lisa pikaard rolls out the site’s first country music interview…
New Jersey is known for many things, but country music is most certainly not one of them. Corey Wagar, however, is trying to change all of that.
After a brief stint in the American Idol competition, Wagar, a Colts Neck native, has been making moves and working with the big boys in Nashville, Tennessee to show the world that New Jersey may not be the heart of country music, but there is such a thing as Jersey twang. Wagar brings a hard edge to the country genre; she is a talented vocalist, creative writer, and a true Jersey girl in attitude. With a combination like that, she is quickly working her way into the hearts of country music fans everywhere.
Corey Wagar’s first album, On the Edge, was released in 2011 with success. Her single, “I Hate My Boyfriend,” has climbed up the Music Row charts to number 32. Her next single, “Take Ya Back” hits the radio waves next month. Fortunately, Wagar found time when she wasn’t writing, recording, or playing with Grammy Award winning musicians like LeAnn Rimes and the Charlie Daniels Band, to sit down with Pop-Break’s Lisa Pikaard. Wagar was more than happy to talk about everything from her favorite weird food combinations to her Idol experiences, what’s it’s like to be a Jersey girl in Tennessee, and how a Jersey girl came to love country music.
Pop-Break: So lets get it out of the way! American Idol. Are you sick of talking about it?
Corey Wagar: People don’t really talk about it with me because I wasn’t one of the big finalists. It was really cool because I had a lot of other things going on during American Idol. I think I was the only person that made it to Hollywood Week that had a single out on the radio while I was there. I released my single in, I think it was September, end of September, and the show didn’t air until December; so while my single was out, it was awesome! It was a great push because people would be like “There’s Corey! She’s on TV!” Then it was like, “Lets play her single and lets talk about it!” It definitely did a lot for me. It wasn’t really for me, as far as making it to the end, but it was a cool experience. I definitely learned a lot from it.
PB: No bad feelings then?
CW: No! For me, I didn’t really have much of a story. It was a stepping stone, just a good experience. It was a last minute thing for me. I wasn’t planning on doing it. It was like, I woke up and there are auditions in two weeks! Oh my god!
PB: What is Hollywood week like? Is it as crazy as they portray it to be?
CW: It’s crazier than they portray it to be. It’s so much within a week that you have no idea what’s going on by the end of the second day. My flight left here at like 5 in the morning. I got there and everyone meets in this room; the process of registering takes probably 15 hours. We didn’t get into bed till 11 and we had to be up at 6 the next day. Between the time change, you don’t even have time to get rid of the jet lag. Right after you make it through the first round, the next night is group night. You have all of that stress! You watch everyone else audition for the judges again. You see them criticize people; you see people fall on their faces. It just builds up so many nerves, sitting there. Then, after that, once you made it through, you go to bed and the next morning they tell you okay today’s group night! Get in your group and start singing. You’re running on no sleep. You get told the songs you’re allowed to do at 8 at night and that they will see you at 6 am in the lobby. My group was up until 5:45 in the morning. We got 15 minutes of sleep, had to shower, get ready. The cameras are on you the entire time. They’re allowed to come into your hotel room so, the girl I was rooming with was in my group. Our group was up the latest so the cameras were on us the entire time asking “Why are you crying?” “Why are you frustrated?” and all we can say is “GO AWAY!” It was a lot of stress but whatever!
Actually what was really cool, the first round, when I was first out in LA, I went in and they put you on stage with 12 other people. Each person stands up and sings, then, after that, they put you in a line and they say step up or not. So then they say “Front line, you stay, back line, you go home.” They got me confused with another girl. Everybody there made it past the first round except me and another girl. They got me confused with somebody else. I walk offstage and my friend starts crying and gives me a hug and then Jennifer Lopez goes “Corey come here! We messed up! You were supposed to go through!” I was like “What?! What are you talking about?” She says, “We got you confused with somebody else. You were really supposed to go through.” I was like “Wait are you serious??” And I got to go and hug them all which didn’t make it on TV at all! I got my five seconds of fame though, got my foot on TV or my curls or something!
PB: So, now you moved down to Nashville to really do country right! What does Nashville think of this Jersey girl transplant in the country world?
CW: It’s so funny. The first time I sit and talk to somebody, they’re like “Where are you from?” I say “Jersey” and they just say- “Country? Really?” That’s the question all the time! They like it when I tell them about how I was raised and I listened to country music and Bruce Springsteen is literally a neighbor. It’s cool. They like it because it’s different. They’re like “Oh my god! You have so much attitude!” When I sit down in writing sessions, that’s when people like it the most because it’s something new for them to write about. When I sit down with co-writers they’re like, “So tell us about Jersey! Let’s write about it.” So it’s something new and definitely different. But I don’t describe myself as a country singer. It’s my own thing. It’s Jersey twang kind of.
PB: There’s a little of that Jersey twang coming out these days! So why country? You say it was the way you were raised. What were you raised listening to?
CW: My dad was in bands his whole life so I would always go onstage and sing with him and he would always have me listening to Kenny Rodgers and all that stuff. But my uncle used to drive us to the beach all the time and he always used to play the Dixie Chicks’ Fly album. When I was in like third grade, that’s when it came out, I was was like, “No! Spice girls! Backstreet Boys!” He forced me to listen to it and I kind of opened up my ears one day and I was like, “This is cool!” and I just started singing it. He was like, “You sound like them! Your voice sounds like them!” So it kind of just happened. I just fell in love with it. Every song tells a story and the harmonies that go on in it, it just is amazing. I love it.
PB: So what kind of music do you listen to these days?
CW: I love Miranda Lambert. Dolly Parton is my favorite old school kind of thing. I literally listen to everything. The entire flight home I was listening to Deep Purple.
PB: Are you going to CMA Fest this year?
CW: Yeah I’m playing a show at the Bridgestone Stage. It’s part of the day so it’s not one of the big night concerts. I’m doing that and I’m having an autograph signing session set up too so it’s going to be a lot of fun to be part of it this year. I went last year because I was in the studio out there. My friend works on Music Row in Nashville but she got called into work so I went to CMA Fest by myself. I was there as a fan last year and it’s cool to be there as an artist this year. Last year I was walking around thinking that this is my dream and I cant wait till the day that I can be here. Now I get to go and be there as an artist and it should be really cool. It’s going to be a weird transition though I guess they’re kind of one and the same in Nashville. The artists are the fans and the fans are the artists.
PB: I’ve noticed that a lot about country music and it seems to have such a good bond. All the artists seem to support each other. Have you felt that since you’ve been down there?
CW: One hundred percent! That’s one of the biggest things, the reason country music is so good and it had the transition from tradition to what it is now. The artists are fans. If you listen to Eric Church’s music, he is referencing everybody! Everybody references the ones that come before them so they are keeping the tradition alive and bringing it back into the music. You hear Miranda Lambert talk about Loretta Lynn so it’s really cool.
PB: Okay, so what is your favorite question you’ve ever been asked in an interview?
CW: I don’t know if I have a favorite but I have a most obscure! For my favorite, I love being asked about songwriting just because that’s a passion and where my heart is at. So if someone asks what a song is about and I get to stand on stage and explain what the song is about and why I wrote it in the first place, I love that. That’s one of the biggest things in Nashville right now, songwriting. You get to really share your stories.
PB: So what was the most obscure?
CW: I think I was in Kansas and we were out on a radio tour and my guitar player and I were at this radio station and this guy was asking us random questions. He asked “What’s the weirdest food combination that you love?” I was like, “I don’t know! I put ketchup on my eggs? What do you want me to say?” After that, he continued to ask me, “What’s the most embarrassing question you’ve been asked on air?” and I didn’t know how to answer that so then he asked my guitar player, “Do you have an embarrassing story about Corey?” I was like “Oh god! Where is this going to go?!” So that was really really strange. What do you even say??
PB: I don’t know! So what song are you most proud of that you’ve been involved in or wrote?
CW: That’s a tough one. I am going to have to look at my album. I am going to have to get back to you. I don’t even know!
PB: Okay! So what shows do you have coming up?
CW: I had LeAnn Rimes [at Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank] and then I have Lee Brice on the 23rd [at Joe Pop’s on LBI]! Just in Nashville, I’m playing a couple of writers nights and then I have the CMA Bridgestone thing. We just got asked to play June 30th with Dierks Bently at the Stone Pony, which will be awesome on the outdoor stage. They just asked me to co-headline that one! That’s going to be awesome!
PB: And where can people get your songs?
CW: The whole album is up on iTunes. I have free downloads on my website for the last single, “I Hate My Boyfriend.” ITunes, Amazon, CDBaby. You can just go to coreywagar.com. There are links for everything there.
PB: Are you writing anything new for you or anybody else?
CW: My next single comes out June 4 that I just wrote with Cece DuBois and Beau Fuller. The new single is called, “Take Ya Back” and I’ve been writing every single day with different writers. I usually do writing sessions each day. We’re trying to get the next six singles together so they’re ready to go. The big thing in Nashville is co-writes. You just sit down with one or two other writers and record them and end up pitching them to other artists.
PB: Have any of your songs been picked up?
CW: They’ve been pitched but they haven’t been picked up yet. We haven’t really pushed for it just because, when I was writing the record, all of the songs were basically for me. We’re going to work on pitching them but a lot of artists don’t like to record other peoples songs. But, there are artists like Carrie Underwood and Kellie Pickler who record anything so!
PB: Who do you want to sing your songs aside form you?
CW: Miranda! Just because our music is so similar. We have the same style, voice, and style, the rock country thing. That’d be really cool.
PB: And who would you write a song with if you could write with anybody?
PB: Lastly, figure out what song you’re most proud of!
CW: I mean proud of is different. My favorite songwriting session was the one for “I Hate my Boyfriend” because it was so much fun to write. I wrote it with Preston [Brust] from the LoCash Cowboys. We did a show in Jersey a couple of years ago and we hit it off. So, we got together, he comes in and is like “What up C? How’s your boyfriend?” I’m like, “I hate him!” He’s like, “Alright, well that’s going to be the title of the song that we’re going to write.” I’m like, “Really? What are you talking about?” So that was just the most fun writing session. The song came to us so easily. We literally wrote it in 45 minutes. We just started rapping back and forth, we do this whole beat boxing rapper thing just goofing off, and the lyrics just came to us. And that was the single that went to #32 on the charts!