Who: A crew of country roots-rockers led by 27-year-old Cory Chisel, a Wisconsin-based singer-songwriter who croons like Nebraska-era Springsteen, dresses like a Deadwood extra and recorded his first EP in his family’s Minnesota cabin.
Sounds Like: Chisel’s Death Won’t Send a Letter is filled with woozy gospel organs and broadly strummed acoustic guitars, and a few famous faces — Brendan Benson co-wrote first single “Born Again,” and his Raconteurs bandmates Little Jack Lawrence and Patrick Keeler guest, along with My Morning Jacket’s Carl Broemel.
• Chisel grew up in a religious household where he was “sheltered from popular music.” An uncle who is a blues musician turned him on to Howlin’ Wolf and John Lee Hooker and Chisel eventually stumbled upon the Clash. “It’s not a hard jump from John Lee Hooker to Joe Strummer, actually, and from there, Bob Dylan was the next step,” he says. He traded in his hockey stick for a guitar in the summer of sixth grade and whipped up his first batch of songs.
• Hesitant to say he’d ever leave the Midwest, Chisel explains nature is a critical part of his artistic process. “If you’re in a superficial environment, I think the music tends to lean that way. Something about being in the woodsâ€¦ it’s a critic, the environment itself,” he says. He recorded Death in Los Angeles and Nashville, where he admits he was more at home. “In L.A., I found myself thinking in the studio, ‘Shit, traffic’s going to be awful,’ all these peripheral things you don’t want to be thinking about.”
• Church music and Johnny Cash were both big influences on young Chisel, who was drawn to the emotional expansiveness of gospel and the Man in Black. “There’s this really rich vernacular of gospel music that tells these tremendous stories of suffering and joy,” he says. “I grew up not knowing if Johnny Cash was a musician or one of my grandfathers or if he was an actorâ€¦ he kind of embodies everybody that I looked up to.”
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Get It Now: Death Won’t Send a Letter is out now on Black Seal. Check out Chisel’s exclusive acoustic performance of “Tennessee” with Adriel Harris above. Plus, check out his video for “Born Again.”