Jay Crocker's homey studio, called the "Sea Shanty," is a 10' by 10' shack hidden somewhere in the sprawling metropolis that is Calgary. The studio, loaded with a variety of strange instruments and recording devices, has gotten a lot of use lately. For the last few years, the enigmatic Crocker has been producing some of the finest albums in western Canada. He produced Ghostkeeper's Polaris Prize-nominated self-titled debut and he worked with Deadhorse on their incredibly well-received self-titled debut.
Recently, Crocker has turned inward and used the Sea Shanty for his own purposes. On Feb. 15th, he released his third full-length album, Co-Stars, which was entirely a solo effort. Jay did everything, he played every instrument and he even arranged and produced the album. For most people, producing an album with zero outside help or input would be a daunting task. Not so for Crocker.
"I don't find it strange to produce the album, I find it more strange to play everything," he says. "I do enjoy playing with others and I come from a background of doing that . . . but I still find it a little self-indulgent. You can achieve a looseness to the music that you can't really achieve by playing with other people."
When you hear Co-Stars, the gravity of this task really sets in. The album is so instrumentally deep and diverse. It's also a change of pace for Crocker. His 2008 effort, Below the Sea Over, was still largely his project, but he worked with a band. His new approach is working well. Co-Stars has received wide acclaim even meriting a very positive review from the Globe and Mail as well as air time on radio stations across the country. The album has been praised for its accessibility despite its experimental nature and its obtuse instrumentation. All the reviews haven't been positive though.
"There was this one-- the person just hated it because it's so noisy," laughs Crocker. "It's not even really that noisy at all. Maybe they've only heard Iron & Wine before? They said it sounds like a night of hard drinking where you're hugging the toilet bowl after, and I was just like, 'Woah!' I don't really give a shit at all what people think of it, it's still going to be made."
Despite the language employed, it was abundantly clear Crocker wasn't upset at all about the harshness of the review, which he said he had just stumbled across on the Internet. True to form, he was equally flippant about Ghostkeeper's album (which he produced) being nominated for a Juno.
"The Polaris is pretty ultra-predictable in my opinion," he says. "It might as well just be the Junos for rich, white, indie-rock kids. At the same time, it's cool, it's nice to have some kind of recognition. I appreciate that for sure-- I don't want to be an asshole about it. I just want to concentrate on the stuff-- making sure it's as creative and honest as possible and that'll kind of take care of itself."
It's a shame that Calgary will soon lose Crocker's blunt but insightful perspective. He's decided to pack up and ship out.
"I'm actually moving to Nova Scotia on May 1 for good . . . As far as music goes, the arts community here is pretty strong and it's thriving for sure. But I have a family now and I'm looking for something a little more than just a strong arts community."
That said, he still hasn't made plans for his Sea Shanty, which will remain in Calgary indefinitely as a monument.