Taking the stage at New York’s City Winery Loft was Craig Stickland in a beautiful set to open for Hudson Taylor. Capturing the crowd from the very first song as he sang ‘Break Every Rule’. Craig showcased his vocals and combined well written lyrics with stories of people coming together, followed by the eventual split. Stickland moved from guitar to piano, and often recording loops for background as he played. There was a great blend of tempo keeping the show balanced. Finishing off the set with the highest tempo song ‘Burn It Down’ passed a ball of momentum to the headlining act and sent an overall impression of big things to come for Craig Stickland.
With an impressive voice, thoughtful lyrics, and skilled performance on the guitar Craig Stickland’s talent is something you can’t deny. I had the chance to talk a bit more with Craig before the show. We talked about him learning he could sing from a musical in high school, building a mobile recording studio in his van, his upcoming album ‘Starlit Afternoon’, and more. Read the full interview in the transcript below.
So I promised myself I wouldn’t talk to you only about National Parks, road trips, and your van because those are some of my favorite things and I have seen all of your pictures and things with that. But are you touring with the van right now?
CS: Oh man… the van actually broke down in El Paso. Yeah…(laughs)
Oh geez I’m sorry to hear that that seems to be a common theme with the van from what I’ve read. (laughs)
CS: Yeah It’s a nightmare. So I don’t have it the rest of this tour and I think I am going to go pick it up on the way back. At the very end of the tour.
So your transportation breaks down while on tour what happens next?
CS: You go into full blown panic mode and just ended up renting a car and booking hotels along the way.
Who are you listening to while you’re on the road?
CS: Oooh lately I’ve been listening to a lot of an artist named Tom Misch. He’s amazing. He’s from the UK. On this recent trip I just discovered this artist named Sasha Sloan who I think is really good.
Oh she’s great, I saw her live this summer!
CS: Dude she’s such a good writer. I’m listening to LÉON on the road. Sometimes I’ll just let Spotify do it’s thing. Emily King is really cool too her new record is awesome. Super cool her song ‘Remind Me’ is amazing.
Oh perfect, it looks like I have some new music to listen to because of that question. Speaking of new music you just released a single ‘Burn it down’ What has the reception been like to that? and what inspired the song?
CS: It’s been great so far! It’s fun, so basically the song has a theme about smoking weed. But it didn’t start that way. So it’s funny we were in the crunch time of the record making process and we had delivered a record and we had a bit more time to work on a few more things. So Kat and I who made the whole record together we were just writing writing and writing.We were trying to write some stuff that was kind of anthemic and up tempo because we new we had a lot of mid-way stuff on the record. We were just writing for tempo and a good feeling and we wrote this really aggressive political song actually. It was about the political landscape of America and I’m Canadian so I wont say too much about it but we all know what is going on. But then I delivered it to the team my management and the label and they’re like “dude you’re Canadian what are you doing writing a song about this? You can always go back home. Why don’t you write about smoking weed instead?” (laughs) Because it was about if he built a wall we’d burn it down to the ground and just this really aggressive song. Then we decided to write about smoking weed since it was already called burn it down but it was about something else. We kind of transitioned it into a song about smoking weed. It became a weed anthem which I don’t know how that ended up that way. But more than that it became an anthem of coming together versus separation. Then we kind of thought that we could use it to talk about their being a lot of injustice, a lot of people are incarcerated for weed related offenses whether it was in another state where it’s legal and the whole thing is kind of messed up. But the track is a feeling of coming together. Still rebellion but not against what it started out as.
We talked about your van earlier and I wanted to make sure I asked about your ‘Van Sessions’ and you recording in incredible places like a piano on the cliffs of Yosemite National Park how did that happen?
CS: Yeah that was cool! So when I was first building the van I was telling all my friends and family about it everyone was telling me no that it wasn’t going to be a good idea. It’s going to be this liability, which it is. But I was like you know what if I put solar panels on the roof I could set up a studio in the middle of nowhere and just record in the middle of nowhere. So I was kind of justifying it to myself why I should record in the middle of nowhere and why I should spend three months building it. So when the album was done and we were getting ready to roll the album out I was like “what if we shot acoustic or stripped back versions of almost all songs off the record fully solar panel?” So I have been to all of these National Parks and been everywhere in the van and I wanted to revisit some of my favorite spots and shoot acoustic versions of all the songs powered by the van.
That is incredible man. Your journey with music is pretty cool.It wasn’t until high school where you realized you were a great singer in a production of Les Mis?
CS: Yeah so I grew up in the suburbs and my parents put me into sports and then one summer I decided I didn’t want to do lacrosse and I wanted to do a musical instead. There was a Toronto production of Les Misérables so I auditioned and got the part and that kind of started the love. Then there was a high school band that needed a singer and after doing the theater production I auditioned for the band and joined that band. We played gigs all over and we kind of became famous in our home town playing all over the place. That kind of started the desire to do it full time, then when it came time to go to University I decided I wanted to pursue music instead and that started that whole journey.
One question I always ask in an interview is about karaoke, I love karaoke and am always curious with musicians that play all over if they like karaoke and what their go-to song is?
CS: You know what’s funny I don’t really do that much karaoke. Just because I do it professionally. Because it’s weird if I go i’m not going to like belt it out. You know what I mean? I just wouldn’t want to be that guy. Everyone’s doing their thing and I’m just coming up singing Celine Dion or something that’s not the vibe. So I actually kind of stay away from karaoke.(laughs) But if I were to do karaoke I would probably sing something comical or something like that.
So in addition to ‘Burn It Down’ you also have an album coming called ‘Starlit Afternoon’ what can you tell me about that?
CS: So Starlit Afternoon which is the title track was inspired while I was playing guitar with Alessia Cara and with her we were lucky enough to play a lot of music festivals and toured. I was able to play a lot of shows I otherwise wouldn’t be able to play, and we were playing the 7:00 PM sunset shot at Coachella and it just inspired the song. It’s a song written about coming together and looking across and seeing someone new at a music festival while you’re both vibing out and you connect with each other and both enjoy the music together. That’s what the songs about.
So two of the songs you mentioned on the album with ‘Burn It Down’ and ‘Starlit Afternoon’ are about coming together, what are some of the other things we can expect from the album?
CS: A lot of the songs are written about personal relationships. So a lot of them have to do with heart break as well. So I like to write and have the juxtaposition of songs that make you feel good and a coming together, and then on the other side of the spectrum where things fall apart. So I think it takes you on a journey of meeting someone new and falling apart, meeting someone else and yeah.
You mentioned being a guitarist for Alessia Cara and as part of that you toured with Coldplay. I wanted to ask what did you learn about yourself from being on tour with Alessia and Coldplay?
CS: I guess I learned that there is a lot farther for me to go as an artist and things I would like to accomplish. Because when you watch Coldplay every night it is very humbling and also it is very inspiring because you realize these are just four dudes that met at University and are just really nice guys, down to earth, salt of the earth type guys. If they can do it why can’t I sort of thing. That inspired me to just up my game and become a better musician.
Is there anything else maybe dates you would like included for this interview?
CS: Yes! July is going to be the album, and we are releasing a single pretty much every month leading up to it. And then van sessions to go with each one.