music morsels
April 2008


Corbett Lunsford
ARTIST NAME: Corbett Lunsford of Mysteriam
MUSICAL GENRE: Experimental electronica pop rock

MM: What made you decided to create the Mysteriam project?

CL: I was working quite a bit with artists in other media. I was working with video people plus dancers and theater people. I actually toured as the musical director for Second City for a while. Most of what was happening for me musically was very literal, and people were not making the type of music that was happening in my head and that I wanted to hear. So I decided to take it real seriously, and I did not try to get an audience just by myself. My work had been with choreographers and dancers touring internationally because they commissioned me to work with them, so I didn’t have to worry about getting an audience or selling tickets or doing any PR or anything. However, I decided that even though getting my own audience was kind of a scary thing to do, that is what I wanted to do, that was the frontier I wanted to explore.

MM: Were your musical ideas that went into the first Mysteriam CDs ideas that you had developed previously, or were they specifically developed for those projects?

CL: For “A Choir Of Spirited Distraction” which is the most pop of my albums, that was a collection of songs I had done one at a time as I came up with the ideas. For “Entryway” which is the one that has sold the best so far, it was more experimental and we did it all in one month in one Pro-Tools section. I’m trying to get more into doing albums as one piece, so the songs are not written one at a time, but written in a more condensed period of time so they sound like they are meant to go together. Mysteriam is also a multimedia project that involves video and sculpture and dance and music, obviously. I wanted to find a way to do all of these things that I was really interested in. Music is a blast, but it doesn’t do all things equally well. So I really wanted to be able to express the range of what I was trying to get at with this aesthetic of “I like it but I don’t get it” type of thing through different forms of media. 

MM: So is the music sort of a soundtrack for the multimedia project?

CL: Some people would probably say that; it would depend on which piece of media you are focusing on at the time. All the elements are created to stand on their own. I am not that interested in film scoring for example, because I feel that it gives too much weight to the visual aspect and then the musical aspect is just created to support that. There is so much intermingling of different mediums these days, and even when you walk down the street you have images from advertising and car radios you hear as the pass by, to the TV in a cafe as you walk past it. Everything is naturally sown together in people’s everyday lives, and I wanted to have an artistic outlet like that - where you could weave all these facets together and you can’t really put your finger on how they work so well together, but they seem to somehow cooperate with each other.

MM: Do your live performances always involve multimedia?

CL: What we have tried to do is incorporate all the elements of the project into the performances. So we have had performances where we have a video artist running a projection screen and improvising live with the video. Then we have several TVs also playing video arts elements, and then we play the music which also has elements of improvisation, so that what is happening can be reacted to both on the visual and the musical sides. Then we have sculptures, and I have even had painters who wanted to paint live with the band. So we create a spontaneous generation and collaboration of various mediums and that in a nutshell is what our performances are like. I also like to have space in the performances so people have the space to think and consider what is happening, and are not assailed all the time.

MM: What has been the reaction to the performances so far?

CL: We have played about six shows and have tried various types of venues. We did one in an art gallery and one in a loft, and a typical band venue in a bar with a stage. I find that the alternative venues seem to work better for us, because when it is in a bar, they are coming in from the expectation that; they are in a bar, they hear bands. So if that is what their expectations are, we can disappoint some of those people, so we are working on incorporating a show that is just music, where we play like a band. I try to write real solid songs and we don’t do as much experimental stuff. When we are in alternative venues, people tend not to have those narrowed expectations, so they are more open to going along with us when we take them to a place that they were not expecting.

MM: Do you see the interest in Mysteriam growing?

CL: I used to date an art history scholar and she said that typically visual artists like painters have about fifty patrons at the peak of their career. And that is pretty good because that will sustain them. Unfortunately, with music you are selling CDs for ten bucks a pop, where paintings can go for thousands of dollars. So with the experimental side, I think that will be the one that will have a more limited audience. As a result, I am focusing more energy on writing more solid songs and performing them more straight. I am finding that when people are telling me that they really like a certain song and they have it on their I-Pod, it is usually not the experimental stuff. That is not necessarily surprising me, but it has caused me to put more energy into creating solid songs that are performed well in a heartfelt way and in more conventional avenues.

MM: Like on “A Choir Of Spirited Distraction?”

CL: Exactly. It’s strange, because those were actually some of the first songs I ever wrote, and now I am coming back to them.

MM: Do you feel though that there is still a lot of experimental music going on with “A Choir...” but you have just built a more conventional strong structure around them?

CL: Yes. I am really interested in the idea of giving people something that makes them happy, while at the same time, giving them something new. That is something that makes me happy, so my approach to the experimental material, even when I am doing it more in a pop way, is to do it in layers - taking the universal structure of a song, then taking each element of them and deconstructing them, and then putting them back together, but with slightly different elements. Like changing what may have been a guitar part to a different instrument. Or turning the chorus into a more linear format than a block format. That way people feel that the music sounds familiar enough that they don’t feel alienated, but they want to hear it again because maybe they didn’t quite get it the first time around. 

MM: Do you also think that doing more traditional songwriting and performing in more traditional venues such as clubs, you can build a bigger fan base and have a greater chance of finding people among a larger fan base that will also get into your more experimental music?

CL: That is exactly what I am trying to do. The expectation that that would happen is based on the model of a band like Radiohead for example, who in their early years were writing more straight ahead rock songs. Then as their career progressed, they had enough of a fan base that they could afford to go into a more experimental and avant garde place, and take their fans with them. I don’t know whether that is possible for people who are not Radiohead, so the evolution of where I am coming from is I realize that the experimental music is just not going to be as popular as the more conventional songs. At this point, I just want to have bigger audiences which is very gratifying. I just want people to listen to this, and I want to get to the point of where I can simply have people enjoy the music and not think about it so much.

MM: You said previously that you were not very knowledgeable about PR and marketing. Are you building a team then that is going to help boost your career, and do you feel it is important for musicians to have a good team around them?

CL: I have an awesome arrangement with a PR company and I am really excited to see what kind of fruit that bears. Right now, they are just doing an internet campaign, because as most artists, I can’t afford more than that right now. But I have come to the realization that people don’t buy the album if they don’t know about it. I made the mistake of printing a thousand copies of the first CD, because I thought that just because the music was so good that people would buy it. I made the very common musicians' mistake of not planning to market the album, which is so strange to artists in general. So I have come to a much more business-minded realization that you have to hire the right people to get you in the right doors. The music by itself, no matter how good it is, is just not going to do the job.

MM: So has that helped you learn patience, too, because it is a long and gradual climb up the music ladder?

CL: Yes, it really is. Especially right now with the climate of changes in the music industry. My biggest journey right now is coming to the realization that music as a hobby is perfectly honorable. I have been making my living with music for the past seven years, but thinking about it as a profession takes you away from some of the things that are totally enjoyable of it. When I think of the bands that are out there touring and they still have day jobs back home, I used to think that was kind of sad and that everyone wanted to be a full time musician. Now I have realized that being able to make the music you want to make and not have to rely on it to make a living is pretty interesting and seems sort of luxurious to me at this moment.

MM: What sort of level of success would you like to see and what do you think it will take to get there?

CL: I would like the more experimental project to be able to break even, so that I know that I can print three or four hundred up, have all of them sell out, and make enough money so I can pay for my studio rental and the new instruments that I am buying. I don’t have a dream of being a huge star or anything. Maybe some sync deals on TV or film would be good. I am trying to get to the point where I don’t have to spend all my time touring; that is not the lifestyle I want. I don’t get into drugs or drinking or groupies, and I don’t want to live the rock star life. I toured with Second City and that experience really has lost some of the glamour for me. It would be great to have maybe five hundred or a thousand fans across the country who really appreciate the music, and whenever I release something, they will buy it; and be able to put on shows for the people who really enjoy it.

Division of Serge Entertainment Group