pet tastes delicious – a critique achieved once he got “over the fact that it’s bizarre.” One wonders how many strange creatures have passed his lips in the name of politeness. Table manners take on greater importance for a man enamored with cultivating a sense of home in each port complete with a community to anticipate visiting on return trips. “When somebody offers you something that they’ve made specially for you, you have a pretty hard time saying, ‘I’m not into this,'” he concedes.
An upcoming sojourn to Jamaica for the nuptials of a close friend will give Chisel another stamp on his passport and time to decompress in order to “file away” these “insanely intense experiences” that will inform the songs, already in-progress, for the follow-up to Old Believers.
“I have dozens of pieces of songs, which is usually how it starts. I just haven’t had enough alone time, I think, to clear my thoughts and decide what the hell I’m really trying to say. I have these sort of reoccurring lines and melodies,” he imparts, “and the way it works for me is I sort of have to give space for the songs to tell me what they are. I have an idea that they’re very good and that they’re very meaningful, but it’s less like writing and more like listening in my case.”
No doubt, his muse and foil onstage and in the studio, the spritely Adriel Denae will assist in transforming those snippets into full-fledged barnburners. After all, her ghostly vocals, not his, open Old Believers on “This Is How It Goes,” and she gives him a combustible edge on the revivalist “Over Jordan” while softening his Dylan-esque phrasing on “Never Meant To Love You.”
— Janine Schaults