Artist Spotlight: Cornelia Murr

    Though born in London and now based in Los Angeles, singer-songwriter Cornelia Murr spent time living in various locations around the United States growing up. On her debut album, 2018’s Lake Tear of the Clouds, she drew inspiration from the landscapes she experienced in upstate New York, mirroring the cyclical journey of water as it moves down from the Adirondack Mountains.  She produced the record with My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James, relying on her evocative vocals, mellotron, Omnichord, pocket piano, guitars, and percussion to create a spectral, meditative soundworld. After releasing the standalone single ‘Hang Yr Hat’ in 2021, Murr has returned with Corridor, a six-track EP out today via Full Time Hobby. Though the process of making it was marked by solitude and uncertainty, the collection is enchanting as much for its delicately intimate portrait of past and fragile relationships as it is for the sonic pathways Murr traverses to explore them. It’s a plea for change as well as an opportunity to refocus, learning how to carry every place you’ve been along with the simple knowledge that growth happens naturally, without fail.

    We caught up with Cornelia Murr for this edition of our Artist Spotlight interview series to talk about her songwriting journey, the making of her Corridor EP, and more.

    It’s been four years since the release of your debut album. How do you look back on what it meant for you as a songwriter?

    The more time goes by, I just feel so grateful for the way that came together. I’ve definitely learned since making it how hard that is, to get such great people in a room, to get the space. That record was a product of some really good luck and some really good people around me and some amazing timing, and it just was one of those magical moments where things gelled. And I knew it at the time, I knew that we were doing something special, but it’s more clear to me with time that it doesn’t happen all the time like that. The producer, Jim James, was so good for that project, and I’ve encountered some great collaborators since, but that was an especially good kind of crew. I feel like that record has a sound that developed organically in the days we were making it that was a pretty cohesive, somewhat unique sound, or I’d like to think so. And I just can’t wait to make another one and see what that world sounds like.

    What was your relationship with songwriting before that record came out?

    I’ve had a long relationship with songwriting. I felt a pretty natural inclination towards it since I was really young, I was writing little melodies with words when I was like 6 or 7 years old, just singing to myself all the time. When I was in high school, I did meet sort of a mentor, this woman who was teaching a songwriting workshop at this school that I was going to when I was like 14. We became really close, and we recorded some of my songs as demos. But it took me a while as an adult to feel like I could show people what I was doing. I guess that was in my early 20s, I started opening up to friends a little bit. I made that record when I was 27, so throughout my 20s, I was writing stuff, beginning to share it, but not publicly for the most part, just with friends. But I was also starting to play with other people, mostly as a backup singer, singing harmonies and playing little things like synths and stuff. It was a slow process of getting more comfortable performing; I didn’t actually perform as a solo artist much at all. So it was a huge shift – I didn’t even play under the name Cornelia Murr. I didn’t really know what my music name was going to be, and that just sort of came together because I had to choose a name to print the vinyl.

    Did you find yourself having a new level of confidence after making Lake Tear of the Clouds? How did it affect your headspace creatively?

    I think around the release of the record and beyond, it still kind of blows me away that anyone responds to my music. I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to that, probably because it was such a private thing for a really long time. It’s hard to believe that it’s out there and people are listening to it. And of course, it gave me some confidence in some ways. But I think it also has made me more critical. Doing music in your private life and then sharing it and it becoming your professional life, that’s certainly a wild shift, because it’s the most intimate thing to me. My songs are the most intimate offering of who I am that I can share, so once that’s open to the public, it can feel a little different sitting down to work on songs with that other side of the coin in my head.

    But I try to feel like I’m totally alone when I’m working. I worked for a couple years in New York City in this dress shop that had a buzzer on the door, so you couldn’t get in – I had to let people in. It was very small and expensive, and it was empty most of the time. It wasn’t filled with customers, especially on winter days, maybe nobody would come in all day. It was kind of great in that way. And I started bringing instruments to the shop and hiding them under the desk, and it was a really productive space because I wasn’t supposed to be working on music; there was no pressure on me to work on music, in fact I shouldn’t be, and that just made me want to do it all the time. There’s something about that that I thrive on when writing.

    Do you feel like your output slowed down after the release of that record, in terms of the time it took to write and flesh out songs?

    I generally am a pretty slow songwriter. It does often take me a long time to finish a song. It goes one way or the other, it either comes out all at once – rarely that happens – or it takes me sometimes years to finish a song. I’ve always kind of been like that, so it’s remained pretty similar. But I’ve spent more time working on music in the last few years than I used to. I’ve definitely devoted myself more to it. And I’ve written lots of stuff, but what happens is, it kind of piles up. A reason why I’m trying to get more into releasing things more fluidly or quickly is because I’ve written tons of stuff in the last few years, but I get sort of tired of things quickly. I feel like there’s been all these batches of songs from different chapters of time, and I don’t know if I relate to them anymore. But that’s okay – I don’t know if that’ll ever change. There’s just so much, and a lot of it doesn’t get finished, which was a huge problem for me. But I’m always working on stuff. If anything, I’ve probably had more output in the last few years, it just hasn’t come out.

    What importance did the idea of a corridor have for you in this stretch of time?

    Obviously, there isn’t a song on the EP with that title, and I didn’t feel like I wanted to call it any of the song titles. First of all, I like the word “corridor”, I think it has a nice flow to it. But in a few ways, it seemed as an image to fit the process of making the EP, which was mostly a very lonesome process. It’s not just about the pandemic, but that was part of it, sort of an elongated stretch of time that was not clear when it was going to shift – when there would be a new door. Personally, I didn’t know if I would put this music out, I didn’t know when the next musical chapter would come. I was confused, honestly, over the last few years. The single that I put out in 2021 was made just before the pandemic, and it was essentially what I hoped would be the beginning of a full-length record, but then things shut down. I’d had a lot of what felt like false starts or doors closing – I kept feeling a bit stuck in what felt what feels now in retrospect like a hallway, a little bit of limbo, I guess. I also like to not look back on it simply in a negative way, but that it serves a function, this stretch of time. I feel like such a different person in so many ways after the last few years, and a corridor serves the purpose of bringing you somewhere else. As much as I felt confused and lonely a lot of the time while I was making these recordings that are on the EP, I’ve learned so much from it all.

    One of my favourite moments is on ‘Again’, when you sing, “Don’t let me skip the middle for the end.” I love that you’ve put it almost halfway through the EP, because it’s where you present that most intimate version of yourself.

    That’s really cool, I didn’t even really realize that. But I think there was something there subconsciously, why that’s there. That song certainly didn’t feel like an end, but it’s about a relationship, worrying that the end is in sight prematurely. It’s about realizing that you can easily accelerate the ending of something after a momentous beginning if you don’t learn how to settle into the next phase of the relationship, which I think takes a lot of humility.

    The EP mirrors the cycle of a relationship, and ‘Again’ makes sense after the personal revelation of ‘Hero’. Did you write that song in hindsight?

    That song was written in some amount of hindsight, yeah. It was right around the end of something. It was written about looking back on the recent end of a relationship, and how we often walk away from each other with our own narratives completely of what happened. And to some extent, that’s always going to be the case because we all have our own take on things, but if we don’t have enough of a shared narrative, there’s maybe more room for us to see ourselves as either the hero or the victim of the story. It’s a really alienating thing to do that’s maybe comforting, too, because it maybe makes it easier to walk away from something if we just see it the way we want. But we don’t learn as much from each other or connect as much with each other.

    It’s funny talking about these two songs, ‘Hero’ and ‘Again’, they’re such different sonic worlds, but it’s probably just a theme in what I’ve been thinking about in the last few years, humility in a relationship. In the early stages, there’s this momentum, this big upswing of joy and the freshness of something new and seeing yourself in a new way, but I’m interested in what the necessary evolution of a relationship is beyond that. Because it does have to change because we’re always changing, and really allowing someone to know you requires showing other facets of yourself than just the initial impression. And I guess I’ve had a hard time with that. [laughs] And found it in other people, that it’s hard for them too. It’s hard for all of us to really let ourselves be seen and to really see another person. I’m kind of obsessed with that because it’s challenging to me.

    What did you learn from self-producing Corridor that you’d like to carry forward?

    I really love recording, I think that might be the thing that I love most in the various aspects of this work. Being at the controls myself is really empowering, and I also have grown more appreciation for working with a producer – it’s also very challenging not to have feedback and to be in a vacuum, which I, for the most part, was. It takes me a lot longer to figure things out when I’m by myself because I’m more prone to change my mind or just not know what’s working and what’s not. It’s a difficult thing, I don’t think I would choose to be entirely alone in the way I was in the future. It’d be nice to have other players come through, which I did have on this EP a little bit, but not very much. I don’t feel like I’m ready yet, but I would like to work myself up to the point of feeling like I’m ready to fully produce a full-length record. I learned a lot about my taste; I feel like I still am learning.

    Do you have a clear sense of how you’d want to work on a second album?

    Yeah, I do have the beginnings of a plan together. I’m in the process now of just combing through what songs I think should go on it – a lot of them to consider, and some that I’m trying to finish. I don’t know if I have a sonic palette that I’m going for, I think I’m going to enter it pretty open and see what comes from it. Basically, I’m going through the songs and trying to demo them in a really simple way and be completely open in terms of production this time around.

    Is there anything that we didn’t talk about that you’d like to share?

    I don’t know if this is worth including, but I like this little story that I had these recordings sitting around and I was kind of ready to move on, just writing other stuff and thinking about other music. But it was annoying me that they were pretty close to being finished recordings and I had put them down for a while in the last year. But then at a certain point, roughly six months ago, out of nowhere I was like, “I have to finish these recordings, come hell or high water, whether that means just finish them and never listen to them again or finish them and put them out. I just need to wrap up this batch of recordings.” I got really obsessed with this process of breathing a little bit of new life into them, and it was right in that time that Full Time Hobby reached out out of the ether. They just emailed me and they’re like, “Do you have any music?” And I was like, “You know, I do.” The timing really felt a little magical.

    And it also felt right because I went on tour in the UK in Septemberwith one of their other artists, Dana Gavanski. I was born in the UK and I’ve spent quite a lot of time out there, and I had been missing it. I hadn’t been quite a few years, and I used to go almost every year. I have some cousins out there and some friends and I was really pining for London, so it’s been really cool to have this relationship more with the UK again. That was my first time playing out there, and I think maybe there are more people listening now in the UK. I’m just really grateful to have made that connection with the place that I’m from – I can’t say I’m from there, but I was born there anyway.

    Do you have any early memories of London or the UK?

    Yeah, I definitely have memories from living there as a kid, both in London and in Hertfordshire a little bit. I started going to visit my cousins out there pretty much every summer for pretty long stretches of time, so I spent a lot of pretty formative time as a young person there, rambling around the city. It’s a very special place to me.

    We were talking about things coming together kind of magically for the first record, but it feels like it’s happening with this EP as well in terms of the release, despite the process being more isolating.

    Yeah, there’s definitely something that came together in a similar way. Hopefully every record will have that quality of things coming together, but I’m sure it’ll be really different every time. I guess I’m just starting to learn that.

    This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

    Cornelia Murr’s Corridor EP is out now via Full Time Hobby.

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