Back in October, Cory Frye, a music journalist formerly associated with the Democrat-Herald and Gazette-Times, launched his website Mid Valley Noise where he continues to pursue his passion for music reviews giving us a “taste of a band.” The Corvallis Advocate virtually sat down with him to reminisce about the past and present of his career.
How did you start as a music journalist?
Frye: First, there’s my father, a ’60s survivor with a massive record collection, an altar at which I studied from the time I first became trusted alone with his stereo. Our house thrummed ritually with CSN, Neil Young, The Doors, Gram Parsons, and the Beach Boys. He’s ground zero.
As a writer, I started as a reviewer, in high school (West Albany High School), my senior year. By then I was an avid reader of Rolling Stone, with dances through Creem — then on its final legs, in the mid- to late 1980s — Hit Parader, and Circus. My biggest influences, however, were a pair of books: Greil Marcus’ “Mystery Train” and a volume he edited of Lester Bangs’ work, “Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung.” Those two were seminal, pairing criticism with a love for history and culture. Greil could trace blues licks to Mississippi house addresses, and Lester brought an unbridled love for language to everything he did, probably over a late-night beer and a handful of Darvon. I idolized those guys as writers. Still do, although only Greil has the benefit of breath.
But I thought rock criticism was practiced exclusively by middle-aged men on the coasts. That changed earlier, in my sophomore year, with a senior named Joe Keebler. He wrote for the West Albany paper, the Whirlwind. Every issue he’d muster essays on bands like The The, pulling records from a great little short-lived indie shop downtown called Audio Addict. He’s the one who really showed me — though he didn’t know it at the time, and we didn’t know each other — how to use my burgeoning voice to comment on music. I was a writer by that point, anyway, primarily horror fiction and Mad magazine-educated humor. Now I had another avenue of expression.
I didn’t write artist features until maybe my second or third year at the Democrat-Herald — probably at about 20 or 21 (1992-93).
You also play music?
Frye: I suck at playing music. I have a guitar and an amp that I noodle across occasionally. I’ve played since I was 15, but never seriously. There was a band in 1988-89, a trio with a couple of South Albany kids I named Chuckie Ate Chicago. We never left the drummer’s bedroom and I never mastered anything more complicated than Tone Loc’s “Wild Thing.” I was the rhythm guitarist (our lead was far more talented), vocalist, and songwriter. We had two originals in our repertoire: “Visit Mom and Dad on the Farm”, “Lost in the Night”, and “My Love Is Hot (It’s Microwave Easy),” based on a slogan I swiped from a box of frozen sausage muffins.
What are some of your favorite pieces you’ve written?
Frye: Some of my favorite pieces include my first-ever concert review: 1991-2 at the Salem Armory with Big Audio Dynamite, Public Image Ltd., Live, and Blind Melon. That’s the first time I ever rubbed shoulders with my heroes in person: hanging out on a bus watching Shannon Hoon get high or getting bawled out by John Lydon.
A lot of my favorites had to do with the circumstances. I have fond memories of interviewing J.D. Monroe, Paul Kincaid, Dave Trenkel, and Steve Hunter in the old Gazette-Times conference room, all of us laughing like hell; hanging out at Dave Storrs’ house with him and Page Hundemer, listening to them unspool improvisational jazz live; talking to Dustin Herron before Abolitionists’ second-ever show; living at Albany’s Phonomania store and neighboring Venetian Theater, catching righteous shows and developing longtime friendships with Jeff Simpson and fellow music nut Dave Wilson; dodging Curtis Salgado’s wild gesticulations in a small trailer; even of being cowed by Bruce Cockburn, who was nice but very intimidating. Those are the ones that immediately come to mind. I just liked the high of putting bands in the paper, giving them the respect and attention, I felt they deserved.
Your favorite genre of music?
Frye: I love anything cacophonous. As I get older (just turned 48), I’ve grown a real love for such country- and folk-inflected singer-songwriter types as Todd Snider, James McMurtry, Guy Clark, Margo Price, John Prine, Warren Zevon, and Ray Wylie Hubbard. Those folks turn phrases like nobody’s business. If I could [write] something half as badass as “Choctaw Bingo,” I’d retire my pen.
How do you feel the media shapes the musical interests?
Frye: I’ve always thought it’s glorious, to inspire someone to sound through the written word, to be part of an exclusive club, imparting some great secret like the coolest guy on your school bus. I approach music writing as that annoying friend who won’t shut up about the Afghan Whigs until everyone’s into them. And even then, I’ll keep going. This gig requires persistence. I still have nothing but deep love for my own guides: Lester, Greil, Joe Keebler, Anthony DeCurtis, Richard Meltzer, Nick Tosches, Rick “Reek” Johnson, Joel Selvin, David Fricke, Lillian Roxon, Chuck Eddy, Charles Young, Byron Coley, Everett True, Etc.
What about the influence of the radio?
Frye: Honestly, I haven’t listened to terrestrial radio in a long time. Today, I rely on favorite sites and writers, Facebook/Spotify algorithms, or friends for new recommendations. I’ve been turned on to new stuff more by Joe Clark driving past me on Fifth Street, stopping to ask me if I’ve heard so-and-so, or Doug DiCarolis at Happy Trails, whose tastes I’ve trusted for years. As a kid, I was all about KIQY, Q105, or KBVR. Today, though, it seems classic rock stations follow a specific list and never waver from it.
How did you arrive at having your publication online?
Frye: I began plotting the Noise in June 2020, not long after leaving the Democrat-Herald and Gazette-Times following my hemorrhagic stroke in March. (I spent 40-plus days in the Corvallis hospital, relearning many formerly subconscious functions: walking, speaking, etc.) I’d initially had no intention to leave, but my blood pressure re-spiked and I didn’t want to exacerbate what I’d struggled to survive.
I loved music and local culture too much to silence myself on those subjects forever, so I got together with Dave Wilson, who runs Willamette Valley Music Scene and serves on the board of the J Foundation, a nonprofit that plots benefits for scenesters and their families facing hardships, and together we shaped it, him working on the primary look and design. I consider it an extension of those efforts while maintaining a standalone independence.
We launched in early October, and I’m working on its fourth “issue” this week. I tend to plan the issues days in advance. Not having a production schedule is freeing; it goes live when it’s ready, sometimes even before. I have that luxury since I know what’s going inside, I have those interviews scheduled, and my small writing pool is made of professional journalists who hit their deadlines.
Right now, I’m looking for potential advertisers. In the meantime, I’ve established a GoFundMe to build a budget for freelance writers, videographers, artists, and such (I currently pay contributors out of my own pocket). The hope is to create a longstanding forum for entertainment and culture journalism, long-form and otherwise — kind of a Willamette Valley Esquire, Believer, Harpers, or Vanity Fair. It’s a wild fantasy, but God knows the talent is here.
By Joanna Rosińska