Expat Chats: Corey Duncan of Oh! Pears checks in from the Pacific Northwest
If you ask Corey Duncan where he is from, he’ll tell you Philadelphia.
The man behind Oh! Pears, is well known to Philadelphians in the music scene. With his everlasting love for quality pizza and of the word “jawn,” you’d probably think he is a Philly native, but geographically he is from Seattle. He grew up in the suburbs there.
Two years ago, he moved back to the West Coast after living in Philly since he was 19.
Duncan first came to the East Coast thinking it was a temporary thing. He’d thought he’d stay a year or so and then head back. Instead, he stayed for 10 years . “I was in community college but not really sure what to do with myself,” Duncan said. He called a classified ad in a local alt-weekly. A guy was looking for other musicians to play in a band. “He was from New Jersey and wanted to come home. He asked if I wanted to go with him.” With not much tying him down, Duncan thought, “why not.” He lived in New Jersey for a year and came to Philly after forming the band Pattern is Movement, with whom he recorded two albums before striking out on his own.
The immediate difference from Seattle’s scene that Duncan noticed was the support behind local bands. “Seattle is all about supporting local music… In Philly, it wasn’t really like that at the time. You had to be popular outside of Philly for people to care.” This was 2001, and the Philly scene at the time was very specific to neighborhoods. The bands typically played shows in one area and then petered out.
Seattle has had for many years what Duncan calls, “a self-contained musical culture.” The labels and support structure for musicians are all in one place. Whereas in Philly (though this is changing), musicians had to look elsewhere for all the needed resources.
After playing in Pattern is Movement for a number of years, Duncan left the band to create his solo project, Oh! Pears. The chamber pop band grew to an orchestra of 13 members with all the parts being written and taught by Duncan. He released two albums and did international touring while he was based in Philly.
During his first year back in Seattle, he took time to evaluate how he wanted to go forward with music. “I loved having the 13-piece orchestra, but it was real time-consuming. It would take a hundred emails to get a practice. Really! I counted one time.” Duncan wanted to figure a set-up that would be more manageable. “I just streamlined it a little bit,” he said. “I don’t have a drummer now. I’ve been using drum machine and tracks. It’s almost a different sound.”
Duncan has had to approach the business-side of music in a different way. In Philly, he could easily get shows because “it’s so interconnected.” he said. He has had to work a bit harder to book shows in Seattle because he doesn’t have a track record there.
There are other differences between cities that Duncan has noticed. In Seattle, people “go to a show, people watch the band they are there to see, and leave,” he said. Though he noted that Seattle is curious about local bands and people will go to shows just to check them out.
There are smaller interactions that provide a glimpse into the contrast. “[In Seattle] People don’t like dancing as much. I’m in the middle of the dance floor doing my thing. And a guy is like, ‘Hey I’m trying to talk to my friend.’”
Also people in Seattle have a much different sense of humor. “I ’m a pretty silly dude and people [in Philly] like it. Seattle they’re a little like, ‘Eh that’s weird.’ I tend to be a bit dryer in Seattle.”
If there’s anything for Duncan that Seattle outshines Philly on, it’s the environment. “I love Philly, but there’s something about having all this clean air makes you feel better. You feel more calmed down,” he said The landscape of Seattle can change from a downtown city feel to lush evergreen-lined and snowcapped mountain views to a beach all within a 10-minute drive. “I feel like it’s a little terrarium I live in. “
Duncan proudly wears his t-shirt that says “Jawn” (given to him by Pattern Is Movement’s Chris Ward). And he’s finally found a pizza place that makes the East Coast grade. “It’s been a real struggle,” he said. The pizza in Seattle is below par and overpriced according to him. “The texture and taste is like an unsalted cracker,” he said. The solution to this problem is a place called Italian Family Pizza. “It’s mostly owned and operated by people from Philly. It’s specifically South Philly. I love it. “
Duncan is set to release his first full-length album, Wild Part of the World, on September 16, which just so happens to be his birthday. This week Duncan released the video for the single “Under the Olive Tree,” which was done in entirely stop motion. The video is visually impressive with brilliant hues of colors like purple and orange contrasted with the setting of fields and forests.
Oh! Pears is a bit more Philly on this record. Having had this album done for two years, most of the material was written while he was still living on the East Coast. Duncan said he’s written a lot of new material since and plans to release several more albums in the next year or so, possibly a few albums in succession. He’s also working on a full album with another former Philly musician, Attia Taylor.
Philadelphia forever is intertwined with Duncan’s development as a musician and a human. “It seems way more true that Philly is my identity than Seattle,” he said. “It was where I became more of a person.”
Expat Chats is our regular series spotlighting Philly musicians that have moved on to other cities. Read previous installments, including Cheers Elephant, here.