Crane Like the bird
Crane Like The Bird
January 18, 2019
SARAH AVRIN // Publicist
ERIN JEAN HUSSEY // Publicist
Kyle Crane knows the best way to get around town, any town: by your own two feet. The 33-year-old musician, often on tour drumming for the likes of M. Ward and Neko Case, is known to cover miles in unfamiliar streets. There’s a certain satisfaction in self-propulsion, and a few bucks saved. But for Crane, it’s an integral part of the songwriting process. “You can fixate on one line for a 30-minute walk,” he says, explaining how he tends to take fresh lyrics out for a spin. “It gives you something to think about.”
That kind of roaming expansiveness wends its way throughout Crane’s debut album, a glittering pop soundscape due out in January. For one thing, on the nine-track Crane Like the Bird, you never know who you’ll run into. The drummer-songwriter tapped a far-flung crew of musicians in his circle to take the vocal and instrumental leads. James Mercer, the frontman of the Shins, starts things off on the jangly, fast-driving opener, “Wishing Cap”; Brazilian Girls’s Sabina Sciubba lends her earthy alto and chanteuse-style spoken French to “Kaleidoscope,” a nine-minute song that blossoms under jazz pianist Brad Mehldau.
The effect is a mingling of narrators and interpreters, but the album, steeped in autobiography, is akin to gazing out different windows of the same childhood house. As much as the phrase “Crane like the bird” is a folksy means of introduction, it’s also a nod to Crane’s pilot father. Irrepressibly handsome in a buzzcut and baseball tee on the back of the vinyl, Jeff Crane was a Coast Guard lieutenant out of Humboldt Bay, California; his helicopter went down in a 1997 search-and-rescue mission, leaving the family shattered. (The synth-laced “Mendocino,” sung by a breathy Luke Steele, paints the same scene in words as the record’s cover photograph: the family perched on a jagged cliff, marking the first anniversary with a rose tossed into the sea.)
As Crane started diving into songwriting, it made sense to get straight to the crux of it. “The things that I felt most deeply about were the time leading up to my dad’s death and then the trickle-down effect,” Crane says of the homed-in focus on the record, which came together in a patchwork of recording sessions over the past three years. “I’ve always had songs, but you keep putting them on the shelf when you’re a sideman.” Drums were Crane’s ticket into music (his dad gave him his first set for his tenth birthday, a year before the crash), but his years at the Berklee College of Music widened the scope of possibility. The major “was called ‘Professional Music,’ which we would joke around and call ‘Pick Your Own Adventure,’ “ he says of a course load that veered from ear training and theory to songwriting and poetry. Post-grad jazz studies at the University of Southern California brought him out to Los Angeles, where he lives now.
“The musicians I idolize, like Elliott Smith and Nick Drake—drums weren’t even a big part of their music,” Crane says, distinguishing himself from the skill-obsessed technicians who fill arenas and Instagram feeds. (Meanwhile, Crane’s occasional drum posts—precisionist snippets sandwiched in between, say, a surf scene from Spain and a character spoof in a thick Massachusetts accent—earn stupefied emoji praise.) “I’m just trying to do what’s best for the song to come through,” he adds with a shrug. That means asking musicians who’ve brought him onto their projects to sign on to one of his—a humbling process that “was a total emotional roller coaster, to be honest, because you just expect them to say no.”
Conor Oberst, of Bright Eyes, was the first to say yes, a meaningful affirmation at the outset. His warm, no-pretenses voice comes alive in “When I See,” a lush track—featuring Daniel Lanois on pedal steel and Kurt Rosenwinkel on electric guitar—that turns out to be the album’s emotional core. “When I see your face, will I be older than you?” the lyrics ask, a poignant reminder that Crane’s father died at just 35.
The album—about love and loss and memory, but also ski lifts and Nintendo—makes clear that romance songs don’t have a monopoly on the universal human experience. Crane gave audiences an early listen in Sweden and Denmark this fall, playing alongside Peter Morén, of Peter Bjorn and John, who sings on the sparkly New Wave–inflected “Glass Half Full.” (While Crane has a pipe dream of someday playing a festival, with all his collaborators conveniently on hand, he knows logistics are not in his favor.) In the meantime, Crane is working on another sort of homage to his dad, who at times rocked a venerable mustache. “I just recently learned that training your mustache is a thing—I had no idea!” he says with a laugh, describing online tutorials that call for dedicated applications of wax. His is a work in progress, he admits: “It doesn’t know many tricks right now.” But in time, the emoji reviews will be ecstatic.