John Corbett is one of the many newcomers performing this week at the CMA Music Festival in Nashville, but it’s hard to imagine that any of them are working harder — or sacrificing more — to establish a career in country music.
Following in the footsteps of other dreamers who have forsaken their day gig, Corbett has placed his acting career on hold while he attempts to build a following for his music. It’s not as though he hasn’t been a successful actor, either. Although the Wheeling, W.Va., native acknowledges that his acting work has not made him a millionaire, he has had key roles in two acclaimed TV series (Sex and the City and Northern Exposure and one blockbuster film (My Big Fat Greek Wedding).
When Corbett performs Saturday (June 10) on the festival’s Riverfront Stage, he’ll be sharing the bill with Jon Randall, Jessi Alexander, Erika Jo, Brian McComas and country legend Mel Tillis. Above all, Corbett will once again be trying to prove himself as a serious musician.
“I’m nervous every day that people are going to come out and see what they thought they would see — which is a guy that can’t sing,” Corbett tells CMT.com.
In April, Corbett released his self-titled debut album on his own label, Fun Bone Records. Although major labels expressed interest in signing him to a recording contract, he says it would have taken as long as two years for him to get slotted into the release schedule. Instead, Corbett has personally bankrolled the entire CD project, including the record sessions, promotion and the cost of touring relentlessly with his band to call attention to the music.
“I feel like I’m working in the mailroom or as an intern for my own company,” Corbett explains. “I’m starting at the bottom, like any artist would. I’m just saying to everybody who’s working on my team, ‘Whatever I’ve got to do, I want to do it. I’m saying no to nothing.’ I’m just trying to get street cred. I want people to like the record, but I want people to know that I’m not doing this between movies. I’m not going to just do this for a little bit and then go away.”
Earlier this year, Corbett finally leased a tour bus after spending too many nights of driving a van and an equipment trailer from city to city. “When we’re on the road, we’re in Motel 6,” he says. “We’re still not making any dough at this, but I’m banking on the fact that I can get some of that money back.”
Corbett recorded the album in Nashville with producer D. Scott Miller and Corbett’s longtime musical collaborator, Tara Novick. Choosing songs written by Hal Ketchum, Jon Randall, Darrell Scott, Tim Nichols, Rivers Rutherford and others, Corbett also sought the assistance of several notable musicians, including guitarists Kenny Vaughan and Pat Buchanan, Black Crowes drummer Steve Gorman and Wet Willie frontman Jimmy Hall. The music leans toward the Southern rock side of country, and Corbett says he’ll probably emphasize an even rougher sound on his future albums.
“I’m really pleased with the record,” he says. “But if I could do this record over again, I think I would have picked the same songs but tried to give it more of a rock ‘n’ roll kind of vibe. There’s not enough guitars on there for me. But I learned a lot. I wanted more of a Lynyrd Skynyd or Marshall Tucker kind of a record. I wanted a six or seven-minute song on there.”
To concentrate on his music, Corbett voluntarily placed himself outside of the acting loop for the foreseeable future.
“I committed to two years of not accepting any acting work at all,” he explains. “I told my agents, ‘If they call and want me to be the third lead in an Al Pacino-Robert DeNiro movie, do not call me. I don’t even want to be tempted. Don’t distract me while I’m doing my music.’”
During the interview, Corbett dispels the myth that anyone starring in successful films and TV series is wealthy.
“For instance, when I was doing Sex in the City — and I can’t go anywhere without being stopped for Sex in the City — I got $5,000 an episode,” he says. “After taxes, agents and managers, I took home about $2,200 an episode. I did 12 episodes. Everybody thinks I’m a millionaire from Sex in the City.” He laughs, adding, “I’m a twentyfour-thousandaire, basically, for Sex in the City after everybody gets paid.”
After 2002′s My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Corbett starred with Kate Hudson in Raising Helen, released in 2004.
“I’m not walking away from acting,” Corbett says. “I’ve enjoyed it, and I’m pretty sure I’ll do it again someday. … In the last four years, I’ve worked four weeks a year. I really haven’t been that busy anyway. So it’s not like I’m walking away from a career. I’m walking away from some straight-to-video shelf movies for the last four years. It’s not like the industry was banging down my door, saying, ‘We’re losing another great leading man.’ I’ve just found something else that I love doing.”
And what he loves is performing onstage with his band.
“Every night at the end of the show, we’re all hugging each other, saying, ‘Man, that was great!’ I get a feeling just about every night now that I have never gotten one solitary time in 20 years of acting. So there you go.”