For many artists, stepping into a studio to record an album can be challenging enough. But when East Nashvillian Korby Lenker began working on his seventh album, ‘Thousand Springs,’ he decided to skip the studio altogether and head to his home state of Idaho to record in places that held particular meaning for him. Venturing forth with his guitar, some recording gear and a tent, he captured his vocal and guitar parts in more than a dozen locales, including the edge of the Snake River Canyon, a cabin north of Sun Valley and his undertaker father’s mortuary.
Lenker spent months driving around the country to collect vocal and instrumental contributions from nearly 30 of today’s finest folk talents. In Madison, Wisconsin, Portland, Oregon, Seattle, Los Angeles, Boston, Austin and Nashville, he recorded their work in backyards, hotel rooms and even a bookstore, then went home to edit them into ‘Thousand Springs,’ and released it on July 14, on Soundly Music.
Innocent Words Magazine is honored to be premiering Korby Lenker’s latest single “If We Were Vampires.”
“I’ve spent almost all summer on tour, mostly by myself, driving around the country. Jason Isbell’s new album has been on the stereo for a lot of it. So many good songs! The one I’ve been most drawn to so far is ‘If We Were Vampires”. It’s got everything — a big idea squeezed into a tight space, the kind of clever lines that’ve made Isbell a writer’s writer, and finally, it’s fun to play on guitar,” Korby Lenker said.
“Last month I spent a few days in the place where I grew up, the place where I recorded a lot of my latest record. It’s called Twin Falls, and it would be just another Idaho farm town but for the black jagged Snake River Canyon that lay between it and the rest of the world. On my last morning there, I woke up early and drove out to the northside of the river and recorded my current favorite Jason Isbell song. I used a mic, a laptop, and a battery. Same stuff I used to make the record. We recorded it three times and I picked the best one. By 6:30 we were done.”
Lenker plotted his plan for Thousand Springs after Nashville-based Turner Publishing Co. released his first collection of short stories, Medium Hero, in December 2015 — an experience that, he says, helped him find his “true voice.”
“For me, the two most important qualities of good art are originality and meaning. You’ve got to tell your own story and not try to borrow someone else’s.”
When he moved to Nashville, he quickly discovered singer-songwriters were about as common as pickup trucks. And most of them were about as original.
“It forced me to really dig in and figure out what I did that was different than what everyone else was doing,” he says. “I spent my first three years in town parking cars at a hotel and taking a bunch of chances, creatively speaking. No one really cared about me, which turned out to be very freeing.”
During that period, he wrote many of the stories in Medium Hero, and focused on writing songs that meant something to him rather than worrying about hit potential.
In the years since, he’s played everywhere from small listening rooms to Seattle’s world-renowned Bumbershoot festival. Along the way, he’s earned nearly a dozen songwriting awards, including first-place wins at the 2016 Rocky Mountain Folks Festival, 2012’s Kerrville Folk Festival and 2006’s Merlefest. He also placed second in the 2017 Hazel Dickens Songwriting Contest for “Friend and A Friend.”
Ironically, while recording Thousand Springs (and making friends), Lenker lost his voice for nearly two months.
“The doctors were unsure as to the cause, but said it was most likely due to my being in a severe depression at the time,” he says.
That had to do with his then-girlfriend’s decision to abort their child, a subject he addresses in the closing song, “Wherever You Are.” It examines the issue from an uncommon perspective: that of a father who wants the baby even though the mother does not.
“I don’t have any desire to change someone’s opinion or lend weight to one side or another,” he explains. “It’s just, that kid is a part of my personal story. I love her and miss her every day … I feel like part of this record’s purpose is to allow her to be in the world — in my world — in some way, for longer than she was physically.”
Lenker wrote the affecting song while his voice was gone. He also visited the Vanderbilt Voice Center, where doctors immediately started him on physical therapy. Soon, he was recording again.
For Lenker, as for any of us, some dreams come true and some don’t. That’s just life. But on ‘Thousand Springs,’ he shares those highs and lows as only an artist with a “true voice” can. And that voice, he’ll never lose.