Craig Marshall – TJ Interview

Turnstyled Junkpiled: Describe growing up in Syracuse, New York.
Craig Marshall: I grew up in a suburb of Syracuse called Fayetteville. It was a great place to grow up with family, friends, school, sports. As far as music, it had a pretty small scene – though with a few great artists – so I felt pretty limited by the time I was playing and writing full time after college. There just weren’t enough venues and support in the local scene. The music and crowds in that part of upstate New York seem more about cover and jam bands than original artists.
TJ: How did you get into Americana music in Western New York?
CM: Probably similar to many younger musicians that discover different music styles. I was playing in rock bands and listening to similar records. Then Iiscovered I liked country songs being interpreted by some favorite rock artists like Elvis Costello, The Rolling Stones, Neil Young. It opened me up to the great songwriting and singing in country music that I previously couldn’t quite “get” before from radio or Hee Haw. That music was always too twangy and cartoony for my ears. Once I “got” it, that led to seeking out the original country artist that started it all from Hank Williams and Buck Owens to Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers to Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris.
I started writing country tunes and my rock band became a country band  but the scene was mostly country cover bands/venues doing pretty loungy radio hits of the time so quickly found other places to take my music like Austin.

You were 11 when you first played guitar. What inspired you?
Well, I had an older cousin who played guitar in a rock band that I would go see rehearse and even play out live, so that was enough to inspire! I had played piano around the same time and continued both off and on as well as sports. Eventually, in high school when I started wanting to play in bands, I finally chose guitar and figured out barre chords so I could play my own songs.
Tell me about writing your first song.
I wrote with my brothers as a young kid like 10 or 11 or something. The songs were not very serious and I barely played instruments, maybe a few chords on the piano. I sort of remember the time when I was high school age and I learned enough guitar to write actual “adult” songs. I think an early one was something awful like “It’s Just Me,” a typical teen angst power ballad. Nothing too special.

Who were your early influences that lead you to becoming a songwriter?
Many of the same sort of timeless artists that still influence me today! Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, Elvis Costello, Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison. There were more at the time in the 80s that influenced my rock songs – REM, Paul Westerberg, Graham Parker. I grew out of that period sound and tend to gravitate back to those more classic artists.
You combine melodic pop with power pop and country in your music.
It all came from the stuff I’ve mentioned above. The indie pop sound of the 80s and 90s I think imprinted pretty strongly on my music brain. Like most young artists, the current sound of the time when developing your own sound I think is always a very strong thing that stays with you through the years well after the initial exposure. So artists like Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Marshall Crenshaw and Freedy Johnston were a pretty big influence. Many of those same artists have a deep appreciation for classic country and rockabilly so that especially led me to a similar appreciation. I think my writing and sound is combination of a classic approach through Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, Buck Owens and Merle Haggard filtered through the more indie rock/pop sounds that I grew up with.
Why did you move to Austin?
Well, I moved to play music full-time and Austin has a huge live scene. I like playing shows as well as going to see other artists play and that’s easy to do in Austin. Life is good here, still easy to get out and around to my shows and friends shows and network in the scene.It’s getting less affordable like many large and booming US cities but luckily still able to survive in music full time.
How has living in Texas influenced you as a singer-songwriter?
For sure, I’ve developed quite a bit over the years living in Texas especially in the Americana/country style. Getting to trade ideas and play for other songwriters has really been a great part of what is hear in Texas and not sure if it’s like that other places. Texas audiences also appreciate original singer songwriters, I have felt that strongly especially in the last eight or so years since shifting my sound from band driven indie rock/pop to the more acoustic songwriter country that I play now.
As far as Texas songwriters, I still gravitate to the classic artists like Willie Nelson, Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison more than artists like Townes Van Zandt or Guy Clark, though I recognize their appeal.
Best show you’ve ever played?
Hmm, been a few. I think the time I shared the stage with my friend and legendary songwriter Kostas Lazarides (Dwight Yoakam, Patty Loveless, George Strait). We really connected, wrote together and played a show trading songs and playing/singing harmony for each other. Was such a big moment to share music with a hero and feel equal as an artist and performer.
Tell me about recording the new album.
The new record was recorded and produced here in Austin with good friend and producer Robert Harrison. Like to my last two releases, the process was very similar with all three records together with Robert and many of the same musicians. I start with just my guitar, where I think a lot my songs really speak, and lay down the track. We will build from there adding ideas as we go. Often full band with drums and bass but not always. I’ve really enjoyed getting to work in the studio with a lot of the musicians that play on my live shows including fellow artists like Betty Soo, Patterson Barrett and Roger Sollenberger, who currently plays guitar with Israel Nash. Robert Harrison and I share a similar music background so we work together well and it keeps getting better.

How do you feel it represents your evolution as an artist?
Past recordings have been fun and experimental but Turnaround is more focused in and evolved in every way – songwriting, performance, production etc. This record matches my current sound and where I feel I am as an artist and songwriter.
You’ve done a lot of songs for television.
Well in a career where I’ve recorded and released and published)a lot of material, music licensing becomes another good option in addition to playing live and selling records. I’ve good sounding recordings of tracks in many styles from rock and pop to jazz and country so that helps open up opportunities. I’ve signed with some publishing/licensing companies that have helped land most of the TV placements but I’ve been lucky to also meet some filmmakers directly that have been fans of my music. That’s helped me get songs featured in films.
Describe your best experience opening for touring bands.
The show with Kostas that I mentioned earlier was the best but there have been others. I opened for John Fullbright. He’s great artist and I think we share a similar approach to melody and composition. I played shows with Freedy Johnson that led to a recording session and show in Nashville. He’s a friend and we’ve talked a lot about songs and shared career stories and stuff. I played SXSW party a few years ago with great artists like Daniel Romano and Sam Outlaw where I connected with Sam and share a similar love and approach to classic country sound.
Most recently, I just opened (last month) for Steve Forbert at the Cactus Café here in Austin to a sold out crowd! That was a great experience with an artist I’ve been compared to.

What’s next?
More higher profile shows to come along with radio and continued film and TV song placements. Hope to do some touring or travel to more markets in Texas and out of state and open up and share shows with some fellow American artists and bigger names. Hoping to get my hard-working, longtime musician story out there and reach a larger audience. I do have a lot of newer songs I’ve written so I’ll record again at some point but no rush at this point. Planning a video from Turnaround as a feature. Much more to come!

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