Multi-Instrumentalist & Producer Cory Henry on ‘Something to Say' and Working with Kanye
Grammy-winning multi-instrumentalist, keyboard maven, and producer, Cory Henry, has always known he was cut out to be a musician. At merely three years old, the first song he played via organ was “Amazing Grace.” Henry tells EDITION, “I knew very early on in my life, that this is what I wanted to do; even more so to the point where I remember at the age of about five or six years old, one of the pastors asked me after church, ‘When you grow up, will you play for the church or the world?’
He has since performed all over the globe as a solo artist and in-demand collaborator, catching the attention of band Imagine Dragons and legendary mega-producer Rick Rubin. Moreover, 2021 has proven to be a year of even more success for Henry as he is currently nominated for four Grammy awards for his first solo body of work solely produced by himself, Something to Say, alongside credits as co-producer and writer on Eric Bellinger’s New Light and Kanye West’s DONDA.
This week, Henry will celebrate the new year with two solo shows (Dec 30 & 31) in Austin, Texas, before hitting the road in 2022 on a 14-date joint tour with New Orleans-based ensemble Tank and the Bangas. Ahead of the tour, we caught up with Henry to talk about the inspiration behind his award-nominated album, plans for 2022, and lessons he learned from Kanye.
Congrats on all your Grammy nominations! So, first, tell me about your solo project and the inspiration behind it.
Something to Say is my pandemic baby. There was a lot of stuff going on. There were the riots and fights and social media things – all sorts of craziness that was happening that we were living through. Some of my favorite music of all time is socially conscious music, music that’s saying something. Normally, when things happen, I'm on tour and in other places. So, it doesn't affect me as much. But being home, watching it from the house, with no other place to go, presented me an opportunity to do what some of my heroes have done in terms of saying something to the times. I wanted to continue in that fashion with songs like “Rise” and “No Guns.” It was just important for me as an artist to give my opinion. I feel like everybody has an opinion. And really, I wasn’t trying to be serious and deep when I made the title up. I was really just like, ‘Yeah, I got something to say too.’ Hopefully, people take it however they want to take it, but it was just my take on things.
That's the great thing about music – everyone has their interpretation. But, ultimately, are you happy with the outcome of the album? Would you have changed anything or gone about the process any different?
I'm really happy about it. As a creator, there's always something more you can do. Ultimately, I am happy with how the project came out. I'm happy with the songs. I'm happy with the people who helped me. I’m happy with the lyrical content. I’m happy with the way that I played. I think it's a success, and more than anything, I'm happy that it got nominated. This record has changed things for my career, and I know it's only going to go up from here.
That’s exciting. Is there a particular song on the album that resonates with you the most?
Maybe “Don't Forget” probably because we live in a time where things happen frequently, back-to-back, and we live in a scroll generation. So, one day we're mad at something, and then the next day, we’re mad at a whole other thing. We forget that we’re mad at the thing that we were mad at yesterday. It feels like nothing really gets fixed. Every time I sing that song, I really feel like I'm saying something to people. I feel the same way about “Rise,” too. “Rise” is down-home to me. It makes me feel like a kid, almost like a church song.
You were also a co-producer and writer on DONDA. How did that come about?
I was just living, and one day, I got a call from Rick Rubin.
I had been working with him a bunch on some other projects at his studio, Shangri-La, and that was all success. Then, he called me for this. I flew down to San Francisco. He called me like, “Get on the plane Thursday night.” So, I was like, ‘Why? For what?’ I got to San Francisco, and Kanye was there and a host of other producers and writers. It was a beautiful experience. I think Kanye’s amazing. I think he knows what he’s doing. It was beautiful to see his process, beautiful to watch him in his creative state, and the fact that he's really into the gospel thing is more inspiring because he's serious about it. And that's beautiful. So, I'm just happy and blessed that that happened. It's been a crazy year for me.
That's amazing. There’s always something you can learn from other artists. So, what would you say you've learned in the process from collaborating with other musicians?
Each collaboration is different. I learned something different. Since we talked about Kanye, I learned so much from that collaboration. It was a lesson in self-confidence. Also, it was nice to see how he was utilizing the team; and how a strong team can make a strong record. So yeah, each time I collaborate with somebody, it’s widely different, but I’m learning at the same time.
That says a lot about your character. Only humble people are willing to learn and feel like they can absorb something from other artists. So, kudos to you for that mentality. What are some plans you look forward to in 2022?
Creating new habits. Right now, I'm in the midst of changing my lifestyle, getting back up, and working out. They say it takes 21 days to create a habit. Just eating better and cutting out the foolishness. It’s time to level up in every way, mentally and physically foremost. We’re going to be touring in March. We played a few shows over the last month or two, which was very draining. I used to play five or six nights a week, and they never felt draining. I guess I was in shape. So, I want to get in even better shape and get my spirit together. That's only going to make the music better.