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The release date of Cory Mon & The Starlight Gospel's sophomore album, "Turncoats," is almost here, finally. "I've never been happier," said Mon, 33, of Orem.
It's not hard to believe him, after what he has been through. In between the roots-rock band's 2009 album and this one, his band broke up. And he went broke after putting every dollar into the recording.
In addition, he's had crushing relationship problems. And he has had to put the rest of his life on hold as he dealt with periodic bouts with depression, an illness that has plagued him since college.
It's no surprise, then, that Mon readily admits that among the new album's 11 songs are some of the darkest he's ever penned.
But happiness comes to the musician when he has a guitar in his hands, prompting a ready smile that curls up in the middle of a wispy ginger beard.
"The best way to get through bad times is to write about it," he said. "I've had ups and downs, and music has helped me deal with depression. It's a way to harness it."
Mon was born in Chicago, but moved to Orem when he was about 5. His parents and siblings are in dentistry, and Mon went to Southern Utah University with an idea of following his family's footsteps.
But it was there that he first struggled with depression, and he turned to the guitar to take his mind off the ominous ideas in his head.
Inspired by Ben Harper, he learned how to play and began writing songs. One thing led to another, and Mon isn't a dentist.
After serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Arkansas, Mon returned and got married. Eight months later, he got divorced.
But things started to turn around about five years ago, when he found a comrade who has helped him turn introspective acoustic guitar songs into Western-tinged roots rock that swings and swerves.
The comrade was Eric Ellsworth, a Nashville transplant and multi-instrumentalist. Ellsworth had served a Mormon mission in Pocatello, then moved to Utah (where he courted and eventually married a singer in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir).
Mon and Ellsworth found a successful songwriting process. Mon wrote the lyrics and the skeleton of a song, and then turned it over to Ellsworth, who would flesh out the song with robust arrangements. The band was launched in the Provo music scene, playing alongside acts such as Neon Trees, Joshua James, Parlor Hawk and Fictionist. Besides being a musical comrade, Ellsworth became one of Mon's best friends and understood the darkness of Mon's lyrics. "The darkness comes from getting older," Ellsworth said. "[It comes] when you're 30 and living in Orem. When you're 30, you've had a lot of bad relationships."
Ellsworth also cheers his friend on when Mon get discouraged and says something like, "I should go work for a corporation and get health care." (Health care wouldn't be a bad idea. Mon had open-heart surgery when he was 15 to treat aortic stenosis, a condition in which the aortic valve does not open fully. He has had to postpone further treatment because of lack of funds.)
In 2009, the band released "6 Days in the Devil's Workshop," but the musicians are more proud of "Turncoats," with an album title prompted after two band members left during recording.
Now Mon's band is a tight foursome, thanks to the addition of Joshua Dunn on bass and Ronnie Strauss on drums.
In the past two years, things have been looking up for the band, having opened for JJ Grey & Mofro, Todd Snider, Derek Trucks, Mavis Staples, Tim Reynolds, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Matt Nathanson and Mike Farris. Most important, Mon won the 2010 Telluride Blues & Brews Festival Acoustic Competition, which led to more Colorado gigs as well as Utah shows.
Darin Piccoli, co-owner of The State Room in Salt Lake City, is also a fan, and has booked Cory Mon & The Starlight Gospel six times in the past year. "I think his music has a cool blend of folky rock-meets-spaghetti Western," he said.
Corey Fox, owner of the Provo club Velour, was an early fan, and is touting the band's new album. "This new album finally captures what they are like live," Fox said. "Their other records don't do them justice. They've really stepped up their game."
"Turncoats" was recorded in January 2010 and will be released on Tuesday. The cover depicts three of the band members in coffins. Don't worry. They're not really dead. Just dark.
Cory Mon & The Starlight Gospel
The band's new album, "Turncoats," will be released on Tuesday.
To hear the album, read the lyrics and buy it, visit corymon.bandcamp.com/album/turn-coats.