"I don't know that I even have an audience here, and I'm headlining this thing," says Crash, just six days out from a top-billed performance at the Joy Theater. He exclaims this without an ounce of anxiety or disappointment, but a surprised laugh, as if this reality is still a surprise to him.
The fact is, many people attending his show this Friday for This Is NOLA's monthly cultural showcase probably haven't heard of Crash, the solo artist. Many, however, may know him as a vocalist and percussionist for the band Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes. Back in college, I knew him simply as Chris.
Chris was my dorm mate my freshman year at LSU back in 2000. Listening to him today, it's interesting to hear that his musical membranes were beginning to gell together even back then. He turned me - well, everyone on our floor - on to Radiohead, and was starting to write some songs. After I moved out of the dorms, we'd get together now and then, but less frequently, and by the time we graduated correspondence fell to the occasional email here and there (I graduated just before Facebook caught on in 2005). The last time I ran into Chris prior to this past Sunday was late night at the Elmwood Taco Bell the summer before Katrina; at the time, he was working as Johnny Knoxville's personal assistant for the 2005 film The Dukes of Hazard.
After Katrina, Chris - a native New Orleanian - moved to L.A., working with Knoxville's Dickhouse production company. I never heard from Chris, but would still hear of him. A friend from college would mention that he joined a band in L.A. (his first band, the excellent Deadly Syndrome), or that he had a cameo in a movie. Just last year, a friend from the dorms told me he was in Edward Sharpe, a band I had on constant Spotify rotation at the time. Six months ago, that same friend told me he was performing a solo set on the David Letterman Show. Finally, last week, when researching a piece I was writing on This Is NOLA, I discovered he was headlining the event.
That was it. I tracked Chris - now Crash - down and got together with him and some college buddies over dinner at Pho Noi Viet on Magazine St. to discuss his upcoming show, Edward Sharpe's forthcoming album, and what he's been up to these past few years.
Where Y'at: What's goin' on Crash? What brings you back to town?
Crash: Well, I just finished touring a while ago; Alex (Ebert, Edward Sharpe lead vocalist), bought a studio in the Bywater and the band is all down here recording our next album. We're working noon to 10 p.m., five days a week. This Is NOLA came together through a mutual friend. I talked today to some folks who will be involved ...expect a few surprises towards the end of my set.
WYAT: Edward Sharpe is a large ensemble with a lot of rotating memebers (10 musicians). How did you end up joining the band?
Crash: When I was recording with the Deadly Syndrome, my friends, our producers, Nico Aglietti and Aaron Older, were also working with Edward Sharpe. This is how i met the band, and that's when 2009's Up From Below (Edward Sharpe's first album) began coming together. Deadly Syndrome disbanded a minute ago, and I've been working with Edward Sharpe pretty much exclusively ever since.
WYAT: Tell me about your solo career. Is this your next step?
Crash: I wouldn't call a solo career my next step - I'm still very much a part of Edward Sharpe. This album is my story. For the first six years I was there, I struggled with living in L.A. Louisiana is my home...it's what made me. This album is really about where I come from and how I got here.
WYAT: You can hear some Cajun influence in the songs, and I definitely hear Radiohead in there as well - especially the track "Britches Catch Fire."
Crash: Yeah - (Radiohead's) The Bends was definitely a pivotal album for me. The rest of it really started in college, my time down here singing with the church. I was more interested in singing something more secular at that time, but the instruction I received shaped my style.
WYAT: It was really something to see you on Letterman doing your solo gig. How did that happen? How did it feel?
Crash: How it happened really isn't that interesting (laughs). My label was looking to push some new music out. I had just completed the album (2014's Hardly Criminal), and Nicole McDonald and Grant James directed an amazing music video for one of the songs. The label showed the producers the video, and that sealed the deal - it was more the video then anything else; the album wasn't even out yet.
As far as the show, I had done several late night performances with Edward Sharpe, so I wasn't nervous. It was something though to realize, "Wow, it's just me, performing my song." It still doesn't feel real sometimes.
WYAT: What's your current tour for Hardly Criminal been like?
Crash: It's been crazy. I occasionally open for Edward Sharpe, so I'll do my set, then run backstage and get ready for the next show (laughs). It was the same thing in Deadly Syndrome - we'd open, then the rest of the guys would have the night off, and I'd be getting ready to go back on again.
WYAT: Back to Edward Sharpe, how's the new album coming? What's it like being in the Bywater after all this time?
Crash: It's something else. I love that we can get off work and just go hang at a bar. There's a lot changing and developing in the area - it's a great thing.
As for the album, it's going to be something special. Our catalog is strong, but this is something else entirely. When you go back and hear music you did or listened to several years ago, you remember liking it, but it sounds dated - and that's what most music is. It represents the time and is meant for the moment...and I'm all about that! Trust me, I love being spontaneous and dancing and living in the moment. But with this album, we want to make something more timeless. As a musician, you eventually want to make something that lasts - you want a legacy.
WYAT: Any last words?
Crash: Since I've been back, I've been running into people I know all over the place. I ran into a guy I knew back in high school and he asked, "What have you been up to the past 15 years." I said, "The same thing I was doing in high school." I'm still just hanging out and making music. Being a musician isn't a glamorous life: I'm still broke, need to fix my credit - and I wouldn't trade it for anything. What I get to do and the people I'm making music with, my quality of life can't be equaled. I like to tell people that I am failing upward.
That said, I do want to lay down roots somewhere, and I'd like that place to be New Orleans. I'm just grateful I'm getting a chance to make a living doing the thing I love.
Crash's solo album, Hardly Criminal, is out now. You can listen to it below:
Created by Winter Circle Productions and taking place at The Joy Theater, This is NOLA is a free monthly event series, showcasing the sights, tastes and sounds of New Orleans. With the intention of offering a snapshot of the local contemporary culture of the city, This is NOLA features performances by local musicians, visual art installations, street food, craft cocktails and other elements representative of New Orleans' more progressive side. The second event will take place this Friday, November 14th at 8pm. RSVP for preferred entry at www.thisisnola.org.