Author: Bridget Benevides
Photo taken by Ben Morrison (thanks Ben!!)
My fall quarter concerts came to a close this weekend, but one of my final concerts was one I had been anticipating since September: John Craigie at The Triple Door. This was a particularly special show for me because I got to experience with my best friend and sister who came to Seattle for a mere 12 hours just to attend this concert.
John Craigie is an incredibly funny, honest, and talented storyteller and musician. I saw him about a year ago in Seattle and since then have been excited and eager to share his music with my friends, family, and community at KXSU. On Friday night I had the unique opportunity to sit down with John before his show at The Triple Door (can I call him John now? Are we on a first name basis? I’m going to say yes). I will include my interview below, but first let me tell you about my concert experience:
Ben Morrison opened with a (too short) half hour set. Similar to the Craigie Show, Ben Morrison told anecdotes to preface his songs which always helps me feel more connected to the artist and their music. He sang a very sweet song about his fiancé and how lucky he is to have her in his life, and let me tell you, it is musicians like Ben Morrison, with his beautiful love songs, that make me a hopeless romantic. I have to remind myself that when artists sing about love, they aren’t lying, and I should not settle for anyone who doesn’t sing about me the way Ben Morrison sings about his fiancé. Unfortunately, Ben has a pretty limited internet presence. Besides his song “25 miles”, I cannot find much of his music online, but when I do, trust me, I will let you know. Until then, check out his website!
John Craigie came out shortly after and began with one of my favorite songs: “Dissect the Bird”. I love this song because it is a funny intro, but it is also honest and uplifting: “The universe is not against you, it went through a lot to give you a chance, it must have wanted you pretty bad” he sang, and at this line the audience clapped, and my hairs stood on end, and I looked at Shella (my sister) and I was very happy to be living in that moment.
Acoustic guitar and harmonica is a wonderfully simplistic but dynamic combination, and John Craigie incorporates both instruments into his melodies fluidly. The stories he told in between his songs were different ones than he told last year and different ones from his live album, so we were laughing all night. Many times, he laughed at himself too which was charming and funny.
He played songs from his newest album Scarecrow which was released this year. He also played songs from his first album Montana Tale which was released in 2009. It really amazes me that for almost ten years he has been releasing music, and he continues to give people chills and make them laugh and give them something to connect to. His music is honest and easy to listen to and for that I am grateful. His music makes me slow down and think, and more often than not it makes me laugh, but it also has the power to move me to tears.
Ben joined John on stage to perform “Mr. Tambourine Man” which is a personal favorite of mine and Shella’s. Then to conclude the night John sang “I Am California” which was all that I needed to feel complete (of course, I could have listened to him play for hours and hours, but “I Am California” is my favorite song, so I am glad he decided to play it last).
I feel so lucky to be in a city like Seattle, with such a diverse and exciting music scene that introduces me to new artists. John Craigie has become one of my favorites over the last year and I look forward to continue to listen to his music with my family and friends. Below is my conversation with John Craigie (honestly, the coolest thing that has happened this quarter).
Bridget Benevides: You were a math major, and now you’re an artist, was it scary to make that transition and do you have any advice for people who are looking to do the same?
John Craigie: I would think that it would have been had I not gone to UC Santa Cruz, but their whole math program was very artistic at that time. I joke about it on stage, but seriously they were like “How does this equation make you feel?” In one class we just had pineapples and pinecones and ferns, and he was like “Math, dude, fibonacci” and we were all like “whooaa” and then we just passed out the pineapples, it was really fun. I did my thesis on infinity and the whole thing was about these infinity paradoxes that I looked up, one of them being Zeno’s infinity paradox and small infinity which is a concept about the infinite within the finite, so that’s what I talked about for an hour and they were like “Graduate!”
Then I taught, actually, in Watsonville for a year and I was bringing pineapples in, and the principle was like “You can’t do that, you have to do some 3+3 stuff” and I was like “That’s not really my specialty… math… Persay…” so it would have been scary, but it felt natural. The true part of it was that I wanted to be musician, I didn’t really have faith in myself and I think that is what it is about: if you want to do something you should do it. And a lot of times in life you have to jump without knowing that you’re going to land okay, and that is important. Especially with art, people wait around a lot saying “I’m not going to go on tour until I have enough money.” or “I’m not going to make an album until I know I have a deal.” but, every independent artist had to start with total faith, and you’re going to fail a thousand times, but you’ll be okay.
BB: What do you think it is about your music that fans connect so well to?
JC: What I take pride in a lot is the honesty. I think some artists have more mystique, and that’s good for them, some artists you want to be this magical creature. When I was a kid I would listen to a lot of Led Zeppelin and I had created this rock god, Mythos around him, then I saw some interview with Robert Plant and he was just a big dork and he was really sweet, and I was like “Oh okay!” But then there’s other artists like Arlo Guthrie or John Prine, who I was more drawn towards, and they would tell stories and I was like “This actually happened to them.” So, I find, in my discussion at the merch table or with the people I meet that that is what they appreciate most, finding something that is personal and relatable, and I think that the purpose of music is not to make you feel better but to make you feel like you’re not alone, and that has always been my motto. So, if you can do that, that is the goal. I would hope that is what people connect to.
BB: I was re-reading my review of your last year’s show, and I wrote “He had this line where he said ‘The universe is not against you, it’s a miracle that you’re even here at all’, and it had been a long quarter, and I didn’t know him personally but I felt like he was talking to me and I felt that line.”
JC: That’s the goal! I would love to go out and have a counseling session with everyone, but as the audiences get bigger, that becomes less practical and it would probably be awkward, but all of the great music that I love feels that way for me, I feel like I went to some sort of therapy and that made me feel good.
BB: What do you hope people remember about your show and what do you hope they remember about you?
JC: Probably the same thing: the songs and the message. I just want to be heard. Sometimes the saddest thing for me is musicians who don’t put that much thought into their lyrics or don’t speak them clear enough or don’t have the faith. I’ve talked to people who say, “I like this band, but I don’t know what they’re saying” or “I don’t listen to their lyrics” and that would bum me out a lot. I think for the individual artist, being heard is the best thing if you have something to say. So, I would love for the show to be me, and that’s a hard line to walk: being professional but also being human up there and trying your best to eliminate the wall between artist and audience member, again, without going into the audience and asking everyone how their day was.
BB: What is the craziest thing that has ever happened to you while you’ve been on tour?
JC: Hmm.. So many things… Define crazy.
BB: Memorably funny?
JC: (laughs) a lot of weird things. People yell funny stuff, there were some hecklers last night. But I remember one time I was doing a smaller show and this guy was like “If you’re going to sing songs like that, you’ve got to have a panty jar on stage.” and the whole audience heard that, so I had to acknowledge it, and I asked him “What is that?” and he said “A jar to put the panties in” and I was like “Oh I think I know what you’re trying to say” because there’s this thought in rock that people would throw their panties on stage, and there’s also the idea of a tip jar, but there’s not a panty jar, that’s not a thing, no one who is about to throw their panties is like “If there is a jar I could put this in that would be really nice.” So, I had to explain to him that there was no panty jar. I just think it’s funny when you have to deal with the awkward hecklers, we’ll see if we get some tonight.
BB: What inspired you to do a clothing drive at your shows?
JC: Mostly because of working with Jack Johnson and seeing his philanthropy and wanting to give back. I see a lot of homelessness when I do these tours. And in a much less intense way, I have dealt with that in the early days of touring, not knowing where you’re going to sleep and being cold. So, when my manager asked me what we could do we thought that would be a nice way to give back.
BB: If you could describe the feeling of being on stage, how would you describe it?
JC: It ebbs and flows over time. In the early days it was very intense and terrifying and hyper- real, but as a performer you get more comfortable and it becomes the best part of the day because it is the thing you woke up to you. It is the thing I look forward to the most. Especially when you’re traveling you don’t have a home, but to me it is the closest thing to that, it is the most consistent thing. You get out there, you get in place, you get your guitar and start singing and it feels very familiar and comfortable.
BB: What inspires you to make music?
JC: People. Seeing people’s struggles, from the most intense thing to the simplest thing, I have always been very fascinated by people and I have always wanted to help out. When I was a kid I wanted to be a doctor, but that seemed like a lot of work, so I thought what are other ways to help people and heal people. I would listen to music and it was doing that for me and I wondered if I could, somehow, be a part of this and that was the initial inspiration to get this job. So, I got a guitar and I learned the guitar and I watched how it affected me and how it affected people, so I started writing songs and I started connecting with people so that is the main inspiration: to keep doing that, and to find new things to say.
BRIDGET BENEVIDES | “I am allowed to make fun of the hippies because I was one of them; I was like Jane Goodall with the apes” – John Craigie | KXSU Music Reporter