Get Happy

Stop worrying and listen to Cory Wong

Cory Wong was put on this Earth to make you happy.

“Every artist has a North Star that drives them — their passion, their motivation,” Wong says. “Mine is to spark joy in the listener. My live show is all about having fun. People leave having had a blast. I’m there to entertain and put on a show.” 

The Minneapolis musician comes to Eugene supporting his latest release, Motivational Music for the Syncopated Soul, full of high-energy minimalist funk that at times is almost new wave in conception, though it always follows the production recipe of studio greats like Quincy Jones and Nile Rodgers, with pop, jazz and soul in the margins. 

Wong’s guitar playing is lithe, spritely and playful, a big warm grin at the center of it all. It’s also a little devilish at times, but that’s nothing new for Wong. His former band Vulfpeck released Sleepify, a completely silent album intended, with the help of Vulfpeck fans, to game the royalty system of music streaming services like Spotify. Fans let the album stream all night, and Vulfpeck used the revenue to finance the band’s next tour.

From the outset, Wong wanted Motivational Music to maintain the party atmosphere created by Jones with artists like Michael Jackson, though what might at first feel like a free-form jam has a lot of nuance and orchestration underneath it.

The album also features several guest spots from artists such as Jon Batiste, Stephen Colbert’s bandleader. Wong recently sat in with Batiste on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Emily C. Browning and Charlie Hunter also make appearances. 

Wong’s a deadline guy, so he wanted to be well prepared before working with artists he admires, especially given Hunter’s unique style of playing. “It’s like bass and guitar at the same time,” Wong says. “I wrote a tune specific for him.”

But when it comes to collaboration, Wong doesn’t like things to be too on the nose. Instead, he prefers to give the artist a slow pitch softball and let them take it from there. Anything else would be a little patronizing, Wong says. 

Motivational Music’s dance party goes quiet in the middle of the record for a Randy Newman-style piano ballad, “Today I’m Gonna Get Myself a Real Job.”

“No ticket sales, no critics, no Spotify statistics/ Today I’m gonna get myself a real job,” Wong sings. Elsewhere, “Companion Pass” gives way to a motivational speech from Wong to all the artists of the world, urging them to never give up. 

“We go from moments of extreme confidence to crippling self-doubt,” Wong says, speaking of his experience as an artist. “You realize that this is your real job. You’ve got to just go for it and give it everything.” 

Cory Wong plays with Phoebe Katis 9 pm Saturday, Oct. 19, at Sessions Music Hall; $18 advance, $22 door, $100 VIP tickets available, 21-plus.

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