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  • Writer's pictureNicholas Buggs

284 - Writer, Actor, and Musician Korby Lenker - Stay Curious About Your Passions

MAKE IT podcast, Bonsai Creative, Korby Lenker

In this edition of Mistakes In The Making, we hear from Writer, Actor, Author, and Musician Korby Lenker. Korby opens up about a time in his career when he was forced to slow down, take a 9-to-5 job, and rethink his creative path.


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About Korby Lenker

Korby Lenker is a roots-music Renaissance man. A prolific songwriter for more than two decades, he's spent his entire adulthood in a creative whirl, juggling multiple roles — solo artist, road warrior, published author, actor, screenwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and storyteller — along the way.

Why so many avenues? "I think, at the end of the day, I'm in the 'meaning business,'" he explains. "I come from a long line of preachers, and while I kinda missed the mark there, it’s just in my blood, you know? Everyone wonders why they're here and what they're supposed to do. Art is just the path I've chosen to try and figure it out for myself. Whether I’m writing a song or a story, or acting in something, I'm really trying to touch that place where mystery and the mundane meet. It's incredibly interesting to me, and I just keep trying to get back to that space again and again."

It's been a unique path, beginning in Korby's hometown of Twin Falls, Idaho — where he sang old hymns in church, discovered classic rock and New Wave in his high school, hosted his first band practice in a buddy's basement — and eventually leading him to East Nashville, his adopted home since 2007. Somewhere in the middle, he launched his solo career as a bluegrass-loving, flat-picking folkie, steadily expanding beyond those roots with each album.

As his sound diversified, so did his resume. One year after releasing 2014's Korby Lenker — a self-titled album that combined his love of songwriting craftsmen like Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt with updated indie-pop sensibilities — he published the short story collection Medium Hero, which earned warm reviews from such manifold sources as Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and National Book Award-winning author Tim O'Brien. Two years later, he began writing Morse Code, a scripted TV series loosely based on his own life. Korby continues exploring new territory with 2021's Man in the Maroon, a record full of wide-ranging Americana that doesn't observe any traditional boundaries. It's his eighth studio album, anchored by distinct arrangements and the same visionary spirit that runs throughout all his work.

"Each song feels like its own little movie," Korby says. "Some artists like to work within a tight palette, but I've always created records that mirror the shows I play, where there's a lot of diversity between songs. I like to take people to the different places I've been. I'm in my 40s, so I've lived a little bit, you know? The longer you’re above ground, the more experiences you have… I try to pepper my shows and albums with little vignettes of those experiences, in as many colors as I can."

The eleven vignettes that comprise Man in the Maroon were recorded during a global pandemic that brought Korby's touring schedule to a halt in 2020. He'd spent his previous years on the road, playing as many as 200 shows annually. Stuck at home with an unprecedented amount of time on his hands, he resolved to make a career-defining album that stretched his limits as a writer and instrumentalist. "I remember thinking, 'Who knows what's going to happen tomorrow?" says Korby, who co-produced the album with Skylar Wilson. "I wanted to create an album as though it were the last thing I'd ever make. A for-the-joy-of-it project."

Two years earlier, he'd spent the summer in Montana after the sudden, unexpected loss of his little sister. It was a period of mourning and slow recovery. “I unplugged," he admits. "Really for the first time in my adult life. Just stopped answering emails. Stopped trying. I had been white-knuckling my way through this crazy career for so long I didn’t know how to not do it. Losing Kenna was a major perspective changer." Isolated in Montana, Lenker rode horses, learned to play the clawhammer banjo, and wrote new songs. Man in the Maroon reflects that work, with tracks like the atmospheric "Crow Country" — written in tribute to his late sibling and featuring contributions from the Grammy-winning Native American songwriter Bill Miller— showcasing his newfound skills on the clawhammer banjo. Other tracks make room for the wider range of Korby's instrumental skills, from piano ballads like "Tri-State Lottery" and "What's Wrong With Us" to the fingerpicked folk-pop song "Soft As Cactus." Elsewhere, "All In My Head" finds Lenker singing about mental health over heartland rock hooks, the instrumental "Billie Louise" nods to his bluegrass roots, and "Moon River" — a reimagined cover of the Great American Songbook standard — mixes classic melodies with a new, explorative arrangement. "I love American roots music," he explains. "There’s something familiar in it. Like, it reminds you of what you already know. But I also have this restless part of me that wants to avoid doing the same thing over and over again. 'Invention' is my favorite word. I’ve always wanted to do something nobody's ever done. The combination of those two spirits — the comfort of the familiar and the restlessness of innovation — is really embodied in that arrangement of 'Moon River.'"

The same duality runs throughout Man in the Maroon as a whole. This is Korby Lenker's eighth studio album, and like the records before it, it mixes the fresh with the familiar, the modern with the classic, the explorative with the traditional. Created during a period of isolation — or, to repurpose the album's title, a time of marooning — it offers a refreshing break from the banal.


About the MAKE IT Podcast

The MAKE IT podcast is an audio platform for the Voice of the Filmmaker Program. We offer a variety of educational, aspirational, and entertaining content that promotes the success of creatives across the filmmaking community and the film industry. Our Filmmaker Conversations with industry professionals are dedicated to sharing the advice, knowledge, and insights of experienced filmmakers while exploring what it truly means to be an independent creative in the highly competitive world of filmmaking. Each filmmaker conversation is backed by thoughtful research that allows us to uncover the raw, authentic truths behind each filmmaker's journey. Through our Indie Talks, we share our thoughts and perspectives on navigating independent film from the perspective of Advisory and Executive Producers. We discuss topics that are relevant to filmmakers across a wide spectrum of filmmaking perspectives, and we do our best to uncover hidden truths and new developments in the film industry. Our goal is to help filmmakers avoid the pitfalls and obstacles on the business side of film so that their filmmaking creativity can thrive. Our Industry Insights provide bite-sized actionable advice that filmmaking professionals and creatives of all kinds can use to keep their heads up as they continue their filmmaking journeys. With advice sourced from the filmmaking community, we build upon the wisdom of our filmmaking guests to provide our audience with truly aspirational and inspirational content. The Mistakes in the Making series gives our filmmaking friends an opportunity to speak directly to our filmmaking audience to share a specific lesson they've learned through a mistake they've made. We are firm believers that mistakes can be the gateway to success when we open our hearts and minds to learning from them, sharing them, and using them to Be Better.


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