Thursday April 27, 2017

Go and 39: My lead single & My Jason Molina Tribute

My album is almost into production – so I want to share a few things.  I may have to take these down depending on whether we get some help promoting the project – but for now – here you go:

First, this is “Go” the song I consider the lead single off the record.  I call it my half speed Purple Rain, because of the building ending.  Go starts the story arc of our 8 song concept album following our cargo boat Captain…

Next, is Thirty-Nine.  This song has been rattling around in my head for years.  When I started my musical journey, it was because I was freaked out about turning 40.  I was 39.  Jason Molina’s musical journey ended at 39.

Even though we lived in the same town when he passed, I never knew of Jason until he was gone.  I only found out about Jason when my friend and producer, John Vanderslice, submitted a tribute song to a compilation and was rejected.  John just posted his song on his website – and I was left wondering who was Jason Molina.  I dug in right away.

Jason is disarming, haunting, brooding, sad, difficult.  Everything I look for in music and art.  I was hooked immediately.  I consumed everything I could get my hands on related to Jason – all the music and all the words (although there wasn’t much written about Jason, except a Chicago Reader article that inspired the first line of my song).  39 started writing itself almost immediately.

There are tendencies in my history and family that are similar to the demons Jason struggled with.  This song is about Jason and, at the same time, is about me.  As is true for the protagonist in my concept album, there is a little Jason in all of us… and we’re better for it.

The definitive book on Jason Molina comes out May 15 Riding With the Ghost, by Erin Osmon on Rowman & Littlefield.  The excerpts are wonderful.  I can’t wait and have already ordered 2 copies (one from Rowman and one from Secretly Canadian

I hope you enjoy these songs for as long as I can leave them up here.  And, please don’t listen to Thirty-Nine and frantically text/email to see if I am OK.  Thirty-nine no more…


Sunday – April 9, 2017

For the last 10 days we’ve been in Oakland, California making our second record with the Tiny Telephone team; my friends who I love making records with. My hero John Vanderslice produced the record, Jacob Winik engineered it (Wink is a Genius), and Tiny Telephone regulars Jason Slota (drums) and Rob Shelton (keys) are all over this thing. Thanks fellas, it is so beautiful to make records with each of you and to call you friends. I love each of you.

As will be the case as long as he can stand me, Elijah Ford was my partner on this album. He helped me pre-produce the record in Austin last December and is my consultant on all things music (and many other key areas of my life). You can’t love a human you aren’t related to more than I love Elijah. This record would not have happened without him – and I’m not talking about his bass, piano intro, or acoustic and electric guitars. They are all beautiful and perfect, but he means so much more to me and this record than just that. Bad ass AF, Mr Ford, bad ass. Love ya.

Once again, my friend Marc Ford made the trip out to hang and help. I can’t explain how wonderful of a person Marc is. His playing is amazing, but between kidding around and hanging out – he always has great suggestions that make the songs better.     In between Magpie Salute shows in Europe and a solo tour, in a year where he is going to be away from home a lot – he fit in my album.  I am so thankful.  Someday, when time travel is invented, I want to go back to 1994 and tell the 19 year old version of me that his favorite guitar player knows who he is (and calls him “the Artist formerly known as Craig”), that Marc has now played all over two of Craig’s records, and most importantly, is a true and dear friend. Of course, 19 year old Craig would die of a stroke instantly and none of this would happen… so there’s that. And thanks for forgetting there is a verse 2 in “Thirty-nine” – it makes the song. Love you.

First listen: Thirty-nine

We had new collaborators with us on this record – Kelsey and Jess Von Strantz. Kelsey and Jess helped me play a bit in Indy last year and are wonderful singers and musicians. Kelsey’s cello on our hidden track “Thirty-nine” is one of my favorite things on this record. Their vocals blend so well with each other and mine, it played out just like I hear it in my head. I can’t wait for you to experience what their presence has done for my songs and record.

Like our first record, it is 100% analog – recorded to 2 inch tape, using all Tiny Telephone’s beautiful toys (like the two 1960’s Neumann tube mics with original caps that covered the vocals on this album). For most of it, I played acoustic and sang, while Elijah played bass, Jason played drums and Rob played keys.  With this base track, we then overdubbed additional vocals, guitars, etc.  JV is mixing it this week and Bernie Grundman (Prince, Ryan Adams, etc.) is mastering it April 20th.

We don’t know when it will be released as we are currently exploring whether it makes sense to do a promotional campaign for the record — but everyone who comes to our June 30 show at will get the record on CD or download (or both) free. We’ll likely release sometime later – but come to the show and you’ll be one of the first 400 to hear it… (plus the lineup is sick – The McDonalds, Jeff Kelly, Von Strantz and It’s Just Craig!!!). All that and a pre-release copy of the album for $10??? Now that’s a deal.

We are also pressing vinyl again. Bernie Grundman is mastering and cutting the lacquers – and we will likely use either QRP or RTI to press. We will likely release the vinyl this fall. I’ve promised Luna Music something special for Record Store Black Friday in November and I don’t plan to disappoint.

The last record was something I wanted to see if I could do. I love it, but I really didn’t know what I was doing and it took me a moment to get past the “woah, I did that” and settle in … to admit that I enjoy a lot of what I created with the help of my friends.

This record started with high expectations – my expectations. As the notes began affixing themselves to tape, I quickly realized it was going to exceed my expectations. My songs are better, I played the majority of the acoustic guitar during our initial tracking, the vocals are much better, the drums are sick, Elijah’s bass is perfect, Rob’s keys (and Elijah’s piano – distorted) fit my style and are weird in all the right ways, Kelsey & Jess blend so well with the lead vocals and these songs, Marc’s guitar is unreal, and the production & engineering is flawless.

Just listen to this clip of the outro for “Go” recorded from the booth as Kelsey & Jess record their vocals. This is an IPhone video of a take in the studio – it’s going to be insane when mixed and mastered!

Go (Vocal Recording Take 2):

The first record has some fervent fans and supporters around the world. This record is better, much better. I hope to find a way to get it out to many more people this time.

Before the plane home lands, I need to say three more things.

First, it is tough to have a passion this involved and to work a job as demanding as my day job. My team at the office has made it seamless – allowing me to flex my creative muscle while still providing top notch services to our clients. It is exhausting getting up at 4 am PDT to handle calls with and work for clients for 6 hours before heading to the studio from 11 am to 7 pm PST each day, but with the help of my assistant Jacqui, and my partners, including but not limited to Greg, Andy, Mike, Tim, David, Todd, Braden, Nathaniel, Jack, Chris, Kevin, Tom, Shannon, Don, as well as associates like Allie, Lizzie, Eric and Nick, and many many others, make it possible. Thanks to each of you. I’m so proud to have you as partners/co-workers and friends.

Second, I have the best friends a human could have. Aside from those already mentioned above, thank you from the bottom of my heart to my brother Paul, Don & Chris Birch, Chris Richter, Dan Weaver & Loren Alexander, Sarah Smith, Jeff Kucic, Al Standley, Brandon & Sheri, Bri & Harry, Babb, Carson & Carla, Vince & Cindy, Brad and Traci, all of Team Heroes and the Heroes Foundation, my Cycle Studio crew (Shea, Laura, Danni, Hana, Jordan, Stonehouse, Hamilton, etc.), my local music family (MP and Tolin, Todd & Luna Records, Spencer, Wes, Erin & the HiFi team, Jeff Kelly & Mallory, Scott and Britney McDonald, Kiefer & Jessica, Mike Angel & Square Cat,  Ben & Spark Joy, Danni & Will, Erin and the Musical Family Tree team, and to my mom and her family for instilling a love for music and providing an example of how to explore and enjoy music, while still also having a career outside music and a family.

Finally, there is my family. Those of you who know me well know I can be exhausting even in small doses. Imagine what it must be like to live with me and deal with “this” all the time. Jeanne, Chloe and Gibson give me the latitude to explore this side of my brain, and support me, even when it means they’ll be spending Spring Break in a dirty Air BnB in scenic downtown Oakland… and that we’ll get tossed out on day 9 of a 10 day trip due to a booking mistake.

Jeanne is more than my rock. She is my continent, my dry land, my everything. Navigating a Rock-n-Roll mini van is hard. Navigating the USS Craig, harder. She handles everything and finds a way to enjoy the chaos, crazy ideas, and help me realize my dreams. Thank you, Honey. I love you.

Chloe and Gibson are troopers. They are my photographers, and apparently my managers and agents (and allegedly get 10% each per position – 40% off the top??? No wonder it is so hard to make money in this industry!) Although radio airplay and “famous friends” don’t impress them (Chloe says we have to work on my definition of famous…) they are aiming to get me on the bill at Bonnaroo 2018. Taking a page out of Jeanne’s book, they find a way to enjoy vacations where I’m working for 6 hours, in the studio for 8 hours, and sharing a house and vehicles with our musical Family. Thanks for taking it in stride and going with the flow. I love you both… but, can we talk about percentages — 40%? Really???

I’m sure I forgot someone, or many ones. So, let me just say this – to everyone who has listened to the first record, who has tolerated a ridiculous number of texts from me, who spends any time with me, who has allowed, assisted, and supported my adventures, thank you. I love you all.


Wednesday – March 15, 2017

Sometimes the best way to overcome your fears is to jump in the deep end, take chances and remind yourself you can swim.  Bernie Grundman is mastering the record we don’t even start until 3/31 on 4/20.  Woah.  Deep end.

For those not familiar with Bernie’s work, you’ve heard it – for sure.  Bernie mastered Carol King’s “tapestry”, Steely Dan’s “Aja”, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”, Prince’s “Purple Rain”, and Dr. Dre’s “the Chronic”… in addition to It’s Just Craig’s Blood on the Table!


I am floored that we’ll be working with the legend again.  Bernie made Blood on the Table sound great and I can’t wait to hear his touch on this album.

This is exciting.


Monday – March 13, 2017

I’m a bit of a glass is half empty person, perpetually looking for the worst case scenario. When left to my own devices, I tend to run negative.  It is part of the reason I stay busy. I am better when I don’t have time to think, when forced to interact with people and causes I enjoy at events I like.  This weekend was a perfect example.  Still not out of my slide from last week, I forced myself to participate in an annual fundraiser for the Heroes Foundation, the anti-cancer charity that is affiliated with my bike team.  I also made myself attend the Von Strantz show at the HiFi and the Danni al Mar EP release (with the McDonalds) at Square Cat Vinyl.  It’s hard to bottom out when you are continuously surrounded by good people doing amazing things.

So, to my bike teammates and friends Don, Chris, Chris, Al, Carson, Vince, Chris, Bri, Shea, Dani, Laura, Mike, Dave, Jeff, Marie, etc. and my musician friends, Jess, Kelsey, Wes, Justin, Mike, Cole, Jeff, Danni, Will, Britney, Scott, Erin, Jen, and my sweet sweet friend Mallory – thanks for helping me take another step out of this hole and thanks for putting up with me.  I know I’m a handful.

Inspired by the wonderful musicianship that was on display Saturday night, I picked up the guitar on Sunday and started working on the one song on the album that continues to fight me.  There is still work to be done, but the coda is now complete, and if the rest of the song comes together like that outro did…

Danni al Mar EP Release Show:

Outro for Rain Doesn’t Come/Your’re Gone – the song that continues to fight me:

So another week begins and my outlook is mildly positive.  Darrin Bradbury comes to the HiFi this Wednesday – so there is more music on tap.  See you there?


Friday – March 10, 2017

I wanted to sulk and sink, like I do.  But I had tickets to see Nikki Lane in Bloomington and my friend Jerry Atwood from Union Western Clothing was coming with, as was Jeanne. Jerry had just made Nikki a sweet Queen of Hearts suit (for the Highway Queen Tour and echoing lyrics from the single “Jackpot”) and he hadn’t seen her wear it yet.  I hadn’t seen Nikki or the fellas (Eric and Alex) since August (Eric) and much earlier (Alex).  Also, I hadn’t yet met Jonathan Tyler.  I figured I should put one foot in front of the other and just be me.  No thought, just go.


It was a good show.  JT wasn’t having much fun with his opening set – but his Girl From the North Country was hauntingly beautiful.  Brent Cobb was one hell of a middle.  Brent’s bass player is insane – maybe the best I’ve ever seen.  Nikki keeps getting better and better. Despite being 1/2 way into this tour with little of any rest, her voice was stronger than I’ve ever heard it.  The new songs are already road tested and ready for prime time. As nice as it was to see Eric and meet his wife, it was nicer to see Alex and tell him face to face that it is so good to see him. If you know what Alex has been through and beaten, you know.  If not, it’s not my business to tell you, but it sure puts my piddly little issues into perspective fast.

Nikki knows how to do it.  She never lets on she is frustrated from the stage and communicates with her band with respect and a smile, no matter what.  She has fun when others would draw attention to an on stage issue.  This leads to great performances, and her’s keep getting more compelling.  Then she makes everyone feel like a personal friend afterwords.  “Craig, don’t move” is Nikki’s hey, I see you there and I’ll be over – and she always is.  I’ve been around so many musicians over the years and no one works harder or is sweeter than Nikki.

It was nice to go to a show with Jeanne – so many times I have to go alone because real life gets in the way.  It was also nice to get to chat with Jerry for a few hours.  If you like western wear (like the suits worn by Robert Ellis, Nikki Lane, Johnny Fritz, etc.),  you need to find @hoosierbuilt and @union_western_clothing on Instagram.  I can’t wait till I convince him to chain stitch on my jacket…

So, at 3:00 am I face the dilemma… sleep for an hour and thirty minutes or just plow through.  Either way, I’m winning.  A day that started off low, finishes with head above water.  Something to build on.  Something to learn from.

Don’t over think it, one foot in front of the other and just be you.

In my experience, it usually works.


Thursday – March 9, 2017

Three weeks to go before we record again.  Three weeks from today, I fly West. It’s probably a natural feeling for someone wired like me, often broken, at best half-functional, tired…  but at this moment an album is the furthest thing from my mind.

Sometimes I think I over commit to the things I do because there is less alone time in my head.  Sometimes, the busy quiets the self doubt, the over thinking, the problems completely created by my insanity.  Other times I don’t think about it and just trudge on. I’m at my best, my happiest when I’m not thinking – just doing.  When I am lost in the moment making something happen.  It’s why I enjoy fire drills, the projects and situations that require immediate action and one’s full attention.  It’s also why I hate solo bike rides. Alone in my head isn’t good for me.

It doesn’t help that the album is, at times, incredibly painful.  I went deep on this one. When I look at some of these songs while wearing the wrong glasses, they hurt. Sure, there is a story arc about a cargo boat captain – and all the themes that such an arc allows one to address (leaving, loving, wandering, getting lost, finding one’s footing on land, time, distance, etc.).  But this literary tool allowed me to go deeper into me than I would have without the safe place the cover story created.  This lead to a better set of songs, a more personal set of songs.  At the same time, because of where I find myself currently, it also helped me create a set of songs that can physically hurt to perform.  I’m hoping three more weeks allows me to achieve a new vantage point on these pieces – as they all were intended to be able to be interpreted differently by different people – looking at them from different places.

Besides, I don’t really have a choice.  The songs are good and the expenses are paid.  My friends are all coming.  If I back out now, I’ll regret it someday – likely immediately. So, it’s time to find that courage to stop thinking, put my head down and plow forward.  One foot in front of the other, again and again, until I can find a way to silence my mind.