Annie O Presents: Kori Withers

We have a secret weapon at The Standard in the form of a French-Moroccan music maven named Annie O. After years in the music industry representing greats like Lou Reed, Pearl Jam, Philip Glass, Laurie Anderson, and Peter Gabriel, we nabbed her to curate The Annie O Music Series, a regular concert series in the airy Penthouse of The Standard, East Village. 

On Tuesday, October 18th, Annie O's bringing Kori Withers to the Penthouse for one of her first solo NYC shows. She's no newbie, though. You may already recognize the name. Annie O caught up with Kori Withers before her solo career takes flight early next year with the release of her debut album.

Annie O Presents: Kori Withers
Tuesday, October 18, 7-9PM
The Standard, East Village Penthouse
Free with an RSVP to

ANNIE O: Tell us a little bit about your new song, "
Hearts." How did it come about and what's the meaning behind it?
KORI WITHERS: I was taking a class at Harvard Extension called "The Psychology of Close Relationships" and reading about the vagus nerve that connects the brain stem to the heart. I just thought it was funny that we speak of love as being housed in this blood-pumping organ rather than our brains. When we're lovesick, it's the chest that pains, not the head.  Something about the innocence we like to maintain about where love really lives in the body just made me smile. There's the heart symbol we use for Valentine's Day, but also this anatomical organ that we imagine. I ended up with this lighthearted song about heartbreak and how the heart seems to have a mind of its own that we can't control.

How long have been working on your album and when is it coming out?
We started work on the album on Labor Day of 2015 and it took about 9 months to finish the final masters. Depending on the label partnership, it should be released early 2017.  Some of the songs have been in my files for a while and just hadn't been recorded and others came about after we started production.

Do you have any memories of seeing your father, Bill Withers, perform or of being on road with him? What did you make of it as a child?
I do remember Dad performing in London at Christmastime when I was maybe 8 or 9.  I was sitting in the balcony and I remember hearing the crowd singing "Lovely Day," all lit up in the blue glow of the stage lights. Seeing all of those people feeling good because of my Dad's voice and charisma was an amazing thing to witness. He talked a lot about his intention to make people feel good. It was almost like he had magic happy powers. The best word I can think of to describe it is "heartwarming."

Is your show with us in The Standard, East Village your first NYC show as a solo artist?
I actually performed at the Bitter End years ago with a singer-songwriter friend of mine. We borrowed a friend's Jeep and drove ourselves around the Northeast with our guitars in tow. At that time, I was performing original acoustic folk songs and had never played with a band. I remember itching to play some faster and funkier songs but not having the guitar facility. I think it motivated me to expand my sound. Our last gig was at South by Southwest, and the live scene there really inspired me to change my approach.

Who would you say are a few of your biggest creative influences? 
Early on it was Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, and my dad with their pure soul and iconic songs. I also love Nina Simone and the blues, jazz, and classical dance she does. My vinyl rotation as a kid was Dad, Stevie, Aretha, Roberta Flack, Carly Simon, and The Eagles. Then I saw the movie Running on Empty and got really into James Taylor. There was something so comforting about his voice that made me want to start writing my own songs. As a teen, it was Joni Mitchell, Fiona Apple, and Sarah McLachlan, but also an eclectic mix of West Coast hip hop, dance music, new age, and a bit of rock.  When I got to college, it was East Coast and Southern hip hop, neo soul, and African diaspora music from Brazil, Cuba, West Africa, and Soweto. I probably listened to Erykah Badu, Les Nubians, Outkast, and Jill Scott the most. I can't really pinpoint when I started listening to Sade, because she was always on the radio when I was a kid, but she is definitely a major influence, too. And of course, Prince, James Brown, and Michael Jackson.

Are there any specific tracks by other artists that you are listening to right now?
I'll listen to whatever the Global Top 50 is on Spotify until a new album comes out that I want to memorize. Over the summer it was Rihanna's ANTI. Since Labor Day it has been Ego Death by The Internet.  

You live in LA. What's the most inspiring thing about Los Angeles when it comes to your music?
Los Angeles can be a real blank canvas since the culture and city identity is so—I'll just say cubist to avoid calling it fractured. In LA, you can make your own pace and go through periods of getting into different genres without the city imposing any of its iconography on you. Even though broadway and jazz are considered very New York things, LA had the movie musicals with their glamour and elegance that influenced me a lot as a kid. LA can be a loner's paradise because of the car culture. I treat my car like a mobile practice room, a private space where my inner feelings can surface. I've written a lot of songs to the metronome-click of the turn signal. In New York, it's all about listening and absorbing the city's energy and walking the streets with headphones on.

If Kori Withers had a superpower, what would it be?
Let's assume that since I'm a superhero, I can already fly. I'd say conflict resolution—helping people who can't communicate to understand each other and reach compromise. But I think music has that power to unite and can be super heroic.

What can we expect from your performance at the Annie O Music Series?
Well, the space is phenomenal. Playing in a penthouse with walls of windows—what a dream! It's like flying. I want the audience to feel the same way—elevated as we explore the romantic and funny and sad notes of the album. I love the balance of pretty and funky, so it will be fun to experience that with an audience.  

What's next?
Lots of live shows! The songs evolved so much during the recording process. The same thing happens when they enter the spontaneous and improvisational space of the stage. Experiencing a song with an audience somehow reveals its meaning in more depth and gives the song momentum. I'm really looking forward to that journey.

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