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Interview with Timothy Crane, March 2011
Interview with Timothy Crane, image 1
Timothy Crane’s website describes his music as instrumental pop music that blends influences from new age, popular, rock, and even classical music into compositions that are both interesting and enjoyable. This would be a very accurate description of this up and coming pianist whose impressive accessible debut solo recording The Other Life I Dream was released close to seven years ago.

Since then, Crane has not only avoided the dreaded sophomore jinx but has also continued to create and compose impressive compositions courtesy of 2010’s Dragonfly, anchored in memorable piano driven melodies gently washed in light restrained orchestration. While the process may take a while Crane has already begun the process of a recording his third title. Nevertheless, Timothy found the time to complete an interview for Mainly Piano. And much like Crane’s music, his answers were emotionally transparent, insightful and sensitive.

MD: According to your website you began playing the piano at 5 years old. Is there a musical influence from within your family and if not what prompted such an early inclination?

TC: First, thank you so much, Michael, for giving me the opportunity to talk to you. I think if there is any job in this world that I envy, it’s yours. You are able to listen to and talk about music way more than I ever get to.

I suppose my main influence was my mother, who started me playing before I could even reach the pedals. There is an early picture of me watching my brother on the piano, with me attempting to “play” the piano bench alongside him, so I think he must have been some influence as well. I know for a fact that my mom was highly influenced by an uncle of hers, Percy Hemus, a baritone who recorded on 78 RPM records for the Victor Talking Machine Company. He was a big star back in the day, but he became even more famous playing the “Old Wrangler” on the Tom Mix radio show. My mom also had an aunt who played professionally, including playing the organ for a silent movie house in Topeka, Kansas.

MD: Your music, while instrumentally dominated is very accessible and melodic and appears to be influenced by several musical genres. What were some of your preferred musical tastes in your youth both at a genre and artist level?

TC: Growing up I was a pop music fiend, obsessed with the Beatles like everyone else. My thought is that if you grow up listening to The Beatles and you later write music, you will likely start writing something in that style – pop – even if it’s only instrumental music. Most of my pieces are like little pop songs, with verses, bridges, and choruses. As a piano player, I later became a big fan of Elton John, but not necessarily for his pure pop songs. Instead, I loved his instrumental pieces, which often had big lush orchestration on them. Like “Tonight” (the beginning part) or “Carla Etude.” Still, these pieces were always just album pieces, not played much, if at all, on the radio. I remember having defining moments in my life the first time I heard Enya’s “Orinoco Flow” (I was in the parking lot of the Giant Grocery Store in Rockville Maryland) and a piece by Yanni (I was on my back porch) actually on the radio. That’s when I said, “Oh, yeah, that’s exactly what I want to do!”

MD: Prior to your solo career what were some of the bands that you collaborated with and did you ever have an opportunity to record with them?

TC: Nobody famous, but a lot of really good players. Lots of garage bands. My first real band, “Rocker” (its earlier name was actually obscene) was great for our age. We would play some heavy metal song and then follow it up with Emerson Lake and Palmer’s version of “Peter Gunn.” I played with a guitar player named Ronnie Winters – a real prodigy. I’ve been in several since, mostly cover bands. I never had any real inclination to write anything other than instrumental music, though, so I never really recorded with anyone. I’d like to. Anyone out there? Decent piano player for hire!

MD: Your solo debut The Other Life I Dream arrived in 2004. What inspired you to take a chance at recording and releasing your own creations to the general public?

TC: The Other Life I Dream started as a gift to my mom, who was really sick. Instead of the usual Christmas gift, I wanted to give her my music. By the time we got done with it, it sounded pretty good, so haphazardly I sent a bundle out to various radio stations. I had seen people’s web sites that said they had this or that piece played on the radio, and I thought, “man, wouldn’t that be cool!” A guy named Ed Bonk (a phenomenal promoter and a great friend) called out of the blue and asked if he could promote it, which he did. At the time, I had no real feeling that I would go beyond that album, but now I’m working on number three.

MD: As for the title of the album is that just a creative title or is it a reflection of your ability to fulfill your own dream of being a recording artist?

TC: The title really has three meanings. The first is literal, because I often actually dream very vividly, and I always consider every night to be my little excursion into another life. The second, is just like you said – in this world, I’ve always thought that being in music would be a great life. The third deals with my worldview, which has a healthy dose of the Bible in it, and refers to a life beyond this temporary one. Now admit it, most people think there is something beyond, don’t they? I hope I don’t sound spooky.

MD: The most notable aspect was that nine of the 10 tracks on your debut were self composed. The melodies are optimistic and very buoyant. Where does the musical joy come from?

TC: This may come to a shock to most people, but I am a complete Jesus freak. Yeah, I know, my stuff gets played on “New Age” radio, and whatnot, but fundamentally I am a Christian instrumental pianist. It’s just that the other Christians don’t know that yet. So, obviously, “joy” to me comes from God. If you stop and think about it, the fact that music even exists is miraculous. In the great design, humans are able to understand the concept of “perfect” even though we typically say that nobody, or nothing, is completely perfect. Still, why do we even comprehend something that doesn’t seem to exist in its infinite sense in this world? To me, everything in this world is a gift designed to show us the perfect version of that gift from God. If you hear a beautiful song, you get a glimpse of the perfect beauty that is God. If you love someone, you get a glimpse of perfect love, who is Jesus.

MD: Musically, some of your arrangements bring to mind the very accessible melodies of Yanni. Who are some artists that may have influenced your solo music?

TC: Yeah, like I said, Yanni was in the mix as a big influence and Elton early on. I was also a big fan of whoever would get an instrumental song onto the radio, like Paul Mauriat (“Love is Blue”) or Mason Williams (“Classical Gas”). But I really should mention the genre of movie soundtracks. I used to buy a lot of them, because they had some of the greatest instrumental pieces on them. Sometimes I consider them to be our “new” classical music. John Barry, John Williams, Barry De Vorzon and Perry Botkin Jr. (who wrote “Cotton’s Theme” for the movie Bless the Beasts and Children – it later became “Nadia’s Theme” and the theme song for "The Young and the Restless") were all big influences. But so was, say, Mark Knopfler, who wrote the music to The Princess Bride. You really can find some of the best music in movie soundtracks.

MD: Funny you should say Mark Knopfler as I have just recently begun to listen and appreciate his music and guitar sound. Moving along, it took six years to follow up your debut when your released your sophomore effort Dragonfly which also included a new producer Jason Rowsell. Why the change?

TC: The first album took a long time to do, and I figured that if the second took that long, I might as well do it with my really good friend, Jason. We had been in a duo together, playing really great cover songs, but I think his genius and passion is orchestration. He has this amazing wealth of knowledge of music. Once, at a point in the piece “Theft in Eb Major,” he said, “Oh, this needs an orchestra hit.” Then he proceeded to root through all his albums and found an old Barbara Streisand record that had exactly what he wanted, and then we reproduced it on our record. We were experimenting a lot on Dragonfly, and we were all pretty new to doing it from scratch, but I think this next album you’ll really hear some good stuff.

MD: I am sure the recording budget was limited and what it lacked in detailed was made up for in even better melodies and arrangements. One song in particular that jumps out is “Theme For Rachel Scott”. Please share a little background about this song.

TC: Yeah, when I’m talking about the budget for Dragonfly, I’m talking hundreds of dollars. Can you imagine spending a million dollars on an album? I can’t even fathom it. Anyway, the moment I started writing “Rachel” I immediately thought of Rachel Scott, the young girl killed in Columbine High School, just down the street from us. I never got that out of my head, so I knew “Theme for Rachel Scott” would always be the title, even when I wasn’t done with it. I can’t possibly sum up what a wonderful person Rachel was, and how enormous her influence is today through her parents. Do look her up on the web and read about her. Even in her death, she is changing millions of young people’s lives through what’s called “Rachel’s Challenge.” I had the opportunity to play the piece at a gathering where her dad spoke. Man, I was nervous.

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MD: In complete contrast there is the more progressive “Vasilissa The Beautiful” that has two very different movements. Is this just another facet of musical prowess or a reflection of future musical exploration?

TC: I had written the slow part to “Vasilissa” with a scratch title of “Russian Waltz.” I thought it was kind of a pretty melody, so I asked a Russian friend of mine to tell me the name of someone beautiful in Russia, and she immediately said “Vasilissa.” It turns out that Vasilissa is the Russian version of our Cinderella, with some other exciting stuff mixed in. Knowing that, I figured the piece needed some more to it, given the great story behind it. I had been working on the fast part on its own, with no title yet. A lot of times, I’m able to piece two different tunes together and no one notices the changes. In this case, the change is pretty abrupt, like the Beatle’s “Day in the Life,” which was also two pieces scrunched together. Luckily, in the end I was able to tie the two together. If you were to ever see me live, or hear me in my church band, you would see that I’m usually playing pretty fast and loud. I love the soft and beautiful stuff, but the rock and roll guy in me always wants to bang on the thing.

MD: For those of us who still appreciate a physical CD with artwork and credits, your first two albums also included Scripture references of Ephesians 1:7-8 and Ephesians 6:19-20. On a more personal note are the Biblical references to help further illustrate the musical themes or is it a more intrinsic expression of who you are as a person?

TC: Everybody has a worldview, even if they don’t think they do. Mine just happens to be a Bible-based world view. I couldn’t possibly do music without making some reference to God. The reference on Dragonfly was to keep reminding me to not be afraid to tell people that I love God, and only to do what he wants me to do. I don’t want to scare anybody, and I certainly don’t push anyone, but the extent of my faith is pretty big, and pretty much guides everything that I do. My wife just wrote a book, 7 Spiritual Truths and the Lies that Hide Them. If you read that book, and realize that I agree with it, then you’ll get an idea of me as a person. Actually, though, it says less about me, and more about what I (and my wife) think about everyone else. I love everyone, and I see God’s love in everyone, even the people that others have a hard time with. I want desperately to help people in this world, in any way that I can, and I want them to have the feeling of hope and joy that they definitely deserve to have. If you’re reading this, don’t get hung up on labels. Just love everyone. If you do, you’ll find that most people who use Jesus as their role model are just like you. Was that pushy?

MD: Not at all. Your listeners had to wait 6 years for your follow up recording. Are you currently composing and recording?

TC: I am recording. But who knows how long it’ll take. I have seventeen new pieces, and I’m almost done with the piano tracks. Then, I’ll send it to Jason for a listen. One of the fundamental problems with independent music is that nobody seems to want to help small, independent musicians with getting things done and getting them done quickly. So we all have day jobs, and sometimes two day jobs, that get in the way of writing and recording. I always hoped that there would be what I call “patrons,” like they have in the art world, who would step up and help out. I haven’t found any yet. You’d be surprised what a difference just a few thousand dollars can make with a recording.

MD: It appears that the current recording industry is at a stage of transformation as it moves from the tangible compact disc to the invisible download and continues to affect the brick and mortar record stores. What long term effect does this have on the musical industry as a whole?

TC: Yes, you are absolutely right. I don’t really get much money any more from selling CDs. All of it is from downloads. Still, even though I just railed about finding money and time to record, I must say the current trend is very independent musician friendly. With just a Mac, a good program, and a few instruments, you can create your own CD; put it on the web, and go. I use CD Baby (a phenomenal company) for distribution, and they do all the download work, but I suppose anyone could do it on their own. That’s pretty far from when I was a kid, and you would play in bars hoping the big record company executive would stop by. In the long term, I think we’ll figure out all of the digital issues, including piracy, even if we do it in spurts. I know that without the computer and the ability to download music, a whole lot of music would never be heard. Metallica might get mad about not getting paid for it, but I’m just happy to be out there where someone can hear it.

MD: Is the lack of label support and promotion indicative of the above transition?

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TC: Yes the whole thing is definitely affecting the “big” labels. At least for a while in the past, these labels have fought the wrong fight – going after people downloading music – instead of figuring out how to better control it. Meanwhile, other people were figuring out ways to put music on the web and sell it. I really never even imagined that I would ever be on some big label. I only wanted to have my own label, and have just enough money to write and record.

MD: What does the current future hold for Timothy Crane?

TC: Well, this Sunday (and most after that) I’ll be at Calvary Church in Golden banging out praise songs with our band. I’m going to try to get an album out, soon, too. Unlike the last two, I think you’ll hear more interesting piano stuff going on. A couple of the pieces are kind of tough to play. I had to practice a while to get my fingers to do what my head was telling them to do.

Well, that’s it! Thanks, again!
Michael Debbage
March 2011