by Kelly McCartney (@theKELword) for Folk Alley
Singer/songwriter John Craigie grew up in Southern California, which easily explains his breezy, bright folk-rock sensibilities. After graduating with a degree in mathematics from UC Santa Cruz, Craigie took to the road and the recording studio, which readily explains his existential musical explorations. Craigie’s latest release — ‘No Rain, No Rose’ — finds him folding both of those components into one wonderful set of songs which he recorded in the old Victorian house he now calls home in Portland, Oregon.
Kelly McCartney: You’re a California native, and a Portland resident. And your sense of place is all over this record. As a traveling musician, how important is having a set home base? Or does the road fill that role, to a certain extent?
John Craigie: For me, the road is home. Or, more specifically, the stage. When you are touring, the show is the one moment of the day that you feel at home. You are singing your songs, telling your stories, and playing your guitar. Having a home base was something that I avoided for years. That’s what makes this record so special. I think my move to Portland was significant in the sense that it brought me out of my comfort zone, in the same way that traveling does for others. This record is the sound of a traveler dealing with a home base and using his time at home wisely. Bringing together the community that he found there and having them add to the songs that he wrote in that same house.
How did you decide to write a tribute song to Michael Collins, the Apollo 11 astronaut who didn’t get to moon walk?
My father went to school with Buzz Aldrin and was also friends with Neil Armstrong. I met both growing up and my father used to always talk about the space program. We talked about Apollo 11 a lot and about how most people don’t know about the third guy, Michael Collins. I always thought about him and how fame sometimes comes so close to you but slips past. It stuck with me for a long time, until I finally let it out in song last year.
Is the secret to a throwback sound all about the production and performance or is there something in the songwriting and arranging that helps out?
It’s in all of those things, for sure. It’s all about what you’re listening to when you write the albums and who you pick for your engineer. Who you tell them that you want to sound similar to. Mostly, it’s in how you play the songs while you record them. Lots of people these days like to play it safe and multi-track so they can get the cleanest sound. One instrument at a time. But that’s not how the people who I listen to did it. They played it all together in the same room. And that’s what we did.
You play in all kinds of venues and situations. How do you shift what you do in order to win over whatever audience you’re in front of?
I tend to feel out the audience during the opener, or as they are walking in. See how they are responding. Sometimes, it takes me a few songs and stories before I can get a read on them. But, in general, I just do my thing. It is what it is and it seems that, if you are honest up there and genuine, people will pick up on that. People have seen so much in entertainment, at this point. They don’t need anything flashy or crazy. They just want the truth, someone to be honest with them.
Since your debut in 2003, you’ve released a record damn near every year, save 2006 and 2014. Is that a product of being super-prolific or of needing an excuse to stay on the road?
It’s hard to say where the inspiration comes from. The songs are there, and I feel like getting them out while they are relevant to me, while they make sense. There’s nothing worse than writing a song and then having to wait a couple years to record it and then maybe it’s not how you feel anymore. Or sometimes I think it’s like a shark. People say that, if a shark stops swimming, it dies. Maybe the shark doesn’t even know that. Maybe he just really likes swimming. He’s in a big ass ocean. What else is he gonna do?