Stillman is the nom de plume of Chaz Craik, an up and coming solo artist from the South East. Blending acoustic songs with atmospheric and ambient electronic elements, his debut album ‘People like a Happy Ending’ along with some stellar performances throughout the UK, have so far been meeting critical acclaim and ensured him a loyal following. With comparisons to the likes of Radiohead, Tom Mcrae and Coldplay among many other big named artists he is surely destined for great things. Pennyblackmusic had the chance to hook up with him and have a chat about how everything is going and what it is like to be receiving high praise at this early stage in his career.

PB : How is the current tour going so far?

CC : I played a lot of the BBC radio stations and it was great fun. I love just turning up and having to perform live there and then. You've got no idea how many people are listening. It could be 10 it could 10,000 - I love that 'unknown' quality.

I've also just played at the Secret Garden Party on the Where The Wild Things Are stage in absolutely driving rain. Fortunately, that stage is in a tent. But, less fortunately, the main pole in the middle of the stage gave way with a screech half-way through my set and toppled over to a 45 degree angle. I stopped playing and everyone there went very white and quiet while we waited to see whether we were about to be crushed by two tons of tent.The stage manager wandered over to check the damage - which he did by giving it a few good hard kicks to see if was going to get any worse! When the tent failed to fall on top of us he announced it was probably fine to continue. That is pretty much their attitude right there. It's a relaxed festival, very friendly. And by the time I'd finished the sun had come out and there was blue sky which I like to take credit for...

PB : Your music and new album have been compared to some big artists so far including Nick Drake, Radiohead and Coldplay. How does it feel as a relatively new artist to be compared to such big names?

CC : I think people will always reach for well-known names when makingcomparisons so I don't read too much into it to be honest. I think I have it in me to make memorable music that will stay with people in the same way as those bands but it doesn't necessarily follow that I feel I'm as good as Radiohead. I can remember getting a review from Channel 4 teletext that said it was "as if Elliot Smith and Tom McCrae got together to make the music they can't quite do on their own...". I had to have a bit of a sit down after that one.

PB : Are some of these bands/artists people you look up to or inspired by?

CC : Radiohead have been an influence on me ever since 'The Bends' - I think it is a perfect combination of songwriting, arrangement and performance. There's not a flabby 10 seconds on that entire album. I still listen to it regularly and I always end up listening to the whole thing, once it is on I can't walk away from it.

I love Nick Drake's guitar playing and that he just played in whatevertuning suited. I do that a lot too, just tune it so it sounds cool. It's also a neat trick to fool yourself into thinking more intuitively rather than following established chord shapes and changes. I have a track I'm workingon now where I've strung my acoustic with completely the wrong strings and tuned them to God knows what - I've deliberately not worked it out. It sounds great but is probably warping the guitar neck as we speak!

PB : What other elements influence your music?

CC : A lot of the old classic rock bands, Led Zep, Pink Floyd, Big Star though I guess that's not obvious. I tend to be influenced by a band's approach to their songwriting and arrangement rather than actually soundinglike them.

Also I don't sound like but have a lot of time for (and albums by) Low, Sparklehorse and Grandaddy. After the promo of the album had been out and about for a month or so I got an email from some guy at my personal hotmail address. He said he was living in a small town in California and that he used to be in a band that had had some success but was now disbanded. He said he'd heard the album, really liked it and wished me luck. I thought I recognised the name so I googled him and it turned out to be the drummer from Grandaddy - I have no idea how he got a copy of the promo or how he got my email address but it was a cool moment.

PB : Your music has a real atmospheric quality to it. Is this something you strived to achieve or just what comes out when you’re writing.

CC : I think I just write that way naturally because so much of the music I love is atmospheric. When I write I lose myself in it and I want other people to lose themselves in it too. But at the same time it takes hard work in the studio to capture those sounds that you have in your head and to evoke as perfectly as you can the emotion behind the songs. So a bit of both really.

PB : Is it difficult to replicate your recorded sound live, or do you try and keep it stripped down?

CC : I haven't even tried to replicate it live yet. I gig entirely acoustically just me and a guitar. It works surprisingly well that way because at the core of everything I write is (I hope) a strong song, and you get a more intimate connection with that when its just a vocal and an acoustic. But I'm experimenting with the line-up at the moment. I'm going to try various levels of instrumentation - acoustic, banjo and bass and then maybe the full works with hammond, electric guitar, acoustic and drums.

PB : Do you prefer to play alone or do you ever play with a full band line up?

CC : I've played in lots of bands with a full line-up but not as Stillman. They're different experiences. In a solo performance its incredibly exposed and every note you play and sing is out there. There's no big drum fills covering up your bum notes! I love it that way. It is as raw as it gets. I like having to deliver the goods. But with a band you obviously get a far greater musical breadth and possibility of arrangement. Also that amazing feeling of everyone shaping the song and locking into it together, I'm looking forward to a couple of gigs with a full line-up.

PB : What does the ‘Stillman’ moniker relate to?

CC : He's a character by the name of Peter Stillman in a book by Paul Auster called 'The New York Trilogy'. He's been locked in a dark room since birth by his father (also called Peter Stillman) with no human contact in the hope that he'll grow up speaking the true, untainted language of God. It doesn't work of course. He's discovered and grows up to be a freak and his father, after being let out of jail, sets out to murder him. Yes, it is as dark and weird as it sounds, but excellent. Most of the time I'm Stillman Jnr but occasionally I feel like Stillman Snr.

PB : I read that you started out as a bass player and went through several other roles until that of the ‘singer-songwriter’. What prompted these changes ?

CC : It was a natural development from musician to songwriter. I started bass when I was 12 and as I got to understand more and more about how music fits together and song structures work I started writing my own songs. But I didn't graduate to actually singing anything until much later because I was convinced I'd never be able to sing. After my voice broke I couldn't get within 20 feet of the right note for years. But it got to the point where I just realised noone was ever going to be able to sing it like I felt it. So I practiced, a LOT, and found ways of singing that expressed my songs best. I'm never going to win X-Factor (oh, if only...[sniff]) but I've learnt how to make my voice do what I want to do and now I can't imagine not singing. As a result it also means that I sound like myself rather than these identikit Morrisey or Weller clones doing the rounds in the current crop of indie bands. Why would you write a song and sing it in the style of someone else ? It's like Stars in Their Eyes, weird.

PB : Now you have the released the album and begun the tour what’s in store next ?

CC : I'm going to keep telling people about this album and start work on the next album. I'll be working on arrangements in the next month or so and sneaking the odd song into the set here and there later in the year. By the time the second one comes out next year, the first one will have been out there and made a bit of name for itself if everything goes to plan.

PB : Thank you.

Related Links:

Commenting On: Interview - Stillman

ie London, England

tick box before submitting comment

First Previous Next Last