By Nicholas Jason Lopez
A callback to experimental 2000’s indie pop like Midlake and Sufjan Stevens, Chicago artist Bryan Away (AKA Elliot Korte) put out his latest album ‘Canyons To Sawdust’ this past summer, with some highlights like the tracks “The Lake,” “Scenes From A Wedding,” “My Cave” and “Dreams And Circumstance,” which features Half Waif’s Nandi Rose Plunkett as a guest vocalist.
Music also runs in his family, as his mother was a professional singer who toured with Ruben Blades and Willie Colon, his father was a classical guitarist who engineered for Paul Simon and his grandfather Karl Korte is a contemporary classical composer.
‘Canyons To Stardust’ was co-produced by percussionist James McAlister (Sufjan Stevens, The National), features a string quintet recorded in Brooklyn and live musicians recorded in Korte’s apartment before COVID happened.
The LP emphasizes his soothing, yet rich vocals, storytelling and lush arrangements – a showcase of how he has artistically matured and furthered his passion for music, something he wasn’t always keen to share until his ironically-named 2019 ‘Give In’ EP opened his eyes that this is what he needed to do all along.
The Music Bugle had the chance to talk with Away about ‘Canyons To Sawdust’ and more.
Music Bugle – What were your goals for your newest music?
Bryan Away – Sharing my music has never been easy. I’ve always been writing and recording, from a very young age and my music is very personal. My goal is to be open in a way that I haven’t been previously.
Music Bugle – What has been your biggest challenge lately?
Bryan Away – Changing my self-image to improve my routines. I was reading a book that was recommended to me by a fellow musician called “Atomic Habits.” It upends the normal goal/results-oriented thinking and emphasizes identity and systems. I’m trying to embody this and see myself in a way that I haven’t before. It’s one thing to say, “I’m going to practice more because I want to put on a good show,” it’s another to say, “I will practice today because I am a dedicated and hard-working performing artist.” I’ve been trying to mostly eliminate my meat consumption – for myriad reasons. If I could call myself a vegetarian and truly believe it and identify as one, then it would be easy to make the resulting dietary choices. It’s the same concept everywhere else. Trying to change how I view myself is challenging, but rewarding from both a practical and a self-discovery perspective.
Music Bugle – How have you been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
Bryan Away – My experience has not been unique, but the isolation was killing me. I was mostly a homebody before, but it turns out even working at a coffee shop, or going out to a restaurant or show every once in a while makes a huge difference in your overall connectedness and well-being. I live by myself and it had gotten past a certain point where I just feel this kind of dead space around me in my apartment. Somehow, it felt even worse this year than in all of last year, but that’s why I got vaccinated, so there is a light at the end of the tunnel!
Music Bugle – Where do you go when you need a break?
Bryan Away – Depending on various circumstances, YouTube, or the window by my coffee machine, or the grass along the Logan Square Boulevards, or my used copy of “A People’s History Of The United States,” or my Nintendo Switch, or maybe a Croatian Beach.
Music Bugle – What’s a quote that motivates you to keep doing what you do?
Bryan Away – Most people would find this entirely un-motivating, but I’m weird like that. “I’m not afraid to compete. It’s just the opposite. Don’t you see that? I’m afraid I will compete – that’s what scares me. That’s why I quit the Theatre Department. Just because I’m so horribly conditioned to accept everybody else’s values and just because I like applause and people to rave about me, doesn’t make it right. I’m ashamed of it. I’m sick of it. I’m sick of not having the courage to be an absolute nobody. I’m sick of myself and everybody else that wants to make some kind of a splash.” That’s from J.D. Salinger in “Franny And Zooey.”
Music Bugle – Who are you listening to right now, music-wise?
Bryan Away – The Books’ ‘Thought for Food.’ I had a friend over and they picked that from my collection based solely on the cover. It was a great choice, somehow the perfect soundtrack for catching up with an old friend. I’ve also been obsessed with Steve Reich’s ‘Music For A Large Ensemble’ and Stevie Wonder’s ‘Innervisions.’ I was happy to see mbv get added to Spotify, it’s one of my favorites.
Music Bugle – Does social media help or hurt musicians?
Bryan Away – Social media is hurting the world. I watched “The Social Dilemma,” which vividly illustrated what I think we all already knew – these platforms are hurting people and this is by design. Musicians have to compete for followers and attention and continue to feed this ugly beast in order to get people to hear their music. To a larger extent than we would care to admit, the number of followers and streams we get reflects our self-esteem. If you were in a record store a few decades ago, you didn’t see the exact number of sales on every record as you browsed. This colors your perception. When I hear of a new artist and open Spotify, I’m immediately given information that I form judgements about before even listening to the music. I have been collecting more vinyl. I appreciate its resurgence. It gives the music you’re listening to more value, having to actively pick something and open up the cover, etc., rather than passively let a playlist decide for you. Nevertheless, as a musician who is working on building a fanbase, social media is a necessary evil. I am active on Instagram and will make a shameless plug for @bryanaway at the end of my rant on how awful social media is.
Music Bugle – What do you hope for from the rest of 2021?
Bryan Away – It seems between Trump, Covid and the myriad of disasters and crises happening for as long as I can remember, every time New Year’s comes rolling around, we all collectively agree that it has been a terrible year. My only hope is that this year, that won’t happen. What has to occur between now and then, I don’t know, but hopefully we can say, “That wasn’t awful.”
Music Bugle – What makes you the most proud about where you come from?
Bryan Away – The pizza and the bagels.
Music Bugle – What do you wish happened less in today’s music industry?
Bryan Away – Screen time. It’s somewhat ironic for me to be saying this, since I’ve always felt more at home producing and composing in Pro Tools than performing or practicing my instruments, but after a long period of quarantine, I want to just be doing musical things away from my laptop, phone, etc.. Hopefully, soon, we will all get to.
*Photo Credit – Holly Depattie*