Welcome; John Cunningham aka ‘Corn Mo’.
Q/ Morning. How’s it going?
Q/ I was doing – what I laughingly like to call – research. Now the internet is quite a big place and perhaps I was poking around in the wrong corner but it’s quite hard to find a huge amount of information on you. Are you carefully maintaining the persona of an enigmatic master of songs?
No. I’m just not that popular. It would be brilliant if it were true.
Q/ You’ve toured with Ben Folds, The Polyphonic Spree and They Might Be Giants. They’re all very different artists. They might giants with quirky short songs, The polyphonic spree with two dozen robed individuals, Ben Folds atop his piano conducting the audience into a sing-along. Do you try and tour with very different people, or does it just naturally happen that way?
I take what i can get and thankfully what I got was what i wanted.
Q/ Does spending a tour with a particular artist have an effect on your own writing? Do you absorb certain styles through a process of musical osmosis?
Not really. Although before I met Ben I wrote a song in his style. I worked for this guy in Dallas and he had to fire me. We became good friends after the firing. He was fired not long after due to cutbacks and moved back to his hometown of Columbia, Sc. He faxed me some lyrics he had written that were very dear to him. Since ben was from the Carolinas I thought it was appropriate to write music in his style as an homage to my old boss. He had made an indie movie and had me come in to adlib a part and I wanted to recreate that perfect time of making something great in his hometown. It’s called Picture Days. I played it over the phone for him and he winged.
On another album, I wrote a song called “The Baloney Song” which was in the style of They Might Be Giants. I was a big fan of theirs, also, before finally touring with them.
I got to open for Tiny Tim before he passed. I wrote “Lollipop” afterwards and wanted to give it to him. He was in Denton recording at the same time I lived there. I didn’t know how to approach him with it, however, and then he died.
Q/ Having you written songs for anyone else and are unsure as to give them – or equally is there anyone that you’d like to write a song for, but havevent’ (yet)?
Q/ Do you judge people by the music they listen to? I have to say that I do. There are certain artists I love (like Nick Drake) and if people don’t like them, or worse are apathetic then I know we’re never going to the best of friends.
I used to be like that until i realized my taste in music was considered terrible. I used to be like that until i realized my taste in music was considered terrible.
Q/ Is there such a thing of bad music?
It is true. i’m sure there’s a song in Fred Durst, too.
Q/ The accordion isn’t an instrument that you see a grea deal of in the pop world. Does playing an instrument like that lend itself to writing a different song, than if you were say sitting at a piano?
Yes. Casios are different too. Anything with a different tone or different way of making chords will inspire a different song. Thumb pianos. Harmonicas. Guitars. Someday i hope to be able to aquire a glass harmonica or a small pipe organ.
Q/ A glass harmonica?
Ben Franklin invented it. It’s a series of closely connected glass bowls set on their sides and they spin.
Q/ The nature of inspiration is an odd thing. Do you have a muse?
Just humming for fun is a good way. The good thing is that there is no set way to get a good song. There’s no formula. you just make it in the way you like to do it at the time. the next time might be the same way or a completely different way. having a good time doing it is the best for me.
Q/ I was discussing musical integrity with some friends a while back. The difference between someone following their heart and writing the very best piece of music they can as opposed to to writing something aimed at a particular demographic. That said “Good Music” can still be written by people writing to order. The Brill Building being a perfect example. What, would you say, defines musical integrity? Or is it not really an issue as long as good music is produced?
the brill building seemed like a place where you had a shitload of artists creating music. I think good music can come out of a collective of sorts, even if they aren’t all collaborating together. I’ve heard some painful songs that followed the heart and would rather hear Burt Bacharach.
Q/ You’ve done a lot of different things with your music. From Jazz to country, from a rock band called ‘Illusion’ to a metal band called ‘Without Warning’. You wrote the soundtrack for a juggling troupe. Are you addicted to the joy of starting new ventures, or do you have a
short attention span?
Both. Musical genres shouldn’t have fences. Ween is really good at making those fenced-in genres into one big field. So are the guys from South Park. And Mr. Bungle.
Q/ Both Ben Folds and yourself have written songs around the Hebrew folk song ‘Hava Nagila’; yours being ‘Hava Nagila Monster’. Wikipedia lists over forty versions. Is there an unspoken code amongst musicians that everyone must try it at least once?
If there is a code I haven’t consciously been told. Jacob did come to me in a dream once and told me that going up the ladder was metal and going down the ladder was country. I went up the ladder, wrestled an angel, lost and when I was trying to catch my breath for a rematch, the angel said, “Do you like that song ‘Death Tone’ by Manowar?” I said, “Kinda” And he said, “Cool.”
Q/ Your version of “Hava Nagila” was with your glam-rock band “.357 Lover”. Were you drawn to the .357 due to it’s ease of handloading ammunition?
I’ve never handled one before. I used to shoot 22 caliber rifles in 8th grade. And I like the band 38 Special.
Q/ You’ve said that you find melodies easy but struggle with lyrics. Looking through the titles of songs across your two solo albums; “I Hope You Win!” (2000) and “The Magic is You” (2002) I see “Lollipop”, “The Baloney Song”, “Bananas! (I got bananas in my hands!), “Chocolate cake”, “Hersey’s Miniatures” and Bony fishsteaks”. Does writing songs make you hungry?
I have a friend who eats potato salad when he writes. Another chain smokes. I would love to have a thanksgiving dinner right next to a piano. the best writing comes from either showering or walking. The removal of stimulus is the best way for me to create.
Q/ Is “.357 lover” another stop on your music journey, or do you feel you’ve found the best platform for the kind of music you want to write?
.357 Lover is the best platform. Most of what I perform solo has other things going on in my head with my phantom friends playing along. When we’re together, though, its magic. Tim Delaughter asked me to take over the Spree when he dies. When that happens, ask me again.
You can find out more about Corn Mo at: