Nashville – “Do you want some étouffée?” crash holds out a bowl of the steaming crawfish dish that his aunt Kitty brought backstage at the Ryman Auditorium for him. He is as warm and humble towards me, a stranger, as the bowl of homemade goodness he is offering. All smiles and with étouffée in hand, crash leads me down to the Ryman’s stage where his shell shakers, tambourines, and other percussive instruments are readied for the night’s show. crash tells me about himself and his debut solo album,Hardly Criminal, while we casually sat on the stage where Johnny met June, the “Mother Church of Country Music,” and the birthplace of the Grand Ole Opry.
Fans of The Deadly Syndrome or Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes may recognize the smiling, long-haired crash (a.k.a. Christopher Richard) as a vocalist and percussionist from his two other bands. crash has been sporadically opening for Edward Sharpe with his solo material and then turning right around and playing with the band. Sleeping on a bus, visiting family, an interview, and a trip to Nashville’s Gold Club Electric Tattoo Parlor would tucker out most people. But crash showed no sign of exhaustion during the back-to-back sets. He wowed the crowd with his searing falsetto and charmed us with his unabashed dance moves. Read on to be endeared to this multi-talented musician.
Caroline McDonald: So did you just go get a tattoo a few minutes ago?
crash: Christian, Josh, and I have this tattoo of a skull with a cowboy hat and a bandana around its neck. We’re keeping tattoo tallies on it every time we play the Ryman. Now we’re up to two, but maybe I could put a third on there since I’m playing twice tonight. Tonight’s selling out, and we’re so excited. We love Nashville.
CM: But you’re from New Orleans, right? Hence the étouffée from your aunt?
c: Yeah. I grew up in Lakeview. And then we moved out to Metairie just next door. I’ve spent a lot of my life in New Orleans.
CM: How has that affected you? New Orleans has such a rich music scene.
c: The more I travel the more I realize how fortunate I am to have grown up around that music and lifestyle. If you sit still, you have nothing to compare it to. So traveling has given me that appreciation. I feel tickled to have that scope on life.
There’s this amazing documentary called Always For Pleasure that Les Blank put out in ’78 that follows the carnival season all year long. He gets Mardi Gras, a bunch of street parades, St. Patty’s, and all sorts of stuff. It shows the color and the beauty of New Orleans. It’s like a time capsule. And a year after he made the film, I was born. It’s cool to see the city I was born in. It’s gorgeous.
CM: Do you listen to music that’s from New Orleans? What are your musical influences?
c: My favorite New Orleans artist is Art Neville. He’s one of the Neville brothers. But some of his early stuff is cool too. He was in a band called The Hawketts. I don’t know how to describe the music except “thuggish.” There’s a song where the singer is threatening another man for messing around with his woman. All the music is so laid back and slow. I’m a sucker for that. I think that’s why Art’s one of my favorites. I also love Frogman and Professor Longhair. There’s a ton of amazing acts from New Orleans.
CM: So you can sing really high. (Crash giggles at this.) How did you learn to sing in those upper registers?
c: It’s hard to say. I did a lot of singing in church. I got involved in church after high school and was singing a few times a week in front of a big congregation. Someone would lead worship and six of us would be up there singing. It was a challenging experience but also really fulfilling. It taught me a lot. It had me singing more than I’d ever sung before. Maybe things like that conditioned me to be able to dive into the craft and be able to do what I want. That leant itself to being able to sing so high. Otherwise, I’m probably just being a goofball.
CM: Are you still a faithful Christian?
c: I dropped out of college, I called off an engagement, and I left the church. Immediately after that, I started working in production, TV, and film. That led me to move to Los Angeles after Hurricane Katrina. I think it was a matter of events, but no. Maybe I practice a degree of personal faith, but I’m not going to church or anything.
CM: You’ve been successful with your previous bands. Why did you decide to go solo?
c: The Deadly Syndrome was a quartet I was in before Ed Sharpe. We’d put out a few records, and I guess it ran its course. We disbanded a couple years ago and that allowed me to be more full time with Ed Sharpe. Over that transition, music started to come a bit more for me. I started to write more and piece some songs together on the road with Edward Sharpe. But not everything fits Edward Sharpe or Deadly Syndrome. I needed a landing pad for the material. A lot of it was related to the big picture story for myself. And I took that material and had a record, which was Hardly Criminal.
CM: I have a couple silly questions now. On your Facebook, your genre is listed as country-fried crooner. So I was wondered what your favorite country-fried food is?
c: We keep running into pickles, and I remember growing up eating fried pickles. Those are pretty good. Fried oysters are really nice because you can have it on a po’boy. So those two: pickles and oysters.
CM: In your video for “Motion Animal” you have some really nice dance moves. Can you describe your signature dance move?
c: There’s one in particular in the video. In my mind, I was insisting that it needed to be just right. It’s this silly one where I do a clock motion with my right hand, and I move my knee because of it. And I throw my legs and arms in the other direction. (crash gets up and demonstrates.) I was very particular about that one.
After dabbling in many parts of the music industry—recording studios, PR, management, labels, publishing—I’m expanding into music journalism because I’m yet to find anything more rewarding that finding and sharing new music.
A longtime sucker for girls with guitars, my musical taste unabashedly follows the songwriting lineage of Dolly Parton and includes Patty Griffin, Gillian Welch, and Neko Case. But not to pigeonhole myself, my music love is big love that stretches from R.L. Burnside to Animal Collective to Lord Huron.
I’ve recently moved home to Nashville after living in Boston and Big Sur for several years. I’d forgotten how music pours onto the streets ten hours a day, seven days a week. I’m honored to share the creative explosion happening here. If your band is in the area or of the area, please reach out!
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