with Hunter Burnette
A lot of life can happen over the course of one record. Lyrics immortalize those characters, exploits, and memories. On his 2020 Asterisk The Universe, John Craigie awkwardly encounters previous flames, mistakes a Catholic School custodian as a saint (and prays to him anyway), pays tribute to modern-day revolutionaries, and explores what it all means to live in the 21st century where infinite possibility does not necessarily equate infinite understanding. He soundtracks these stories with a score of smoked-out soul, tender folk, and American songbook eloquence billowing right from the heart of California. Progressing once more, the interplay of live drums and bass hold the music in the pocket as it simultaneously emanates an acoustic campfire glow.
With these ten tunes, his journey unfolds in between organic instrumentation and lyrical observation. “As with any album, I want the lyrics to be heard, first and foremost,” he exclaims. “This is pretty similar to other versions of who I’ve been and who I am. It’s just one with a fresh batch of songs I’ll add to my setlist and new stories to tell from the road.”
Those stories from the road have endeared Craigie to the devoted fans he has earned, song by song, show by show since 2009. A Craigie performance is not just a music show, it’s a collective experience. Craigie shines by telling candid stories, humorous anecdotes, and leaving everything on the stage. Fiercely independent, Craigie prolifically unveiled one highly personal album after another while logging enough miles on the road to give The Grateful Dead a run for their money. Venues got bigger and bigger as audiences clamored for more. Capturing that electric feeling on 2016’s Capricorn In Retrograde… Just Kidding… Live in Portland, Craigie wound up on Jack Johnson’s car stereo on a road trip up the coast. Thoroughly impressed by what he heard, Johnson took Craigie on tour during the summer of 2017.
“It’s a standard tribute to all of my traveling friends and musicians who have the same lifestyle as I do,” he continues. “The chorus comes from my Catholic school days. I remember learning how Saint Christopher was the patron saint of travelers. We were to pray to him before going on any big trips. My family went on a weekend trip to San Diego, and I prayed to Christopher. Being young and not very smart, I assumed the teacher referred to people living in our community,” he laughs. “Amongst the workers at our school, there was a trash collector named Christopher who emptied the trash cans. So, I prayed to him. The trip was a success, and we all made it home safely. When I learned about my ignorance, I still found myself praying to the old janitor.”
To accompany each respective single release prior to the rollout, Craigie cut his own takes on a handful of personal favorites. These span everything from Flaming Lips’ “Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell” and Blaze Foley’s “Oval Room” to Nina Simone’s “To Love Somebody.”
He adds, “I knew Asterisk the Universe was going to be a single LP, but I wanted to capture the magic again of the late-night covers we were doing. So, I thought it might be cool to release a B-side for each single to make them special like my heroes used to in the past.”
In the end, Craigie’s story unfolds like never before on Asterisk The Universe.
“I think the songs have a pleasant flow to them,” he leaves off. “I hope it brings them back for future listens.”