Episode 3 // Corey Bernhard

"Nothing is hypothetical"

Honored to have Corey Bernhard on the show! We went to music camp together in the early aughts - Camp Encore/Coda, nestled among the pines in of Sweden, ME (pop: 391, 2010 census). While I was busy winning the lip sync contest with Goldfinger’s “Superman,” Corey was likely in the shed, forging the beginnings of a piano style that would put him on a path to collaborating with some of the world’s premier musicians.

Just watch this blurry video of his college band 6Figures - they move as a unit from ascending melody to blistering fusion ferocity, the crowd audibly along for the ride:

Or this guest date with Snarky Puppy, bringing his own knob-twisting glee to some very large Moog shoes:

Then there’s this performance by the John Blackwell Project, in which Corey takes the first solo and somehow never loses the foundational groove as one of the generation’s greatest drummers takes a mindbending solo:

His production and writing work is featured prominently on Bilal’s A Love Surreal, an underrated masterpiece by our era’s closest approximation to mid-80’s psychedelic Prince. That record, along with Corey’s offshoot project Killiam Shakespeare, knows no bounds when it comes to genre or sonics, a trait that has become a hallmark of his work and is on full display on his new album S.W.T.S., a collaboration with Philly emcee The Bul Bey.

Just about halfway through their World Cafe Live House Concert, the band breaks. The swaggy stomp of “Blueface,” has, until this point, been bumping. Now it’s just upright piano, hammers audibly striking strings, as Corey weaves circuitously through a series of chords before building to a new bounce. It’s a magical moment, captured at his own Bird Brain Studio in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia, and an impactful de-orchestration of the album version’s string section.

After the career he’s had thus far, it’s no wonder that experimentation is an asset, but Corey’s most creative work arrived in December as he and his wife welcomed their daughter into the world. “Everything is different,” he says. “My whole world has changed. She’s the center of the universe and I’m just spinning around her.”

Having a baby in a pandemic while trying to stay creatively motivated is a mountainous task, one that requires patience, resilience and grace, but our conversation is evidence of Corey’s steadfast demeanor and pragmatism. “You realize how much power you were giving stuff that ultimately doesn’t really matter. Nothing’s that serious anymore, to me, other than her and my wife. Stuff that used to bother me, when I see it now, it just makes me laugh. It’s a real zen –I don’t know if zen is the word– a real calming mindset in some ways.”

We dig into fatherhood, pandemic parenting logistics, scheduling creative time, sampling on the ASR-10, honing the craft of production, music commodification and more.

Keep up with Corey on Instagram and Twitter. Here’s the full interview:

Ari