Q&A: Corey Kilgannon Acts as a Mouthpiece for Disillusioned 20-Somethings in ‘The Hollow II’

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Singer/songwriter Corey Kilgannon is a descendent of artists like Noah Gunderson and Penny & Sparrow. With his most recent release, The Hollow II, Kilgannon reveals himself as a brave and lovable cynic. He leaves each listener challenged and, at once, understood, acting as the mouthpiece for a generation of disillusioned 20-somethings.

Fully embracing of humanistic inquiry, Kilgannon begs some of the most pressing, universal questions in his work: Why are we here? Who are we? What are we capable of? Kilgannon manages to avoid the cheap, trite answers which would make his music seem reaching and (no pun intended) hollow.

Accepting that he does not know the right answers, Kilgannon’s work is refreshingly humble. The Hollow II is best described as a series of small epiphanies, with every enlightenment leading him toward even more unanswerable questions. What also makes his work so inspiring is that he leads us on his journey toward maturity while avoiding pretension. Kilgannon simply invites us along, acting almost as a selfless spiritual leader, a guru to the lost. His work allows even the most callous of listeners a gateway to empathy.

One of his hallmarks as an artist is his ability to accurately transfer the emotion of his recorded works to a live setting. None of the impact is lost in the translation. With a new tour commencing in late March, Ones to Watch sat down with Kilgannon to talk about his upcoming tour, his side project, his sister and more.

OTW: What are you most looking forward to on your upcoming tour? 

CK: This next tour is going to be a real treat! I’m ecstatic to return to Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas as I’ve had some really fun crowds in that part of the country over the years. It’s also really special to have Oh Jeremiah out as the opener, my music is just getting to the place where I can offer friends opening spots on tours and such which is really special. I have to admit, I’m probably most excited/nervous to be opening a few shows for John Paul White in Alabama and Florida. I saw him play in the Civil Wars years ago and still remember their “Live at Eddies Attic EP” to be an enormous influence on my early years of writing songs. It’ll be a dream come true.

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OTW: What was the intent behind your new side project, Radiant Phaedrus?

CK: I really just needed another outlet. We had been working on The Hollow II for several months with no end in sight, and I ended up having to move home to Florida for a whole slew of interpersonal and financial reasons. While there, I had a lot of beautifully healing experiences through meditation, yoga, and the light use of marijuana/psychedelics that really opened up a fresh spring of creativity for me.  I knew I didn’t want to hard turn the record we were making, and felt deeply like there was some other voice I had tapped into, so I started up a side project. I do those records back at home, and as the music under my given name has grown in popularity, I love having this other project I can keep as fun as possible.  I recorded opera vocals in the back of my van, layered a voice memo of me arguing with a bar door guy under a song, and wrote possibly the most tongue in cheek bitter Christmas break up song out there. I’m having a blast with RP, and will likely do a more full band record with the project in 2018.

OTW: I think some of the most impactful lyrics in your last project, The Hollow II, are “Love is getting your hands dirty/ Love is bleeding all over each other / Love is sharing the same burdens” What was the inspiration behind those lyrics? What do those lyrics mean to you?

CK: These lyrics are actually the bridge from my song “23 Years” off the first EP, The Hollow, so including them in the bridge of “Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid” is actually supposed to call to mind some of the ideas from that first EP.  I actually remember jotting those lyrics in the back of my notebook years ago while daydreaming in a Biology class while still a student. I’ve always been pretty contemplative, sometimes just writing down thoughts in my head without much rhyme or reason. Those are the types of words that the more I’ve thought about them, the more poignant they have become.  It was written in the wake of my parents’ separation, and to me it just reflects on the dualistic nature of loving another human being. I wrote the instrumental opening of The Hollow II the day their divorce finalized, so including those lyrics over it was a reminder to myself and to any listener that in the depth of the pain we cause each other, we can be silent and still love. Perhaps I wished I had never really written such an accusatory song as “23 Years” and included it as reparation; I still have a lot of processing to do about how I feel on this record, that truthfully I’ve been pushing off. It’s very heavy stuff.

OTW: Your music is known for his honesty and intimacy, what subjects are most inspiring to your work?

CK: I’m inspired by everything! My early work is certainly riddled with commentary on grief, love gone wrong, and personal melodrama.  I went through what was I guess 3-4 years of stacked tragedies, and lyric writing was my survival mechanism. I’m doing much better these days, and I’ve written songs about anything from 1920s era Florida crime families to my beloved Mexican restaurant down the street from my house in Jacksonville Beach, FL. I’m also predictably a romantic, so I write a lot of songs about me trying to figure out my own relationships with girls I’ve dated, an admittedly unstable journey.  The best writing advice I ever got was simply, “Pay attention."  I try to really notice how I and others feel, and to see the simple beauty in everything. Definitely expect the next work to be more varied in subject, but to retain an openness to the depths of the weirdness in my noggin. We are all going through the same stuff, and I experience a lot of freedom by daring to share some thoughts I’d perhaps prefer to keep hidden. This, by the way, is another reason for Radiant Phaedrus.  I’m excited to share some ideas within the protection of it not being so directly tied to my name.

OTW: What has been the most rewarding part of being a full-time musician and songwriter? Obversely, what has been the hardest part?

CK: I quit school five years ago to drive around the country playing house shows with my friends, the richness of experiences in my travels is deeply rewarding. I’ve gotten to see most of our country and a few others, pay my bills, make sincere friends, and open for a whole plethora of my heroes, all thanks to a few acoustic guitar tunes that seemingly come to my brain out of nowhere. To be honest, though, when those experiences fade from memory, I think the songs themselves are enough reward for me. I am obsessed with songs and structures, and very thankful for a small niche of people that track with anything I have to say. At least a few times a week I get a fairly lengthy email detailing how something I wrote stuck with and impacted a person. I have these songs in my life, these cornerstones of word and music that I can run to when I need an escape. What could ever be more fulfilling than somehow providing that space for someone else?  It is so beautiful.  

There have certainly been hardships along the way.  I’ve played to many a noisy-crowd, slept with a pizza box for a pillow, and worked a few pretty tough odd jobs to keep the wheels on the dream spinning. The hardest part is definitely without proper label help, knowing what to do next. I’ve felt a lot of freedom to make EPs and do house shows and build this thing up from the ground, but with that freedom comes the occasional terrifying notion that nothing I’m really doing will amount to much. Thankful for friends and family that keep me on track!

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OTW: What is the story behind this series of songs all titled “Sister?” Does this reference your own sister and frequent collaborator, Shayla Kilgannon? 

CK: The sister songs are released every year on September 29, the birthday of my frequent collaborator/best friend/angelic sister, Shayla.  I can remember when I first started writing songs having Shayla come into my room to show her. She’s always been a huge inspiration to me, and my first year of college she jokingly said I could write her a song so I wouldn’t have to buy a present. The next year I was feeling more sentimental and wrote her another tune, and it’s just kept coming since then.  Every year I think to myself that I’ll be done with it, but over the summers we usually get to spend a lot of time together, and I keep feeling inspired to catalogue our relationship.  It’s really special to me, and since you asked, you should be on the lookout late 2018 for her to release some of her own music!

OTW: You seem to be on the road quite a lot, are you able to write while you are on tour, or do you mostly focus on the performances? 

CK: I think I do my best writing at home simply because I can turn it into a routine which allows me to see more clearly into where a song should go. Lately, I’ve been trying to learn to use my iPhone as a tool for creativity instead of social crutch, which has increased my writing on the road a lot. I just journal and write down experiences on the go, and then later when I have a moment I can hash out some chords and melodies. There is a process, but it is fairly chaotic these days.  I just let the songs come when they come, and work on the ones I’ve already got.  Writing is certainly not the first thing on my mind while touring though, I do try to be as present as possible and enjoy the trips/people.

OTW: Besides your upcoming tour, what can we look forward to from you?

CK: Lots more music coming up soon! I am finishing up a B-Sides/acoustic record that should come out this summer.  Its a lot of simpler version of the last record and a few extra tunes I had lying around. I wrote short essays with most of them, so be looking for extra goodies and stories about the tunes. Beyond that, I’ve got a ton of material I plan to spend the summer sifting through, gearing up for several more releases in the next year or so if things stay on track.  It’s a short life and I’ve got a lot more to sing about!

OTW: Who are your Ones to Watch?

CK: Love this question, I spend a ton of time listening to my friends’ music. Check out Mr. Manager’s last release Rose, Nemo Bathers has an EP coming out which I helped with, that will be spectacular, and absolutely add Matthew Wright’s Everybody is Doing Better Than Me EP to your heavy rotation. This isn’t musical, but the last art to really blow my mind was a collection of poems by Seth Kennedy called "Home-Cures for Hangovers.”

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