Paying it Forward

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Laguna native and singer-songwriter Andrew Corradini turns to music to help his family through one of life’s greatest hurdles.By Ashley Breeding | Photos by Scott Sporleder

Anyone who’s frequented Laguna’s bar and lounge scene as of late will likely recognize the voice of Andrew Corradini—the 32-year-old acoustic rocker spends most nights entertaining crowds of cocktailers with his muddled Montana guitar and their all-time favorite, feel-good classic cover tunes at places such as K’ya Bistro, Rock’N Fish and Tommy Bahama.

“I aim to give the people what they want to hear, but try to sneak in an element of myself here and there too,” he explains, as he breaks from his daily writing and recording session to sip tea and chat with me at his north Laguna home, which he shares with wife, Brita, and two darling daughters, Alabama, 21 months, and Ruby, 4 months.

“I’d like to focus on my [original] music more, but right now my biggest priority is supporting my family,” he continues, as Alabama beckons for dad’s attention after her “Dora the Explorer” episode starts rolling credits.

He smiles through his thick brown beard: “This is life right now—babies, diapers, feedings … and as often as I can, music … doing my own ‘thing’ with the songs I play at work is a way of staying true to myself. And people seem to like it.”

A year and a half ago, Andrew was juggling musical acts—both as a solo artist following an array of avenues and as the front-man for the popular OC rock band, Handsome G., which had just released three EPs and was well into recording its next—paving the way for what he’d hoped would lead to a road tour and ultimately a career in recording music for television and movies.

“That’s still my dream,” he says. “This is just a year of doing what needs to be done, not doing what I want,” he says with a loving nod across the table toward his wife and baby. “But the dreams are still there … shelved … but ignited just enough to remember they’re there.”

Andrew’s plans were put on pause last year when Brita, six months pregnant with Ruby and still breast-feeding Alabama, was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer.

Having just landed her own “dream job” as a pastry chef at Laguna’s Nirvana Grille, Brita’s aspirations, too, came to an abrupt and devastating halt. With the loss of income from what was an already tight budget, a mountain of medical bills rising and an outrageous insurance deductable, it would be an understatement to say that the Corradinis were and are facing trying times. Remarkably, they’ve chosen to squeeze from a bitter situation sweet life lessons.

A Musician in the Making

Andrew’s affinity for music was apparent at an early age, when the toddler turned away from his Sesame Street idols and started tuning into Billy Idol.

“My older sister got me into MTV’s ‘Top 20 Countdown’ back then—ya know, when MTV still played music,” he says. “It was funny; I don’t know how many kids my age were into [Idol] and Depeche Mode.”

In addition to what was undeniably an innate pull towards performing and playing music, the soulful indie folk rocker also attributes the interest to his late father.

“My dad took me to my first show when I was 3—I think it was Lynyrd Skynyrd—I don’t really remember it, but still, I’m pretty sure it was that show that started it all.”

When he was 13, his dad bought him his first Yamaha acoustic, the moment Andrew says he first “fell in love.”

An avid classic rock and folk fan, his dad also introduced him to Bob Dylan around that time, among other legends like Simon and Garfunkel, Johnny Cash and Pink Floyd, whose songs Andrew continues to cover at his shows.

Listening to those old records was an educational experience that really fostered his intense passion for music, Andrew says.

“Artistically, Dylan is my absolute hero,” he adds. “His writing style and ability to deeply and thoroughly discuss a topic while keeping his music simple is something I really admire. The way he isn’t so concerned with rhyme scheme, but having his own individual voice, even if it’s messy, is something I really respect and love about [Dylan’s] music.”

A talent Andrew shares with his hero—and arguably surpasses him—is on the blues harp (beauty is in the ear of the beholder when it comes to Dylan’s admittedly sloppy technique). He often incorporates the harmonica in his blues and folk covers and also plays at recording sessions for friends and fellow musicians Micah Brown (named “Best Folk Artist” this year at the Orange County Music Awards) and Parker Macy.

“It’s humbling to cover legends and have people enjoy it,” Andrew says. “It’s not about ‘look at me’ but ‘let’s all pay homage to these great musicians.’ ”

Classic and folk rock are at the core of most of Andrew’s songs, but his taste in music continues to evolve and change direction.

“I listen to and enjoy many different kinds of music,” he says. “I want to touch on it all.”

A Skip on the Record

“These are challenging times,” Andrew concedes, “but I still try to stay as creative as I can and carve out a different way to do it.” Spending time in his home recording studio as often as he can, between baby duty, time with Brita and local gigs, he’s working on a solo album, “Songs from the Parlor,” a mix of revisited originals and acoustic covers that he plans to sell to fans at his shows.

His wife’s illness and the subsequent setback have also served as a heavy influence on his lyrics, which reflect much more personal and deeper feelings about what he’s gone through, from the time of his dad’s passing at the end of 2010 through his family’s present struggle.

“It’s been a good thing. With the band, I often feel like I’m standing in someone else’s shoes. Now at least one of my shoes is on,” he laughs.

It’s clear by watching Andrew and Brita that the couple’s positive individual attitudes rub off on each other. Nothing short of amazed by Brita—proudly showing off her bald head and a beautifully contagious smile, she’s more reminiscent of an actress playing a role than a cancer patient—I wonder how any woman can remain so gracious and spirited through the kind of sickness and fatigue that accompanies chemotherapy, while also raising a quick and curious toddler, caring for an infant and trying to be a good wife.

“Oh I’ve had my moments!” she admits. “But I believe that your attitude, in general, dictates how things are going to play out for you. And I don’t believe in coincidence—I know there’s a lesson in this for me, and something positive will come from it. It’s led me to write and share my story. Being open and talking with each other is what gives us [all] strength.”

What began as a personal journal has turned into a blog on OCinSite, where people can follow and be inspired by Brita’s journey.

Having just completed her sixth round of chemo—two while she was still pregnant and four after Ruby was born—Brita has decided to end traditional treatment and commit to a naturopathic regimen.

“My body just wasn’t feeling right—I was depressed, I couldn’t sleep—so I did my research and opted for alternative therapy,” she says. “I do believe that food is medicine and that we can make our bodies inhospitable to cancer; a healthy diet and supplements, yoga and meditation have been great for me.

“I’m not saying that’s the [route] for everyone, but I know it’s right for me,” she continues. “And I think it’s important to write about my experience and let other women out there know that there’s another option.”

Brita’s cancer has also woken Andrew up to the importance of caring for his health.

“It’s been a daily reminder to connect with my body and to make it long-lasting,” he says. “I lost my dad to a health condition. I don’t want my kids, too, to lose a parent. I want to see my grandkids one day.”

The Beat Goes On

Upon delivery of Brita’s devastating diagnosis, family, friends and the community quickly banded together to lend a hand—from organized fundraisers to random knocks on the door, offering everything from donations to dinners, they’ve rung in more than $20,000 to help with the seemingly insurmountable debt.

“In Laguna, you always know your friends have got your back, and we’re so grateful,” Andrew says. “More people than we ever would have imagined have come forward—we’re blown away by the amount of support we’ve gotten from complete strangers.”

A group of girlfriends and fellow young mothers even offered their breast milk for Ruby.

“We’ve still had to supplement her feedings with formula because she eats so much!” Brita laughs. “But these women have been incredibly kind, and it means so much to us.”

The couple says that despite the severity of their situation, they still felt uncomfortable with receiving so much help, but then a dear friend gave them some good advice: “My friend Billy said to me, ‘Accept it. And then one day pay it forward in some way,’ ” Andrew says. “So that’s what we’re doing. We’re accepting it, happy knowing that one day we’ll be able to help someone else in a similar way.”

In the meantime, whether they realize it or not, they’re already paying it forward: Brita, with her inspiring words and uplifting advice for other patients facing the same fears, and Andrew, with his compelling music that reaches souls across Laguna every week.

You can catch Andrew live from 6 to 10 p.m. Thursdays and Saturdays at K’ya Bistro; from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. Fridays at Rock’N Fish; from 1 to 5 p.m. at Tommy Bahama Laguna Beach Bar & Grill; and with neo-folk band, A Tale of Kings, at the Summer Sawdust Art Festival. LBM

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