J.J. Crowne is a musician, composer and performing artist who is originally from New York but currently is living and working in Miami. At Song Revelation when we first checked out J.J. Crowne’s music we found his songwriting intriguing so wanted to know more. Despite his hectic schedule we were delighted when he agreed to complete an interview with us. Read on to find out about J.J. Crowne’s musical inspirations, his creative process for creating his tracks and what he’s hoping to achieve for the next 12 months.
Q: If you could use a tagline of less than 20 words to describe your music and who you are what would it be?
Eclectic styles, catchy melodies, thoughtful and passionate lyrics – with all vocals and instrumentation performed by myself.
Q: What is your musical background?
Started teaching myself guitar at age 9, then piano/keyboards at age 16. Played lead guitar and sang in several high school bands. Later I attended Oberlin Conservatory of Music for a couple of years to gain some formal composition and arranging knowledge, then started out professionally as a composer, producer and recording artist of radio and TV jingles and themes. Also wrote and recorded themes and cues for shows on Fox, PBS and Univision TV, as well as for a number of theatrical productions. In addition, I performed, wrote for and recorded with lots of local bands in my hometown of Miami.
Q: How have the last 12 months been for you?
Very eventful. I released my first solo album, “Songs Of Innocence And Experience,” in the Summer of 2011 and gained some nice critical acclaim, as well as radio play on over 250 stations worldwide. Then about 3 months ago, I teamed up with producer Stephen Wrench (Tommy Tutone, Missing Persons, Vince Gill) and mixing engineer Jeff Silverman (Rick Springfield, Prince, Stephen Bishop), and released my second solo project — an EP of 5 songs. We’re now in the process of picking up more radio airplay, and have just released a video for my song “Another Day Of Love,” which is doing fairly well on its own.
Q: Who inspires you musically?
Hands down, my biggest influence was The Beatles. They inspired me with their songwriting, vocal harmonies and musicianship, and showed me during my ‘formative’ musical years that a musician/composer doesn’t have to be stuck in only one musical style. Aside from them, I was inspired by Paul Simon, Harry Chapin, Brian Wilson and Steely Dan. On the technical side, since I’m a one-man band of sorts, I’ve always admired Todd Rundgren and Prince – who both also produced their first few solo albums without any other musicians.
Q: Which modern day artists do you look up to?
I like John Mayer. He’s an incredibly prolific songwriter and a great guitar player. I’m also a big Morrissey fan, ever since his days with The Smiths.
Q: Is there anyone you would like to collaborate or gig with?
Oh, Sir Paul, Todd or Brian would be cool guys to collaborate with.
Q: What songs are you listening to at the moment?
I’m a huge collector of mostly 60’s and 70’s psychedelic rock. Been listening lately to The Move, Zappa, and a bunch of obscure bands that were big in the U.K. during the 60’s but never made it here.
Q: What is your creative process for creating a track?
You really wanna know? I write in a similar way as I’ve heard Paul Simon discuss – he always said he’d doodle around on the guitar for hours, come up with some chords and melodic phrases and then start singing some syllables and nonsense words to fit them. That’s me, the King of the Nonsense Words and Syllables. I come up with interesting chord patterns first (sometimes on guitar, sometimes on piano), then develop a melody around them, then see what kind of story or lyrical phrases seem to work with them. If I happen to be in a depressed mood (very good for songwriting, by the way), the chords, melodies and words will reflect that mood, and the same is true for happier moods. Donald Fagan has a line in the Steely Dan song “Deacon Blue” that goes: “I cried when I wrote this song, sue me if I play too long.” And, yep, sometimes you really do cry while writing something. It can be that much of an emotional catharsis when it’s all coming together and finally stops nagging at you to come out.
After writing the song, the next part is just as rewarding – arranging the track. What drum beat do I use? Or should I use drums at all? Should it be piano-based or guitar-based? Should it have some strings? On one song from my first album called “Everything About You,” I probably spent more time composing and recording the string arrangement than I did on actually writing the song. Many writers, of course, have nothing to do with arranging their songs, especially in R&B and Country – that’s left to professional arrangers to deal with. But being a one-man-band/choir, I have to deal with all of that as well. Probably my favorite parts to arrange are the vocals. Those come pretty easily to me and you don’t have to deal with out-of-tune instruments, faulty wires causing hum on the recording, tonal differences from one guitar to the next, etc. It’s just laying down one vocal part on top of another and another wherever you think they should go. Vocal harmonies are a big part of a lot of my songs, such as “Toy Soldiers.”.
Q: What’s more important, melody or lyrics?
Both are equally important. Paul McCartney once said in an interview that you know a melody is worth working on if after you’ve come up with it, you wake up the next day and it’s still playing in your head. I’ve found that’s a good guideline to use. And I always have to have a good story in my songs, hopefully something lots of folk can relate to on one level or another.
Q: Where are you based?
I’m originally from the New York area, but have lived in Miami since I was a teenager.
Q: What’s it like being where you’re from?
Miami’s a great place to live, but doesn’t have much of an original music scene. It used to be fairly happening in the 80’s and early 90’s, with lots of punk, rockabilly and even metal acts coming out of here. I used to open shows for then local acts The Mavericks and Marilyn Manson during the early 90’s, even played on the same bill with Johnny Depp’s old band before he moved to California. But today the Miami music scene is mostly Latin and Dance-oriented. Original acoustic and singer/songwriter acts like myself have a very limited number of venues to play here, unless you want to sing Jimmy Buffet and Eagles covers all night.
Q: What are you currently working on?
Just finished helping to produce my first music video for “Another Day Of Love,” which I think came out pretty powerful. Currently working on some new tunes with very different story lines than I’ve done in the past.
Q: What’s been the highlight of your career to date?
I’d say a few events over this past year were career highlights, such as my previous album being named “2011 CD Of The Year” by IndieMusicDigest, getting lots of worldwide radio play for the first time, and having a few songs voted by listeners into the Top 10 on a few stations.
Q: What are you hoping to achieve in over the next 12 months?
Hoping for even more worldwide radio play for the new EP, and maybe even a shot at inclusion in Grammy balloting. Would like to get the new video into some TV rotation. Of course, like many songwriters, I’m also trying to have some of my tunes licensed for TV or movies.
Q: Do you have any gigs or shows that you’d like to tell us about?
I recently played a big music festival in the Florida Keys along with some famous Nashville songwriters, but nothing set for the immediate future. I got pretty burned-out on playing bars years ago, and I don’t think that does much to promote one’s career on any large scale.
Q: What do you do to relax?
Like to watch old movies, and love to snorkel — no better place for it than in the Florida Keys!
Q: Where would your favourite holiday (vacation) be and why?
I’ve been to the U.K. a couple of times and, if you can stand the weather, it’s a fantastic place to immerse yourself in literary and musical history. Otherwise, I like the nearby islands of the Caribbean for just laying back.
Q: If you could give a little piece of advice for new or aspiring musicians what would it be?
Just like great literary writers learn by reading, good composers and musicians learn best by listening. I’d advise any aspiring musician/composer to listen to and try to emulate as much as they can, and not to ignore any period of music – classical, the Jazz Age, 60’s, 70’s, country, metal, punk, movie scores, etc. You can draw from all those influences no matter what particular genre you wish to eventually play or write in.
And on the practical side, I’d advise any young aspiring musicians not to depend on the music biz for any steady living or support. Learn a trade or get a profession. I’ve known lots of people who thought they’d make their livelihood on their great guitar-playing or singing back in the day, but grew up to become frustrated middle-aged wanna-be’s and should’ve-been’s. Unfortunately, it’s a very unfair business that often rewards the least deserving. I learned that lesson early on – so, in the midst of my musical adventures, I continued with school and became a lawyer for the indigent.
Is there anything else you’d like to let our readers know about?
No, I’ve probably said too much already, lol! I’ll let my music and lyrics say the rest.
Editor’s Note: J.J. Crowne effectively combines his talent and technical prowess with great musical presence to create some appealing tracks with that laid back commercial edge.
If you’d like to learn more about or contact J.J. Crowne just follow the links below:
YouTube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MpWRF785xqo
Jango link: http://www.jango.com/music/J+J+Crowne?l=0