with Corbie Hill of Alpha Cop
Name: Corbie Hill
Bands: Present: Alpha Cop; Past: Battle Rockets, Where the Buffalo Roamed, Spruce Bringsteen, etc. etc.
Websites: twitter.com/afraidofthebear; alphacop.com
Kids: Sarah (5), Lucy (3)
QRD – How old were you when you first realized you wanted to be a professional musician?
Corbie – That’s easy - from the 7th grade, it was all I wanted in life. I’d formed a little band with some kids in my class. None of us could play instruments or anything, but we loved the idea of a band & the idea of live rock music. From there, the three of us all went on to learn instruments & be involved in music in one way or another. I took up guitar in the 8th grade & I devoured whatever rock music I could find. I didn’t grow up going to shows though, because I was in backwoods Eastern North Carolina & there simply was no music scene. All I knew was major label acts, because there was no access to anything else, & even catching a show by one of these big leaguers involved a three-hour trip to Raleigh. I didn’t know what independent or underground music even was until I was out of high school & living in Asheville.
I spent my late teens & early twenties obsessed with being in bands & making music, but I just had no foundation in what that even was. I slowly learned how to play in bands & eventually that was my world - though it was never my work. I got my first real band in 2005, a drum & bass experimental noise-punk duo called Migrations, & haven’t been without one since. By this period, though, I think I understood that it would never turn into a livelihood. By my late twenties, being a career musician was the last thing I wanted.
Today I’m 33. I play guitar in Alpha Cop & I drum with an impromptu outfit with a couple of other Pittsboro dads. Both bands challenge & excite me & I’m satisfied. Maybe once my girls are in school I’ll have time to up my musical output, but I’m not going to take to the road or actively seek attention. Music is something I do because I don’t feel normal otherwise. I don’t ultimately care who notices.
QRD – What are a few highlights of your musical career?
Corbie – There’s no income to speak of from the music I make, but I’m a writer by trade & I spent the first four-odd years of my writing career covering music. I still cover it sometimes, but I’ve branched out substantially & now music writing is just one aspect of what I do. Still, I’m technically part of the music industry as a music journalist - even an inconsistent one - & my career’s definitely had some highlights. Talking shop with other musicians has always been one of my favorite things about playing shows anyway & that’s all music journalism really is - at least the way I do it.
I got to interview Brendon Small, creator of Metalocalypse, several years ago, which was really exciting & fun. He was genuinely nice, which counts for a lot, & he was an engaging conversationalist. I also got to talk effects pedals with Earth’s Dylan Carlson back in 2011, which was insanely fulfilling. I’ve also always felt really good any time I’ve gotten to do an in-depth profile on an interesting musician & I’ve profiled folks like David Childers, Derek Torres, & BJ Barham. I’ve also covered every Hopscotch so far & organized or co-organized a day show at every one but the first one, if memory serves. I definitely enjoy being immersed in music to that degree - even if it takes up a whole weekend.
QRD – At what age did you decide you wanted to become a father?
Corbie – It was some point in my mid-20s. I got married at 24 & my wife & I weren’t particularly in a rush to have kids. I can’t remember exactly when I decided it was time to start a family. It was definitely before I was 28, because that’s when our first child was born. I do remember, though, realizing I’d had my fill of living for myself. Basically it was that mental shift that told me I was ready.
QRD – What are some positive & negative impacts your family has had on your career?
Corbie – I mean, it’s kind of hard to think of it in terms of impacts - my family simply is & the way I work or make music is based around family rhythms, the same as it would be with any law of the universe. I will say, though, that I have the most amazing self-discipline now that I have kids. I stay home with my two girls most of the week &, I have to say, parenting is intense. You can’t just wander off & record a song or sit down & concentrate on writing for even a half hour - your time is shared. Again, it’s like a law of the universe - just like you can’t willfully violate gravity, your time is really not your own when you’re with your kids. When my kids are at daycare the two days they go - which are my writing days - or when I’m at band practice, my focus is equally as intense & I get a lot done. I have to because I can’t later & that focus & self-discipline has been a serious gift.
QRD – What are some positive & negative impacts your career has had on your family?
Corbie – Positive impacts? That’s easy. I play in rock bands & I write for a living. I feel satisfied & accomplished & when I say I have nothing left to prove, I mean it. I’ve had lots of lousy jobs in my time & I’m an awful liar, too - so if I come home feeling awful or worn down, it’s hard for me to hide it. If I didn’t have a consistent musical outlet or a job I cared about, I simply wouldn’t be as happy & being happy or satisfied with your life is essential. What good’s a miserable dad?
As for negatives? We don’t always have enough money, but I don’t think that has as much to do with me being a working artist as it has to do with it being 2015. Jesus, who isn’t broke?
QRD – Have your children effected the music you make &/or listen to?
Corbie – I’m sure they do, but I really can’t tease apart correlation & causation here. I mean, I’ve been a dad for five years, but I’ve had a lot of other stuff happen in that time. I’ve changed jobs, I’ve gone back to college, I’ve lost people. Having kids is huge, but it’s not the only thing to happen since 2010.
As corny as it may sound, I’m getting older & my tastes are shifting. It’s not causing me to necessarily listen to more stuff that would appeal to little kids, though. I mean, when I first had kids I went through a long phase of just wanting to listen to harsh noise & discordant metal. Today, I’m really drawn to immersive textures & well-written pop. I’ve been listening to The Police a lot lately & I’m really into 50s post-bop & cool jazz & bands like Brightblack Morning Light. My kids like The Police & sometimes I put them to bed to Brightblack records, but lots of the stuff I listen to just doesn’t interest them & that’s okay - that’s normal, I think. Again, though, hard to tease apart correlation & causation here. I’m older than I was five years ago! My tastes have naturally shifted!
As for the music I make? Hell if I know! I can’t find a pattern to that anyway. I simply write what I’m feeling at the time, which is a function of everything from the stuff I’m currently listening to, to the stuff I’m reading, to a melody from the incidental music on an episode of Star Trek. So my kids probably influence that in some way since they’re part of my life, but I can’t draw any direct lines there.
QRD – Have you had problems with the lack of steady money from a musical career providing the security you feel necessary in your household?
Corbie – I mean, I’m a writer, so I don’t make a lot of money. There are definitely months when money is tight. Then again, when I look into the money I would make at a traditional job I’m actually qualified for & factor in what daycare costs would be & the increased amount of time I’d be gone from the house & away from the kids, there’s not a huge difference. So while we’re unquestionably poorer than we’d be if I wrote TV ads for a living or something like that, we make out okay & I get to have my dream job & play in a loud rock band & spend lots of time with my kids. I call that a net win.
It’s also worth saying that I grew up poor & have never had a lot of money. If having plenty of money means a feeling of security, I’ve never known what that feels like so I can’t necessarily miss it. You know?
QRD – Given the limitations having a family has on being a touring musician, would you have toured more earlier in life if you’d known?
Corbie – I probably would have, but more because I made a lot of dumb choices in my early 20s than because I have a family now. As a kid, I never had a clear vision of the future. I lived in a running moment, which I think is natural for your teens & 20s. I could have easily taken to the road & lived in a van rather than working myself stupid at blue collar jobs. At that age, you can survive most anything. It’s all academic at this point, though.
QRD – Do you think being a father or a musician has a greater impact on your community?
Corbie – I have no idea. I mean, there’s no way to objectively tell & it honestly never crosses my mind.
QRD – Would you rather see your children eventually become musicians or parents?
Corbie – I don’t think there’s a binary between the two, so I won’t cast my vote on either side. I want my girls to grow up to feel happy & fulfilled. How they get there is really up to them.
QRD – Both family & music seem like things that will take up as much of your time as you’re willing to put in. How do you end up dividing your time?
Corbie – My time exists in blocks. When my girls are at daycare on my workdays, I’m 100% writing. When I go into Raleigh for band practice, I’m as focused as I can be. Alpha Cop doesn’t hang out drinking beer & blabbering about irrelevant stuff - we write music while we’re together & about the strongest thing I drink is tea or La Croix. All other time is family time & I have it split like that so I can be as present as possible during my family time, which is the majority of my time. I don’t have free time - I don’t think any parent does - but I can’t say that I miss it.
QRD – What do your kids think of your music?
Corbie – I don’t know - I haven’t really asked. They like having musical instruments around though & they particularly like getting behind my drum set. My five-year-old asked me to teach her to bow cymbals, which I thought was really cool of her. She’s pretty good at it, too.
QRD – Do you think you could ever do a musical project with your children?
Corbie – I did make some quick, one-off songs with recordings of my oldest child when she was about six months old, but I probably wouldn’t do something like that again - using samples of my kids talking in my music, that is. If they get older & get into music & ask me to play with them, I’d happily do so, but that’s up to them. I want them to have their own spheres & interests & it’s really okay if there’s not a lot of intersection.
QRD – Any words of advice to young people?
Corbie – Hah - how young? I mean, if you’re talking as young as my kids, my advice would be “Take it easy on your parents! They’re people too.”