Korby Lenker Makes Multitasking his Mantra
(by Lee Zimmerman)
Korby Lenker is a renaissance man. It says so on his website. And yet, that claim practically goes without saying. An affirmed multitasker, he’s an accomplished singer, songwriter, musician, author, storyteller, performer, podcast producer, actor, and filmmaker. His latest album, Man on the Moon, is clearly his best yet. That said, given Korby Lenker’s knack for both wit and reflection, his efforts consistently stand out, a considerable accomplishment that he’s managed to maintain over the expanse of six previous albums dating back to the beginning of the millennium.
Yet despite the fact that the album was recorded just prior to lockdown, before being rerecorded, reshuffled, and revisited throughout an ongoing editing process, he barely had time to celebrate its success before taking off on another mission — that is, to make a pilot for a hoped-for TV series.
Clearly, Korby can’t stop.
‘As soon as something comes out, it's like sardines, sort of dead’ he muses. ‘It's like, alright, I did that. Cool. What's next? That's really bad though. I need to seed my old projects more than I do. I have to discipline myself to stay focused. I see how some artists who will go like, “Oh, hey, my big record just came out,” like today, last year, or even five years ago. And it's like, “I’m so smart, I have to remind the world about this cool thing that I did. That's one area where I'm not organized enough. I need to be better about that, like just reminding people of stuff, because we're all bludgeoned with stuff constantly’.
A native of Twin Falls, Idaho and now proud resident of East Nashville, Tennessee, he’s currently preparing pre-production for Morse Code, a proposed TV series based on his life and spawned from four episodes of a web series, which he’s now re-written as a 60-minute pilot. ‘We raised the funds to film a SAG-affiliated pilot here in Nashville in January 2022’, he mentions. ‘We’ll be shopping that presentation to networks and streaming platforms in spring of next year. We've got this budget set, and while it's never quite enough money, it's a good chunk of change. We're just plotting out what we can and can't afford and so we’ve pushed the shoot dates back one more month. That's the right call and we're moving forward. Plus, just yesterday, I finished the first draft of this feature script that I've been working on for the last three months. So that's 140 pages of a new narrative, and that feels great, because I've never done that before. I wasn't sure I could do it’.
Nevertheless, that prospect hasn’t stopped him yet. Clearly, Lenker has his sights set on expanding his parameter to the fullest extent. ‘This is part of a larger picture, one aspect of what I hope to be an ever-evolving, production company with my wife, Randa. She's a producer on Morse Code, and she'll be a producer on this new feature, which has a working title ‘Ruby’. It’s really her life story, which is really unusual. She's Korean American and was adopted at the age of three months old into a family of Eastern Kentucky hillbillies. She grew up in a holler as the only Asian for hundreds of miles. I'll direct it, and there's a role that we kind of wrote for me. However, I'm definitely going to open that casting up wide. It's all about finding the right actor. That's why it’s so important. I'll have plenty to do, but it'll be a fun project because Randa is just a force of nature. She's just a whip-smart lady. She's an actor that books all the time. So now, she’s just hitting into both sides. Right now, she's in the other room in our house, producing an Old Crow Medicine Show music video’.
Clearly then, they’re a busy pair, and obviously not hindered by any lack of motivation.
‘I like trying to keep new stuff coming and not dwell too hard on any one thing’ Lenker insists. ‘I'm just somebody who's always been interested in in a lot of things. That's been the case since I was a little kid. I'm just one of those type of people that's just sort of categorically curious. That's me for sure. I'm interested in a lot of things, but I'm not interested in everything. I can't draw. I'm not start designing a line of clothing or whatever. There’re really just a few things that I'm interested in. I have some proclivity for storytelling, and making music. So too, this new interest in acting is something I'm really serious about as well. That's been a kind of a surprise gift to me, in the sense of just like a new avenue of exploration that I didn't even know existed. It wasn’t available in any immediate sense until four years or so ago’.
Clearly then, he views his muse as something that’s somewhat mysterious, as if it suddenly appeared from the ether. He admits he has a restless spirit, and that, in a sense, is what spurs him on.
‘Yeah, there's that piece of it’ he concedes. ‘I don't know. I think a big part for me is that I'm more interested in trying to do something I haven't done before, something I'm not sure I can do. That's where the real excitement is, and where the real satisfaction is. It's really just about taking something on and overcoming a fear. As soon as something gets kind of safe, then it just becomes boring. If you know you can do it, then it's just kind of like a a job and that’s why you start doing it. I have this like, collection of three by five cards, that I think I started keeping like maybe 20 years ago. I would be reading a book and if there was a line or a word that jumped out at me, I would write it down. I have hundreds of these cards now, but there no order to them whatsoever. They're just random accumulations of literature and Bible verses, anything that excited me for any reason. I still I consult them regularly and I'm really amazed to see what I might have written down 20 years ago’.
He says one notation in particular made a special impression. ‘One of those cards said, Whatever Hurts, Go There. That’s like such a mantra for me. It means, go for whatever hurts in the largest sense. That's the clue. Whatever is scary to you, that's what you should do. I'm not scared of like playing professional basketball or something, because that's just like not even real, and there’s no chance that I could do that or anything like that. There are those things that don't scare me that I can watch and enjoy. But it's those things that are close to what you might be able to do that tend to be the ones that keep you up at night, or make you wonder when you're not doing anything else. And I really try to listen to that stuff’.
The inevitable question becomes, does Korby consider himself an overachiever? He certainly leaves that impression.
‘I don't think that I'm like a workaholic, really, at all’ he insists. ‘I really enjoy my life. We party and go out and see music all the time. I do a lot of yard work and I love my pets and I just kind of live. But I think that part of it is, honestly, this pandemic thing. I couldn't tour. And that really ushered in a new curve, a new chapter in my life where it freed up so much time. Not only is touring time consuming, as in just being behind the wheel of a car for hours at a time, but when you're not doing it, you’re dealing with the administrative stuff, updating a website, buying plane tickets, fishing for new gigs, whatever it is. And I've never been very good at it. I've never enjoyed it. Some people I know who are talented songwriters are also kind of instinctively small business people, and can kind of juggle all those things. But that was never me. I sort of did it in spite of it all. I know what it is to be on tour all the time. All I wanted to do is be out on the road playing shows. I did 150 — 200 shows a year for a couple of years. I was just out all the time’.
What changed, we wonder.
At some point, I was like, ‘You know what? I think I'm good. I love playing shows, but I think I'm kind of sick of it.’ I hit my goal. So now, it’s a lot less interesting to me. So, when I wasn’t out touring, it freed up a ton of time. My income’s gone way down from its formerly glamorous proportions. I'm kidding of course, but there’s that risk that was part of the fear, too. is just like, well, I don't know, can I make it work? Can I? What if I start it? You know, that was I'm still kind of freaked out about it. But the uncertainty in income has been more than made up for in just the daily joy of spending my life the way I want to, and these new chances I'm taking and small successes and the little encouragement from the world can make you feel like you're not a complete idiot for going down this different path’.
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