Kyle Craft, the man behind Girl Crazy, started out as a choir boy at a Baptist church along the banks of Louisiana’s Red River. Before too long he swapped sacraments for Ziggy Stardust, and began playing the guitar by the time he was in high school. “I started writing songs when I was about fifteen, but for the first four years of writing they were pretty shitty,” he says now.
“Actually no, I won’t say that – I’ve gotta give myself a little credit. So I will say the first two and a half to three years of writing my songs were just like total shit.” He laughs. “I remember a few songs that I had written and looking back I’m like, ‘Oh my god! That was me, I did that?’ But everybody’s gotta learn somehow.”
Craft began to educate himself in the school of rock, and spent hours listening and learning to emulate his heroes Dylan, Bowie, the Stones and the Beach Boys. “I don’t think anyone comes out of the gate swinging with their complete voice and style realised. It takes a lot of learning, I think.”
After spending time in Austin, Texas, the Mecca of live music in the US, he moved to his adopted home of Portland, Oregon. Inspired by the incredibly rich artistic community, he started to write what would be his debut album, Dolls of Highland. “I learned to abandon my obsessions as much as I could when it came to being totally in love with some artist and really search for where I fall,” he says. “It took me a while to transition from, ‘I wanna be Bob Dylan’ to say, ‘No I wanna make music like him.’”
Armed with his laptop and a punk rock ethos, he left the city that had become his muse and headed back to Shreveport, Louisiana, where he set about recording Dolls of Highland in his family’s laundry room cum make-shift studio. Released by Seattle-based independent label Sub Pop, his first LP went on to become a critical success, and soon the former choir boy was living his dream, touring the US and following in the footsteps of his rock and roll idols.
Between time on the road with his band and supporting Chicago’s Fruit Bats and Southern rockers Drive-By Truckers, Craft and his piano player, Kevin Clark, spent their evenings working on a passion project that paid homage to the female singer-songwriters who had inspired them. “We had such a blast working on Girl Crazy , but we didn’t even intend on it to be released into the world at all.” Featuring covers of songs by Patti Smith, TLC, Jenny Lewis, Cher and Patsy Cline, the exceptionally crafted 10-track album almost didn’t see the light of day.
“It was this strange time where Kevin and I didn’t have a lot going on, so I thought, ‘Why don’t we do this just for fun over the next month?’” Craft says. “Then somehow it got passed along to the good folk at Sub Pop, and they were like, ‘Wait, this is awesome! Can we put this out?’ It was kinda out of the blue for us. We actually recorded other covers that weren’t released,” he adds.
“Kevin and I hand-picked 10 covers that we liked, and we did some strange ones. We did ‘Wrecking Ball’ by Miley Cyrus, but that one obviously didn’t get put out,” he laughs. “There are still so many artists I would love to cover, like Angel Olson, Courtney Barnett, Janis Joplin, Kitty Wells and Loretta Lynn – there’s plenty.”
I’m kind of a stickler when it comes to doing my own thing.
While Girl Crazy was a happy distraction, Craft knew he had a lot riding on his ability to produce a worthy follow up album, so he enlisted the help of a new friend, The Decemberists’ Chris Funk. “Chris is really easy to work with and for the most part he gave the reins to me, which was really nice because I think he knew that I’m kind of a stickler when it comes to doing my own thing,” he says. “It’s not that I don’t play nicely with others; I just have a hard time letting go.”
Full Circle Nightmare is a testament to that independence; a fiery foray into the mind of a man that lives and breathes rock ‘n’ roll. Whether he’s lamenting over a lost love or relishing in the hedonism of youth, Craft embodies the spirit of his childhood idols. “When it comes to my style and influences I stick to my guns pretty heavily. I always find myself falling in love with artists and albums that I’ve already loved before, which is maybe not a good place to be – but I like what I like. Old school rock, and soul – it’s just my cup of tea. I do like country and Americana too and I feel like that comes through in my music as well.”
I wanna head out, catch some snakes and play some music as well.
Craft may have fallen in love with song writing in a small town near the mouth of the Mississippi, but he admits it’s wasn’t his only pastime. “I grew up catching rattlesnakes, baby gators and other critters so Australia has always been where I wanna go more than anywhere. I wanna head out, catch some snakes and play some music as well.” Consider that mere proof that although you may be able to take the boy out of the bayou, you can’t take the bayou out of the boy.
Full Circle Nightmare is out now through Inertia/Sub Pop.