A Chat With: Craig Stickland
I have seen Craig Stickland perform many times in Montreal since his debut EP was released in 2016. He opened for many artists and played guitar in Alessia Cara's band but this time around it was his time to play a headline show. I finally got to chat with the Canadian singer-songwriter about his musical journey so far, his plans for his debut full length album, relationships and much more!
You’ve been touring a lot, what’s the weirdest or craziest thing that happened?
That’s a tough one, it all becomes a big blur. I mean beyond belief, touring with Coldplay was insane but that was just incredible. Actually, the craziest thing that happened recently is that I almost got arrested! We got the van pulled over twice in the same day. We were driving from New York to Santa Barbara and the van got pulled over twice for the same reason; which is basically just a lie to pull someone over that looks suspicious I guess. So, they said that we passed a truck and didn’t give them enough room and then they searched the van twice. The second time they searched the van they brought 3 cop cars and tore our van apart and put us in the back of the cop car while they searched it. It was pretty scary and they started asking us a bunch of questions about our work visas and stuff like that.
You just went on tour with Barns Courtney right? I feel like he’s a crazy guy
He is a crazy guy! When he met my mom, like my mom came to a show in Albany. I told my mom about Barns in advance and I told Barns to behave himself and he took his shirt off and started rubbing his body against my mom. They took a bunch of photos together without a shirt so that was pretty crazy. But yeah, there was also some pretty crazy drives on that tour as well. We drove across the country in 48 hours!
What’s one thing you learned while being on tour?
I learned a lot of things from being on the road. I think everyday is an opportunity to learn something new about yourself and about humanity. Yeah, I’ve just had so many life changing experiences on the road, I can’t really say that there’s one that stands out but everyday something happens.
Your full length album is going to come in the new year and its called Starlit Afternoon, which is also a song, why did you decide to name the album that?
Well, that was the song that was first written for the album. When I wrote that songI knew that the collection of songs was gonna be in that world and everything happened serendipitously. I was looking for a title for the album and it was suggested because its one of my favourites on the album. I was thinking about it and I wasn’t sure if that was gonna be it. My manager asked me to go on a road trip in the van to try and shoot the album cover, like just go out there and see what happens. I was driving from Utah to California and I pulled over and there was a beautiful sunset which is what a starlit afternoon is; when the sun is setting and the moon is just rising and the stars are in the sky. I pulled the van over and it was in front of this lake and I shot the photo of the van in front of the starlit afternoon and it just ended up being the title because it made sense.
Talk to me a bit about making the album
I’m still making it but it was an interesting process. The first single, Warning, I made with Gray a long time ago, maybe a year and half now and we tried to make more songs together but for whatever reason it wasn’t jiving. We took a break from working with one another, and I went looking for someone else to maybe help with the record. I started working with all these different producers trying to find the right sound and they ended up pulling me in so many different directions, directions that I really wasn’t feeling. After getting frustrated, we decided that working with Gray was the best bet after all. I got a little team together; my other friend, Cat Lewis, and Gray and we started making the record in our guest house in LA. We decided to do it on our terms and exactly how we wanted it to sound and we started getting the results we were looking for once all of us put our heads into the mix. Its been really fun, really DIY, we made it entirely ourselves and I’m really happy with how its turning out.
From the EP to the album, I’m guessing your writing has grown, how was it changed?
Yeah, so I rerecorded Break Every Rule for the album because when I first wrote that song it was actually just a couple of days before I was putting out my EP. My manager was like ‘this needs to be on the EP, just go in to record a live version and put it out’. I did it and I put it out just to have it out and that was the direction I was heading but I don’t really like the version that’s out. There’s a lyric that I changed as well, so I really wanted to rerecord it.
But yeah, Break Every Rule is kind of the end of the EP and the start of the album. Then I wrote Starlit Afternoon and a few others. Its definitely a growth from the EP. I feel like albums often come out a lot later then when it was recorded with the landscape of the industry-I made that EP quite awhile ago and I’ve been working on a ton of new music on the road and while travelling and just living life. I wrote about 75-80 songs for the process and we narrowed it down to 15 or 16 and from that, 12-13 sounded best recorded so we’re probably going to release a 12 song album.
The sound live definitely has changed, there’s a lot more guitars and I mean, you’ve been playing alone for a while so seeing the show with a full band makes a difference!
I honestly think that I wasn’t as good as a guitar player when I put the EP out. Just playing guitar with Alessia Cara really toned my chops. I was playing guitar every night and just became a better guitar player. I love playing the guitar so it was a natural transition to have some moments where I’m able to express myself on the guitar in these new songs.
Warning was your first single, what does that track mean to you?
I think when I first wrote Warning I was pushing my voice to the limits and seeing what I could get away with. Back in the day, I used to sing a lot more breathy and a lot of producers would try to push me to be more of a breathy singer. Warming up everyday on the road and singing every night, I uncovered this part of my voice where I was able to really belt and let loose and not lose my voice. Dave Grohl said something like ‘I could scream every night and not lose my voice’. I’m not the same, I can lose my voice very easily but I found this sweet spot where I’m able to really push my vocal chords to the limit and I think Warning was the first time I was able to showcase that. It was the first one we had recorded and the only one I was happy with so it just felt like a natural to put out first.
As I mentioned before, you used to do your shows alone, how has the dynamic changed since you started playing with a band? You can do so much more with a band! There’s definitely an intimacy that is very special when you play alone but I’ve done that for so long so for me, playing with a band is such a treat. I’m very sick of playing alone because I’m alone all the time on the road, driving alone, setting up alone, just joining new tours and meeting new people has all been alone! Its nice to have a family of people you travel with. There’s so much more you can do to take it to another level. The loop pedal is cool but you’re limited with the way its set up and it can only do things in certain bar phrases so if a certain song doesn’t fit within those bars, you can’t really change up. I was limited to the songs I could play live. But yeah, for me it's a nice treat but I’m definitely going to go back to acoustic and loop pedal shows further down in my career when the time is right.
You write love songs, has any artists inspired you to write those kinds of songs?
Yeah, I grew up actually on early Coldplay records so touring with them was such a trip. I used to actually- my first girlfriend ever, she cheated on me and broke up with me and I remember it was just when X & Y had just came out. I would drive home from whatever I was doing and I would just weep, like I would cry my eyes out for the whole drive. I just felt that the music that had that power was music I always resonated towards. I love listening to music, its such a personal thing for me, it's a headphone thing. Sometimes I go long stretches without listening to music because I’ll be working on my own but when I’m going through something, there are certain records that I’ll put on that are so impactful. Songs like Everything In Its Right Place by Radiohead are so emotional. I don’t know, I’m very attracted to that kind of music and for the longest time I tried to make other music. I tried to make music that’s super abstract and poetic just to be cool but it never feels natural. When I’m going through something and I pour my heart out, that’s what feels most real.
What lyric are you most proud of?
I actually do like the lyrics in Good Love: Maybe its the way I live, a different city every night, they say that you get what you give, when you left I felt deplete, maybe things would be different if I wasn’t working all the time, tell me now, why is good love always so hard to find?
It's a true sentiment. I’ve lost a lost of relationships because I’m so obsessed with my work. My last relationship actually, the History (song on upcoming album) one, especially when I was building the van she was like ‘you don’t spend any time with me, all you’re doing is working’ and I was like ‘yeah that’s truly what I’m passionate about, if you can’t vibe with that then its probably not gonna work out’. It was really hard cause I cared about her a lot but it happens.