There’s nothing wrong with wearing sequins to brunch. Nothing at all as far as Kelly Irene Corson, front woman for The Art of Shooting, is concerned. Still the Brooklyn-based Detroit native admits to some fashion flops, including a gig with her former band (Mystery RKO), The Von Bondies and The White Stripes, where she showed up in a vintage gown and feather slippers. “I don’t know how good it was, but I was like, ‘Really? This is my first show?’” laughs Corson. “I dressed like such an idiot. I don’t even know what the hell was going on.”
Over-the-top stage attire is not de rigueur nowadays for Corson, but some glitz is still required. A centerpiece of tangled Christmas lights shaped as a birdcage—perhaps an homage to single “The Birdcage,” off of TAOS’ debut Traveling Show (out April 27)—adorned the stage at a recent gig at Southpaw.
The feisty, blond singer, who once attempted singing opera and studying musical theater, says that things fell into place for her as soon as she discovered burlesque and indie rock and picked up a guitar six years ago. “I fell out of love with theater,” says Corson. “I like the sincerity, the honesty, the telling of your story, and that appealed to me far more than pretending you were someone else. Burlesque let my dancing out, and I never really liked acting anyway!”
Corson met her TAOS bandmates while all were in different bands. She immediately knew she had to work with drummer Jim Archer after seeing him play with band Renminbi one evening in D.C. He later relocated to Brooklyn along with bassist Julie Rozansky; guitarist Gavin was the final piece of the quartet’s puzzle. The band name originated while Corson was doing research on a fishing village in Quebec for legendary songwriter (“Stardust”) Hoagy Carmichael’s son and was shocked by some of the language used towards women and African Americans in the some of the late 19-century sporting journals. The most offensive one, “The Art of Shooting,” stuck with her.
Subtle bits of Kate Bush, Sugarcubes, PJ Harvey, the Cocteau Twins and Forget Cassettes are obvious influences on the band, but Corson names Belly’s 1993 debut Star a defining album for her. On Traveling Show, produced by Paul Mahajan (Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The National) and Keith Souza (Clap Your Hands Say Yeah), Corson channels her Tanya Donelly as a wickedly operatic Siouxsie or Amanda Palmer. More sullen tracks “One Minute Love Song” and “Traveling Show” educe the album’s darker theme of domestic violence.
“I was in an abusive relationship and that’s what Traveling Show is about,” shares Corson, who also stopped drinking before recording the album. “It’s about someone who just kept coming back and after a long time I realized, Wow, I’ve been with this person for years. It’s just about coming to terms with what it’s like being in that kind of relationship. That [track “Traveling Show”] and “No One Two” are about starting fresh and looking at it square in the eye for what it was. Yeah, it’s kind of a sad record.”
Not all somber, the pace picks up with the hypnotic throb of “The Birdcage” and “120 Man,” but even the more spine-tingling tracks evoke a glimmer of hope. “It’s really a personal record,” says Corson. “It used to be the more a song meant to me, the more I would take words out, but with this album I was like, ‘Fuck it, I’m putting names and social security numbers.’ Seriously, do you want a link? I’ll send you a link.”
The Art of Shooting
Mar. 4, The Bell House, 149 7th St. (betw. 2nd & 3rd Aves.), Brooklyn, 718-643-6510; 9, $10.