When Minneapolis-based masterful guitar player, Cory Wong, was a young person, he was already dedicated to music. So much so that on weekends, he would bring his guitar and amplifier to school and, after classes, he would take a different bus home with a friend where the two would rehearse and practice their instruments and watch MTV music videos all night. The next morning, the two would wake up and play music all day and on Sunday, Wong’s parents would pick him up to go back home. This is but one example of Wong’s lifelong devotion to music and one of many reasons why his songs are both deeply nuanced and joyous. As evidenced by his most recent release, Dusk, and also his forthcoming release, Dawn, on which appears the new single, “Bluebird,” which we’re happy to premiere here today.
“I don’t know how my parents or my friend’s parents let us do that,” Wong says, with a laugh. “They were just down with it!”
That Wong knew so early on what he wanted to invest his time, energy and spirit into was a gift for the musician and not one many people receive so young in life. In a way, the journey all began with Wong’s father, a first-generation Chinese-American, who had a vast and varied record and CD collection that he exposed Wong to when he was a child. Jazz, rock, Americana, bluegrass – it was all available to Wong to peer through and learn about, from the album spines to their many songs. Around that same time, too, he noticed older kids at school following and playing music. Suddenly, he was all in.
“It really helped get me hooked,” he says. “And once I got hooked, it wasn’t necessarily work to learn the instruments. Sometimes it’s a struggle to get hooked but for me I was in before I even knew what I was doing. I was in for that relentless pursuit.”
For Wong, who has collaborated with the likes of Jon Batiste and the band, Vulfpeck, music was always a way of focusing the way he felt and a way of expressing a personal, artistic voice. For the musician, his offerings are often dual-pronged. He is a continuous balance of mirth and technical proficiency, experimentation and professionalism, joy and curiosity.
“I realized from a really young age that music was a way for me to express my feelings and to express my inner-self,” says Wong, who, growing up, liked bands like Green Day, Metallica and Red Hot Chili Peppers. “Art helps you both discover yourself and lose yourself at the same time. That I found out early on.”
While, today, Wong lives in Minneapolis, he also spent a lot of time pre-pandemic in Nashville, Tennessee. The cities offer two rather different orientations and relationships to music, but both serve the whirling dervish musician well, he says. On the one hand, while there are famous bands to come from Minneapolis, the area is not a music town, per se, certainly not in the way Nashville is today. Whereas the Music City is just that – a place where the industry thrives. Being able to bathe in both streams, so to speak, is supremely beneficial to the six-string aficionado.
“Each town offers two different things,” Wong says. “I grew up in Minneapolis and that’s home for me but I learned a lot about music and the industry from being in Nashville. In Minneapolis, a lot of the music people make is dictated solely by what the artist wants to do. Nashville, though, for better and for worse, is an industry town. There’s a lot more structure there for that sort of thing.”
While Wong is capable of appreciating two things at the same time, so should his audience – at least with this latest pair of releases. The artist recently dropped the seven-track album, Dusk, and he will soon follow it up with the seven-track record, Dawn. The two records are examples of what makes Wong special as a musician. They are both rich with his artistic voice and an unparalleled technical proficiency. Each album is themed – Dusk is more contemplative whereas Dawn is brighter – and both represent notions Wong has been exploring intellectually of late.
A major undercurrent on the rolling, bubbling, gurgling pair of albums is the idea of the natural world – oceans, rivers, forests. Wong says, as he was writing the albums, he would take walks through nature, absorbing the grandiose planet Earth. In fact, he toyed with the idea of naming the albums “Mother Earth” or “Mother Nature.” But, in the end, went with the similar-though-different times of day to signify two similar-though-different creative mindsets.
“I think that was a really big part of what inspired me to write these songs,” Wong says. “For me, when I’m writing an instrumental, I have to have a narrative in my head, whether it be the lakes in Minnesota or the brooks that lead to the Mississippi River. It’s a testament to the human connection to music and to the human connection to nature. There’s something both transcendent and primal about that.”
Check out Cory on your favorite music platform.