An Interview with Corey Fonville

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It always seems like drummers are some of the hardest-working people in music. Corey Fonville is no exception. Corey is a full-time member of Christian Scott’s critically acclaimed group and a driving force behind eclectic Jazz Fusion band Butcher Brown. Even though I only spoke with Corey for about 30 minutes, it was easy to see he was kind, outgoing, down to earth, and passionate about his craft. His drumming and songwriting skills are equally as impressive as his temperament. Corey and I talk about his most recent albums, where he sees Butcher Brown’s music going in the future and Corey’s wide-ranging influences. Check out Corey and Butcher Brown here and here.

Joe:
What have you been up to the past year-plus considering the current state of the world?

Corey:
Just trying to stay busy. I’m here at home right now, recording in my studio. Honestly, getting to know myself musically. Just having the opportunity to sit down and record a ton of music. I feel like I’ve just never had the chance because I’m always traveling. Butcher Brown, of course. You know, we’re always working on new music and sounds. Typically, Butcher Brown gets up once or twice a month. We will record just to build our library. I have a lot going on musically in my head. I’ve been very grateful for this time. At least trying to make it something light. I don’t want to just be dark about it. I feel like I’ve learned so much about myself through writing. I haven’t done that before. You figure out how you hear music and your vision. It tells a lot about your story. I realized, “Wow!” What I’ve heard in my head and what I grew up on, it’s coming out in a lot of these songs. It’s the same with Butcher Brown. I always tell people that that music is a product of my childhood. Of all our childhoods. I have also been utilizing my time on other instruments besides the drums.

Joe:
What other instruments have you been playing?

Corey:
Bass, Electric. Fender Rhodes. Honestly, just using the DAW Logic and Omnisphere. Just using those sounds essentially.

Joe:
You and your band Butcher Brown are so eclectic; your style seemed to change or evolve with every project. Was that purposeful or just a natural progression? Or a combination of both?

Corey:
Probably just a natural progression, to be honest. I’m always inspired. Our interests, musically, change so much. What is remarkable is that everyone in the band is so open-minded. There are no reservations at all. It’s never, “I don’t know if this will work.” It’s always, “Let’s try it.” It’s never been an issue because everyone is so creative in their own way. I may start checking out some music like Zero 7. Or I might start listening to a lot of these ambient bands that I’m into. Some of my songs will start having that influence. I’ll bring that in, and cats would take it in. They add their own sauce to it and just kind of cook something up. I think, with a lot of the future stuff we’re going to be releasing, you’re going to hear a change. I think it’s just maturity. We are just maturing and living life. And that’s coming out; it’s like anything else. Although, It’s always going to have certain key elements in my mind. Soulfulness and groove. That’s a big part of our esthetic.

Joe:
I know this past year you put out #KingButch with your band Butcher Brown. Can you tell us a little about that album?

Corey:
#KingButch came out September 18, 2020. We released a pandemic album. Who would have thought? This album was unique because many of these songs were stuff that we had played on tour for 3 years. We were on the road opening for various acts like Kamasi Washington, Lettuce, Galactic. It was an opportunity for us to workshop that music by testing it live. By the time we were able to get in the studio and record this album, we were ready. We had done, believe it or not, a few other recording sessions of those songs. We had thought that was going to be the album. Then we decided that wasn’t quite it yet. Scratch them, do them again. Then finally, #KingButch. It took some time. We wanted to make sure that it was representative of the period we were in as a band.

Anyway, #KingButch came out on Concord Records through Concord Jazz. What was also special about it is that we had Chris Dunn. I’ve personally known him for a while. He produced some of Christian Scott’s albums. Chris and I have been good friends since then. He kept an eye on the band. Chris was just extremely excited about working with us. He has been a fan since way back. Since I passed him a random Butcher Brown EP, he came to Richmond. He came to Jellowstone. We were in the studio for ten days. It was really cool because it was our first time having a 6th ear in the studio. An outside ear. A Different perspective, but still in the same family. In his mind, he thought it a little different. He also used to be a DJ. Chris would bring up other ideas to consider. He was never pushy. It was cool because we got to be ourselves the entire time. Nothing changed. They said, “We want you for you” and we got that. It was nice having Chris there. He just watched us working. He would offer his comments, but it was pretty much just us in there, workshopping. Just getting creative. Recording #KingButch was a ton of fun. I’ll say that’s my favorite Butcher record so far.

Joe:
You mentioned Christian Scott earlier. I know you are also a member of his band. You guys came out with a new album this past year called Axiom. What can you tell us about that?

Corey:
Yes, we did. It came out a couple of weeks before #KingButch. It’s kind of a blur at this point. That record was recorded a year ago, right about this time. A year ago, at the Blue Note. Right when the world had gone dark. We were in New York City during this period for five nights at the Blue Note. Of course, every night was going to be sold out. It was like, half full, the first night. Later on, there were a lot of cancelations. Most of the shows had maybe ten people there; nevertheless, that was a tremendous five-day run. That was the last time I saw those guys. My last time seeing Christian. I haven’t seen him since March. We talk all the time. That’s my brother. I think that was a dope album because it was in the moment. I mean, it’s live. I feel like you have to see that band live to really get it. In order to understand what he’s doing and where he’s trying to take it. I think it was perfect because he hasn’t dropped a live album in twelve years. Not since he did Live at Newport.

We had a good time. I mean, that band, it’s high energy. An hour and 45 minutes per set. We did two sets per night, and it was hard. I love that band. It’s a trip because there are so many different personalities in that group. But it works really well. Having Weedie there with me, playing djembe and congas, was something so new to me. I wasn’t accustomed to sharing that role with another drummer. I look at percussionists like their drummers too. He and I have always just had a great interplay. Just being able to have a conversation and still be listening to what’s happening. Having that element documented is important. Christian is a visionary. I mean, he’s one person that in my mind…and people may get offended by this, but he’s kind of took what Miles Davis had and ran with it. I think Miles Davis would have loved Christian. Just for everything, he stands for. He’s gets the business, man. I’m 30 now. I started playing with him when I was 22, 8 years ago. And I’ve known Christian longer. He just understands it. He always had that element. I remember when I first met him in 2007, at the Grammys. I was there as part of this high school program called the Grammy Band. I just remember the way he rolled back then. It wasn’t like your typical Jazz musician. It felt like he was a rapper. Like some guy in Pop. I always admired that about him. He carried himself a certain way, and he presented his art. He always spoke his mind. Love Christian, that’s my brother.

Joe:
You had said you have been taking this time to work on a lot of new music. Are there any official projects that you can tell me about?

Corey:
Butcher is always working on music. We have two EPs coming out this year. We’re going to start dropping music in June. We will also be dropping some other stuff. Another EP, I think, maybe later in summer. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but we are dropping some B-sides of #KingButch. Stuff that didn’t make the album. I can’t wait for you all to hear it. The other EP, we’re going to keep that silent because I want it to be somewhat of a surprise. An album will be coming shortly after that. We have so much material, man. We were also just trying to get more involved in doing TV. We did the NFL Monday Night Football theme song. We just want to expand. We want to do movies, video games, and TV. I mean, all of this stuff. We’re just trying to do it all.

Joe:
What are your musical origins? How’d you get started making the music you make now and playing the drums?

Corey:
My parents aren’t musicians, but they loved music. My mom was into R&B. I grew up on R&B. My dad was into Funk and R&B, like Earth, Wind a& Fire. Also, my dad got turned onto Jazz Fusion in the late 80s. A relative of ours started showing him some of this Fusion stuff. He was not hip to it at all. I mean, he was familiar with, like Herbie just from “Rockit.” He may have heard “Chameleon” as a kid. I think my uncle had some fusion stuff like Chick Corea Elektric Band. They were the shit at that time. He was hearing stuff like that for the first time. I think he was playing him some Yellowjackets and stuff like that too. He just got put on, man.

By the time I was born in the 90s, he was listening to Fusion all the time. I have been listening since I was a kid. If it wasn’t Fusion, it was stuff like the Brand New Heavies or Jamiroquai. A lot of those UK Funk and Acid Jazz bands. My dad even had The Time cassette tape with “777- 9311.” Earth, Wind & Fire, which is probably his favorite band of all time, and one of mine too. I heard that kind of stuff as well. I mean, I started playing drums at two years old. That’s the stuff that I was like trying to play along to. I used to listen to Sade as a kid. My mom loved Sade. So, a lot of different influences. I mean, I remember when Hootie and the Blowfish came out, my dad bought the CD. He bought it because it was a hit. There was a band called Blues Traveler that I remember my dad checking out. Dave Matthews Band. There was so much different music that I just heard in the house. I remember hearing A Tribe Called Quest as a little kid and just being like, “Oh, what is this?” From a young age, I played along with all types of stuff. I was a sponge.

As I got a little older, I was blessed to have a person move into the area named Dave Adams. He wanted to put together a group with kids. He was just really into that. He worked with kids, in education, for a long time. Teaching them about Bebop. Dave Adams was the one that kind of changed my life in a sense. At the time, I also had a drum teacher named Larry Emanuel. He was just super open-minded. He always played so much different music for me. I would just sit there and play along to it. I’d like to think that I was a natural, as they used to say. I just picked it up fast. I just had a skill. I enjoyed it. I was also still a regular kid. I played sports. I did all of that stuff as well. It was a healthy balance for me my entire life. Especially when I was young. Once I got to high school, I started auditioning for available special programs. The Grammy Band was one that I did quite a few times. It was cool. It was an opportunity to meet people playing at a high level as kids. Because I grew up in Virginia Beach…it’s not a large scene there. It wasn’t a place for music like that. I had to get out and get it from elsewhere. When I was younger, I thought I had to leave Virginia to find it. What is funny is that I ended up starting Butcher Brown, and everybody is from Virginia. I went out there and had to learn. I mean, I went to New York. I went to the New School for a year. I bounced around a couple of different music schools. I did my thing, met some cool people in New York.

After that, I did the Brubeck Institute out in Stockton, California. That was dope. That’s how I got connected with Nicholas Payton and Chad Lefkowitz-Brown. I worked with their group. All incredible musicians. That was a great experience because it taught me how to work with a band. And this is going to sound corny, but teamwork. How to work together and establish a healthy relationship through music. I tried Berkley out for like two months. Then I came back home to Virginia. I just always maintained a friendship with D.J. Harrison. I always wanted to play with him in some way. While I was back home, this is like early 2011; I started going up to Richmond. Just getting up with these cats. All the cats that are now with Butcher Brown. Playing music and recording all the time. No plan. No pressure at all. We would just get up and play. Within that whole period, I get the call from Christian Scott, and I was also already playing with Nicholas Payton. I realized that I could get calls while living in Virginia Beach. That was kind of a head-scratcher. I realized that I didn’t need to live in New York. I didn’t personally like New York like that. It’s just not my speed. I understood quickly that everyone’s situation is different. I can personally say that for me, it worked out. I didn’t have to move to a big city like New York. I’m fortunate to have a situation where I met some homies at home. To have this kind of situation, it’s not something I take for granted. So that’s kind of the short version of my background.

Image Credit: Steven K. Pope

Joe:
Part of the uniqueness of the drums, I think, as an instrument is that there are so many ways to modify your set and get different sounds. Do you have a standard setup that you use? Has it evolved over the years, or do you have a different set based on the group you are playing with?

Corey:
I have a pretty standard setup that I use across the board. I’m simple when it comes to that stuff. I’m all about the necessities. Ride, a crash/ride situation, two snares, a rack tom, and a floor tom. When you are touring, you are out on the road for two weeks, and you’re playing every night. I will get bored with my setup, and I start experimenting slightly. Just to take some artistic liberties. My switch-ups will typically happen in those moments. While I’m at home, I don’t change my setup. I might change sounds, though, maybe switch out a snare drum. It depends on the vibe I’m trying to get. I think it’s all about being comfortable when you sit down behind the drums. If Butcher Brown has a serious tour situation, my dream is to have two separate drum sets. Each one for a particular sound. Be able to go back and forth. Have the drums all around me. I just do what’s comfortable. Every day I’m just trying for something new.

Joe:
Do you collect and listen to any physical music media? Or do you mostly listen digitally now?

Corey:
I collect vinyl. I love going to the record store. I do have a good-sized vinyl collection. I also use streaming platforms. I have Spotify. I still, as we should, believe in getting the physical. There’s something about going to the record store. That smell and just looking around. Having that physical copy, the sound is different. I’m just a true believer in it. You’re supporting the industry as well. It’s like a home-cooked meal in a sense.

Joe:
Are there any albums that are particularly important to you?

Corey:
Oh, man, it’s tough. I certainly have a few essential bands. Earth, Wind & Fire, are probably number one. Kind Of Blue, Miles Davis. Of course. The sound of the record is so warm. That is kind of like everyone’s introduction to Jazz. Pat Metheny, The America Garage. That was a dope record. Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle, that’s certainly one. Outkast has to be in there. They are one of my favorites. I’d have to pick Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. It’s so tough. It may change tomorrow, but that’s what comes to mind. I just love good music across the board.

Joe: What advice would you have for young musicians today aspiring to have a career in music?

Corey:
That’s a good question considering I’m not that far removed. Right when I walked in, the bottom fell out of the industry. The recession was when I came in. It was tough. Just have a plan. I don’t want to dis music school, but the curriculum is outdated. Don’t be afraid to ask those questions. If you know someone in the industry, don’t be scared to reach out. No book is going to teach you that. Honestly, start a band or just start making music. Record and just put out music. Just put your music out there. Don’t be discouraged or worry about what people will think. Just do it. I know that sounds cliché. There are still gig opportunities, especially if you want to be a sideman. A working musician. Just know, it’s about the relationships, as they say. It is like any other business in that respect. I think we also have to clear up that it’s not about how good you are. That is something that I have tried to reiterate; it isn’t and has never been. And that’s a whole other conversation.

Yes, you want to be proficient on your instrument. You want to be able to play, but you must create a brand for yourself. Think about yourself as a business. You cannot just be really dope on your instrument and not have your other skills together. You must be mindful of so many different things. It’s not easy. This costs money. It’s a real thing. You’re your own individual sole proprietor. It’s work. You have to make sure you deal with the right people. It’s important to trust the process. Make the right friends. Make connections out there and be smart. Save your money. That’s one thing that people don’t talk about. It’s complicated, man. I didn’t care about school. I wasn’t interested in any of that. I don’t get it. It’s expensive. Why are we in school? I mean, you can learn so much on YouTube or just by asking questions.

If you had the money to do it, cool. However, many other kids are never going to be able to pay their debts off. I wonder, is it really worth it? Do your homework. Listen to as many records as you can. Study. Just listen and learn. Be honest with yourself. Stay true to yourself. Don’t be concerned with what, you know, the flavor of the month is. Make sure you focus on yourself and stay authentic. That’s my advice.

Interested in learning more about the artistry of Cory Fonville? Check out the link below:

Dig this interview? Check out the full archives of Records, Roots & Ramblings, by Joe O’Brien, here: https://vinylwritermusic.com/records-roots-ramblings-archives/

About Post Author

Joe O'Brien

Joe has always been a huge music fan. Growing up on Long Island, NY, USA, Joe did chores and dumpster dove for bottles with his best friend Andrew to trade bottles for money to buy vinyl. Joe is a Registered Nurse in the ER by day, and a life-long music lover by night. Having been an avid consumer of all things music since he was a child, Joe’s diverse collection of over 3,000 vinyl albums, plus several hundred tapes and CDs, tells the story of a man who simply loves music. Joe’s goal is to write about what he is most passionate about and share new and exciting music. Joe lives on Long Island, NY with his beloved dog Scarlett.
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