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Interview: Meet the Glaswegian Songwriter Crawford Mack and his debut album ‘Bread & Circuses’

Glaswegian Songwriter Crawford Mack has released his debut album Bread & Circuses.

Recorded in Antwerp, the Bread & Circuses features ten tracks that showcase Mack’s talent.  He tells GigSoup “I hope the album illustrates the conviction of an individual confronting their internal struggles, wrestling them to the ground but all the while waving a white flag of surrender.”

Utilizing elements of Jazz, Rock, electro, and classic to create a sound palette beyond any genre limitations, Crawford speaks to GigSoup of his new album and more.

Hi Crawford, thanks for chatting to us here at GigSoup! How are you today?

Thank you! I’m well thanks, how’s yourself?

Fabulous, we’re pretty grand ourselves! What inspires you, both in music and life?

Musically, I’d say I get inspiration by checking out as much music from different genres and cultures as I can, trying to keep an open mind while I’m doing so: there’s something in almost any conceivable style of music that I will absolutely love and obsess over at some point. In life I find a lot of joy in reading and the ideas generated from reading often inspire my songwriting. In particular, I read a lot of Scottish and Irish authors as well as books that have been translated from other languages. I’m fascinated by how a commonplace, shared human experience is often translated into wildly different cultural idioms.

I also try to take myself out on a date quite regularly, to experience something new or different that I’m not entirely certain I’ll find interesting until I do. So that might be a piece of experimental theatre or a gig or perhaps just a journey on a bus to somewhere I’ve never been. Besides that, I’d say the love, support, and camaraderie of my closest pals and family are both sustaining and inspiring.

Are you drawn to a particular vibe, or particular topics with your music?

I find myself drawn to political and environmental issues quite regularly, as well as the more conventional themes of love, loss, disappointment. As for a vibe, I started out as a jazz and classical musician, but grew up with a lot of folk music so I’m used to changing things up and crossing traditions and forms.

You recently released ‘A Love I Can’t Live Up To’. What’s it about?

The track is about the different personas we adopt at the start of relationships and what happens when we can no longer live up to these more perfect, intense versions of ourselves.

How was the production process for ‘A Love I Can’t Live Up To’?

It’s a song that’s changed a lot and been through several rewrites from the original five-and- a-half minute version. I rewrote the track with producer Jamie Evans as we felt it was the chorus that had a good chance of breaking through to a more commercial market. I think I’ll record another version in the future that’s more like the original, as the lyrics that I cut from the longer version will, I hope, engage a different audience.

We recorded this version at Studio Porino in Antwerp, with myself tracking the guitar part with Jack Tustin playing bass before Richard Rayner added the drums and Jamie put on some extra wee bits of guitar. We were pretty happy with it in general but, when we left the Antwerp studio, we kept talking about how we could enhance it by adding other elements. So I called my old friend Lewis Murphy and asked if he’d be up for arranging some strings to compliment and complement what we’d recorded. I reached out to another old friend, a cellist called David Råberg-Schrello, and he organised some string players into a quartet. The strings were recorded at Kore Studios in London before I re-cut the vocals to match the energy brought by the strings.

What can you tell us about your new album ‘Bread and Circuses’? What’s it about and how did it come together?

In February last year we supported The Paper Kites at King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut in Glasgow. At that point it was the biggest gig I’d done under my own name. We played our best show to date as a band on that night, it was a great experience – Yet immediately afterwards, I started to feel strangely unfulfilled: I knew that it was time for me to start down the path towards my next phase of work.

Early the next day, half asleep, I travelled down to London to attend my Masters Degree graduation ceremony before rushing back north, this time on the last train to Yorkshire to spend the night in a B&B before meeting Jamie Evans for the first time the following morning. It had been suggested that he might be a good fit as a producer.

We clicked immediately. We began rewriting ‘A Love I Can’t Live Up To’ and, in the afternoon, we wrote ‘Travels’. The idea was to write material and get pre-production done for a four-track EP but we ended up having a really productive time of it and, two months later, we were recording an album in Antwerp, Belgium with Colin Brain (Audio and Mixing Engineer) and my two most trusted pals Richard Rayner (Drums) and Jack Tustin (Bass). We went to Antwerp because Jamie and I are both really into the Belgian bands Deus, Dead Man Ray, and Sukilove. It also worked really well because I wanted to get everyone away from the familiar territory so we would all focus on the making of the record.

Most of the tracks on the record are inspired by stories from my own life. ‘Life-Changing Moment’, ‘Depends On Where You Stand’, ‘A Love I Can’t Live Up To’, and ‘Travels’ are thematically linked by relationships, as is ‘Turning’, where I wonder how former lovers remember ‘their’ record, the one that they both look back on.

‘William’ is about my relationship with an imaginary childhood friend. Mine, no kidding, prevented me from being hit by a crashing car when I was about four, maybe five. When I described my imaginary friend to my parents they freaked out as what I was vividly describing was a soldier from the First World War, long before I knew anything about the war. The track explores the theme of whether something could have been done to save him from his fate and questions the right of governments to send young men to wars that they don’t really understand. ‘Firing Squad’ shares some ideas with ‘William’ as it’s also about people in positions of authority who abuse their power over others and stems from some situations from my own past: the music video for ‘Firing Squad’, available on the normal platforms, can further speak to the ideas behind this particular track.

The title track ’Bread & Circuses’ is about the current political situation, especially in the UK, though it was written and recorded well before the pandemic. The phrase “bread and circuses” is from a satire by the Roman poet Juvenal, writing in about AD100. It relates to politicians distracting citizens from protecting their own interests by providing colourful entertainments and free food. So short-term solutions assuage a population’s discontent but the ultimate price is so much higher than people realise. Sadly, I feel that the political sphere has become its own theatre of late, even without the creation of new distractions. We have a government seemingly unable to play by acceptable rules of engagement and an insipid opposition. It’s maddening when you consider how much is at stake at this moment.

‘The Story Is No Longer Available’ is about climate change, while ‘Grounded Butterfly’ was written after I observed a butterfly with a clipped wing struggling to fly free. I started to consider how frustrated it must feel, vulnerable and helpless as it was: would it want to lash out at the world if it had the sting to do so? I realise I was projecting my own frustrations at the time.

Did you hit upon any unexpected challenges while putting the album together? Pandemic aside, of course.

Ha! Almost constantly is the answer: some challenges were simply logistical while others were a bit more involved given that I split with my management at the time, mostly due to over-promising and under-delivering.

If you had to pick one ‘favourite thing’ about the record, what would it be?

Probably the moments that brought the best out of our collective graft and creativity, such as using the switching on of a snare for a drum hit in ‘Turning’, or a particular part in ‘Grounded Butterfly’ that took me ages to get right. These make me smile when I hear them now. My favourite track keeps changing depending on the mood I’m in.

Who do you think is the most exciting band or musician around right now?

Gabriel Kahane.

Can you tell us one thing that people don’t know about you?

Every year either Richard or myself can declare ‘nonsense week’ and we cancel all our plans to have an adventure where the game of odd’s-on rules what we do.

Finally, how is the rest of the year looking for you?

There’s a track called ‘Siriously?’ (Sic) to be released by the end of October that is very tongue in cheek and upbeat compared to the album: it’s basically about how we now communicate with one another, or not. I’ll also likely be releasing a duet called ‘Parallel Roads’ that I wrote with the wonderful Daisy Chute. Besides that, I’m really not sure with all the uncertainty going on, though I’ll be heading up to Glasgow to work as a volunteer on a charity appeal my Mum runs for ‘KidsOut’ in Scotland for much of November and December. We acquire and distribute donations of brand new toys and books to kids who are disadvantaged by either circumstance or disability. It’s well worth supporting.

Thank you for your time.

Pleasure – thank you very much!

You can find more information about Crawford Mack at...