Courtesy of JKS Communications
Singer-songwriter Korby Lenker describes his first book, Medium Hero
, as a “quirky collection of 27 short stories inspired by his life as a traveling musician with a cat and finding beauty in everyday life.” The talented author and musician comes to Cleveland next week for a book reading and musical performance that takes place on Jan. 13 at Loganberry Books.
A mortician’s son from rural Idaho, Korby grew up in a conservative Evangelical Christian home. His grandfather was a preacher in a small logging town in Oregon. His brother became a pastor.
“I missed the boat on the church thing,” he says via phone from his Nashville home. “I’ve often felt like I’m in the ‘meaning’ business. The music and stories are a way of getting at that. It’s in my personality to wonder what the hell is going on and why we are here and what we are supposed to do. A lot of what I sing about and write about is in that vein. That’s a product of growing up in the family I grew up in. My father isn’t really a philosopher. [He’s more of] a ‘serious liver.’ I don’t think that’s an actual phrase. He just took things seriously and wanted to do the right thing. Now, I’m a totally slacker and I drink too much.”
Because his parents were of the generation that encouraged their children to learn to play an instrument, they arbitrarily assigned him the piano and signed his brother up for violin lessons. They took lessons once a week and practiced every day.
“I liked it,” Lorber says. “When I was young, I had external validation. I remember being in the third grade and the girl I had a crush on but couldn’t talk to wanted to stand next to me for the class song that we had to sing together for the school variety show. I thought there was something to it. I was serious about it all the way through school.”
While still in Idaho, he joined a New Wave alternative cover band. After that band dissolved, he started a bluegrass band at about the same time that the O Brother Where Art Thou
soundtrack made bluegrass popular again.
“That happened right as I graduated from college,” he says. “For about five years I ran that band. I had finagled my way into $200 a month rent, and I had this band that I made $800 a month from. In my twenties I just hung out and played guitar a lot and wrote songs and read all the classics.”
During that time, he started writing the stories that would become Medium Hero
“I’m a total book nerd is the truth,” he says. “I’ve written a lot of short stories over the years. I never pursued it because I had my hands full with music. You can only get somewhat knowledgeable about one industry at a time. I had about 60 stories. I wanted to make a little book to sell at the shows. I picked the best 20 or so and self-published the book and sold it at the shows. I didn’t do anything. I didn’t pursue an agent. It was very surprising when it got into the hands of the acquisitions manager at Turner. I got an email out of the blue that said they loved the book and wanted to talk more about it.”
Now, the book has national distribution. Lender says one recurring theme centers on "things being beautiful to themselves."
“I guess that’s something I noticed in hindsight,” he says. “I noticed the stories were about that and realized that’s how I tend to see the world. Part of it is just that I’m a person who’s really bad at arguing. I often see both perspectives of any given argument. Reading makes you reflective. I spent time looking into my own prejudices. It’s just things that are different from you or that you’re afraid of for some reason. I spent a lot of time as a practicing Buddhist and did some Zen retreats. A lot of that is about letting things go.”
He’s also admitted that his sensibilities are a “little bit ridiculous.”
“I have been playing music for a long time,” he says. “The industry is a social industry and it’s been a weird fit for me, since I’m kind of uncomfortable around people. I can make small talk about two minutes and then I don’t know what to say anymore. Over the years, I’ve conditioned myself to fit in more. But I’m more comfortable by myself. That’s what I love about books. You’re free to do whatever you want. You can be ridiculous and talk about things that would make people uncomfortable if they were sitting in a room with you. But because it’s a book, it’s a permissive environment. It’s been a better fit for me.”
Lorber’s last album, a self-titled affair that came out in 2014, received wide acclaim. It shows off his sharp songwriting skills as the pensive tunes have a storyteller quality to them. Lorber even turns in an eloquent cover of Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold.” Now, he says he’s almost ready to record his next album.
“I did a Kickstarter and raised about 20 grand. I’m in the process of finishing the songwriting. I have my hands full with this book thing," he says. "The book tour starts January 8 and then two of my friends jump in the band with me and we do another three-week tour. South by Southwest is in March. I won’t start recording this until April, just because I don’t have any time, which is annoying because all I really want to do is to stay home and write a novel. But all things in time. The songs have been written in the last two years as I’ve been steadily chipping away at it.”
Korby Lorber, 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 13, Loganberry Books, 13015 Larchmere Blvd., Shaker Heights, 216-795-9800, loganberrybooks.com. Free.