After years bumping around the music business, Cruelty Free's Corey Bates doesn't push it or try too hard anymore. He's content to let go and let it be. Through career ups and downs on both coasts, the singer-guitarist no longer questions his intentions or those of his music.
"I used to say, 'Am I over thinking this a bit?'" says Bates, before realizing that asking that the question answers the question. Some of this songwriter's best material came from lean times and little forethought. That's not to say Cruelty Free is mindless pop, but often a good song comes out of a relaxed effort.
The song "Alternate Lifestyle" helped put Cruelty Free on the map. After haphazardly hooking up with song-placement folks, "Alternate Lifestyle" caught the ears of the bigwigs in comedian Dane Cook's camp, and they promptly licensed the song to go on Cook's "Tourgasm" tour CD released by Rhino Records.
That's quite a trip considering the how and where the song was conceived.
"So I was sleeping on my drummer's floor," Bates says. "And he lived out near the Santa Monica Mountains, which are really beautiful. I had this green truck and all I really could afford to do was play my guitar and write. At night I'd drive out to the Santa Monica Mountains and stay out there until like 1 a.m. and write with a flashlight and a guitar. One of the songs was 'Alternate Lifestyle.'"
After a couple of near-misses with the majors (Bates was in Neve when that band got signed to Columbia Records) and playing with just about everyone he could, Bates, who was originally from the Geneva/Waterloo area, came back east, which brings us to the Cruelty Free we know today, with bassist Brian Eberts and drummer Rob Bodley. Though a lot of the songs that appear on the band's "Collection" album have two guitars, lean times and lean tones have the band maxed out as a trio. But it totally works. Bates' guitar is thick and full of lush chords and energy. This is where the hooks are born. And though Bates knows his way around the neck, he defers to the melody as well as the sub-strata support from Eberts and Bodley. Once the trio put the effort into being effortless, it all flowed.
"We just said, You know, we're a rock band," Bates says. "We love rock, we just have to let it happen. Before it was, 'What do I want this to do? What don't I want it to do?' Now we just let it happen. We just do it."
Though pegging Cruelty Free a 90's band would have chronological limitations and implications, it's not entirely inaccurate. The decade itself didn't finish what it set out to do, according to Bates.
"There's a good argument that we're coming back into [90's music]," he says. "Because we kind of went through a mini-80's...the glam thing, the shred thing... We just want to do the rock thing."
In addition, Cruelty Free would like to do more of the touring thing. It already makes routine jaunts to New York City, as well as playing in Rochester and its fringes. But the push for more gigs is tempered by Bates' relaxed attitude about the music.
"I think I had more sarcasm before," he says. "I was raised in a religious home so I wrote a lot about being a recovering guilt addict. Now I'm really into songs that are just fun. I feel like everything's getting lighter."
And the rest of the band follows suit with this eased-up, more collaborative approach. A new album is anticipated by the end of the year. "We just get in there and bang it out," Bates says.