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August 31st, 2023

Q+A with Early Bird Finalist Corey Laitman (Cloudbelly)

NewSong Music is now accepting original song entries for its 22nd annual Performance and Songwriting Competition, presented by Citizen Vinyl. The program’s curated showcases have been a fixture in the national music scene since 2001. The competition finals will be held at Citizen Vinyl, in Asheville, N.C., on Saturday, November 18.

While the deadline for submissions has been extended to Sunday, September 10, NewSong has already announced two of this year’s finalists. The first, Jimmie Griffith of MaisCeu, earned his place when he won the LEAF/NewSong Singer-Songwriter Competition in May. Last week Corey Laitman of Cloudbelly was named this year’s Early Bird Finalist.

Corey shared some thoughts with NewSong Music on songwriting, mutual friends, and their summer adventures.

NewSong Music: What song(s) did you submit to the NewSong contest and why?

Corey Laitman: I submitted four songs — “Garbage,” “Phantom Lung,” “Poppa,” and “Psychopomp.”  My band and I were in the process of recording an album, and three of these songs didn’t make the cut.  
Toward the beginning of the album process, I was working with a friend who was interested in hearing my back-catalogue of songs I’d written and decided to shelve. We dug through my endless voice memos and re-discovered these four tunes. They’re all super vulnerable songs — and while I don’t remember exactly what happened, I feel sure the first folks I played them for gave a lukewarm reception. And that was enough for me to say, okay, maybe now is not their moment — or, more brutally, maybe they’re not strong enough to warrant a moment.
So we found these songs and my friend went crazy over them, he was totally aghast that I’d left them behind to rot. It was exactly the reception they needed to come alive to me again. Oh yeah, these are actually pretty good! It’s so powerful, how positive mirroring can make or break a piece of art’s life in the world. That’s always been the case for me, at least.
At that same friend’s behest, I made acoustic recordings of all four tracks with my buddy and bandmate, Reed Sutherland, and proceeded to submit the lot of them to a handful of song contests.  
It was a pretty moving experience for me, falling back in love with these previously picked-over tunes. And it’s been ULTRA gratifying to have the folks at NewSong and New Folk fall in love with them as well — it’s all been a great reminder that my job as a songwriter is really to just show up for the music and do the work, not judge the work.
Here’s some info on each song:
“Garbage” is a song written from the perspective of a couch rotting on the roadside. It felt super sad and beautiful to try and inhabit the “mind” of something so exposed and discarded.
“Phantom Lung” is about how, in the aftermath of a destructive relationship, it’s easy to feel like you’re dangerous, somehow — like all you do, in spite of your best efforts, is hurt the people you love. 
“Poppa” is about my Mom’s dad, who I call Poppa. He was my favorite adult growing up — I’m his first grandchild, and we had this special connection built around nature and music. He’s well into his 90s now, and when his wife (my Nana) fell and hurt herself at their house in LI, it was clear they had to move to somewhere nearer to my parents. Their home now is on the 17th floor of an apartment building in White Plains, N.Y. My Nana is deep in her dementia, and most of what my Poppa does is watch TV and help their aids care for her. I wrote this song from an honest place of grappling with the tension between the sweetness of remembering, the brutality of aging, and the strange grief abiding at their intersection.
“Psychopomp” is a meditation on a person in my life whom I love deeply and no longer speak with.
Cloudbelly is a quartet — who will be performing with you at the NewSong Music Performance & Songwriting competition?
Yes! I’ll be joined by electric guitarist Sam Perry.  

What sort of music was playing in your house when you were growing up?
Ah, so much good stuff. My parents listened to The Beatles, Elton John, Billy Joel, Electric Light Orchestra, The Moody Blues, America, Tracy Chapman, Carole King, Pink Floyd, Cat Stevens, Simon and Garfunkel… we had a ton of fun jams in rotation at my house growing up. And occasionally some Beethoven.  
Share a musical adventure from this summer with us — could be a show you played, a tour you took, a recording you made, a concert you attended, etc. Tell us about an experience that really stood out for you.
A few weeks ago I traveled from where I live in Western MA to Rockport ME in a blinding downpour, the sort that’s come to define this summer in the northeast. What should have been a 4 1/2 hour drive turned into 7 hours on the road, replete with hydroplaning and spooky visibility issues. My friends and I missed the 1:30 ferry to Vinelhaven — the island off the coast of ME where the venue, Skäl is — which meant we’d have to catch the next one at 2:30, landing us at Skäl after our scheduled soundcheck and perilously close to performance time.  We were a wee bit stressed, but the ferry ride was lovely (the weather had cleared by then), and when we disembarked there was someone from the venue waiting there to pick us up and haul us over. When we arrived wearily at the venue, our host showed us to our bedrooms, where we immediately brightened at the sight of the clean and cozy space. The next few hours involved a hurried soundcheck, a gorgeous meal their chef-in-residence cooked for us, and the happy discovery that the *entire second floor* of the venue set up with big couches and a full kitchen was, in fact, our green room.  
The show itself was honestly middle-of-the-road — I was playing by my lonesome and the bar crowd was feeling rowdy — but my spirits could not be dampened, for I have rarely felt so gorgeously taken care of by a venue. At the end of the show, the proprietor handed both my friend and I healthy checks, and we spent the remaining hours before bed carousing with the crowd of lingering Vinalhaven natives and visitors. The next morning we woke to some venue-provided coffee and explored the island for a few easy hours before catching a ferry back to the mainland. It was a totally invigorating hoot of a trip, and it would not have felt that way if we’d arrived all road-bedraggled and ferry-wind-whipped at a place that wasn’t quite so generous and hospitable as Skäl.   
I noticed on your Instagram that you know past NewSong Music winners Jobi Riccio and Sadie Gustafson-Zook. What’s the connection?
Ah yeah, I love those guys.  
Sadie and I met at Club Passim in Boston many years ago — we got to know each other a bit more at NERFA in 2018, and then during the lockdown she and her partner and the time and me and my partner at the time did a lot of zoom hanging-out. Hah! She’s fantastic. I’m obsessed with her record, Sin of Certainty.  
I’m pretty sure the Jobi connection is also through Passim, but I can’t locate the first meeting place in my memory… The first time we really hung out, though, was when she was opening a few dates for Mark Erelli — They played the Parlor Room in Northampton, and she stayed at my place in Great Falls. We got breakfast the next morning and drove her to the train station for the next leg of the Erelli tour in NYC.