By: Buster Black
By day, Cory Rayborn is a mild-mannered business lawyer specializing in business law. He’s a normal-enough guy with a wife and a kid, and he appears to spend his afternoons quietly plugging away on contracts and memos at a reputable law firm in High Point, NC. But sometime after 5pm, he clocks out of the firm and runs into a phone booth, spins around really fast, and emerges as Cory Rayborn: founder and sole proprietor of Three Lobed Recordings. Three Lobed Recordings, which is run out of Rayborn’s basement, has been in existence since 2000 and exists, as he describes it, to provide artists an outlet to add to their artistic legacy in ways that might not be feasible within the constraints of a larger, more profit-driven, indie label. After their first release in 2000, a 10-inch for the heavy psych Philadelphia band, Bardo Pond, Three Lobed has gone on to compile a discography of nearly 100 releases. The most ambitious of these is a collection of five split albums, released in December 2015, called Parallelogram that includes music from Thurston Moore, John Maloney, Bardo Pond, Yo La Tengo, Kurt Vile, Steve Gunn, Hiss Golden Messenger, Michael Chapman, Six Organs of Admittance, and William Tyler. The back catalogue also includes releases from Sunburned Hand of the Man, Lee Ranaldo, Wooden Wand, and most recently, Jenks Miller. I sat down with Cory in a hot, noisy coffee shop in Greensboro a few days ago hoping to learn more about Three Lobed. While he doesn’t play any instruments and has no interest in creating cover art, Rayborn has created an art out of administrative project execution. His passion, which goes beyond his interest in any particular sound at any particular moment, is for being, as he describes it, a low rent patron of the arts.
Can you talk a little bit about the first album you made, the Bardo Pond 10 inch? What was your relationship with the band at the time?
I don’t really play anything, but I was doing everything I could do to be interesting and useful and in the independent underground scene without playing music. I booked concerts when I was in undergrad; I did a lot of live audio recording, taping stuff, and everything else; I had a very short-lived zine. I just did a lot of things along those lines. But back when I started college, it was a month after web-browsers started being a thing, so I was of the inclination to learn how to do coding, and so I started doing some early web work. My college undergrad roommate, he’s a programmer by trade, and he spent a lot of time doing a very extensive early band site for The Mountain Goats. So my roommate was a good resource to help me with the web coding side, and I got into Bardo Pond’s music and started putting together a page for them. Didn’t know them; I’d never met them. That was in like 1997 or whatever. I got in touch with them shortly thereafter and got to be really good friends with them. I quit doing the website about five years ago because it got to be too much time for me to deal with given the other things I have going on.
So that’s how I knew them, but early on, I had wanted to put something out at some point in time. I didn’t want to do a seven inch because that seemed too small and insubstantial, and I didn’t want to do an album, because I didn’t really have any track record. I was some dopey kid who had never put anything out before. So it was easy for me to ask those guys to do something, and they were into the idea, and we decided to do a 10 inch because it wasn’t a seven inch and it was less than an album, and they didn’t have a ten inch in their entire discography. And they were into it. That was kind of a crash course on learning how to do everything involved in the process. I had no clue what I was doing. I had some people that I could ask some general questions, but a lot of it was just trial and error and figuring things out. I was lucky in that I sold almost all of them by mail order pretty much before it even came out, and I sold some to Matador when they used to do a little more distribution (Bardo was on Matador at that time). So it sort of covered over some of my lack of knowledge. I did a small enough number of them for a band that had a following that could absorb the size of the pressing that I put out.
Was it a desire to put out a Bardo Pond album or was it more of a desire to have a music-related project?
It was both. I really wanted to do a record, but it was fun to do a record for this band that I was so heavily into. It wasn’t that I really needed to do a record for Bardo but it was fun to do a record for them.
Is Three Lobed something you see potentially being more of a day job than a side project at any point in the future?
Absolutely not. There is no way that, by and large, the things that I release, and the way that I release them, and the way that I want my releases to look and exist, would ever generate enough to substitute for the income of my day job. The thought of paying our mortgage off of an industry that is based on people’s tastes, which can be fickle, is terrifying. I’m not interested in going that direction. I’m happy to leave myself as a low rent patron of the arts and remain in the background.
How are things different for Three Lobed now compared to when you put out that first ten inch?
There are some similarities. For the first ten inch, I was getting bulk vinyl parts; the art was more of a handmade item; the band was silkscreening; it wasn’t some pro press thing. Parallelogram was similar in that we had letter press artwork and letter press cover stuff. It was not a pro press thing. It was a guy I work with on letter press stuff, Jeff Mueller, and my friend, Casey Burns, who did the graphic design work. To a degree, it’s very much a weird cottage industry. Parallelogram was different in that it was different in scope. It’s got larger profile individuals and larger print runs and more money and more cost and bigger in every way that something could be bigger. But I still do all this stuff myself. I don’t farm anything out to anybody, so to that end, it kind of always stays the same if that makes sense. The goal and the process is the same. No one else is in there doing much in the way of decision making. I’m sort of tight in my control that way.
So if the intent is not to pay the mortgage, what is the stated intent of Three Lobed?
I like to help people. I like to work with people that I know pretty well and am pretty good friends with or really, really, really admire what they do artistically. I like to help them put things out and help them try to be something special or unique within their catalogue. I like to help them articulate what they’re trying to accomplish and then we check all the boxes and make it look and sound and feel the way they want it to feel: on the packaging side, on the who-they’re-recording-with side, you know, throughout the entire process. It’s fun to see those things from one point to the other and help someone add to their artistic legacy or create some piece of merch they have when they’re out touring to help them on the road. Whatever it is for whoever it is at the time. I called myself earlier a low rent patron of the arts. That’s what I see it as to a degree.
On Parallelogram, what was driving the band pairings?
They were purposely paired up, but there were a couple that could have gone in different directions. Certain pairings could have been subbed out for different pairings. I’d done a box set several years ago, but I wanted to do something that wasn’t just a lid-boxed thing. Part of what I like about the idea of Parallelogram, is that it’s a collection of records that if I come up with some other pairings that I really like over time, I could put out other ones later on. It’s not necessarily just stuck to these five records in this one place and point in time.
Editor's Note: The Parallelogram box set includes 5 records with the following pairings: (1) Hiss Golden Messenger / Michael Chapman; (2) Six Organs of Admittance / William Tyler; (3) Kurt Vile / Steve Gunn; (4) Thurston Moore & John Maloney: Caught on Tape / Bishop - Orcutt - Corsano Trio; (5) Bardo Pond / Yo La Tengo
Artistically, do you see it as five albums where there are five pairings or is it a set of ten performances.
In my mind, it’s five split records that have a purposeful relation between the people in that split but also fit under a greater umbrella of records with similar thematic thought through pairings and similar look and feel with graphics and everything else. And that’s why I didn’t put them in a box or slip case. I wanted them purposely to have the ability to exist separately from each other as well exist next to each other.
And you think you’ll do more of these pairings?
Possible. And if so, I would call them Parallelogram, and they would have the same matchbook packaging, and I’d get the same people involved. It might be something that gets added on to over time. That may be where this ends up. It may not. That could be kind of fun. Who knows… it may or may not work out.