“The Shore” is not a gospel song. It’s not a song about worship or devotion to a higher power. The word “God” is not mentioned once. But Corrina Repp, the LA-based singer-songwriter behind “The Shore” and its accompanying album Island, has created a song that uses the tropes of gospel and other worship music to subvert expectations while still staying in touch with a grand, personal vision. Her approach is not without precedent–take Florence + the Machine, for instance, whose “Shake It Out” might as well be sung from the pulpit of St. Paul’s Cathedral–but Repp takes a more subtle approach, one that’s both surprising and quite welcome.
“The Shore” begins with a meditative guitar melody, one that’s eventually joined by harmonies from a multi-tracked choir of Repps. It all sounds beautifully hymnal, but the lyrics differ from traditional worship music. Repp sings about the body rather than the soul; she confesses that she “can’t remember the secret word” when she’s lying next to someone; and while the writer of “Amazing Grace” was inspired by washing up on a beach after a shipwreck, Repp tells us to “forget about the shore.” She’s adrift, and it’s through being adrift that she feels this connection with something greater.
When a steady drum machine pattern fades into the mix midway through “The Shore,” the listener might expect it to build to a huge climax; perhaps the beat would swell, or perhaps an organ would swoop in for a skyscraping finish. But Repp avoids the obvious route, and so the drum machine is just a drum machine, ushering the song to an understated end. She knows that those gorgeous harmonies, and the sense of inner peace the song provides, is enough.
What story are you trying to tell with “The Shore?” Did anything in particular inspire it?
This song was inspired by a hug, back when you weren’t allowed to hug anyone. I found myself in an embrace after 54 days of isolation. We hugged, after an eight-mile hike realizing it had been 54 days for the both of us. I felt my body react in a way that felt like it wasn’t my own. It felt like my mind and my body lived two separate lives of need, want and desire. I went home and wrote “The Shore” thinking about my body’s secret love, because this hug wasn’t with someone I wanted, but it seemed to me that my body was pining for something deeper, and to pursue this it had to be separated from the complications of the mind.
I love this song’s lush, hymnal quality. Do you have any particular history with hymns or other kinds of church music?
I started listening to a lot of Mississippi Records releases in the mid 2000’s and found myself really gravitating to gospel music. I was also married in the late 90s to a man who had an incredible wealth of old timey music knowledge, and within that a love for old time Hawaiian music. I was drawn to their vocal melodies, and spent years obsessed with vocal driven music. Not being religious at all though, I love the passion in gospel music. They’re singing because they have to, and I can feel that in every part of me when I listen to it. I also love to sing, and I love to explore my lowest vocal lows, and highest vocal highs. It’s an incredible amount of fun for me. “The Shore” was the perfect place for me to dig into some gospel ooooohs.
Other songwriters might have brought a song like this to a great big cathartic climax, but you chose to keep things more low-key and understated. Was that a conscious choice, or was it more of an intuitive thing?
My songwriting is almost always intuitive. I also recorded it by myself in my very tiny apartment in Echo Park, Los Angeles, and didn’t have many options as far as elaborate production was concerned, so a song was often a song of heart and soul in the simplest of ways.
Who are your major vocal influences?
Vocal influences would be Nina Simone, Patti Smith, Kate Bush, Leslie Feist, Nick Cave, Bill Callahan. There are many more, but these are a few I am deeply inspired by.
What’s next for you?
That’s a great question. Every time I release an album I always assume it’s going to be my last became my pursuing music is simply not financially sustainable. I continue to make it a priority in my life, and do everything I can to keep it alive, but I can barely pay my rent. I am, however, supposed to do a month long European tour in March of 2022 opening for Damien Jurado. He’s become a great friend, and we toured together a lot in 2019, and had a blast. I look forward to that. My wildest dream would be to have more money in my bank account and record another full length, and also an instrumental album. There’s lots of music still coming out of me. Despite it being challenging to support myself, it is an incredible gift to make music, and I feel very lucky that I have stuck to it, because I feel like I am just now truly finding my way as a singer and guitarist. It’s so much damn fun.