Hailing from St. Louis, Missouri, Corey Saathoff of The Trophy Mules has been making a name for himself as both a performer and songwriter. Riverfront Times has described his music as “Exceptionally well-played, pleasant country/Americana,” adding that “Corey Saathoff doesn’t write predictable alt-country fare – if there are booze and broken hearts in his songs, they’re part of his stories. His style is impressionistic in the best sense, as evocative of the songs of R.E.M. as those of Jay Farrar.” Similarly, radio station KDXH 88.1 FM in St. Louis has noted, “One of St. Louis’ more underrated songwriters, Corey Saathoff combines front porch twang and thoughtful, prescient lyrics, sung with plainspoken honesty.” The Trophy Mules released a full-length album of original material titled No Sooner the Moon in November.
You’ve been making music for a while. The first Trophy Mules album, Sorry Motel, came out a decade ago. What keeps you in the game?
I just love writing songs and putting music to the thoughts, feelings and words going on in my head. I also enjoy the creative process with my bandmates.
Has the lineup of The Trophy Mules remained the same over that time? Along similar lines, how do you keep a band together over the long haul as you have?
There have been several lineup changes over the years… three drummers, three bassists and a couple different guitarists/multi-instrumentalists. Our longest-tenured active member other than myself is pedal steel wizard Scott Swartz. I think the quality of our material over the years has made it easier to find bandmates and I consider myself lucky to make music in the company of such talented guys.
How has your music evolved over the last 10 years?
I think the band’s sound basically adapts as the members bring their respective talents and styles to the table. As for my songwriting, I feel like I’ve honed the craft over the years and developed new styles. My goal is to keep from essentially writing the same song twice – although I’m sure a few of mine may sound pretty similar to the listener.
The first song on your new album is called “Full Speed Lobotomy.” It’s hard to hear the word “lobotomy” and not think of the Ramones (at least for me), but it’s not a punk song. What’s the idea behind that one?
Yeah, I never thought of the Ramones connection until well after I wrote “Full Speed.” There were a lot of things in life all hitting me at the same time when I wrote it, so that probably explains the pace. The rest was just me using unique wordplay to capture an overall theme.
That one’s followed by “Blood Red Cardinal,” which you’ve described as “a haunting song about looking back on lost love later in life.” With that in mind, I’m wondering if it’s the kind of song a younger version of yourself would have been able to write. How has growing older – for lack of a better phrase – informed your lyrics?
“Blood Red Cardinal” is an emotional tune about a relative that I definitely could not have written earlier in life. For me, life experiences shape a lot of the material I write about, so the more I live, the more experiences I have to connect together and set to music.
One last song-related question: What’s the story behind “Chupacabra Valentine?”
Very similar to “Full Speed Lobotomy” and other songs I’ve written, I pretty much try to convey an emotion or theme with unique wordplay that matches the chord structure and set an overall mood. When I was strumming the chords to this one on my acoustic and mumbling vocal sounds as part of the lyric process, for whatever reason the words “Chupacabra Valentine” came to me in the chorus. I connected the dots from there and am really happy with how this one turned out.
Your latest album is called No Sooner the Moon. What’s the significance of that title for you?
Well, “No Sooner Than the Moon” is a line from the song “Guess That’s the Way You Say Goodbye” and fit the overall theme of this project, I think. We incorporated some cosmic, spacey kind of musicianship throughout the project that lends itself to a lunar vibe – plus this album took us six years to complete after lineup changes, COVID and some health issues!
Is there in any way in which being from St. Louis informs your identity as a musician and songwriter? Does it come through in any of your songs?
I definitely think my surroundings – the St. Louis region and rural southwestern Illinois – have shaped my songwriting. I feel our music is very representative of this area as a whole and probably even the American Midwest in general. One of our most streamed tunes is “Valmeyer” off the 2016 EP titled Sunset Collapse. It’s about a small town in this area that moved to higher ground following a devastating flood. A song on our new album is “Pierron,” which is about the small Illinois town I grew up in.
What does it take to be a Trophy Mule?
Good question. We’re all stubborn about making good music, I guess. We like to have fun, but are serious about creating something we’re proud of and work hard to put on a good show. How’s that?
What’s next in terms of your musical journey?
I have some new tunes ready to work out, as does bandmate Josh Kean. Hopefully we’ll get to work on a new recording project very soon. This one is leaning more toward country music in style.
Thanks for taking the time to talk to me!
Thank you for the opportunity. Much appreciated.
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