Stew Crookes is a musician, producer and engineer with a long history of working with great Canadian artists, including One Hundred Dollars, FIVER and Doug Paisley. Stew composed the music for No One Receiving after experimenting with a new sound blending pedal steel and synthesizers.
The idea of working together on No One Receiving came up when Stew and I both performed at a “Hey, Neighbour” Saturdays at St. Mathias concert in Toronto, a Bellwoods Avenue neighbourhood event organized by Paul Mathew. Stew gave a performance of music that can best be described as “Ry Cooder in Space,” or Paris, Texas on Mars, and I read from the original No One Receiving script. I loved Stew’s new sound. It transported me to a spacey Dr Who universe, one the fictional astronaut Beth Kane might feel at home in. Author of The Weekend Effect Katrina Onstaad was also on the bill, and asked about future plans for the script. A little light bulb went “ding” above our heads, and Stew and I decided to team up.
Imagine if Ry Cooder had teamed up with Delia Derbyshire for the Paris, Texas Soundtrack.
Stew and I caught up recently to talk about his recent projects and his big move from Canada to France.
You recently moved to paris and have set your studio up there. What are you looking forward to doing now that you are there?
Relocating to Paris came as a bit of a surprise but it's been a great adventure! At this point I'm still mostly mixing projects remotely from Canada, but I'm very slowly meeting artists here and find the musical scene very interesting... There's a far broader definition of what is 'cool' here both on the indie and mainstream sides and certain styles of (for lack of a better word: roots) music that are relegated to a sort of second tier status in Canada don't seem to suffer from that in Europe. Something I always struggled with in Canada was our cultural industries are quite insecure (both literally for their survival in terms of the cultural gravity of America and in character as far as what it means to be an artist operating in such a limited market) and it's so refreshing to be somewhere so exempt from that. The cultural industries are extremely robust in France and their 'star system' is comfortable operating for the local market. In all things creative an American influence is still here, but it's not a threat - it's something to be enjoyed but can be ignored unlike in Canada where it often drowns out our voices.
The new Doug Paisley album has been getting great reviews. How did your collaboration with Doug come about?
Doug and I have worked together in lots of ways for around 15 years - I used to mix FOH and sometimes played pedal steel with his early band 'Live Country Music', we've played a couple duo gigs, and I've produced and/or engineered and/or mixed nearly his entire catalogue. Plus he's a very skilled carpenter and has done lots of great work on my house while I stand around in a tool belt attempting to be useful. He's just such a great artist who manages to attract so many other great artists into his orbit, it's obvious that he's got the staying power of someone like Kris Kristofferson or John Prine and his records have been some of my proudest work.
Before we started working on NOR, you had just started experimenting with a pedal steel & synth sound, which listeners can hear in the podcast. Are you planning to record more of that style of material?
I've recorded a lot of things for 'Sound Experiments for Synthesizer and Pedal Steel' (I really need to come up with a catchier title) but haven't yet found a direction that I like as far as releasing any material. The handful of pieces that I have performed live are so incredibly hard to play and are so unpredictable to me in the moment that I think the performance aspect interests me more than any of the recordings I've made of them so far... I'm looking forward to applying that palette to other scoring projects, eventually a compelling standalone presentation will probably reveal itself and if it doesn't then I'm happy to confine these ideas only to score.
Is Ry Cooder's Paris, Texas soundtrack an influence?
Ry Cooder is an all around influence! I love his use of a sense of space and place as a producer, his effortless genre blending that never feels like a surface level mashup and his slide voicings especially. He never sits still but always sounds like him - there's not a lot of musicians you can say that about, and is really something to aspire to!
Powdered Confessions by One Hundred Dollars from the Polaris Prize nominated album Songs of Man features the work of Stew and fantastic singer songwriter Simone Schmidt
For more on Stew’s music and collaborations check out stewcrookes.com