Zachary and Denny Corsa explore the dark underbelly of Memphis through noise
In addition to a career in music journalism that’s seen his byline at such established sites as popmatters, decoder, a closer listen, the silent ballet, beats per minute and this here publication, Zachary Corsa also makes music.
His project, Nonconnah, exists in a rare air of those who’ve mastered the art of crafting a wall of shattered sonic bliss. And when you dig into the group’s new album Dead Roses, Digged Up Zombies, Broken Pieces of Diamonds, Live Cats, it’s easily to get lifted by feedback-soaked hosannas of lengthy jams that lift you off your feed like Spacemen 3 and The Psychic Paramount used to do.
For fans of experimental, noise and drone music, Nonconnah offers something rarely heard in those scenes–a sense of soul. It was a pleasure to speak with Zachary for this exclusive interview about the travails of a working guitar skronk band on the East Coast of North America.
What inspired the name Nonconnah?
Nonconnah is a creek to the south of Memphis. When we moved here from North Carolina, I wanted to make a point of changing our project name (from Lost Trail) to something regionally symbolic, and I loved the way it sounded. It was the necessary slate-clearing we needed for a fresh start. Nonconnah is Chickasaw for ‘long stream’. Naming your band after a stream might conjure ideas of rustic rural beauty, but the Nonconnah is actually a very heavily-polluted, swampy waterway located in one of the densest suburban sprawl neighborhoods of the area. It doesn’t exactly have the happiest history, either – fatal bridge collapses, murders, toxic dumping. So I guess in that way I like that it subverts expectations. It’s a little corroded and mysterious, like us. There’s more going on than one would assume.
What came first for you, music writing or songwriting? Also how do the two inform one another?
I began learning guitar at seven, and I think I must’ve written my first song around nine or ten. There’s hundreds of songs with lyrics I’ve written that I’ve never recorded and people will never hear. I’m not a fan of my singing voice, and over time I just found myself gravitating towards creating more sonically-focused, experimental music. It was a progression from indie bands to post-rock to shoegaze to ambient/drone, and there’s still all those elements in there. On the rare occasion I sing something on a Nonconnah track, you can’t tell it’s necessarily me or even necessarily vocals. Voice is just another instrument, as cliche as that’s become to say. I started making experimental sound collages on a four-track Fostex when I was maybe thirteen or fourteen, and my obsession with recording and the possibilities of sound has evolved from there. That being said, most of our work is improvised or sprung from very simple acoustic demos – I’m mostly self-taught and I can’t read sheet music. I just pick things up by listening repeatedly.
What’s it like trying to build up a listenership for a young band in 2019?
Thanks for calling us a young band! Even though we changed names partway, Denny and I have been doing this since 2009, and we’re both in our mid-thirties now, so I think the bigger challenge actually is being an ‘older’ band (for the music scene, anyway) and trying to make an impact, stir new interest. I think with this kind of niche music, we really depend on press from blogs and zines plus word of mouth. We don’t tour as much as most bands, largely because Denny still has a full-time day job, but it’s not really a matter of ‘tour or die’ anymore like the 80s and 90s. Playing live is very much secondary to me behind recording, but we do still play out because fans like to see us, and it gives us a chance to connect with far-flung friends. I’m hoping we’ll be able to start working more in scoring for film and television soon, and that’s probably my biggest remaining music dream.
As far as college radio goes, unfortunately it doesn’t seem to be much of a factor anymore. I DJ’d at the Duke University station (88.7 WXDU) when we lived in North Carolina, and even then it was tapering off, a constant struggle for listeners and volunteers. Freeform stations like WFMU play us occasionally, which is nice because they have an audience for the kind of work we do. There’s also a station, oddly enough, in Guelph, Ontario that’s always been very supportive of us.
Was there any particular album or production style in mind when creating yr sound?
I guess if you consider the influences that shaped what became Lost Trail and Nonconnah, definitely. Siamese Dream was a huge one to me as a kid, especially for the fuzz sound. Astrobrite and My Bloody Valentine for much of the same, the melodic noise aspect. The second M83 album was a favorite. Also, I was very into 60s surf instrumentals as a kid and still am, and that presages the kind of eerie atmosphere of a lot of our work. If I had to pick a sigle album that was most influential for me personally, that really changed my life and conception of music when I first heard it, it’d be Blur’s 13. The production on that album, the layer of sound, the beauty in the head-rushing cacophonous noise…that’s my idea of a perfect headphone album. Graham Coxon’s been one of my very favorite guitarists since, and that was the album that really got me thinking about how fun experimental recording could become. It was this sense of throwing everything together to make a beautiful madness. It wasn’t long before I was recording the sound of drums being thrown down stairs and burying tape recorders and recording them from above the ground. Sound is an infinitely vast canvas.
As a double agent of rock n roll, how can music journalism better service bands at a local or regional level in 2019?
Locally, I’d encourage writers to cover even the most far-out, weird bands in your scene. You might dismiss them, thinking there’s no audience for their style, but there is. Even people who’ve never heard experimental music before, they hear it and it instinctually intrigues them. Bands often live and die by press, including local press. If you don’t have a supportive local scene, including the local alternative paper or radio or whatever, then it might not translate when you’re out on the road. People look to see if your city cares about what you’re doing. It’s a ripple effect. A scene is still important for that sense of community and kinship. You starve creatively without that. The best thing about Memphis is, even across genre divides and everything else, we all build each other up and push each other to be better.
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