For Leisure McCorkle—the band, the man —life is about not standing still. The nomadic alt-rocker is a student of the journey. Each mile yields another lesson, story, or a meaningful moment with an old buddy or a new friend.
Leisure goes from city to city and country to country processing moments in motion like an intellectual, emotionally engaged troubadour. You could say he is something of an anthropologist, and you’d be right. Leisure is a cognitive and evolutionary anthropologist with his guitar and without it.
His latest travelogue—the album 5000 Light Years Beyond the Speed of Sound, to be the inaugural release on his own imprint, Nappystar Chocolates—is a landmark release. It features Leisure McCorkle’s classic lineup reunited on record for the first time in 17 years. It also showcases a new artistic vista for Leisure, finding him exploring a quality of mournful melodicism reminiscent of 1980s British new-wave/dark-wave within his signature rousing hook-laden alt-rock.
“My music is really about a journey of the ‘workingman’s musician.’ Each album is concerned with giving a different portrayal of living on the road and around the world as a musical artist, collecting the philosophical and emotive thoughts of human behavior,” he says phoning in from the road where he’s already racked up 8,000 miles. “I want the music to be about experience rather than commodity.”
Leisure’s aesthetic is instantly familiar, broadly resonate, and genre defying. He pens smartly written pop brimming with thoughtful lyric conventions like alliteration, unexpected turns of phrases, and fresh meter schemes. His work in this realm recalls the emotive, clever, and sophisticated songcraft of Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson. He also injects scruffy alt-rock, punk grit, and anthemic vulnerability into the mélange.
Lore has it that Leisure earned his moniker because the neighborhood kids sensed his free spiritedness. They were onto something. “I knew at 14, I wanted to drive around and play shows. I came from a punk rock DIY scene, and, over time, forged my own niche,” Leisure says. “At this point, I’m like a mid 20th century bluesman that gigs every day of the year.”
His endless itinerary has taken him through the wilds of punk rock, where he earned a cult following with pioneering pop-punk band Misguided Youth (pre Green Day), and through exploring the majesty of the groove with Funkenstein. However, he’s best known as the driving force behind Leisure McCorkle. The group’s classic lineup features bassist Big Mike Mitchell, bass (formerly of the Sire/Warner Brothers band Jolene), percussionist Gary Guthrie (Spirit System, Elevator Action), and Grainger Gilbert (Granger) on guitar. Since 1997, Leisure McCorkle, with various lineups, has released four critically acclaimed albums, earned prime sync licensing placements with MTV, and toured nationally and internationally. Select live performance highlights include dates with Cowboy Mouth, Glenn Tilbrook (Squeeze), The Rembrandts, Frank Black (The Pixies), The Lemonheads, The Connells, Edwin McCain, Mark Bryan (Hootie and the Blowfish), Southern Culture on the Skids, Blue Dogs, and Elliott Smith.
Somehow, along the way, Leisure has been awarded a Ph.D. in cognitive and evolutionary anthropology at the Institute of Cognition and Culture at Queen’s University, Belfast (Northern Ireland/UK) under the supervision of heavyweights E. Thomas Lawson and Harvey Whitehouse (Oxford), and amassed an impressive academic resume as a thought leader, writer, and professor. “Anthropology and music are a lot alike. You meet new people and reflect, and your songs are the results of your fieldwork,” opines Leisure.
Leisure McCorkle has always been a solo project with a band personality. When the owner of a popular Charlotte, North Carolina Freehouse popped the reunion question, the band members found that special founding-band chemistry was still there, and thus launched a creatively fertile new era for the band.
5000 Light Years Beyond the Speed of Sound, was produced by longtime bass player “Big” Mike Mitschele, and is the darkest entry in the Leisure McCorkle oeuvre. “The latest album has morphed this idea into a ‘time traveler’ similar to Dr. Who. The idea is to play with concepts of time and space while creating a musical space for meaning, experience, and raw emotions,’” he shares.
The 10-track album begins with an ambient sonic snippet that slowly comes into crisp clarity, yielding to the opening track, “Warehouse.” Atmospheric keys, yearning harmonies, and winsome hooks subtly adorn this acoustic pop-rock tune. Within it is a sweetly nostalgic peek into vet indie musician touring life.
Other album standouts include the Americana-tinged “Transmission” replete with lonesome pedal steel melodies, the burly power-pop of “Turn It Up,” and the wistful ballad “Ghost Angeles.” On “Transmission” Leisure metaphorically filters the deep human need for meaningful relationships through the sacred Buddhist text for the Lotus Sutra. “The message is that someone who cares about you will always be a lighthouse no matter where you are,” he reveals
“Turn It Up” is a raucous paean to Charlotte’s famous Milestone club, a CBGB’s like underground icon. It’s an anthem that boasts beefy riffs, sublime melodic guitar interplay, and that classic Pixies-esque soft verse/loud chorus dynamic of 1990s alt-rock. The dreamy “Ghost Angeles” is about the haunting reality that physical relocation can never really distance you from heartache or emotive connection.
Up next, Leisure will tour endlessly solo, and, for select dates, with the reunited classic lineup of the Leisure McCorkleband. Thinking about the miles, the stories, the lessons, and the music, Leisure says: “Well, I’ve slept in a lot of airports,” he laughs. “I’ve met thousands of people around the world. Some of them have become my best friends. That’s the catalyst for me—the relationships and the stories. The adventure is sort of like The Hobbit crossed with Dr. Who.”