John Craigie: Storytelling through songs and tales with wit

by James Hendicott

John Craigie’s road to the world of Folk-style, quirky solo guitarist has been an unusual one.

Starting out as more of a spoken word artist, the LA-born, Portland-based troubadour releases conventional albums, but has made his live show into a kind of blend of winding tales and audience interaction blurred with Bluegrass-style, mellow guitar pop.

His offbeat side really comes out in those winding spoken fusions, with tracks aimed at particular audience members such as, Let’s Talk This Over When We’re Sober, for the couples, or jokey spoken-word release, Pants In England, about struggling with language differences in Europe, and then finding England no easier.

On the live record, Opening For Steinbeck, Carigie jokes that his ideal audience is a room full of people who’ve just been dumped.

He says: “I was actually a storyteller before I was a songwriter. As I began performing, it did take a little bit of time to figure out how to blend the two together.

“But it was a natural path of discovery and I am still learning and enjoying it today. I’m still figuring out the answer to the touring stuff.

“I find that senses of humour are slightly different. Some of my banter makes sense to the audience, and some doesn’t.

“Other than that, it hasn’t been that different. I need to check my American accent sometimes and, if the audience doesn’t speak English, then I have to shift my set up a bit as well.”

Latest album, Scarecrow, is – much like Craigie live – a collection of oddities blended from his back catalogue. There’s no particular theme; more a collection of scraps left from previous records.

“It is comprised of songs that didn’t make it onto my album, No Rain, No Rose, and songs that didn’t fit the vibe of my upcoming album.

“So I guess if there is a theme, it’s sort of that [those songs] are all a bit homeless. Alone, like a scarecrow out in the field.

“I decided I wanted to record something that was all analog, using tape machines, and then cutting it straight to vinyl.

“Luckily, I live in Portland, which is full of audiophiles, and had some studios that had all the vintage gear I needed for the project.

“I love listening to old vinyl and I feel like my recording approaches are similar to the styles of the days when analog was the standard.

“At heart, I would say I am an analog-type person, but it can be very expensive and complex.”

Of Portland, he says: “It’s a great community here. Very collaborative and inclusive.

“There’s so much talent and everyone seems very excited to share and work together. I never feel like I can’t find a good musician when I need one.”

As for the tours, it’s very much about making that local connection, and finding out what makes sense in the context of different audiences.

“My show is a mix between storytelling and songs,” Craigie explains.

“I love to connect with the audience, and always play to the room. I’m looking forward to figuring out the stories and songs that they connect with best.

“Touring is a huge part of my life and it’s important for me to be extra conscious during that time.

“I’m trying to limit my waste and the plastic I use, and trying to educate my audience on such things as well.”

What’s certain is that Craigie will talk as much as he’ll sing, and his humour will shine.

It’s a Folk vibe, but heavy on the comedy asides.

Related Articles