It’s rather fitting that Craig Stickland’s arrival in his home province of British Columbia should coincide with a break in the ceaseless rainy and dreary weather the west coasters had been enduring.
Finally, the sun has come out.
For the musician, it has as well.
These days it’s been nothing but blue skies for the now L.A.-based Stickland, with his solo career beginning to take off thanks to a high-profile tour with Matthew Good, which follows some other recent sunbeams by way of playing guitar and opening the show for Canadian superstar-on-the-rise Alessia Cara and hitting the road overseas with pop star JoJo.
Last year, he also dropped his debut EP, Leave Me to the Wild, which showcases a sound that recalls Pete Yorn at his most direct and accessible.
On the non-musical part of things, Stickland’s side modelling career has seen him become the face and bod for Diesel’s latest campaign, and he’s also been getting some acting work in Verizon’s new digital series Lost Generation.
All of this follows a number of years, that, while not entirely showers and inclement weather, pushed him, tested him and made him appreciate when the clouds finally parted.
Prior to his spot with Good on Friday night at the Grey Eagle Event Centre, the musician chatted with theYYSCENE.
Q: The tour you’re on with Matthew is a pretty high-profile and lengthy one, perfect for introducing yourself to Canadians as a solo act.
A: Absolutely. It’s cool because he’s hitting every nook and cranny in Canada, which is rare for a Canadian tour. It’s a long one and I’m excited to be part of it. It’s cool, too, because he’s sold out every nook and cranny as well.
Q: How did you get the tour?
A: This is a little bit of a record company, agent pitch, I’ll be honest with you. But that being said, everyone in Canada was going for this tour. I’m really, really honoured that he chose me. There was a meeting we had to pitch for it and Matt, the first day we were chatting, we had a long chat about everything. He had obviously done his research about me and knew everything that I’d be up to and stuff, so it was cool, we bonded right away. He’s a great guy so it’s been awesome so far.
Q: What you’ve been up to recently has been a lot. Touring with Alessia Cara is probably the biggest. That must have been a pretty great relationship for you and to be a part of?
A: That was incredible. She’s amazing. We still talk all the time. I was supposed to do Saturday Night Live with her, actually, but I couldn’t make it because I was doing a European tour with JoJo. But we still have a great relationship, of course. She’s amazing.
Alessia was amazing because I was able to play guitar with her and then also open up for her… The thing with that is that Alessia is so busy — she’s so, so, so busy; it’s incredible — so any time there was a spare second I’d be on a plane to fly to London, for example, to play one song on the BBC and then fly right back to L.A. and then go to Germany to do one song, you know what I mean? It was just an insane, insane schedule.
We’re all part of the same management team, so the plan was just to do the first Know-It-All Tour and play guitar for her and then open up for her, and then go and do my own thing so I could start to build my own career. And she totally knew that and understood that. I think it came as a huge surprise to us all when we got the call from Coldplay to open up for them. And she was like, “I know you were only supposed to do the Know-It-All Tour, but do you want to come and play guitar for me for Coldplay?” (Laughs) I was like, “Yeah, I guess I’ll do that.”
Q: You’ll maybe make some time for that, hey?
A: (Laughs) “I’ll see if I can slide through it.” So that was really cool and then after that tour we hugged each other out and said, “See you soon.” And when she found out she was doing Saturday Night Live she called me up and said, “Hey, can you come play Saturday Night Live with me?” I would have absolutely loved to, but I couldn’t make it. So, yeah, she’s amazing, but it’s certainly time for me to start doing my own thing and just focus, stop being people’s side guy and just be my own guy for awhile.
Q: You can, obviously, as you’ve proven with the EP. Is there something more coming from you soon? Was this just a taste?
A: Yeah, that was just a taste. It’s funny, man, I made that record almost four years ago at this point. It took me two years to make because I was working menial jobs, I was working bartender, service jobs, and I would go out to the studio in Mississauga and live on the couch for two or three days at a time, and work on the record, then go back to work. And then we held off on releasing it because we wanted to put it out with an impact. And we ended up just having to do it independently and then it’s been a year since we’ve put it out. So it’s been four years. Obviously in that four years I’ve written hundreds of songs and I’m ready for the next batch to come out, which I truly, truly feel are going to have the impact I’m waiting for, for sure.
Q: So when you’re done this tour you’ll head into the studio?
A: Yeah, well, between tours, basically, yeah, because I’ve been offered a few other tours that are yet to be confirmed but are awesome and are going to be back to back with the Matt Good tour. So I think I’m going to go in the studio right between, there’s a producer in New York City that I’ve been looking to work with and I think we’re going to do some stuff together and we’re also releasing the first single Warning this Friday.
Q: Maybe this is a boring industry question, but how are they trying to position you?
A: Well, I’m definitely a rock guy and I think it’s important to position myself as that rock guy, because first of all, I love to play the guitar, I love to play some solos. Right now I’ve been playing with the loop pedal, but when you see me with a band there’s definitely going to be a lot of heavy moments instrumentally. And I think if you’re the pop guy then people just want to hear two-and-half minute songs for Snapchat and then they get bored really easily. (Laughs) I don’t think they’d be down with an eight-minute blues jam. Not that I’m going to get into an eight-minute blues jam (laughs), but it would be nice to have the option.
Q: You’ve also got another career going on with the modelling. It’s got to be tough to focus on the music when you’re a handsome fellah whose pretty mug is required for photo shoots.
A: Well, that’s an interesting one as well because I absolutely love, love, love Canada more than anything. I’m so proud to be Canadian, everywhere that I go I’m so proud to show my Canadian passport. But when I was living in Canada I was really, really stagnant and I had a really hard time making it in the music industry. I’ve been doing this for quite awhile now and I couldn’t make a living for the life of me. And it wasn’t for a lack of working, I was putting in every spare second that I possibly had into this, but everyone has a different story, right? Some people release one song and they become massive and then some people work at it for 15 or 10 years and then become successful. For me, unfortunately it was the other side of the coin, but that’s part of my story.
So I was working bartending, service jobs which forced me to work 40 hours a week and I always had agents, modelling and acting agents just to do it, just so that I could potentially make a couple extra thousand dollars which would allow me to pick less shifts up at the bar and therefore give me more time to focus on my craft. And after I’d been working at it for a long time, my manager and I were trying to find solutions to get my career to where I needed to be … and he was like, “Why don’t you get in really, really good shape — get abs, dude, get ripped, take modelling seriously … and I’ll get you signed with Wilhelmina Models, I promise you I will.” So I took my word and he took his, and I trained for two years straight, hitting the gym every morning after bartending all night until 4 a.m., waking up at 8 a.m. and just going to the gym, then working on music all day. And sure enough, when I got to the place I needed to be, he got me signed with Wilhelmina in Miami and they sponsored my work visa papers. And that was incredible because they allowed me to book some really nice big campaigns which allowed me to work one day a month and then focus on music the rest of the time, which is exactly what I needed to do to get to where I needed to be as a musician, as a writer — everything. I just gave me that free time that I’d never had before.
It’s definitely not model, model, model try to make it as a musician; it’s musician who put in 9,000 hours of the 10,000 and needed modelling to help me get that other thousand in a very short period of time.
Craig Stickland performs Friday night at the Grey Eagle Event Centre with Matthew Good.
Mike Bell has been covering the Calgary music scene for the past 25 years with publications such as VOX, Fast Forward, the Calgary Sun and, most recently, the Calgary Herald. He is currently the music writer and content editor for theYYSCENE.ca, and the co-host of the show Saved By the Bell, which airs Wednesdays from 4-6 p.m. on CJSW 90.9 FM. Follow him on at Twitter/@mrbell_23 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He likes beer. Buy him one.