HOMETOWN: Twin Falls, Idaho
INFLUENCES: Neil Young, Paul Simon, Doc Watson
ALBUM:Korby Lenker, out now
WEBSITE: korbylenker.com

The son of a mortician and an educator, Americana singer-songwriter Korby Lenker began taking piano lessons at age 8. He spent his teen years as the leader of alt-rock band Clockwork Orange, singing cover tunes in coffee shops around his hometown. “We covered ‘Under the Bridge’ by Red Hot Chili Peppers,” he says, “and I didn’t know this at the time, but I listened to it recently and I’m like, ‘Whoa, that’s Korby trying to sing like Anthony Kiedis. And this is Korby trying to sing like Trent Reznor.’”

While studying music theory at Western Washington University, Lenker spent much of his downtime transcribing Trey Anastasio guitar solos. Inspired by the Phish frontman’s virtuosity, he continued to hone his craft in hopes of turning a hobby into a career. “There’s no substitute for knowing how to play your instrument,” he says. “People don’t notice this on recordings, but my whole ability to make a career has been because I can play an hour-and-a-half set solo.” Eager to pursue new musical challenges following graduation, Lenker eventually formed a bluegrass band called the Barbed Wire Cutters and collected a batch of solo recordings along the way.

After winning the MerleFest singing competition, Lenker moved to Nashville in 2007 and worked as a parking lot attendant while making industry contacts. He eventually landed opening spots for Willie Nelson, Keith Urban and Nickel Creek. Produced in collaboration with Tim Lauer (John Oates, Buck Owens), his new self-titled album includes 10 original compositions designed to instantly attract the audience. “What’s really hard is to hit people in the heart and to reach them,” he says. “That’s what I’m trying to do: make music that’s easily likeable, but with a kind of secret sophistication. I always try to write a song you can hum along with on the first listen.”

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