Photo Credit: Jenna Green (@jnnamusic)
By Alissa Arunarsirakul // February 28, 2020
Not everyone would willingly sleep in a cramped van to record an album, but that’s exactly what Craig Stickland did. As a matter of fact, Stickland spent the past two and a half years living in his Sprinter Van as he traveled around the United States and performed for millions of people across the nation. As Stickland leaps into 2020, he’s unveiling his highly anticipated album, Starlit Afternoon, which neatly blends blues, soul, rock, folk, gospel, and alternative genres.
On Starlit Afternoon, Craig Stickland reflected,
“I wrote my first song when I was 15 years old. Although it didn’t make it on this album, I remember exactly where I was and what I was feeling when I wrote it. The 12 songs that make up my debut album are no different. Some stretch decades and some stretch months, but they’re all drawn from very personal experiences. It took a few years to find the right sound for the songs that have lived in my head for what seems like forever, and it’s amazing that something that was created in a 400 square foot guest house is being released into the world. I hope you will relate to it in one way or another.”
To celebrate the release of his new album, we recently chatted with Craig Stickland about soiled sheets, his creative process, and of course, Starlit Afternoon.
HH: How did you first get into music?
Stickland: I grew up in the suburbs of Toronto where I mostly played sports as a kid, but one summer I decided to try auditioning for a production of Les Miserables, which was my first time ever telling anyone I could sing. I got the role, which led me to audition for a high school band who needed a singer. We started by covering Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, and The Rolling Stones and when our band started gaining local notoriety and booking mini tours, I was all in. It’s been a long journey since writing my first song at age 16.
HH: How would you say the music industry is different in Canada compared to LA?
Stickland: I feel like everything is much bigger and the stakes are much higher in LA. There are roughly 30 million people in Canada, and the same in California, so there’s a lot more opportunity in LA, but there’s also a lot more noise. Canada is incredible for nurturing and supporting their artists with things like CAN-CON and FACTOR, which are essential for artist development. You’d never find that stuff in LA; it’s very dog-eat-dog, but I think that forces you to step your game up to survive.
HH: Starlit Afternoon is basically a personal journal that recounts your life journey so far. Why did you decide to title it Starlit Afternoon?
Stickland: “Starlit Afternoon” was one of the first songs that I wrote for the album that I was incredibly happy with. It sets the tone and starts the story arc of the record. It’s about falling for someone from the first time you see them at a music festival, when the sun is just about to set and the moon and the stars are in the sky. The rest of the album follows a journey of ups and downs that all started from there.
HH: Rumor has it you AirBnB’d your apartment and slept in your van during the creation of Starlit Afternoon. What was that experience like?
Stickland: It’s true. My van is actually imprinted into Google Maps street view where I parked it around the corner from the studio I recorded at. Sometimes you need to make sacrifices to accomplish the things you want to accomplish. Luckily, I built my dream van with my label advance so I loved it most days, but there were some trying moments. Once my AirBnb cleaner cancelled on me last minute, so I left the studio to flip it for the next guest, but they had gotten wasted and peed my bed. It was a 10 day stay, and they had left the duvet and sheets in a corner which were moldy when I arrived. The things you need to do to follow your dreams, haha!
HH: Can you walk us through the creative process behind Starlit Afternoon?
Stickland: I’m the type of songwriter who won’t be satisfied with a song until I feel strongly that it’s right. Most of the songs on Starlit Afternoon were written in the van on the road touring, or in my studio apartment in LA. Once I have an idea or concept that I like, I typically start experimenting with chords and lyrics, which ends up being about 20 voice notes with tweaks each time. And then when I finally feel the song can pass the acoustic test, which is that any great song can be translated with one voice and one instrument, I start demo-ing it on my computer. The process from there to release varies from song by song, but I made nine different fully produced versions of “Break Every Rule.” Some songs I had been testing out on the road so I had a clearer understanding of what I wanted them to feel like sonically. The recording process was basically Cat Lewis and me showing up to the studio every day for a year, throwing things at the wall to see what sticks. Gray Hawken came in for a few weeks here and there and helped us shape the sonics. Most of the songs I had written already, but Cat and I wrote and produced a few more when we were looking to fill some holes that the album was missing.
HH: What overall message would you like listeners to take away from the record?
Stickland: I ultimately want listeners to experience an emotional connection to the music. I gravitate towards music that makes me feel something, and I hope that listeners will draw from personal experiences to feel a wide range of emotions while listening.
HH: If you could collaborate with anyone in the music industry, who would you pick?
Stickland: That’s a tricky one. There are lots of people I’d love to collaborate with, but I’d be curious to know what a session with Max Martin would be like. Because it’s so different than anything I’ve made and he’s written so many hits, I’d love to see his process.
HH: What are your three hidden hits?
Stickland: I really love “Cashmere Cage” by rum.gold, “Factor In” by Kevin Garrett, and “Nico’s Red Truck” by Dijon at the moment.