Photography by Star Shoults
Huntington, West Virginia, singer-songwriter Alan “Corduroy” Brown knows what people think of Appalachia.“ You can look anywhere and say, ‘This place is bad,’” he said. But he knows there’s more to a place than unsavory news specials and documentaries will have you believe.
“Growing up in Appalachia has its quirks as if you grew up in Boston or California or Texas or anywhere else. One thing I kind of noticed a lot is Appalachian people don’t like to brag on themselves,” he said.
But Corduroy is willing to brag on behalf of his neighbors. The title of his 2021 indie rock album, Let Me Know, was inspired by his community rallying around him and his family when he battled a severe case of COVID-19 that nearly took his life. While being life-flighted to Morgantown, WV, he died mid-air and had to be resuscitated and placed on a ventilator.
‘Let me know what you need,’ they would tell him. And they meant it. Friends, family, fellow musicians and other community members raised more than $30,000 for his medical care.
“So many people my entire life have been so incredibly good to me. And maybe that’s just from good karma, or maybe I’m just extremely lucky,” Corduroy said.
He aims to pay that goodness forward. Whether that’s through his inspirational lyrics, uplifting melodies or advocating for mental health awareness, he’s always looking for ways to connect with others.
Connecting with people around him comes easy to Corduroy — his Appalachian roots give him a warmness that others can’t help but notice.
“When we go out of town to tour and play shows, [other musicians] will be like, ‘Why are you waving at that person?’ Or people come to visit here, and they’re like, ‘You guys all know each other,’ and it’s kind of like, yeah, we kind of all do,” he said. “Appalachia is this sweet home that always feels like home no matter where you go. It’s always going to feel like home.”
That sense of home shows up in the nostalgic indie-pop he creates. When asked how he would describe his music, he said, “Keyword: feel-good. 90s, 2000s, roll your windows down, hanging-out-with-your-friends kind of jam.”
He intentionally wants his music to give people joy but also save room for reflection. “We put on a fun show. Everyone’s dancing, having a good time. But if you’re in the space to listen to it, there’s space to absorb … and reflect a little bit as well,” he said.
His music will give any millennial flashbacks to Counting Crows or Ok Go. While Corduroy cites the singer-songwriter Sia as an unlikely source of inspiration for his music, he also finds influences in Appalachia, though it may not always show up sonically.
“We have a non-traditional Appalachian sound, I would say. There’s not a lot of indie pop or rock. We’re not mandolins and banjos and acoustic guitars like that, so it’s really cool to be a part of a movement of a lot of incredible artists here,” he said.
That close-knit group of other Appalachian musicians means that he’s never short on collaborators. “As far as creating songs, one of my favorite things to do is to do collaborations,” he said. “But I think it’s tricky because you might have an idea, and someone else might have an idea, and then you have to wrestle with that a little bit.”
Corduroy has a unique method for pulling his songs from ideas to creation. “My phone currently has hundreds and hundreds of song ideas,” he said.
The ones that he assigns a name to make the cut to the next round; the ones that remain nameless get deleted. His theory: “If it wasn’t good enough for me to give it a title at the time, it must have not been cool.”
Even with a seemingly simple method, he still goes through a journey to compose each and every song. “Sometimes, you get lucky, and sometimes they just fall out of you. Sometimes you have to really fight with them,” he said.
In October of 2023, Corduroy released his latest album, Homegrown Happy Hour (LIVE From Rowdy’s), a collection of live acoustic songs — some previously released, some brand new.
But what’s next for Corduroy and his band? “We’re definitely going to go into hibernation mode in the winter here,” he said. “Hopefully, by spring, early summer of 2024, we’ll have a new album out. We’re already booking [shows] for 2024.”
He is earnestly grateful for the support he’s received from his community as well as his fans. “When people compliment our music, I truly mean thank you when I say, ‘It blows me away that you even realize I do music,’ because there are so many things to care about.”