"I'm just sick of hearing my goddamn voice," Kori Ailene says with a sardonic laugh.
The local singer-songwriter, in the throes of promoting her first full-length record Bear with Me, admits she isn't entirely comfortable in the role of "artist" — the self-mythologizing of social media, the limelight, her presumed eccentricity.
And yet for years, she barely made a strum. In 2009, Ailene (born Kori Henderson; Ailene is her middle name) set sail for Hawaii and, though she had just recorded an EP of songs in the bedroom studio of Bartlett co-owner Karli Ingersoll, promptly buried her musical ambitions.
"I was just having fun. Not that songwriting is not fun, but you know," she clarifies with a chuckle.
Still, the itch returned with Ailene's return to the Lilac City in 2012. "I just had songs kind of popping back into my head again," she says, then pauses. "I had a couple epiphanies, I guess you could say."
Ailene, 29, realized the time was right to turn her songwriting, which amounted to "fiddling around here and there," into an actual discipline. She hit the live music circuit, playing hours-long sets of covers at bars and breweries where, she claims, "no one is paying attention." But Ailene's hard work proved fruitful in solitude, too, when she began crafting an oeuvre of original songs.
She was not wanting for raw material. The onset of rheumatoid arthritis, which makes the very act of playing painful, and the dissolution of her marriage presented Ailene with a deep well of inspiration, albeit the gloomy kind.
"It takes me a long time to work through things," she says, "so I have a feeling there will be more songs about [the divorce] on my next record, to be honest."
Bear with Me captures that more indirectly. Recorded with producer Jay Condiotti (the two met at the downtown wine bar LeftBank, where she works and he occasionally performs) at his local J Bones Music studio, the album showcases the emotional weariness of Ailene's lyrics, a frank acceptance of events through a prism of wry observation and self-deprecation.
"I'm going to appointments / I'm hurting on the job / No money in the bank / My wine is in a box," she sings on "My Sister's House" over an unadorned acoustic guitar. Bear with Me is studded with such stark and vulnerable admissions that fit the record's über-minimalist palette: Ailene's naked voice and folkie finger-picking nimbly spans twee ("Today") to alt-country ("Whimsy & Wine," which, per her Facebook page, is about "being really, really goddamn tired").
Although the 10-song set is rife with her own experiences, Ailene hopes the record is relatable and universal, and it's not hard to hear lines like "let's not bare our souls" as both a stinging personal rebuke and a witty commentary on an intimacy-phobic culture. It's a method in the tradition of some of her earliest influences, whom she calls "old-timey singer-songwriters" with a penchant for careful composition, storytelling and poetry.
For Ailene, a self-taught musician who humbly shuns the artist's cult of personality, it's not surprising that it's all about the song.
"Performing can be fun," Ailene says, "but the goal for me, if I continue to pursue this music business, would be to become a songwriter for other artists."
Before she moves behind the scenes or flees to Nashville, however, she'll be celebrating the release of her new record (now streaming) with a performance at the Bartlett, accompanied by local axeman Lucas Brown. Beyond that, Ailene is mum, revealing that a future career in music is still something of a "latent" dream, obscured by all the possibilities of youth.
"Don't ask me what my plan is," she sings over the closing chords of Bear with Me. "I just don't want to grow old." ♦
Kori Ailene with Liz Rognes and Mark Ward • Fri, May 19 at 8 pm • $5/$8 at the door • All-ages • The Bartlett • 228 W. Sprague • thebartlettspokane.com • 747-2174