Music News 360 caught up with John Craigie between two nights of recording a forthcoming live album in Portland, OR. We talked about the apocalypse, fractals, astrology, and hanging out with JackJohnson. Below are excerpts from our conversation.
MN360 – Your performance is both song and narrative. How did storytelling become part of your act?
JC – The storytelling was around way before the music. Growing up, I was the class clown. I was the guy who would tell the stories. So that’s older than the music and came way more naturally. The music was a lot harder for me.
“Growing up, I was the class clown. I was the guy who would tell the stories.”
MN360 – What sparked your interest in music?
JC – One of my friends, a dear friend who I credit for having a huge influence on me. He was a little out of the box, really artistic. He had a different way about him. He wasn’t buying into the normal, suburban way, you know?
So he got a guitar when we were about 15 years old. He was really talented, playing the guitar a lot…I looked up to him. One day, he showed me…He was like, ‘It’s not that hard!’ He showed me some chords. That was the pivotal moment for me. The moment I knew it was possible. It changed everything.
I think that a lot of times you just need someone to be like, ‘Yeah, you can do this!’
“I think that a lot of times you just need someone to be like, ‘Yeah, you can do this!’”
Also, in the early 90s, Bob Dylan was not cool. I knew Dylan in the sense of a historical figure, but I had not heard his music. It wasn’t until someone gave me a copy of Freewheelin’ … that was the catalyst for my songwriting.
“It wasn’t until someone gave me a copy of Freewheelin’ … that was the catalyst for my songwriting. ”
MN360 – You have been quoted as saying, “I know that the purpose of music is not to make people feel better, but to make them feel like they are not alone.” Can you elaborate?
JC – People listen to sad songs when they are sad. Why do we do that? It doesn’t cheer us up, but that’s not the point. The point is…What we are really seeking with art is connection. To feel like, ‘Oh, they get it.’
If you’re bummed out, ‘Walking On Sunshine’ is not going to work for you. That doesn’t do it, and we all know that… It’s funny that we disregard that reality.
The best music is relatable, it makes us feel like we are not alone. That’s what I have always thought the purpose of music is… on all levels, whether it is a happy song or a funny song or a sad song.
“What we are really seeking with art is connection. To feel like, ‘Oh, they get it.’”
MN360 – You studied math in college. How does math influence your creative process?
JC – I was at UC Santa Cruz, so it was more of a hippie kind of math. Lot of fractals. Lot of looking at pineapples, you know, getting high. Lot of looking at ferns…Storytelling is somewhat mathematical. Not so much in what we think about as math, like algebra. More so in putting things together–structure.
“Storytelling is somewhat mathematical. Not so much in what we think about as math, like algebra. More so in putting things together–structure.”
On structure, songwriting and architecture…How crazy is it to visualize how a building is going to look before you make it? Songwriting is similar in that you hear the general vibe you want before laying the foundation.
MN360 – Is the Apocalypse over?
JC – That was a metaphor for all the hippies who were talking about 2012, the end of the Mayan calendar. Remember that? They were like, “Cool, Babylon will crumble! I won’t have to work my stupid job anymore.” So the lyric is a reference to that. I guess I should have put quotes around “Apocalypse.”
“I guess I should have put quotes around ‘Apocalypse.’”
MN360 – Do you follow astrology? Is there significance to your album titled ‘Capricorn in Retrograde… Just Kidding… Live in Portland’?
JC – I am into astrology because I lived in Santa Cruz for 5 years. Originally, the title was going to be ‘Mercury in Retrograde… Just kidding’. After talking to some friends, I thought it would be even funnier and maybe a little less intense if I made up something that doesn’t exist, ‘Capricorn in Retrograde’, which is not a thing, you know.
MN360 – What is your astrological sign?
JC – Gemini.
MN360 – How was the time you spent on tour with @JackJohnson?
JC – We had a lot of fun. Probably the funnest thing we did…we had a night off and went to see @JohnMayer perform at The Gorge. You know, I would not normally go to see John Mayer in concert, so it was a trip to go to that show with Jack, sitting there with these two elder statesmen of modern songwriting. That was a surreal night.
MN360 – What percentage of the time do you perform with your eyes open?
JC – I’d say 2 percent–when I’m making a joke about having my eyes open.
MN360 – If you could have a billboard with anything on it, what would it say?
JC – ‘Be nice to each other’. That’s probably cliche, but that’s what I would say.
“Be nice to each other.”