Corey Shields: 'Change is Going to Happen... No Matter What'

Jun 8, 2016

Since the show began almost two years ago, A Change of Tune has highlighted some of the best up-and-coming artists out of these West Virginia hills with podcast-y chats ranging from Tyler Childers to Ona, Sean Richardson to Kyle Meadows and beyond.

But those interviews have been a bit infrequent, and since West Virginia Day is coming up (not to mention A Change of Tune’s second birthday), we thought we’d do something special: 30 days, 30 brand new #WVmusic interviews that range from Morgantown alt-rockers and Parkersburg singer-songwriters to West Virginia music venues and regional artist management and beyond, all of which contribute to this state’s wild and wonderful music scene.

And today, we are chatting with 27-year-old Parkersburg singer-songwriter Corey Shields. Or should we say Mid-Ohio Valley singer-songwriter, because you might find him playing more often across the border in Marietta, Ohio than in his hometown of Parkersburg, West Virginia. But why is it hard to build a scene in that part of the Mountain State? Let’s find out…

Corey Shields’ newest release is Only Questions. Hear more #WVmusic on A Change of Tune, airing Saturday nights at 10 on West Virginia Public Broadcasting. And for more #WVmusic chats, make sure to go to wvpublic.org/wvmusic and subscribe to our RSS / podcast feeds!

Interview Highlights

On starting music in Parkersburg:

I thought I wanted to be a drummer when I was 9 or 10. I remember they brought the junior high band to our elementary band, and they let us try different instruments. I immediately wanted to play the snare drum. Of course, Mom and Dad weren’t too happy about that because it’s the noisiest of things. My neighbor actually was a drummer, so he gave me a snare drum, and I’d sit around and pretend like I knew what I was doing. But it never really went anywhere.

And then I had some family troubles, became the typical teenager. I was 13, and I found a nylon string classical guitar under my grandma’s bed. I had no idea what I was doing, but thought it might be cool because all the cool kids play guitar [laughing]. I proved myself enough so that my grandma just let me have it. My mom bought me an electric guitar for my 14th birthday, it was one of those $100 nothing-special-guitars, but I still have the guitar. I kept it. I’m one of those sentimental types. I kind of moved from there and spent every penny that I could through high school buying all kinds of gear.

Then I was in bands in high school and wanted to do the whole rock star thing. And I guess that feeling never really died.

Corey Shields isn't afraid to belt it out.
Credit Knobel Photography

On loving rock music as a kid and playing more acoustic material as a young adult:

Nothing changed because that was always the type of music I was listening to, but as a 15- or 16-year-old kid, I’m like, “Heavy metal for days!”  I always had this love of pop music, like Justin Timberlake. I don’t care what kind of music it is. I love a really good hook.

I was at the exact right age when metalcore became the big thing with bands like Killswitch Engage and Avenge Sevenfold. I loved that stuff because it had hooks, but it was heavy. So I still got to wear black t-shirts and things like that.

When I was around 14 or 15, John Mayer came on the scene, and I fell in love with his music. And I still love his music, even though I’m not a fan of his personality sometimes. People are like, “Oh, you like the guy who plays ‘Your Body is a Wonderland.’” And I’m like, “No, I like the guy who plays with Steve Jordan and Pino Palladino.” He uses a lot of jazz chords and things, and it’s more intricate than it appears.

On staying in West Virginia after college:

My senior year of college, my wife Heather and I went to Pittsburgh, our concert destination. And we actually went apartment hunting at one point. We were totally committed. I was going to graduate, and we were moving to Pittsburgh. That was the goal. That was exactly what was going to happen. I was supposed to graduate in May, and in February we found out she was pregnant.  So we hit pause for a second to reassess everything.

All of our immediate family is in Parkersburg or the very near area. There’s no one in Pittsburgh for us. So it was more of a family decision of how can I tell my mom, “You’re going to be a grandma… Oh and we’re moving three hours away.” I couldn’t do that in the same breath.

So we hit pause, and we started looking, and we found that we could live in Parkersburg and go ahead and buy a house. Heather’s a nurse, and she was able to get a job right away. So it just worked out. It made the most sense to stay here and stay with our family.

On #thestruggletostay in West Virginia:

Speaking of Parkersburg specifically… the local establishment is not the most helpful in terms of the arts and the arts scene in this area. It’s a city that’s heavily populated with the older generation, and they don’t want us kids coming in, tearing up their nice things. I get that vibe a lot. I try to introduce myself to people, and they see me, catch a glimpse of a tattoo, and see my long hair, and they immediately assume the worst. There’s been a few times where that’s been really annoying because people just make assumptions about you. So that part’s been really frustrating with Parkersburg specifically.

That’s where Marietta, Ohio, came into play. Their scene has been super helpful to me. You can see West Virginia from some of the venues I play there. It’s right across the river. And for some reason, that magical bridge across the river is just a different world of this music culture that has really embraced me.

If I just went off the reaction I got in Parkersburg, I would’ve stopped playing music immediately. I never would’ve bothered. There’s not a lot of support right here, and it’s really frustrating, especially in the last year after watching Huntington and Charleston and the awesome bands there from afar. I feel hundreds of miles away. It’s a different world.

That’s my thing in Parkersburg: I’m a hometown guy, and I don’t play offensive music. My music’s not in your face, cursing everywhere. It’s pretty laid back music. You’d think I could get some support around here. Honestly, it feels like other places have really taken off, but I haven’t moved from square one in my own town.

Corey Shields has high hopes for the Mid-Ohio Valley.
Credit Liv Hefner Photography

On things he sees in Marietta that he’d like to see in Parkersburg:

Number one: young people. I don’t want to sound like I’m talking down on my city, because I honestly do love Parkersburg. I think it has a lot to offer if it was just utilized properly. But you could put Marietta verse Parkersburg as the liberal versus conservative towns. That’s exactly what it feels like. Because you go to Marietta where it’s fresh, it’s always clean, young people everywhere. Then you go to Parkersburg, and there’s not a whole lot. Our downtowns are night and day. I wish Parkersburg would catch up, but I don’t know, it feels like there’s some people holding Parkersburg back. It feels like there’s a hold on Parkersburg, like it’s stuck in the past, where it won’t trust the new young adults.

On his new debut record Only Questions:

April of last year, I went out and started playing some open mics, trying to meet some like-minded people. I started building meaningful relationships with other musicians. I immediately found that if you don’t have material, no one will book you, believe it or not [laughing]. So I decided to record an EP, and it was done over two weeks. It certainly wasn’t the best, but it was enough to get the point across and help me get some gigs, meet some more people. Things kept moving at a somewhat scary pace, honestly. It picked up faster than I thought it ever would.

I had these songs I was playing all the time, but they weren’t recorded yet. All of the songs had been written. I really wanted to put them together and record it all properly so I started recording end of December, early January. I think I had 15 songs, and I ended up cutting a few. I recorded it on my own. I just used the equipment I acquired over the last 12 years or so. I threw together the album, and I talked to a friend of mine about helping me with some album art, and she jumped on it. The album art’s probably the coolest thing I’ll ever be involved in.

The album artwork for Corey Shields' debut release was shot by Mid-Ohio Valley photographer Liv Hefner. You may see her work in the regional publication Clutch MOV.
Credit Courtesy of Corey Shields

On #WVmusic outside of Parkersburg:

My wife and I seriously listen to Ona’s American Fiction in the car, just for fun. I would listen to a band like Ona no matter where they’re from. It’s awesome that they’re from Huntington, that’s incredible that you could slip into the V Club and see them. But the location didn’t draw me to them; it was their sound. That’s what I’d like to get out of the Mid-Ohio Valley. It doesn’t matter where we come from, it’s just good music.

A few months ago in Marietta, I got to play before Tyler Childers, and he was so incredibly kind to me. That was my first step into the Huntington scene. He was really nice to me, and he named some people I should talk to like Ian Thornton and JJ Waters. I started messaging these people after the show, and all of these people have been really nice to me.

Corey Shields' American Minor CD, signed by one of the band members.
Credit Corey Shields

Bud Carroll’s American Minor was my first “sneaking into a club” show. They opened for Shooter Jennings in Athens, Ohio, and it was a 21+ show, I was 16, and my mom snuck me in. I got to see American Minor front row. I immediately put them into this rock star category. I learned a few of their songs playing along with the CD. The thought of guys like Bud Carroll ever hearing anything I do, it’s unfathomable to me.

And I really like Todd Burge, who only lives a few blocks from me. I was on a run last year, and I found out he lived right there. I really like what he’s done. He’s really friendly, really helpful, gives me advice anytime I ask for it. I mean, he’s the reason I got to play with Tyler Childers. It’s incredible how all of these things line up.

Music featured in this #WVmusic chat:

Corey Shields- “Stars”

Corey Shields- “Only You”

Corey Shields-“Long Drive Home”

Corey Shields- “Light”