I was honored to be interviewed by Wendy King from our local “print-only” music magazine Jefferson State VIBES a couple of weeks ago. It was one of the best interviews I have ever had on my music. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did sharing it.
Cornflower Blooms In The Spring
Interview by: Wendy King
Takes an indigo pioneer to create an original style of music and go boldly solo with it. To say his artistry is unique is an understatement. To create an entire song right in front of you is surely a gift. John Francis Coughenour aka Cornflower has taken musical artistry to the next level. We take a walk together in Ashland to splash at the creek and share good energy.
VIBES: When did you first realize you liked music and did your parents gift you your talents? (were they musicians)
Cornflower: I was born into a household full of music lovers. I didn’t know what it meant to not have music in my Life. When I was young my family was bumping “Songs in the Key of Life” by Stevie Wonder, “Joy to the World” by Three Dog Night, Jim Croce, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, The Beatles. My parents weren’t “musicians” but they sang a lot. They would make up songs to mundane life moments. For example, they would be in the kitchen making pancakes, and then they would break out in song about how delicious the pancakes would be. My Sister and I would go on trips to her college and we would sing songs together like “Man in the Mirror” by Michael Jackson, “Closer to Fine” by The Indigo Girls, “It’s the End of the World as we know it” by REM. My brother would probably be the one who most influenced me with music. He was a singer, dancer and actor. He would sing in our living room to classic albums and broadway shows. I will never forget those moments.
VIBES: How did you get the name “Cornflower”?
Cornflower: It is a 3-act play that I hope to produce someday.
I was born John Francis Coughenour into a family of 4 in Kingsport, Tennessee. By the age of 18, I had graduated high school and was searching for the meaning of Life. At the time I occasionally babysat a young 2 year-old boy who was just beginning to speak. One evening we were headed to the kitchen for a snack and the boy turned and looked up at me and said, “Cornflower!” The boy did not know that my last name was “Coughenour”. This became our nickname between each other.
6 months or so later, I had been invited to a friends home for a graduation party. These friends had given me many silly nicknames throughout high school, as most friends do. This time they said they had come upon “THE NICKNAME”. So, they sat me down and said, “You are the Re-Incarnation of a Blue, 4th-Dimensional, Cartoon Character from the Center of the Universe… named Cornflower“. My eyes popped out of my head and my mouth dropped open in disbelief that they had given me the same name that the boy had. Since I had never told anyone else… no one knew of that name. At this moment I officially took the name Cornflower as my official nickname.
A year or so later… I was studying the indigenous heritage of the Holston Valley, in Northeast Tennessee where I was born and raised. As I searched online I found one about the Golden Age of Peace for the Cherokee tribe in the Holston Valley area where I was born. As I was reading this, I saw these words, “…and their leader was a female peace chief named Cornflower“. A female peace chief, or Beloved Woman, is like a female politician who is popularly elected, and the Beloved Woman was then honored by the council through courage in war. I was covered in chill bumps. I realized that this name was a part of my path and that it was much more than a nickname, it was my Spirit name.
VIBES: When did you first begin performing? Did you sing with a choir?
Cornflower: My first performance was in a duet that I called “The Moment”. It was in 2001 in Athens, Georgia at the Georgia Theater as a “tweener set” between the bands Basement and Woman. I performed alongside my dear friend and musician Bronkar. We did an all vocal improvisation for 20 minutes.
After that, my first official solo performance as Cornflower was on July 24th 2004 at the Historic Ashland Armory at the Day Out of Time Festival. It was totally a capella, without a loop pedal. That was really the beginning of what I am doing now.
I had done open mic’s before that, but that show was my first major event I performed at.
VIBES: Would you explain what a loop pedal is for those who do not know?
Cornflower: A loop pedal or “phrase looper” allows me to record a sound and then have it playback immediately, which allows me to add loops or musical layers on the fly. Loops can be created on the spot during a performance (called “live looping”) or they can be pre-recorded. I perform all of my looping live, so that is why they call me a “live looper”. There are no pre-recorded tracks when I play live. It all happens live right before your eyes.
VIBES: How did you learn to do this?
Cornflower: For the most part, I am self-taught. Lots of practice. However, I have had many sound Yoda’s or musical mentors along the way. Jeff Pevar, James Twyman, Kid Beyond and Matthew Schoening to name a few.
VIBES: Which performance of the past is most memorable and why?
Cornflower: My performance on 12/14/2013 was by far my most memorable. This was recorded and is now my new live album #AnEveningWithCornflower which I released on it’s year anniversary on 12/14/2014.
Hmmm… now “why” was it the most memorable? hahaha 🙂
I had just come off of a year and a half sabbatical from music so it was my first show back. I had 4 new song debuts that I felt are some of my best songs yet. They really connect to my purpose and message. One of those debuts is a song I co-wrote with Evan and Spencer Burton of Indubious called “You are The Medicine”. They sat in on the song at this show and it was nothing short of magical. I felt like I was in a mystical timeless moment with two powerful sound priests sharing in the Great Music. This night I also had my two dearest friends Jeff Pevar and Inger Jorgensen sit in on two songs “Oceanwater” and “Do You Know”. The song “Oceanwater” was the best one that Jeff and I had ever performed live. It just took off! “Do You Know” was also incredible having Inger on vocals. She slayed that song!
It was also the strongest my voice has ever been. During my sabbatical I found an incredible vocal coach who has really helped me find my true voice and has given me such tremendous insight into understanding the vocal instrument. The more you know your instrument, it becomes a part of you, and then you can forget about it, and focus on joy and connection, which ultimately is what music is about for me, connection. This performance was my first show where I felt the most clearly aligned with my purpose and message. I had the BEST time that night sharing in the music with everyone. I felt like I did my job as a musician that night. I connected everyone to the music and to each other. I wish every show could be like that one!
VIBES: Most other Live Loopers utilize instruments in their mix – but you are using just your voice. This seems rare – Do people compare you to Bobby McFerrin? “don’t worry be happy now♫”
Cornflower: Yes. I get that alot. I actually am a huge fan of Bobby McFerrin’s and it was his “Don’t Worry Be Happy” song that first got me singing on my own. I think I was 11 at the time. In 2005, I got to perform on stage with him and then later that year I studied with him at a masterclass for Vocal Improvisation.
VIBES: Wow! That’s really cool! Any other mentors worth mentioning?
Cornflower: I am a huge fan of Phish. I have been listening to them since 1994. I consider them my first music teachers. Seeing them live is like a masterclass in itself. The more I watch them play together the more I understand the power of musical dynamics and communication. Both between artists and audience. They were the first live act I saw that really played off of the fact that everyone who is in the venue is an instrument. Everyone participating in the vibe is a co-creator of the sound that emerges. This knowledge has been essential to my musical journey and is a huge part of my performances.
VIBES: You do a lot of benefit shows. What causes are closest to your heart and why?
Cornflower: Anything to do with our Home, the Earth and our Food & Water. The basics of living Life. There are so many areas of need in our modern society due to a disconnect from our place in this world. For so many reasons I can’t even begin to address, we have become distracted from why we are here. My music’s message is about helping us remember why we are here. For humanity to have the capacity to think about these issues, we need basic things. Shelter, food and water. When you are struggling to make those things happen, you have no time for the major philosophical questions of the world. You are just trying to get by. These areas are close to my heart because I feel the world is ready to move past the struggle mentality and move into a thriving mentality. By thriving we can evolve past the things that have limited and separated us for far too long.
VIBES: You do have a new CD dropping soon right?
Cornflower: I released my new live album on Winter Solstice on December 21st, 2014. It is titled “#AnEveningWithCornflower” which is also the title of my Spring Tour in support of that release.
VIBES: What’s ahead for you in the near future and when will you be performing next?
Cornflower: I am about to embark on my first tour since 2012. That starts on April 11th in Ashland OR, then Grants Pass on April 17th and finally Portland on April 24th. I will then be heading south into California in May, some Washington state shows sometime this Summer, and a festival or two. I am also currently working on my new songs “Monks on Main Street” and “You Are The Medicine” in the studio alongside producers Bret Levick and Evan Burton of Indubious. I have so much in store. I am so inspired about this new chapter of this music and the community that is building around it. It feels so good.
VIBES: If you could erase one thing from the planet what would it be and why?
Cornflower: Violence. Both passive and active. Active violence is born from inner, more passive violence. If we can end the inner violence, meaning the unconscious abusive thoughts of self and other, life would be so much more inspired. The constant commenting on how we aren’t enough and how we aren’t as beautiful, or how that person separate from me is ugly or stupid is inwardly directed violence. All judgement is ultimately judgement of self and is an act of violence. If we could catch ourselves in our mental commenting and redirect that misused mental energy towards focusing on what we want to feel and what we want to create in the world, that could be pretty amazing!
VIBES: Finally, how can people reach you to see you and buy your stuff?
Cornflower: They can go to my website at cornflowermusic.com and find me on all of the social networks under the username cornflowermusic.