Biography by Mike Mettler
"Behind Instant in Time" Out January 2020
“We’ve got open air.” These four words inaugurate singer-songwriter Paige Cora’s stunning debut, Instant in Time. And while they distinctly set the stage for “Bicycle Bells,” the album’s viscerally vivid opening track, they also serve as a bold manifesto and clear-cut introduction for what’s to come from an artist who’s truly coming into her own as a creative force.
Written and produced by Cora herself, engineered and mixed by Jae Daniel, and mastered at the legendary Abbey Road Studios in London by Christian Wright (Ed Sheeran, Franz Ferdinand, Blur, Keane), Instant in Time — set for release on CD and via digital platforms on January 24, 2020 — teems with the confidence of a seasoned performer in the process of defining her original voice.
From the atmospheric vocal buildup and guitar-riffage payoff of “The Good Side of Desire,” to the elegant dream-pop spaciness of “Facing the Grass,” to the synth-driven, natural-habitat rhythms of the album-closing epic “Forest Pine,” all nine tracks that comprise Instant in Time reflect just how deft this burgeoning Canadian keyboardist/vocalist is at capturing and chronicling those ever-elusive ethereal song spirits in our material world. “I think everything I do has that kind of eeriness to it,” Cora admits.
That said, her true lightbulb moment as an artist struck when she first came in contact with Joni Mitchell’s iconic June 1971 statement piece Blue almost a decade ago. “After hearing that album, I went, ‘I want to do this. I don’t want to get into a costume anymore as a performer. I want to be me,’” Cora details. “It changed me. I didn’t want there to be a separation between me and the message anymore — I wanted to talk about how I was feeling. Artists like Kate Bush, Joni Mitchell, and David Bowie acted as these catalysts for me going back to the piano and getting away from everything that had been pulling me in a more bombastic, confrontational direction. They totally changed my songwriting.”
The heartbeat at the center of Instant in Time came together by virtue of how Cora and her core bandmates worked together live off the floor at Black Rock Studio in Buffalo, New York, intermingled with warm cello accents and everything else members of the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame added to her song arrangements. “Honestly, I was lifted by all the people I worked with,” Cora readily agrees. “Every time I would say to my drummer [Rob Lynch], ‘Okay, let’s pretend we’re at a roadhouse bar in Twin Peaks,’ he’d go, “I know exactly what you mean!” — and that’s exactly how the drums would sound. Overall, there was great communication between everyone in the band, and I love the excitement we generated together. It all just flowed really well.”
It also helped that Cora instantly connected creatively with her engineer and Instant in Time right-hand in-studio man, Jae Daniel. “I think we clicked right away because he saw how organic it all was,” she says. “Jae also saw how the team was coming together around me. He saw me as an artist who knew what she wanted to do — someone who wanted to make a certain kind of record. He knew the influences, and he clicked with the sound we wanted to get for it. It was very comfortable. A good Canadian never takes credit for anything,” Cora concedes with a hearty laugh, “but the production also came out a lot in the mixing. Jae and I had a vision for a lot of these songs, which was the result of all those long sessions of him and me in the room together making it come to fruition.”
Good editing choices are also in fine evidence all over Instant in Time — the mark of a quite self-aware artist-as-producer. “There was lots of cool stuff we wanted to do,” Cora says. “At first, the title track had a vintage drum-machine sound that ran through the whole song because we loved it so much. But then we made the decision to make it only special for the intro. There were a lot of instances where we’d go, ‘Yeah, let’s throw that in there!’ before we figured out how to make these things work without them overwhelming the song structures.”
This level of cognizance in the production booth ultimately enabled the song “Instant in Time” to transcend its core elements by mixing the sonic spirit of Vampire Weekend with African rhythms of the 1980s by way of Paul Simon and David Byrne’s collective world-music sensibilities. “Rhythmically, it’s the most unique song on the record,” Cora allows, “because I wanted something that had a different, pick-me-up vibe to it.”
The aforementioned “Bicycle Bells” chronicles a tragic event that occurred in a Toronto public park, and its purposely hopeful aftermath. “This beautiful couple from France came to Trinity Bellwoods Park while trying to make a new life for themselves, but they were struck down in their prime,” Cora explains of the freak act of nature involving a tree branch that sadly took the life of the male half of this partnership. “It’s a place I’d been to so many times in my youth, and I couldn’t think anything bad could happen there because I have so many happy memories attached to it. I wanted to write a song for her, and if she could ever hear it, maybe it could possibly help,” Cora continues. “The perspective was to keep it about the beautiful moment before. The spiritual perspective is the trees that are all connected by roots all around the world means he’s always around her — and she always has his roots around her.”
The musical structure of “Bicycle Bells” was captured in three acts. “We literally recorded three songs and stitched them together, because they all have very significant time signature changes,” Cora clarifies. “That was probably the most amazing production feat of the album, because I knew what I wanted so strongly that it allowed me to be more of a producer than a performer on that one. That song had so much going on for me in terms of playing with the cello and the guitar acoustics. My favorite thing occurs when it reaches the third act, as there are actual sampled bicycle bells ringing to counteract everything. I also look at the song like a fan, because it’s fun to experience it!”
On another level, Cora feels a deep spiritual connection to her music, which comes across in the way she enunciates each carefully chosen lyric. “What is conscious is, I love my lyrics, and they’re very important to me. They serve the melody,” she acknowledges. “I believe it’s a very fine art to find a word that serves the melodic sound and tone of the writing. Finding a phrase like (sings), ‘Staaaake your claaaaim’ — one that allows me to do those dips in the singing, with those open vowel sounds — is key. I think that openness allows the resonance of that singing to travel. And that goes back to meditation and chanting, which is part of why those open vowel sounds resonate with people. It goes straight to the heart.”
Indeed, meditation is an important component to Cora’s life, and its practice holds a clear influence on her music. “Finding not just the vocals but the chords that are open and have some sort of beauty or euphoria to them is a big part of how I write,” she observes. “It all resonates better with the universe that way. Finding something that has a natural resonance to it is usually where I start. When I come up with something where I can hear that, that’s when I continue with it.”
“Echoes” is another prime example of the “core of Cora” hard at work. “I actually wrote it for [British pop vocalist] Sam Smith,” she reveals. “When I heard his voice, I thought it was so wonderful, and I just thought, in my imaginary world, ‘Maybe he’d sing this one.’ I was convinced I didn’t want to sing it myself — I was just going to do a little demo, and maybe figure out a way to get it to him through his representation. But a lot of people I’ve sent versions of the song to have told me it’s their favorite, which I really appreciated. I really love the song now too, even though it was so out of left field for me to do a Motown-like soul song on the record.”
Besides being laser-focused on creating and playing her own music, Cora is also extremely passionate about supporting animal welfare and nurturing animal rights. She gladly gives freely of her own time to perform at animal-rights benefits and lends additional assistance to animal sanctuaries whenever and wherever she can. Currently, Cora personally oversees a number of rescue animals who live on her own property, including a pair of 300-pound Berkshire pigs who weren’t even expected to survive when she first took them in. She also backs Imagine P.A.W.S., a not-for-profit that focuses on feral cat spaying, neutering programs, and cat adoption.
Cora’s deep-rooted concern for the animal kingdom intertwines with her impetus to create music. “Everything I do musically fuels one of my main goals in life, which is to one day expand our own farm and have more animals there,” Cora explains. “That’s one of the determining factors — the ‘why’ behind the art. There’s always the artist’s goal of, ‘I’m an artist, and I need to create.’ But I feel animals give me this other momentum. They drive this other energy that serves me really well. It keeps me inspired.”
Clearly, being in tune with what Cora describes as the “high-vibe” of the natural rhythms of nature and its own respective needs resides at the core of the artist’s own personal goals and professional desires. All of this serves to catalyze the creative gifts that reside in the grooves that make up the nine musical snapshots collected on Instant in Time. With this electrifying debut album, Paige Cora is poised to take a giant leap into the musical breach. Don’t let the instant awakening of such a vibrant new artist pass you by.