Americana/Goth Country/Indie artist, It’s Just Craig has recently released Dark Corners, an album with a theme and a story, about a cargo boat captain and his journey. With haunting and expressive vocals the tracks tell of the captain’s adventures from the moment he leaves home, his excitement, reservations, loneliness,and temptations. The concept ends with a decision that ultimately might not be his to decide, and the end of a dream.
Craig Helmreich began his own journey during a mid-life crisis before his 40th birthday, when he found himself, six friends, (Elijah Ford, John Vanderslice, Marc Ford, Kirsten Ford, Jason Slota, and Rob Shelton), and ten songs in San Francisco. The ten sings found its way on a two inch tape and “Blood On The Table” was conceived. Craig refused musical auto correct, feeling that the soul of the release would be lost. The record became way more popular than he ever expected and he realized that creating had become very important to him, and that he couldn’t stop. Hence: “Dark Corners”.
Now living in Indiana, Craig is a corporate attorney. He races bicycles for Heroes Foundation, an organization to fight cancer, and help those with cancer. He also makes music. He is also offering to send a free copy of his new CD to anyone who wants one, anywhere in the world.
Louder Than War: So how did you come up with the captain theme?
For my day job I’m a corporate attorney for transportation companies. I was working on a case. I was on the phone with John Vanderslice talking about producing a record for somebody else, doing a favor for a friend. We were kind of getting bored with the logistics of when are we going to record, and what are we going to record. He said, ” Tell me about what you’re doing at work”. I told him that there was this cargo company that was going bankrupt, and there is 52 fully loaded ships stranded all around the world, and it’s everything that everybody is going to buy for Christmas. It was just stuck out in the ocean. I said, ” Can you imagine working your whole life, and being a captain of one of these boats. You leave your family, and you leave everything you love to spend months and out on the ocean, and then your company goes bankrupt, and you have to drop anchor where ever you are, and just sit there looking at land for weeks, wondering what’s going to happen”. Then I don’t know what possessed me but I said, “My next record is going to be about a stranded cargo boat”. John said,” That’s fucking genius, you have to do it”. I sat there and thought, I was totally kidding, and that’s so right. It gives you the ability to write about yourself, or write about your friends, or write about anything, and hide it behind a story.
My first album was missing that. My first album was all first person, me,me, me, me…. And it’s tiring for me anyway to keep answering questions about. “what are you saying in that song”, that’s obviously about first person relationship problems. This one was so much easier to write, when I knew the beginning was leaving land. I knew the middle was the challenges of being out on an ocean venture. I knew the ending was screwed up, and that they didn’t fix everything in time. I had my story arc from day one. So, you could write the music to fit the arc, you could write the lyrics to fit the arc. It was just a free mechanism.
So how did that all end, in real life, did people get to buy Christmas presents?
So for my client, we were able to get all their product into the US in mid October last year, and everything made it to the retail chain in time for Christmas. A lot of people, their stuff never got out of Korea. The company did go bankrupt, all of the boats were sold to other companies. They were the ninth biggest ocean carrier. Every one of those cargo boats had 5000 containers on it. Each container is a truckload. It was a lot of containers. It’s sad that there are pieces of our economy that we will just completely take for granted.
Well, at least your record can be sold this Christmas.
So you are actually the frontman, you do the singing?
I do. I had Jeff and Kelsey do the back-up vocals which was a wonderful addition to the team that we’ve assembled for this record. They added a whole other layer to it.
When and why did you decide to get involved in the music industry?
My view of everything is, come up with an idea and just run with it. I wear my emotions on my sleeve, all the time. I don’t hide anything. I was at a Ryan Adams/Butch Walker concert. I was watching Ryan Adams play drums as part of Butch’s opening band. It was not his instrument. You could tell it was not his instrument. He looked awkward. I looked at Ryan playing drums and I thought to myself, “I can do that”. Somehow out of that awkward moment of watching this amazing musician on an instrument that he wasn’t that good at, I thought that if he’s willing to do that, put himself out of his comfort zone, why don’t I do that? I’ve always played music in my basement. I used to play a couple of shows here and there when I was in college 20 something years ago, but why not? I was 39 at the time. I was kind of freaked out about turning 40. I thought if I don’t play in the midlife crisis, I’m going to have a really horrible midlife crisis. So I better come up with something productive to do. First I thought I was going to do cover songs. When I started to do that I realized that I don’t want to record my favorite songs because I already love him. They are already perfect to me. So then why would I want to record my favorite songs that I will never listen to? Then I twisted my idea and thought I would reconstruct those songs, figure out what I liked about them. I like depressing music, I like slow music, I like songs that have Am and F in them. I like the bass line that kind of walks from note to note and keeps the song moving. Once I realized that these are the pieces of things I liked in other people’s music, I thought, ” I can do that”. So I put one song together and emailed it to my friends that do this for real, and said, ” Hey I know this guy that’s putting together a record and I can probably get you on it if you want to”. They both emailed me back within 5 minutes and said, ” Fuck yeah”. I thought ok, now I’m making a record.
The first one got radio AirPlay in Europe, and we licensed one of the songs for a commercial. The commercial never happened, but we still got paid. The first one exceeded all my expectations. Then I was going to help some friends make a record and it was out of this act of generosity that I decided I still have more to say. Every single song was written in a two week period. The first record fought me and this one just fell out.
Is there a theme for the next one?
You know we do. The next one is all going to be songs about specific people who I know, and every song title is the name of the person it’s about. Sometimes it’s a love song, and sometimes it’s a hate song. Sometimes it is somewhere in the middle. It’s the things that I want to say to people in case I don’t get the chance to say it. We have a great local music scene. It’s an open mic that singers/songwriters show up at once a month, and you get to play one song. So every month I play one more new song, and I make sure the people who this song is about, are in the audience so they can hear the song about them, live and in person.
Even if it’s someone you hate?
Really when I say the hate song, it’s really about “here’s what’s wrong between me and you, and I have to tell you this or else we will never get past it”. So it’s really fixing an issue in a relationship.
So do you see your genre as kind of country?
It’s weird, I guess it’s Americana. The one that I love is when people call it Goth Americana or Goth country. I’ve never heard that before. My dream is that somebody ten years from now calls me the godfather of goth/americana. I want credit for inventing a new genre some day.
I do love whatever your music is, and country really isn’t my thing.
Thank you, if you want I’ll send you the album. We’re giving them away. Literally we are giving them away, including mailing them to people for free.
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All words by Eileen Shapiro. More of Eileen’s writing can be found in her author’s archive.