CRAIG SINCLAIR On the edge of change

After kicking around Perth and Freo playing local shows as a teenager, singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist and Craig Sinclair’s journey as a musician has coincided with a stint on the state’s south coast and more recently a move to Sydney. Now it has culminated with the release of his third album Is This Goodbye? as he returns to the old west coast for a tour, highlighted by a headlining show at Freo.Social on Wednesday, September 18 (listen to the album here and get full show dates and tickets here). BRAYDEN EDWARDS spoke to Sinclair about how he found his place as a songwriter through American folk-blues era music and how his style has evolved from “clumsy confessionals” to broad themes like relationships, identity and survival.

Where does the story of Craig Sinclair as a musician start? Can you pin it down to a point in your life where you felt making music was something you wanted to, or had to do?

For me it started in my late teens while living in share houses around Perth and Fremantle. I remember my first clumsy attempts at writing, producing some pretty heavy, autobiographical confessionals. But it was a time of discovery and making sense of a confusing world. I’d always been writing in some form but once I found my way to the older players who came from that American folk-blues era I sort of got a sense of the music I wanted to make and it started flowing from there.

And where does this album sit in terms of your output so far? 

This is my sixth release, and third solo full length album. Over the last 10 years or so most of my music has been with Albany-based group The Pepperjacks, which has been great for learning more about arranging harmonies and huddling up around the single microphone. Since relocating to Sydney this year it has opened up some time to get back to my own material and to finish off this latest album, which has been on the boil for a good while.

Did you feel like the project grew or changed shape once you found yourself laying down the tracks?

It was growing for a good while, certainly the arranging and production side of things. There were a few aborted attempts over the last five or six years where it just wasn’t quite there in terms of the sound I was getting in my studio, and being comfortable in front of the microphone. During 2018 I found myself with a bit more time on my hands to tweak a few things, and the combination of musicians I was working with seemed to trigger it to all come together a bit more.

Is there an overall idea or theme you think ties this album together in a lyrical sense or in its overall message?

The central theme of the album is that question in the title track Is This Goodbye?, which is played out in the context of characters standing on the edge of change – in relationships, identities and their own survival. I think it’s an acknowledgement of the uncertainty in life, that is always just a scratch beneath the surface, if we stop and look. The way people face those situations and respond to them has been a great source of inspiration for me.

What were you listening to when you wrote it? I feel like I can see a mix of influences, both old and new?

Yeah certainly. I think the stuff that runs really deep for me are the players and songwriters who have really influenced me over many years, guys like Kelly Joe Phelps and Jeff Lang, who I think really say powerful things both with their lyrics and instruments. Playing a lot with local legend and swing/blues wizard Rod Vervest also rubbed off in terms of some of the more “rag-timey” influences on some of the tracks. And other than that I think having the space to play with some different musicians, and experiment in the studio, particularly on some new instruments like the mandola and mandolin, which I haven’t used so much before, added a different sound.

You’re doing quite a few dates on your tour here both in Perth and in regional WA, are there any shows you are looking forward to most?

It will be great to get back to WA and play again. The local folk clubs and venues around Perth and Fremantle were where I did my first gigs, so that’s always great to come back and see them still putting shows on and supporting musicians and punters. I’m really keen to check out Freo.Social, as I’ve got great memories of seeing gigs there at the old Fly By Night club. I’m also really looking forward to putting shows on with a number of guest musicians who featured on the album.

What have you got coming up after this tour and into the rest of 2019 and beyond? Any more music on the way and if so how do you visualise it being different from what you have done to date?

This summer I’m looking forward to getting out and playing some more shows along the east coast and getting the album out as far as I can. I guess new music is always just around the corner if things come together… time will tell!