If Christopher “Crash” Richard is a little sentimental during tonight’s “This is NOLA” cultural showcase at New Orleans’s Joy Theater, there is a good reason.
The Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros vocalist and percussionist was born and raised in New Orleans, before heading West to Los Angeles after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. After a stint as Johnny Knoxville’s assistant, Crash followed his music dreams as a member of Deadly Syndrome, before joining up with Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.
Tonight is a homecoming of sorts for Crash, who recently released his debut solo album “Hardly Criminal.” He is the headlining act for “This is NOLA,” a free monthly event that was created to showcase the “sights, tastes and sounds of New Orleans.” With members of his ESMZ family backing him up, Crash will perform many songs that reflect on his New Orleans upbringing and personal life experiences.
Janglin Souls met up with Crash in late September after he performed at the Riot Room in Kansas City, Mo.
I think the earliest song was “Almighty Equal.” I remember writing that one right around the time of the third Deadly Syndrome album. That song is a particular story about an experience of a friend of mine. The song itself had taken a while to write considering the events it’s about, but it was one of the first songs on this record. Most of the songs on Hardly Criminal came over the course of the year before making the record. Even “High Wall,” which is about Hurricane Katrina, I didn’t write that until years later, after moving to Los Angeles. (ESMZ guitarist) Mark Noseworthy produced and engineered the record, and played multiple instruments on it.
So many of the songs on the album sound real personal and touch the soul. Can you talk about where some of that inspiration stems from?
I can’t help but draw from my own life experiences. A lot of the material is about something that I feel, or maybe only thought I had, or of something that someone else feels. In the case of “High Wall,” it’s a pretty brief explanation of how I ended up in L.A. What I don’t say in the song is that move was responsible for so many other things — me getting more involved in music and pursuing that, and me meeting the guys that would form Deadly Syndrome and me meeting all the Magnetic Zeros at the time of the “Up From Below” album coming together. It was one of those remarkably pivotal moments in my life. So things like that work their way into songs — “All My Friends,” “High Wall” and “Almighty Equal.” All are experiences that are very personal and close to me.
“Motion Animal” is always a big hit with the ESMZ live audiences, especially the high note toward the end? Can you give a little background on the song and how it’s evolved?
It really has a history because that song was originally a completely different song. When a couple of friends and I were working on the song, we were playing it, and this particular version had this 50s bebop thing. When you play a song a lot and then you start to get bored with it, you don’t play it the same. So we had taken a little breather, and then we picked up our instruments and we were about to play it again, and then we started playing it differently. Josh (Collazo) is hitting this one note and the bass comes in real slick, and then I just very casually play the chords of the song we were playing, but I play them so differently that suddenly it sounds like the beginning of what we all know now as “Motion Animal.” In fact, the version we played last night in Kansas City (see video below) is much closer to the way that the first version of “Motion Animal” started. Really chill. The hold in the middle with the big note — that comes so many ways. And there are so many ideas I can still do with it in case we ever want to continue to step it up. But it’s been fun.
It’s all brand new. It’s a completely new leaf, and that alone is an adventure you embark on — into an unknown, make-it-what-you-will type of scenario. Letterman was an honor. I’ll never forget being able to go on there and do that. And then to be able to take this album and play it around the country is great. It’s something that any musician would want to do. Every tour, every show — no matter the band behind me — I just try to enjoy it and have a good time with everyone who’s there with me. It’s been like a dream. And of course I love doing what we do as the Zeros. I love being able to do both. It’s been a lot of fun, man — way beyond what I could have asked for.
When did you join Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros? What is it like being on the road with these guys and building all these relationships?
The relationships are cool because most of them, even if they’ve taken a lot of work, they’re all with great reward. We’ve made some amazing friends amongst ourselves. When you go through a lot together, you really tend to get close over those things. Through thick and thin, it’s been quite a ride, and there’s no forgetting that. There’s no forfeiting that. You can maybe forfeit the future in what we’re doing, but you could never forfeit what we’ve done in the past.
The relationships are that — amazing memories and experiences and yet there is an amazing future ahead. As far as meeting Alex and the guys, I met them before Edward Sharpe had really came together. They were coming into Nico (Aglietti) and Aaron Older’s studio in Laurel Canyon and checking it out. The dream was on the brink. It was Alex coming in with this inspiration of love from he and Jade, and just this newfound love and lust for life that he was just completely inspired and enamored by and wanted to do this record and put this collective together. He came in and was looking at the studio space, and then it began.
I saw a lot of that — the spark, the house party that was really the unofficial first show — in Laurel Canyon at the Zappa House. Even then, I was meeting everyone and I was sort of on the peripheral. And then suddenly, a few shows in, Nico and Aaron and I were sort of rapping and were like, ‘Dude, come sing, we’re doing a show.’ So I’d show up, and I’d be sharing a mic with Aaron, and that was it. I would just show up to sing choruses and what not. Then the more I would show up it got bigger and bigger — more and more input, and I started to bring my own mic and mic stand and mic cable because the venues didn’t have all the hardware for the band. …The next thing you know, after singing with the band more than a number of times, and after Alex releasing his solo record he called me up and said, “Yo, do you want to come play bass and sing on some shows for my solo album.” It seemed like then and after that, I was sort of a regular with the Magnetic Zeros.
Again, I was already great friends with most everyone and those who I wasn’t, it was cool because we got to get closer. It can be tough coming into a fold that thick because everyone is so close and at first there’s this outsider… The lifestyles and personalities of each of us, it just reminds me of home — more so than Los Angeles had ever been able to. Once I started meeting everyone — Nico and Aaron — those guys were a breath of fresh air, and then Alex coming in … suddenly it was like, “Wow, this is the truth. This is family.”
Talk about some of the current projects that you and the Zeros are working on?
There’s the new Edward Sharpe album we’re working on, a new live Edward Sharpe album being wrapped up and more solo projects from more of us. I’m going to be supporting the Hardly Criminal album, as well as dreaming and tinkering up new songs and a new record as soon as I can muster. So yeah, it’s the exciting unknown again. It’s cool because we get to craft, we get to work. And once you do that, you then get to give it some life and play these things out on the road for people. It’s fun. … I think come this year end and the new year with working on the new Edward Sharpe stuff, I think that’s going to, by default, cause some output from all of us. Working on these songs for this record … there’s probably going to be stuff that’s just going to be kicked to the side. Those sometimes end up songs for ourselves. I’m just trying to get out to as many places as I can play.
The Magnetic Zeros have backed you up during your Hardly Criminal tour, as well as The Holy Trinity – Yohei Shikano, Miles Senzaki and Eric McCann. What’s it been like playing with them, particularly Yohei, a former ESMZ sound guy?
Playing with Yohei has been awesome. He has a real knack for Western style guitar. Everything from his style to his sound, I really love how it pairs with these songs. Not to mention he’s one of the sweetest guys you’ll ever meet, and he’s an exceptionally hard worker. He’s a real rock to have behind the operation and on stage, and that goes for any of the Holy Trinity guys with me now — Miles and Eric. Of course, as you can imagine, I love being able to play with any fellow Magnetic Zeros as well. So far, I’ve had a real nice time with everyone who has liked these songs enough to join me.
Who are you listening to these days?
I mostly listen to Arthur Russell and Jonathan Richman. I recently got a really dope Tony Joe White album. I’ve been listening a lot to Doug Kershaw, and stuff like that.
What are some things you enjoy doing when you’re not belting out beautiful bravados?
I’m a food lover. I really enjoy tasty eats. I spend a lot of my time chilling and eating. Of course I’m a sucker for Creole and New Orleans cuisine, but I like just something that makes my taste buds think and wake up …. I don’t know man, kinda just going where the wind takes me. I like life. I like romance. I like friendship and adventure.