Q&A with multitalented Eric Corne (Forty Below Records), an award winning producer/engineer and songwriter

"I prefer to focus on the great music of today and just learn from the past. My fears for the future are that there is so little monetary reward for artists that many give it up."

Eric Corne: Positive Vibrations of Sonic

Founder and President of Forty Below Records based in Los Angeles, Canadian Eric Corne is an award winning producer/engineer and songwriter with multiple Billboard Blues #1 albums to his credit and a resume that includes recording the likes of John Mayall, Joe Walsh, Walter Trout, Edgar Winter, Sugaray Rayford, C.J. Chenier, Kim Deal (The Pixies), Glen Campbell,  Lucinda Williams, Nancy Wilson (Heart), Joe Bonamassa, John Doe (X), Michelle Shocked, Robby Krieger (The Doors) and Devotchka. Corne formed the Toronto space pop group Mysterio in the late 90s along with guitarist Simon Craig. In 2004, Corne relocated his family to Los Angeles to work for widely respected producer, engineer and bassist Dusty Wakeman (Lucinda Williams, Dwight Yoakam) at Mad Dog Studios. Working at Mad Dog, Corne engineered sessions for the likes of Glen Campbell, Lucinda Williams, Nancy Wilson, John Doe and Michelle Shocked, including some of Shocked’s second line music featuring, Trombone Shorty and her contribution to Give US Your Poor, a benefit CD to fight homelessness that also included tracks from Bruce Springsteen, Bonnie Raitt and Madeleine Peyroux.                                            (Photo: Eric Corne, Los Angeles CA)

Corne, whose own music has always had a socio-political slant, also worked on the Instant Karma charity project for Darfur, recording and mixing Ghanaian reggae/afro-beat artist, Rocky Dawuni’s cover of John Lennon’s “Well, well, well.” In addition, Corne spent months engineering and mixing a charity project for Hurricane Katrina victims called The Congo Square Project, which featured dozens of the greatest drummers of all time, including Airto Moreira (Miles Davis, Joni Mitchell), Louie Bellson (Duke Ellington), Ndugu Chancler (Michael Jackson), Clem Burke (Blondie) and many more. Eric Corne’s album Happy Songs for the Apocalypse (2018) was a patchwork of Americana; drawing on folk, blues and rock n’ roll with tinges of alt country. Lyrically, the album is an indictment of a world careening into a second gilded age, numbed by new technologies and the false hope of materialism. 

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the Blues and Rock Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

I’ve always been drawn to voices in music that champion social, economic and political justice, whether it be Blues, soul, rock, folk etc. All forms of roots music stemmed from blues and sometimes these serious topics are expressed in caustic way like with someone like Bob Dylan and others have used wit and humor to call out and challenge things they see as wrong in society. There’s a point in the 60s where blues, rock and folk all merge. Even though I wasn’t born yet., I’ve always been heavily influenced by this and this coalescence of music and words. Blues music has a spirit of community that is very uplifting and positive. Rock has a spirit of individuality and following your own path, often ignoring the calls to conform. I'm influenced by both philosophies in different ways. Artistically I favor individualism but in life I favor community. In recent years, however, I have found this individualism has taken over a segment of society to the point where we don’t just have artists that are not conforming, we have segments of the population who don’t consider society at large and how their actions will impact the greater good in a negative way that pulls us all down.

What do you learn about yourself from the blues and what does the blues mean to you?

Catharsis, humour and honesty…When it’s at it’s best, raw emotion.

How do you describe Eric Corne sound and songbook? What characterize your music philosophy?

I don’t have one overall sound. I like to take a different approach and do what the song and the album “tell” me to do. The two most important things to me sonically are balance and vibe.

"I’ve always been drawn to voices in music that champion social, economic and political justice, whether it be Blues, soul, rock, folk etc. All forms of roots music stemmed from blues and sometimes these serious topics are expressed in caustic way like with someone like Bob Dylan and others have used wit and humor to call out and challenge things they see as wrong in society." (Photo: Eric Corne)

How do you think that you have grown as an artist since you first started making music?

I think that my growth as an artist over the last 15 years or so has an awful lot to do with becoming a producer. It’s forced me to think about the connection between instrumentation and arrangement vis-à-vis the words and how to utilize the instruments and the players to reinforce the emotion inherent in the lyric and the performance. In addition, I have grown to understand that a successful production does not just mean a great production but rather a great production that truly represents the artist, their vision and their identity. Since I’ve chosen to focus primarily on collaborating with artists on music that’s released under the their names, my impressions of myself as an artist are wrapped up in my work as a songwriter, producer, engineer/mixer.

What has remained the same about your music-making process?

I started out playing in bands and when I produce records, I still look at it as a very collaborative process. I tend to record with a large ensemble where everybody is playing at the same time. Being in a band, I was always used to having all of the band and therefore all of the moving musical parts right there to move around. There’s also a spirit or energy of camaraderie and support in the room and this ability to riff on each other‘s ideas. You can get something greater than the sum of its parts. To me that’s where the magic is.

Where does your creative drive come from? What do you think is key to a music life well lived?

That’s a tough question to answer because it comes from within. I guess I just have an unrelenting passion to create and the feeling I get when I see an artist that’s over the moon about something we’ve made together. I want to feel that again and again. Songwriting is kind of like that too. There are times where I can be wandering around my house and the streets like a zombie for weeks, trying to come up with the right words for a piece of music. Sometimes they come really quickly but other times I’ll have to come back to things over the months and often years until it’s complete. So, when people say their songs are like their babies, they are referring to the often difficult to birth, LOL. Of course, I’m kidding and giving birth to a song is nowhere nearly as difficult as giving birth to another human, LOL.           (Photo: Eric Corne & Walter Trout, Memphis TN)

"My hopes are that mainstream music become more real and organic, less pitch corrected and quantized and that governments protect the rights of content owners with respect to streaming etc. I also hope we move to higher resolution formats like Neil Young and Tom Petty are lobbying for."

How started the thought of Forty Below Records? What is the mission and the story behind the name of label?

The idea for Forty Below Records started when I was chief engineer at Dusty Wakeman’s Mad Dog Studios. I found myself making records with some of the greatest session musicians around and began thinking about my great admiration for the Funk Brothers (Motown), The MGS (Stax) and The Wrecking Crew. I saw a lot of talented artists finishing a record and just posting it on-line with no idea about how to distribute and promote an album and I wanted to provide a pathway for artists to get to the next level. When I began making records with John Mayall and signed him to the label, the focus split a bit, and now I feel confident releasing more established artists, as I have distribution throughout North America, Europe, Japan and Australia.

Are there any exclusively specific memorable moments with people that you’ve performed with either live or in the studio?

Some highlights in the studio include playing with Richie Hayward from Little Feat, who plays on my songs "Common Man" and "Evil Men"; Walter Trout and Michael Leasure, recording my song "Ridin' with Lady Luck"; Bo Koster from My Morning Jacket who plays on my song "Forbidden Town"; Santa Davis (Peter Tosh, Bob Marley) plays on "Nobody Plays Here Any More", a reggae track form my first solo album, 'Kid Dynamite and the Common Man". Live, it was an honor to open for John Mayall and sit in with Walter Trout, Sugaray Rayford and my friends, DeVotchKa. I also need to give a shout out to my buddies in the beloved Canadian band, The Watchmen. Growing up, they used to always invite me up to play harmonica during their encores and then took my bands on tours across Canada. We used to always drink their riders!

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What is the best advice ever given you?

Well, after meeting my wife, Aimee, of course, haha, I would say meeting Dusty Wakeman, Walter Trout, Sugaray Rayford and John Mayall were very important for me professionally. Also, being able to work with and learn from engineers like Eddie Kramer and David Bianco. As for advice, I’ve always remembered producer/engineer Ross Hogarth telling me that this is a service industry.     (Photo: Eric Corne with his wife, Aimee)

"I don’t have one overall sound. I like to take a different approach and do what the song and the album “tell” me to do.  The two most important things to me sonically are balance and vibe."

Are there any memories from your experiences in the studio which you’d like to share with us?

What happens in the studio, stays in the studio, haha! No, just kidding, sort of, haha! Working with Glen Campbell and Lucinda Williams are highlights and recently, I did a horn session with some of the musicians from The Late Show With Conan O’Brien and a third party told me that after the session the musicians said it was the most creative session they’d ever been a apart of.

Another great session was when John Mayall came in to guest on a Walter Trout record I was producing. I’d heard stories of engineers working with veterans like Dylan and Ry Cooder and not recording the rehearsals and getting fired. So, before John came to the studio I made sure to get a sound ready. When he got to the studio, he walked over to the piano and I ran into the control room and hit record. John played for 10 minutes and when he was done, Walter asked if he’d like to do one with the band and John said no, that was it “Didn’t you get it”? Everyone turned around to look at me and I gave them the thumbs up. Then John gave me a sheet of paper instructing me what bars to cut out. It was a magical session and shortly after that I got the call to do John’s next record.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I prefer to focus on the great music of today and just learn from the past. My fears for the future are that there is so little monetary reward for artists that many give it up. My hopes are that mainstream music become more real and organic, less pitch corrected and quantized and that governments protect the rights of content owners with respect to streaming etc. I also hope we move to higher resolution formats like Neil Young and Tom Petty are lobbying for.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

No lip syncing.

"I think it’s really important to speak and live your truth. It’s the pathway to inner peace. I don’t consider myself a substantial activist because I am a very inward person that works in very small groups for extremely long hours every day and every week." (Photo: Eric Corne & John Mayall, 2019 L.A. California)

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from the music circuits?

On the laughing front… I was recording a song with Kim Deal (The Pixies) and we took a picture together and she was really excited to send it to a male friend…After a few minutes I realized that because I had a bear on my hat, she thought I was a cute gay guy, haha!

On the emotional front… Making “The Blues Came Calling” with Walter Trout as he was dying from liver disease. He could barely speak or play but the music was filled with emotion and documented his journey. It was the most difficult record I’ve ever made because I love the man (not that way, Kim, haha!). He got a transplant, pulled through and we are starting a new record in a couple months… A miracle of modern science and the support of the wonderful blues community.

You’ve worked with a lot of great musicians over the years – is there anyone you’d love to work with who maybe time and circumstances have conspired to mean you haven’t had the chance to yet?

Sure. There are countless people that I’d like to work with, but I prefer to focus on the gratitude I feel for having had the privilege to work with so many amazing artists to date. I know there will be many more, but I don’t wanna jinx them, ha ha.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

How important it is to listen to everybody that’s involved and treat them with respect and make them feel valued. I’ve seen people‘s ideas shot down before they were given a chance and I’ve seen those people shut down and not bring anything more to the table than the bare minimum. I think enthusiasm and positivity play a huge role. It’s so difficult to make something great and to achieve any level of success if everyone on the team isn’t pulling in the same direction. The project won’t achieve its full potential. Also, always hit record because you never know when a great performance is gonna happen. Even if the sounds are not dialed in, the performance is way more important. You can polish the sound, but you can’t manufacture a performance. So, do whatever you need to do to facilitate great performances.

"The idea for Forty Below Records started when I was chief engineer at Dusty Wakeman’s Mad Dog Studios. I found myself making records with some of the greatest session musicians around and began thinking about my great admiration for the Funk Brothers (Motown), The MGS (Stax) and The Wrecking Crew. I saw a lot of talented artists finishing a record and just posting it on-line with no idea about how to distribute and promote an album and I wanted to provide a pathway for artists to get to the next level." (Photo: Eric Corne in Strawhorse Studios 2021, Los Angeles CA)

How important is activism in your life and how does affect your inspiration? How can music inspire activism?

I think it’s really important to speak and live your truth. It’s the pathway to inner peace. I don’t consider myself a substantial activist because I am a very inward person that works in very small groups for extremely long hours every day and every week. It’s always been important to me to express that truth in songs, and it can be any emotion and I think if you look at my songs, you’ll see that a wide range of emotions are explored. But there was a time when I was 19 where I had a political and social awakening through an older friend who shared quite a bit of literature with me on American covert operations in Central and South America. That led me to pursue a degree in political science with a focus on intelligence agencies and black-market economics. I think I've been a bit of a warrior in this regard ever since. It’s funny though, when I was first getting into writing music back in the 90s not very many people were as politically active but now the world is so divided, and everybody is such an "expert" that I find I’m a lot less interested in talking about it.

What has been the relationship between music & socio-political activism in your life and music?

I believe strongly in fairness, equality and justice and these are strong tenets in my lyrics. All my musical heroes from Dylan to Lennon to Strummer to Neil pointed the way…

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?

I’d want to hang out with Henry Miller in Paris in the 1920s/30s!

Eric Corne Music - Home                  Forty Below Records - Home

(Photo: Eric Corne & Sugaray Rayford)

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