In a year where rock music struggled to find its footing on Billboard’s album and song charts, a hard-rock and country crossover from newcomer Cory Marks has been a breakout success for the Canadian singer, songwriter and former Royal Military College hockey player.
Marks’ first single, “Outlaw and Outsiders,” which debuted at No. 1 on both the top rock and hard rock digital song sales chart, and at No. 7 on the country digital song sales chart, has given the aspiring fighter pilot-turned-musician the momentum he needed going into the new year. He’s preparing to tour with Gord Bamford and to release a 12-track album.
“Outlaws and Outsiders” has also gotten a major boost from collaboraters Ivan Moody from Five Finger Death Punch, country legend Travis Tritt and rock icon Mick Mars of Mötley Crüe. The hard-charging “Outlaws and Outsiders” hits with an arena anthem hook and a throwback sound mixing metal and southern rock with a countrified sound palate.
“We all had our struggles to get started and are a little more outside of the box than the other artists,” Marks tells Billboard. For Marks, that often meant some head-scratching feedback — at six-foot-one, he was told he had too large of a frame for stardom, didn’t sound Canadian enough and that his rock-on-country sound didn’t work for country radio — the song is now getting spins on rock radio.
“It’s been a struggle to get on Canadian country radio, period,” Marks tells Billboard, even though his sound aligns with some of country’s biggest stars like Brantley Gilbert and Eric Church. Between Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” and Bebe Rexha’s “Meant to Be” with Florida Georgia Line, the debate about what is and isn’t country has left many artists — and a new generation of fans discovering music on Spotify — on the sidelines by a format that doesn’t market to teens (the ‘demo’ is ages 25-54). Country music listening is up eight percent this decade, but time spent listening to country radio is down 36 percent, according to a 2018 report from Neilsen.
“We call our sound amped up country music, but it’s really country rock metal,” Marks says. “We’re trying to create a new path and a new sound in country music. I have songs that are fiddle and steel in tradition of Merle Haggard and Vince Gill and some that are very classic country.”
The inclusion of Mars, Moody and Tritt on “Outlaws and Outsiders” has helped boost the song beyond the restrictive format and lifted Better Noise Music, the rock-centric label group by Allen Kovac in 2006 where the four are labelmates. Better Noise Music had been previously known as Eleven Seven until rebranding in October and consolidating its three imprints under the Better Noise Music banner.
“Country and rock have always been at a crossroads,” Better Noise Music chief operating officer Steve Kline tells Billboard. “We wanted to find an artist with the perfect blend of both genres and Cory was everything we were searching for.”
Marks is a native of North Bay, Ontario and started drumming at age 10. Influenced by Merle Haggard, Buck Owens and Waylon Jennings as well as Rush, Ozzy Osbourne and Deep Purple and later Dream Theater and Pantera. Marks has been performing for nine years, intitally using his birth name Cory Marquardt (“no one could pronouce it correctly,” he said) and then going on to write “Outlaws and Outsiders” in 2015 with award-winning producer Kevin Churko. The two worked together in Churko’s Las Vegas studio, capturing the energy and electricity of Cory’s live show and will be releasing a 12-song album next year.
“We have a handful of songs on the record that sound like ‘Outlaws and Outsiders’ with the heavy-amped up guitars and strong choruses,” Marks says, adding the record will include a bonus track featuring his 2015 cut of the tune. The record will also feature Marks newest track, “Better Off,” a breakup song about self-empowerment and shedding toxicity, released on Dec. 13.
Marks will hit the road with beloved Canadian country star Gord Bamford as part of the #REDNEK Music Fest tour beginning Feb. 21 at the Sandman Centre in Kamloops, British Colombia.
For tickets and more, visit corymarks.com.