It’s a universally accepted truth that music brings people together. That was certainly the case with Manchester-formed band Corella, who are now intent on creating unity through their own inspiring, anthemic songs.
Comprising frontman Joel, bassist/vocalist Ben, guitarist Jack and drummer James, the pop-rock group formed while its members – all hailing from northern towns – were in their first year of university studying music. They met after being placed in the same university halls, bonding over their shared love of indie bands such as Foals and Two Door Cinema Club, along with classic pop and rock including The Beatles, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin and Dire Straits.
On the cusp of releasing their debut album, Corella have already established a devoted following thanks to their formidable live shows and singles including “Don’t Stop Me”, which recently received airplay on BBC Radio 1. The track is a blast of pure defiance, pushing back against social apathy and yearning for something greater: “Lately I’ve been giving my everything to make it,” the Grimsby-born Joel sings over thrashing guitars, and drums that propel the song higher and higher.
“We were determined not to make a middle-of-the-road indie record, but equally, we still wanted to make something that made people feel good, that they’d love listening to,” Ben says. He and Joel share songwriting responsibilities: “We’re really like-minded, and I guess formed a bond straight away – we clicked instantly,” says Joel.
Living together during lockdown and with little else to do, the four-piece began working on ideas for what would become their highly praised debut EP, 2022’s Today, Tomorrow, Whenever, as well as sharing live-streamed performances with fans who tuned in each weekend. “The only thing we could do was write music,” Ben says, “so we had all these ideas we were bouncing off one another, and the second studios opened again we were in there recording.”
“I think the EP speaks to what we were all going through at the time,” Joel adds. “Some points were chilled out, others we were crawling the walls – that’s why there are so many different moods.” Today, Tomorrow, Whenever also speaks to the band’s willingness to experiment until they landed on the sound that would shape their debut album. Early songs such as “Do You Want It” have an Oasis twang, laden with reverb and led by Joel’s natural, gravelly burr, while “Monday” has more of a contemporary rock sound.
Listeners will immediately notice the newfound cohesiveness in Corella’s debut album, Once Upon a Weekend. It was inspired by the duality of life – responsibility vs dream-chasing – and written while the band were all working full-time jobs at the same time as pursuing success in the music industry, playing 1,000-capacity venues on Friday and Saturday nights.
“It’s about living for the weekend, where we’d get away from ‘work’ and get to play live to thousands of people,” Joel says. Just like in their album artwork, which shows the band clinging to a roundabout as it spins them around, they have no intention of letting go of such a whirlwind ride.
“It was scary at the start, playing shows in cities like London,” Joel admits, “but the last time we did a gig there, it basically felt like we were doing a homecoming show – it was incredible.”
The album itself delves into the band’s experiences growing up in northern towns, along with classic tales of love, lust and misadventure. Produced by Sugarhouse, the band’s trusted collaborators, it bursts with life: “Some of the tracks were ones we just wanted to have fun with,” Ben says, “while others are definitely more reflective of the last seven or eight years.”
Take “Laidback”, which is exactly what it says on the tin. The bass line meanders alongside a retro-sounding guitar riff; synths chirp and Joel delivers his lyrics in a nonchalant drawl.
“Say You Wanna”, too, has a delightfully carefree tone to it, nodding to The 1975 with its bright guitar twangs and catchy melodies. Contrary to their peers, the band take care to ensure each musician gets their moment, whether that’s a rollicking guitar solo or a flurry of percussion building to the chorus.
Other songs can be just as uplifting but carry that touch more meaning for the band. Single “Lady Messiah” is a joyous celebration of the important women in their lives, inspired in part by the death of Joel’s aunt, who died aged 49 from brain cancer in 2022. “It was very quick – she got diagnosed and then she was gone about three months later,” he says. “There are so many songs you could write about, but I felt it was important to find ways to celebrate her life as well, and remember the happy times.”
So “Lady Messiah” bounds along a propulsive rhythm section, as Joel is backed by his bandmates in layered harmonies. “When you’re out so late/ And you’re never home/ Will she feel the love?” he asks in the opening verse. “I’ll never be lonely/ She’ll pick you up from pain.”
“The lyrics are about being thankful,” he explains. “And being grateful for the ones who support you.”
Over time, the band have grown to realise that every single song on their debut reflects their experiences over the years. Themes of loss also strike a chord with Ben, who lost his dad just before lockdown: “We’ve never been shy about saying how we feel,” he says. “Everyone struggled during lockdown – Joel’s really vocal about mental health awareness – and we just say how it is. We’re not afraid to put that in a song.”
“We’ve known each other a long time,” Joel agrees. “We’ve all gone through loss, through breakups, a lot of things. That’s something that only makes our bond stronger.”
Staying true to their roots is essential to that bond. On the sweeping, romantic “Hometown”, the band pay tribute to the places and people who made them. There’s a yearning to the tender sway of the electric guitar, paired with an acoustic strum and gentle, crooning harmonies. “So tell me why did I leave here/ When you taught me everything I know?” Joel sings, voice quavering with emotion. “I never wanted to leave here/ This will always be a place called home.”
“We wanted to position the hometown as its own character, so you have that image of someone sitting by the water, talking through their issues,” Joel says. The evocative visuals were essential to capture the warm, inclusive communities the boys grew up in, where everyone knows and looks out for one another. “It was a collaborative effort with Ben,” Joel says of the writing process. The band recently played it to their families, who all cried (of course).
A first for the band transpired when they wrote “I Didn’t Know Your Name”, which tackles the aftermath of a messy breakup. “It’s about wishing you could go back to a time when you didn’t know that person, and start again,” Ben says. “We’re keen to avoid too many cliches in our songwriting, and this felt like a different way of approaching the theme.”
Among Joel’s early influences were singer-songwriters such as Ed Sheeran or Damian Rice, both known for avoiding more abstract lyrics and instead writing music that everyone could relate to. Corella’s songs get to the point, but they come from the heart.
Above all, they are tunes that are bound to go down a storm at the band’s now-legendary live shows. Heady single “Drifting” taps into the nostalgia of youth, a time free of responsibilities, but also observing those who are perpetually adrift: “The ones who never quite settle down.” On the stadium-sized rock anthem “Head Underwater”, meanwhile, the band lose themselves to the reckless hedonism of a night out on the town.
“It’s definitely a bit heavier than other songs on the album, more chaotic and carefree,” Joel acknowledges. He goes toe-to-toe with rockstars twice his age, belting out the chorus over Depeche Mode-indebted synths and blistering guitar riffs: “I wanna free myself/ Down in a feeling.”
Once Upon a Weekend’s release will coincide with Corella’s biggest headline tour to date, meaning fans old and new will get to experience their chemistry in real time. Because whatever happens, the band are friends for life, tied together by the bond their music has created for them. “There’ve been moments for all of us where we had to pull each other out of the rubble,” says Ben. “We’ll always be there for each other, no matter what.”