Jay Crocker a musical explorer
Most people wouldn’t choose to take their career cue from the Unabomber, but, then again, Jay Crocker isn’t really like most people.
Which is why, were you to drop in on him unannounced, you might find the appropriately bearded local singer-songwriterproducer in his backyard, holed up in a three-metre by three-metre wooden shed, banging away on homemade instruments, recording on old analogue equipment and generally looking to subvert any and all musical conventions.
It’s not entirely a reaction to everything else that’s out there or what he’s experienced in his lengthy, respected career, but, as he explains sitting in a booth of the Ship and Anchor Pub, more his own personal philosophy about what he wants to ultimately create.
“Making pop music,” he pauses, “kind of sucks. Exploring sound, that’s more important to me, I think, than writing pop music.
“I find that you have to dig a little deeper to make music like that that’s comparable to other music of that kind that’s already been created. Improvising, that’s where you find all of the sounds.”
And Crocker has captured some gorgeous sounds, indeed, on his solo, psychedelic, blues-roots manifesto Co-Stars.
Recorded in that shack, dubbed Sea Legs, the disc is a remarkable marriage of his experimental leanings, which he fully explores with his sideproject NoMoreShapes, with the more traditional and straightforward songwriter side he showcased to great effect on his 2006 release Melodies from the Outskirts and ’08’s Below the Ocean Over.
Crocker says the perfect blend is “because most of the tunes started off as improvisations . . . and then I would build the songs on top of that,” which results in something that often owes as much to Sonic Youth as it does to, say, John Prine or Ron Sexsmith.
It also results in something that’s more personal than anything he thinks he has done in the past, due, in large part to the fact it was just him, relying on his own instincts and skills, as opposed to the band approach much of his other work was created in.
“I’m not sure how I feel about that, coming from a background of doing a lot of playing with a lot of people,” he says.
“There are definite elements that I like about playing with myself.” He laughs. And continues.
“I don’t know, I still find it a little self-indulgent sometimes. . . . I just picture myself in my tiny, little shed, playing some epic sixminute guitar solo over a band of myself, and sometimes it makes me feel weird.”
That’s probably why Crocker hasn’t become a complete loner.
He maintains his roles in two other local musical projects, as a member of Ghostkeeper and the aforementioned NoMoreShapes — both of which allow him to collaborate with other artists he feels a close kinship with, while also allowing him to explore those different sides that make him the singular musician he is.
“Those two groups, in particular, are musically very important to me. And they’re also like family to me.”
As for the producer side, that’s something he admits to stepping back from, despite high demand due to his recordings with such artists as Lorrie Matheson and, most recently, Deadhorse.
Part of that is because he’s somewhat choosy about who he works with (“I can’t just press record and put my name on it”), but there are also more practical and selfish reasons.
“I’ve been kind of taking a little break from making records with people. And I think it’s a conscious thing, for sure — I want to focus more on me and my projects,” he says.
“And probably because my shed isn’t big enough.”