Savannah Du and Michael Zhang got together as the corner club duo while students at Princeton University. “We first met singing in an Asian a cappella group on campus,” Du said. “When we started making music together, we remembered a party where we were sitting in opposite corners of the room, watching and observing other people. We made eye contact and nodded at each other. In that moment, we knew we had something in common. We were corner people, and that’s how we came up with corner club.”
They started out by playing covers, as representatives of their a cappella vocal group. After graduation, they moved to New York City and began writing songs together. “At first, we lived 10 minutes apart,” Zhang said. “Then we moved into the same building. We both work full-time jobs, but we spent so much time on the music, it was easier living closer to each other. We made our first EP, little love lullabies, in my bedroom, using a mic and some basic equipment.”
They released a couple of corner club singles and the little love lullabies EP digitally, received a positive response and began playing live. Then Covid hit.
“It was a weird time to work on music,” Zhang said. “We couldn’t play gigs anymore. It allowed us to focus on composing but, at the same time, it was hard to focus. Sav moved back home to Maryland and … we learned how to produce stuff apart.”
They never planned to settle down in New York. “It was good for performing, but we wanted to live somewhere we could go hiking and be near nature,” Du said. “We had friends in San Francisco who lived in a big warehouse. They had two spots open up, so it was a natural move. We had written and recorded a lot of the songs for the in the rearview mirror EP in New York already, but the majority of production and mixing happened in San Francisco.”
When they wrote the material for little love lullabies, they had a storyline in mind. For the in the rearview mirror project, they took a less structured approach. “When we were writing, we realized we’d been reflecting about a lot of things,” Du said. “We had songs about relationships, death and nostalgia. There’s been a lot of flux in our lives, so it was more about looking back, rather than telling a story or looking forward. Thinking about the past without regret.”
Zhang added, “It comes down to acceptance. We make music to process our lives and emotions. We have angry songs, sad songs, some a bit dark, some more aggressive. We recorded two songs, ‘I’ll never say I love you first again’ and ‘the ezra song’ live, with minimal processing. On other tracks, we tried out a lot of new sounds: some more electronic textures, and also incorporating field recordings of things like bird songs and running water. We like adding little ambient bits of ear candy to set the mood. We’re always thinking of what would make the best version of each song and deciding the best way to approach that.”
Their creative process involved revisiting each song repeatedly. “Mike and I are both perfectionists,” Du said. “When we come together to create, one thing that commonly happens is that we’ll record something, trying several different ways of doing it. Then we’ll let it sit for a while, before we come back to it. We care a lot about polishing and improving each song. When we return to it and listen closely, we often realize we’re not really happy with the initial take. Then there’s a lot of rearranging and re-envisioning to decide what’s the best possible version of the song.”
Many of the songs on in the rearview mirror take a philosophical approach to the subject matter. “whenever you’re ready” is an ironic and humorous breakup song. Zhang plays muted notes on his electric guitar, while Du softly sings: “I hope you think of me, when you’re crying to sleep.” They rock out on the chorus, with Du expressing her hopes that the women her former beau meets see through his affable façade. The death of Du’s grandmother inspired “dreaming,” an acoustic ballad, played on fingerpicked acoustic guitar with Du’s touching harmonies describing the feelings of grief one experiences when a loved-one dies.
The duo will play live to support the release of in the rearview mirror, creating the same intimate sound on the EP. “We’d like to have a band someday, but right now it’s just Mike on guitar and me singing,” Du said. “We spend a lot of time alone in the studio and the content is quite personal, so when we share it live, with other people, it literally brings the songs to life. It’s nice to see how people react to them. Recently, we’ve been performing ‘dreaming’ and meeting other people with grandparents who have passed on. They say it’s helpful hearing how we dealt with a death in the family. It’s a whole different experience than making songs alone in our house.”
‘in the rearview mirror’ will be released digitally on Oct. 6 on all major platforms as well as the band’s website (cornerclubofficial.com) and its Bandcamp (cornerclubofficial.bandcamp.com) and SoundCloud (soundcloud.com/cornerclub) official pages.