Corsair: Flying High on Rock N Roll

By Jeb Wright

Many bands have been touted as the “Saviors of Classic Hard Rock and Heavy Metal.”  While no one has, thus far, lived up to that moniker, Corsair may actually just be THAT band.  

These guys, and one girl, don’t just emulate music from days gone by; they are very creative and talented in their own right.  Their music is full of on fire guitar harmonies and their songs contain uniqueness, despite their obvious influences including Yes, Iron Maiden, and epically Thin Lizzy, they are able to craft their own sound within the framework of the songs.   The result is one of the best damn hard rock, guitar oriented records released in a long, long time. 

Classic Rock Revisited met up with guitarists Paul Sebring, Marie Landragin and bass player Jordan Brunk to discuss the new album and the band’s influences.  The band members were very open and forthright concerning their musical mission.  They are driven to make this music and the passion and energy they exert is evident in their compositions. 

Corsair will be flying high on January 21, 2013 when their debut album is released on Shadow King Records.  Don’t miss out on this release as it is destined to be one of the best of 2013.  


Jeb: This album is a masterpiece.  The guitar harmonies, the vocals, the songwriting…it is all damn good.  Do you, at this stage of the game, realize what you have created?  

Jordan: I never know how the music will be received, or where it fits in the scope of modern hard rock and metal, but I get the feeling we’re honing in on our own thing when we are playing something new and it clicks quickly. We all look around and Paul throws in a wink and a smile, knowing that the riff he’s written is hot. The only sound in the room is Marie’s delay pedal, swirling with notes that slowly trail off. Aaron stares upward and slightly ajar with hints of a smirk on his face, wiping the sweat from his brow. And then I say something like, “All right. That was cool”

We try hard to capture and recreate these moments and then add layers and vocals later to complement. I’m aware of the work we put into writing the tunes and crafting the soundscape of the album. Outside of the studio, and what I hear from the fans, it’s a mystery to me. I’m hesitant to pat our collective back because I always think that we could improve, and will leave it to the music community to decide the album’s place amongst the plethora of other albums being released in 2013.

Marie: Wow, thanks, I am flattered to hear you say so. I think, as musicians, we are never really satisfied with anything we create. For me, I’m constantly thinking, what can I do better? Should I do less here or there, how can I keep my own ear, which, indeed, is quite scrutinizing, entertained? Sometimes this builds tension and pushes me to be more creative. Some of the lovely parts of our music, at least on my end, come after much mental wrestling and, sometimes, I can’t help but think it could still be better, somehow.

Jeb: Tougher question: In this day and age where band that make it have to sacrifice creativity and do what they’re told to do, how do you fit in and how will you make it to next level?

Paul: I don’t know if we're going to the next level. If the next level is Nickelback, i think we'll stay here on the mini-boss.

Jordan: Thinking about the next level brings the question of accessibility to the forefront of my mind. As we grow as a band, our songwriting matures and becomes more cohesive and digestible. Does this mean that we’re settling down and becoming less creative? I’d like to think not because we’re well aware of being bored by our own material. We really enjoy challenging ourselves to the point that months after recording or playing new songs live, one of us will stop during practice and say with a chuckle, “Why are our songs so f*ing hard to play!” We’ll continue to make changes and try new things as long as we’re playing music together. That is, so long as we maintain artistic control and integrity.

Major labels know about market trends, demographic targeting, and various other strategies designed to manage the risk before signing new bands. They’ve gathered as much statistical analysis as they can and pay experienced A&R people to test songs for “likeability.” They can’t afford to get experimental because their profits are being undermined by p2p file sharing. So, a band that wants to enter that world must be well aware that their music will be no longer their own in that the record label reserves the right to shelve music they don’t think will sell. That power play takes hold if the music fails to pass the scrutiny of the label.  I think that’s how some bands wind up releasing music that is less creative. They’re writing music that conforms to an idea of accessibility and marketability. Just take a look at a band like the Kings of Leon and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

Corsair is happy to be working with Shadow Kingdom Records, an independent label whose passion for music is evident in the tireless work that has been done to preserve past albums that have slipped through the cracks and to discover new bands within the overwhelming sea of material online. I hope our collective efforts enjoy mutual success and help the band grow and reach a broader audience. If by chance, we catch fire, we’ll be sure to stay true to our music. We’ll flex our progressive mind muscles. The next level, to me, means treating the music with increasing discipline and respect. You must also be aware of the risks and keep your business mind and your creative spirit in harmony; just like we do with our guitars.

Marie: Next level? Not sure we’d survive doing it on someone else’s terms or working as a cog in the corporate machine. Corsair wouldn’t be much of anything without having the freedom to be un-bashfully creative, sorry Nivea. Unless, of course, the push was creativity of a ridiculous magnitude, bold fantastical songs for KIA ads. I could do that.

Jeb: This band comes from all over the planet.  How did you all find each other?

Jordan: Charlottesville, VA is full of transients, being a college town, but its gravitational pull is strong for those who search for local and live music. It seems to be a hub of talented musicians who settle into the vortex. That’s my story at least. I came for an education and stayed for the music. Paul is as much a part of Charlottesville as Thomas Jefferson and the name Sebring is synonymous with music in the local vernacular. Aaron was born in Toronto, Canada and moved to town with his family when he was five years old, settling in the outskirts of town among the hills.

Marie has a funny story, being that she was born in Australia by French-Armenian parents, who were developing the frontier of the wine world outside of Melbourne, but had to relocate due to a hard hitting economic depression. Oddly enough, the world of wine led them all to Virginia and its young vineyards. She also came to town for an education, but stayed for the music.

And so it was; that we were all in our small town playing music in separate bands. Marie and Paul met each other playing in Mass Sabbath, a Black Sabbath tribute band that had 10+ members each year for seven years running, and in which I was a member for the last two. Having just gotten ahead of myself, I’ll back up to when I met them.

Paul and Marie started playing together in the winter of ‘08 kindling a fire that rose from a mutual love of playing Tony Iommi licks, and on one of those evenings I happened to be next door, loading out gear for a gig with my band at the time, The Nice Jenkins. I could tell that the talent was there and that the musicianship was top notch, so when we finally met across the fence and we talked about how they didn’t have a bass player, I was happy to play along and improve my chops. Leigh Ann Leary was playing drums then and all together we had a band. Fast forward a year of playing and recording our first EP, and Aaron enters the picture at the recommendation of our then producer, Lance Brenner. 

Jeb: You may think I am crazy, as in addition to the obvious rock sounds of Thin Lizzy, Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath, I hear progressive rock and even jazz and classical influences. Am I on target or am I having flashbacks?  

Paul: i think we all have a little classical influence in the band. I enjoy the switches between major and minor in classical and "variations on a theme" style songwriting.

Jordan: I spent a solid five or six years exploring the world of jazz fusion, mainly acts in the seventies that spun off from any of Miles Davis’s outfits from the Mid sixties onward. Aside from the wild sessions of Bitches Brew, which I’ll get to later, I collected most everything by Herbie Hancock, John McLaughlin, Larry Coryell, Tony Williams, Billy Cobham, Return to Forever and the others. Ron Carter remains one of my favorite bass players ever.

At the time I was listening to all those notes, i didn’t play an instrument, but instead zoned out and let it wash over me. Looking back, I was very patient in those days because I have a hard time getting through most of it today. But it’s spot on to say that jazz is a strong influence of mine even though I haven’t studied the theory or learned the standards. I also listen to classical music from time to time. Debussy is my favorite right now.

Marie: I grew up listening to classical music, playing piano, singing in choir and playing recorder at primary school. When we moved to the Virginia from Australia, I picked up classical guitar and got into the sad, depressing Spanish guitar sound. I slowly moved into more complicated guitar pieces, picked up an electric and dove straight into Metallica and Black Sabbath songs. I tried to learn all the solos, tried, and then sort of went over to the proggy side of things because I could do weird time signatures at that time better than I could rip a solo. The classical music influence is still with me, during the day I’ll put on a classical station as my theme music for the day. There is a lot to learn in there, Mozart is obviously the master but I do love a bit of Chopin and Rachmaninoff or Debussy.

Jeb: The guitar passages, the harmonies, really make you guys unique.  Was this style of playing there at the formation of the band or did you have to develop it?  
Paul: I think they were always there. It started as Marie and I hackin’ around in the basement. For my part, I always wanted to do a band with guitar harmonies.  It started with the Metallica instrumentals “Orion”, “Call of Ktulu” and “To Live is to Die.” I always wanted to hear more Metallica instrumentals, so we tried to write some.

Marie: In the beginning, I would push Paul to whip out a harmony on some riff I, or he, would be playing. I’d say, “Play a harmony with this Paul!” and he would, in about 30 seconds; he’s fast like that. Then, he’d change it to a 5th, or a 7th, and say, “Which do you like better?” He’s a cheeky one.

Now, I play what I hear in my head on the spot, or at least noodle around until I find it on the guitar while Paul is playing his riff. Basically, I get goose bumps when I hear harmonies, I like the way they make me feel when I hear them, the way it feels to play them, being in unison with someone else, in the live setting, or with myself in the studio setting.

It is hard to sync up and be comfortable, so it’s also a nice challenge. I have to sort of adjust my style a bit when playing harmonies, it’s a subtle shift, but I do it to sound more unified. Now, between Paul and me, the harmonies develop organically. To practice a song without the harmony in it doesn’t sound like the song, so the harmony has become essential to the sound. Eventually, I’d like to do a solo harmonized with Paul; we’ll see how that goes...

Jeb: Now, that said, there are regular solos that seem to leave the stratosphere.  Who is playing those and, as a band, how do you find the right backing tracks to allow the guitar player to stand out like that?  You are not just sticking with three chords and keeping the rhythms the same.. there is some cool stuff behind the scenes.  

Paul: Some of them are me and some are Marie. On this record if you hear any harmonized guitar solos those are Marie. I’m gonna say that she went ahead and blew the top off the damn record.  We tried to write chord progressions or riffs that would lend themselves to more interesting solo business.

Marie: Paul and Jordan write a lot of tasty chord progressions under solo business. I can lay claim to a few spiffy ones, but it’s mostly them. As far as solos, on this album I really tried to say something interesting with the solos. I dislike noodly, uneventful boring solos, basically wank fests, but I do like a solo that takes you somewhere, says something, or leaves you having to rewind the track. I’m terrible about that, rewinding a song to the solo bit, over and over, air guitar soloing etc etc.  

My favorite “Marie” solo on the album is a tie between “Agathyrsi” and “Kings and Cowards.” For “Agathyrsi,” I had put myself up to playing the most interesting thing I could muster, as I really didn’t have anything for that, actually, quite long part. I worked it out in the studio, got mad at myself for not having any solo groove, played until the calluses on my fingers sloughed off and got angry again at not being as effortless as Paul. Paul had mentioned having a friend of ours guest solo on that bit, as I hadn’t really figured anything out yet at that point in the studio and that got the fire going under my fingers!

For “Kings” I played Paul’s dad’s Stratocaster, as I was vying for a different sound but wasn’t finding it with my Les Paul. The Strat has a whammy on it, so I just sort of rolled with it as I was again getting frustrated and was playing like what seemed like a spaz, but ended up sounding alright.

I am always astounded by Paul’s creativity in soloing, he has a massive toolkit of skills that he always uses tastefully without being too serious. He gets really sneaky and slips in a sweep, or a trill, without you even realizing he’s done it. Paul is one of my guitar heroes, for sure. In the end, I learned a ton trying hard to do more, sound better and I feel proud about pushing myself and sort of winning.

Jeb: I will tell you some of the influences I hear and you tell me if I am right on or an idiot.  If I am right, tell me what it is about that band that speaks to you as a band and as an individual. Let’s start with Miles Davis Bitches Brew era stuff.  

Jordan: In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew were my bread and butter for about two whole years straight. It’s odd, but I fell asleep with one of those two albums playing almost every night when I was a senior in High School. They were fixtures in my bedroom CD player, which held three CDs. He was my hero. I had a creepy poster of him all zoomed in on his face with his badass staring right back at me, as if to say, “What are you lookin’ at...? Yeah, I’m Miles Davis, so why don’t you get off your ass!?” At least that was the motivational voice I gave him.  I even read his autobiography in a time when I hardly touched books outside of school assignments. So, personally, he’ll always be a source of inspiration and a pillar of integrity.  As for the band, this influence is subliminal and appears only on particular songs when we let the music breath for a while.

Ron Carter is one of my favorite bass players in his ability to find a deep groove and make the song dig hard with and against the rhythm. All the while, he adds tasty flourishes that don’t get in the way and is very playful and in touch with the dynamics underlying the extended improv sessions. That may echo in my playing when I separate myself from the guitar riffs and lock in with the drums.

One of the most important lessons I learned by listening to Bitches Brew and In a Silent Way is that all the crazy soloing and mystical keyboards floating around wouldn’t have worked without the simplicity of the drums and bass holding it together.  This modal style of improv is all about the dynamic ebb and flow of the rhythm section, getting all primal and tribal. Corsair doesn’t take it all the way back to Africa, but you might hear our own version of that in a song like “The Desert.” If we threw the desire to structure our music out the window, we could probably play that song for thirty minutes easily. I know Marie wanted to make the intro as long as possible, and when we were writing the song as a whole, we pulled on the reins to move things along. Maybe we’ll let go and let one of our songs’ length reach double digit territory in the future.

Jeb: Blue Oyster Cult Tyranny & Mutation/Secret Treaties era.

Jordan: You’re definitely not alone in hearing Blue Oyster Cult as an influence of our music, but when we put our heads together, we can’t name any of their songs apart from “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” “I’m Burning for You,” and “Godzilla.”  After practice one day, we all went through their best of album and even ventured out to the deeper tracks together. And guaranteed, every time the song would begin we’d all be digging it. Then the vocals would start and Paul would instantly break out in a rash. By the time the chorus came, we had to stop the music for fear of losing our guitar player. I don’t know if it’s the tone of his voice, or the lyrics, but he’s not a fan.

Jeb: Paul Di’anno era Iron Maiden, especially Killers.  

Marie: I hear it, but honestly, I didn’t listen to Killers until last year when we played with a band from Philadelphia, Skeleton Hands, and Pete Hagan told me about Killers; seriously.

Jeb: Thin Lizzy, Jailbreak and back era.  

Jordan: We all are big fans of Thin Lizzy, so much so that on Halloween of 2011, we performed a 45 minute set mostly, if not all, from their Live and Dangerous album and in full costume to boot. You can see a video of this by following “visuals” to “footage” on our website, www.skykrakken.com.

It was a ton of fun learning their songs, and was especially challenging for Aaron and I to nail their rhythm section. Paul and Marie were quick to pick up the guitar licks, but it took some time for me to nail the off time phrasing of the vocals and the tight turnarounds with Aaron.

Everyone always talks about the dueling guitars and harmonies that are almost instantly recognizable and incredibly contagious, but to me the meat of the band is found between the Lynott and Downey sandwich. I learned much and found a strong voice in imitating Phil Lynott and will do my best not to slip into a bad Irish accent when I sing.

As long as we continue to harmonize our guitars, we will be continuing a musical narrative best exemplified by Thin Lizzy and Iron Maiden.

Jeb: Black Sabbath debut album.  

Jordan: Guilty; definitely. So, you may have noticed a theme of Halloween tribute shows running through the veins of Corsair. Marie and Paul are well versed in the riffs and solos on this album. Mass Sabbath’s set list included the first three songs from Black Sabbath. I had great fun doing my best Geezer Butler impression, especially when playing “Basically” at the tail end of the tryptic, but haven’t successfully incorporated the bass wah pedal since. When we get gritty, I’d like to think that there’s a bit of Black Sabbath in the mix.  

Jeb: Wishbone Ash.  

Marie: “Errors of My Way” and “Sorrel,” LOVE those two songs. I actually got Corsair to play “Sorrel” a couple times at practice, but everyone but my own interest ran out, maybe because it’s a little too hippy? Not sure exactly but I would be into trying it out again.

Jeb: What obvious bands did I miss? Maybe early Yes?

Jordan: Fragile is an amazing album and if I ever find myself able to play the bass line from “Roundabout”, I will have awoken from the spell of some magic known only by Chris Squire. I’m honored to have a “maybe early Yes” cross your mind when thinking of Corsair. They are monsters.

Marie: YES on Yes! I was into Fragile big time a few years back, then, The Yes Album and most recently, reawakened thanks to my good buddy Nick Rubin the first Yes album, Yes.

Jeb: You take all of this and add your own spin to it. One of the things I really like is that this band is so fucking original despite some of the obvious influences.  Do you hear that?

Jordan: We do our best to keep things interesting and if we’re developing new material and one of us finds it too familiar, we usually change it some way to make it different. In that way, we are conscious of being original, or at least not playing the first, obvious thing that comes to mind. The music we love influences what we write, but being that much of it is from 20 or 30 years ago, the scope now makes it different.

Jeb: How will you survive with people’s love of downloading and stealing music?  What challenges do you face that older bands that broke big did not have to deal with and how are you overcoming these challenges?  

Jordan: Tough question. There’s probably someone out there writing their dissertation on this subject right now. It’s not hard to imagine why people are getting music for free online, but I did some research to understand the efforts of the music industry to combat piracy. For those interested in further reading, I found my info at http://www.ifpi.org/content/library/DMR2012.pdf.

To sum up, the audience is growing rapidly worldwide and all the companies that can profit from this are fighting back to get their share. For example, in France there is a new agency called Hadopi that has reduced online piracy by 26% in a short period of time, “...which sends notices to internet subscribers whose accounts have been used to infringe copyright.  If a subscriber ignores two notices within six months and infringes copyright law for the third time in a year, Hadopi can notify a criminal court, which can suspend the internet account for up to a month and levy a fine of up to €1,500.  To date there have been more than 700,000 notices sent, which IFPI estimates to have reached around 10 per cent of P2P users in France.” There is also pressure from interested parties on advertisers who fund P2P websites to stop or limit this. All in all the recent trends, according to the IFPI, show a growth in legitimate digital downloads and a decrease in piracy. It’s a short term victory for the music industry in the past year that may or may not indicate a rising trend. We’ll have to wait and see.

Not many people who use P2P websites will change their online behavior and buy digital downloads, but the number of people gaining access to music worldwide is growing, and the music industry is doing its best to stay ahead of this growth and shape the behavior new users. So that’ll be the teenage market, the lifeblood of  the industry, and international music lovers, who haven’t developed a knack for online piracy, namely Latin America and Asia. They hope that they can channel new users towards buying digital downloads, or paying for online services. Whether this will translate to money reaching the artists is another story.

In the US, Limewire and Megaupload have been shut down, while Rhapsody, Spotify and Muve Music have all seen growth. There’s also a partnering between cell phone providers, adding Rhapsody as a bundle with unlimited data. Long story short is that the industry has been very busy trying to get their piece of the pie.

All of this only really benefits the cream of the crop, being the biggest artists in the world that manage to sell millions of digital downloads a year.  Corsair is at a point now that we are happy to have our music reach as many people as possible, whether legally or illegally. We’re cool with the accessibility of our records online.  If the music carries its weight and sticks around, then we can hope to build a fan base for years to come.

Surprisingly, we’ve been selling a number of digital downloads from our website (www.skykrakken.com). The metal fan base seems to show respect for the artists by making an effort to legitimately download the music. That is the only way to ensure that the artists get the support necessary to continue and thrive. I’m amazed by the devotion and presence of the metal community online, and I believe that the active participation that I’ve seen will help give our music a longer lasting relevance. If there’s a buzz of people talking about Corsair on blogs and online publications, then we stand to reach more people in the long term. Once it’s been put out there online, it exists in that dimension forever. That’s very exciting to me. I don’t think we’re expecting to make money any time soon, but by hanging in there and with people’s support we can continue to make records and contribute new music. 

Working together with Shadow Kingdom Records is an added bonus because we both benefit from an increased online presence. Their devoted following are not to be dismissed or lumped together with those that blindly pirate the latest Adelle single. Corsair’s strength and ability to survive in the face of modern challenges rests in the decisions made by fans online. It will be very interesting to see what happens in the next year. 

Marie: Well said Jordan! I am guilty of downloading music, pretty much all of it old stuff that you can’t really get anywhere, Crazy World of Arthur Brown, The Small Faces or something like that and it’s thanks to some nerdy music guy that I can listen to it. I would love to have it all on vinyl but that’d be madness. I think it’s only going to get harder to be paid for music being pirated. Vinyl. That’s the way to go; until someone rips the vinyl to digital, anyway. 

Jeb: Has anyone given you feedback that the more they listen to your music the more they get addicted to it? 

Jordan: I’ve yet to come across that sentiment, but I have read a few comments that have said that they didn’t dig it at first but love it after giving it some time. I don’t know if that’s a testament to the music or to the patience of the fans. 

Marie: Sure, I’ve heard that. I’m the same way. I am really difficult and take many listens before I’ll give myself over to the music. I’m still struggling with Van Halen. I think Paul is on a lifetime struggle with Steely Dan. 

Jeb: What’s next?  What’s the plan, Stan? 

Jordan: First and foremost, the self-titled album is set to be released on January 21st 2013 by Shadow Kingdom Records. On the back burner, we’re in the process of writing new material to record, starting in late January 2013.  Currently, Marie and I are in Marseille, France, so the communication is limited to sending ideas back and forth online. I think things will click once we’re all together working on the songs together. I hope to finish tracking in the spring and put together a few tour dates on the East coast afterwards. We’ll see if we can keep up our pace and finish another album in 2013. 

Jeb: Last one: Do any of you get jealous that you have a killer girl guitarist in the band as I would think people might think that is cool, even though it is blatantly a sexist notion… but lets face it, she can flat out jam…how cool is that? 

Paul: I think Marie Landragin is one of the most talented guitar players I’ve ever heard and she’s almost as good as me! Just kidding. Marie has always amazed me since the first day i saw her destroying a solo on stage with Mass Sabbath six years ago. 

Jordan: We’re definitely proud to have Marie in the band, mainly for her guitar playing, but also because she brings a feminine touch to the testosterone driven world of metal. And in the spirit of blatant sexism, chicks dig Corsair. I think it’s because we have a rad and talented woman playing the guitar and it eases the sexual tension. As Spinal Tap pointed out, it’s very intimidating for women to watch a male guitarists shred with armadillos in their trousers. 

Marie: Ha, whatever Paul and JB... I’m sure I get on their nerves sometimes. I credit a lot of my skill to Paul’s patience and his good-heartedness. He’s been an excellent guitar-mate and even if I was twice as good as he, he’d still love playing music with me. It’s not about the skill, it’s about the heart and we’ve got plenty of that to go around. 

Jeb: Okay, really last one…isn’t a Corsair like a pirate ship or something. I am not cheating and looking it up on dictionary.com I am trying to remember…do you look at yourself like musical pirates?  

Paul:  When I was a kid I was really into World War II aircraft and the  F-4U Corsair was my favorite one. It’s a really beautiful and sleek looking plane. I believe it’s also a kind of French pirate in the 1700s. I would say it’s mostly named for the plane but I do love pirates too. 

Jordan:  We are musical pirates in the sense that we raid and steal from the rich history of rock and roll. The treasure map leads you on a long and arduous journey and is held secret in a capsule at the bottom of the ocean.

Marie: Paul came up with it. He loves planes. Plus, it’s pirates, buccaneers, basically, sea terrorists. Pirates are cool, ‘specially when you think of them in outer space (first EP, Alpha Centauri, “Black Ships.”) and then Corsairs are French and I’m half French. It’s all about connections.  
 

Check out the band and buy the CD here: http://shadowkingdomrecords.bandcamp.com/album/corsair

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