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Dark, lush soundscapes & hopeful moments define Tucson band M.Crane

Often these days. new and independent musicians are described by P.R. folk (and sometimes music writers) in terms of the bands they sound most like or the festivals they've played. It's a trend that directly appeals to our digital age urge to tag and group and categorize, a shortcut to help us find more of what we already like instead of wasting our precious time taking chances on potentially bad music.

The downside of this trend, however, is that the more musicians hear these comparisons, the more likely they are to be shaped by them, sounding even more like their influences or rebelling against them outright. A group whose members fear "jam band" label might distance themselves from comparisons to the Grateful Dead, while a singer who is compared to Janis Joplin or Nina Simone a couple of times might begin to over identify with those singers, losing their own unique voice over time.

When I reached out to this week's subject, M. Crane, my goal was not to hear which bands the group most emulates, but to learn what makes them different, unique and, well, M.Crane.

TucsonSentinel.com: Who is M.Crane? And how did the band come together?

Nick Maskill: "The idea of M. Crane started in LA while I was playing in a band called Hudson (fun fact: our singer was Katy Perry's little brother, David Hudson.) The drummer of that band, Jon Emmons, and I had moved to L.A. from other states to play in the band, he from Tulsa, Oklahoma and I from El Paso, Texas. When I eventually left that band to make my own music, I asked Jon to start a band with me.We were originally going to stay in L.A. but in the end decided to go somewhere cozier that was still somewhat close to the big city. Tucson was our choice."

"It took about two years to actually move here, and in the meantime I played solo shows, mostly covering people like Nina Simone, Edith Piaf, the Smiths, Bob Dylan, Chavela Vargas, Jacques Brel, Leonard Cohen, Van Morrison, the Beatles and Led Zeppelin — first in Southern California and eventually here in Tucson once I arrived. Jon finally moved here in July 2015 and we started playing songs I had been writing with a band in mind."

"We added a bass player, David Velasco, to the mix shortly afterwards and then Kyle James Rosas joined on guitar, keys and percussion. Kyle was the last to join that initial lineup and, other than myself, is the only remaining original member of the band."

Emmons eventually drifted away and a couple of other players came an went in the intervening years, but towards the end of 2017 a new lineup had gelled for the band including Maskill and Rosas on guitar, bassist Andrew Lobo and former Pipelights member Gabriela Lisk on drums. 

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TS: How would you describe M.Crane's identity as a band?

N.M.: "I would describe us  as a group of musicians that are at a stage in our relationship where we genuinely like each other. We sometimes get tired of each other's antics and idiosyncrasies, and we fight like lovers more than we'd like, but we love each other and we've come to see what everyone can actually do, and we respect that I think. So we relate to each other in that way, and then we trust each other to care about the music we make. The music is honest and it hurts to make and it's for lovers and thinkers and poets and stoners and mothers and fathers and religious zealots and for our idols and not for them too."

"As far as the spirit of the band, it can end up being a bit dark and heavy, but very determined to extract good and hopeful things from that. I've always been concerned with being brutally honest about pain, but also aware that we live in the kind of reality where pain and beauty eternally exist together and sometimes the most beautiful things are brought about through pain, in spite of it and even because of it."

"A couple of our newer songs have happier sounding music, but the lyrics I think balance that mood with heavier subject matter. I just write about things that affect me. If something makes me cry I try to tell you about it in a way that makes you cry too. Words can only do so much, but there's a reason we're not just beat poets. Music delivers truth and beauty and pain and simultaneously is truth and beauty and pain."

"I think the spirit of the band can be philosophical at times, like the chorus in 'Invention' that says: 'fear is self imposed and, as such, is the enemy in all of us' or  like in an upcoming single, 'Live To See It',  there's a line: 'I can see myself unfolding like a harmony within a harmony, a melody played simultaneously in every key' using music as a metaphor for how it feels to be connected to every other person we currently coexist with at this moment in time."

Kyle Rosas: "M. Crane is a band that, when it covers a familiar song, still sounds like M. Crane. It's a fluid entity."

TS: Tell us about your body of work so far. What has the writing process been to date and how is it shared within the band?

N.M.: "It used to be that I wrote all the music, everything..lyrics, melodies, arrangement..and I would bring the songs to the band and they'd play the songs the way I presented them. Of course, things get changed naturally here and there but that was the process for the Sweethearts EP sessions at Saint Cecilia (when that was around). Then Kyle brought a song forward called Parks when we started writing new material after playing that first group of songs for a while. It had a chorus and a verse and he handed it off to me to finish. I wrote another verse and a guitar solo and arranged the thing and that was our single. It was different than anything we had done so I wrote a song called New For You, which became the B-side to Parks, to match the feel of Parks. We recorded the pair of them at Wavelab recording studio in August of 2016"

"Up until then I was completely against singing somebody else's lyrics, and for the most part I won't, but Kyle had written something that completely fit the song so I built around it. We went through a similar process with another song we just wrote called 'Rose.' So writing has increasingly become a collaboration between me and Kyle, which has changed the feel a bit, but for the better in my opinion."

"The majority of the time, either Kyle or I will bring forward a musical idea that the band will jam on and the arrangement just sort of happens. If Kyle brings the music, I'll write lyrics for it. If I bring the music it'll usually have come with lyrics, because all of the songs that I write come from poems."

TS: What influences, inspirations and music havehelped create you as musicians? What about local music that inspires you?

N.M.: "Besides the ones I already mentioned, my influences would include Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (his voice is in my head every single day and it's terrifying how purely beautiful a voice can be,) Yeats, Emerson, Thoreau, Nietzche, Jung, Edna St. Vincent, Anais Nin, Andrei Tarkovsky, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Dostoyevsky — I could go on forever."

"As for local music, I really love Juju Fontaine. Juju's Gabby Montoya is great in all her projects, but I especially love the soul in those songs. Mute Swan, of course. I want to be like Brian Lopez and Gabe Sullivan when I grow up, XIXA is inspiring as hell, and Naim Amor makes me cry. Also, Phoenix's Panic Baby and Paper Foxes are extremely sexy and soulful and they're also friends of ours. The Unday get me going. Baptista, Dirt Friends and Celi and Co. are killer shows."

K.R.: "When it comes to personal influences on how I play with the band, I take inspiration from Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood. His mix of aggressive and jazzy sounds influenced me when I started learning to play guitar at 14. Spencer Krug of Wolf Parade is a big influence on my keyboard playing and arrangements."

Andrew Lobo: "I've personally been influenced by the bass stylings of Flea and Les Claypool. The music that inspires me is maqam, the traditional music of Turkey — and rock music that involves young women yelling about injustice! I've enjoyed every band we've played with, but my favorites are probably Mob vs. Ballot Box, Panic Baby, Saddles, and the Unday. "

Gabriela Lisk: "I'm influenced by the creativity of everyone else in the band!"

TS: Have you toured? Do you plan to? 

N.M.: "We've done a handful of weekend stints out of town, two or three shows at a time. We finally got an agent and go on our first real tour this July. We leave the 25th and we'll be out for a month, and we plan to keep doing that forever, just about."

TS: Favorite band adventures to date? 

N.M.: "We showed up at a mysterious venue that booked us in Albuquerque earlier this year, which turned out to be a house show where we assume everyone that was there also lived. The first sign of trouble was that the only way in or out of the house was through the mosh pit in the living room, which you had to enter and then move counter clockwise through to get to either the back of the house or back to the front porch. 

"Not many of the party goers had clothes on and everyone was being sprayed with fake blood because the band that was playing before us was shooting a music video. It smelled  and all there was to drink were these mini cans of what tasted like wine coolers." 

K.R.:"Gutter punk and mosh pits ensued - young crusted kids and old punk rockers still trying to fit into leather jackets they've been wearing for 15 years."

NM:"We figured we'd be murdered if we made them listen to our pretty songs of love and loss, so we urged the other band to keep their set going so that the kids could keep thrashing. We each drank like 9 of those mini wine coolers, rotated through the mosh pit of doom, and left."

TS: Your live shows are very much soundscapes and dark, lush layers of noise that seem very improvised and of the moment. How does that translate to recordings? How much of that truly is improvised vs. practiced? 

NM:"We try to work beautiful moments into the set, like hard-hitting moments, pauses to make room for an important lyric or melody. But Gaby and Kyle and I come from jammy backgrounds and on top of that I think Kyle and I just get bored and we like to have a living breathing set."

"If a line makes me emotional, I'll repeat it 10 times or we'll just let Kyle keep soloing if we can see he's being moved. If the song is over, but we're not done with it Kyle will keep striking a chord or I'll improvise almost a spoken word thing at the end. It's at those times that I'm trusting everyone to follow me down that road and not start the next song or start talking to the crowd about merch."

"Gaby and Andrew watch each other and Kyle and me so closely, and we wait for each other and make decisions silently on the spot. Sometimes not so silently - if one of us shouts out to the others something we've thought of, we'll often go for it. That's really how we navigate those moments. "

TS: Tell us about the upcoming show.

NM: "We looooove bills with only one other band because we actually get to sweat. The Unday are friends of ours and we love what they do. Also, we've never played the Wench before so we're jazzed about that. And we'll have a guest musician with us, a friend from Phoenix called Josiah Rodriguez who plays keys and guitar and adds a hell of a lot to our sound."

M. Crane, along with The Unday, will play at 8 p.m. Friday at the Surly Wench on 4th Avenue.

Also this week...

This coming week is nothing if not eclectic, especially on the touring band front. Various blasts from the past are heaading our way as Gipsy Kings, Tower of Power and '90s R&B group Boyz II Men all make visits to the Old Pueblo. Meanwhile, various rock, pop and indie bands from out of town are still making stops here on their way to and from West Coast summer festivals.

With all of this going on, however, this week is full of chances to see some of your favorite local bands. Highlights of the week in local music include June West, Golden Boots, Phoenix band Nanami Ozone, Mute Swan, Gaza Strip, The Unday, Shooda Shook It, Katie Haverly, Birds and Arrows, Taco Sauce and Deschtuco and the returns of Bruja and the Coyote at Flycatcher and Jillian and the Giants at 191 Toole.

Check your local listings..

Each week this column compiles a choice selection of live gigs in and around Tucson with the help of good venue and band event announcements and other resources, including local musician Chris Black's site www.whoplayswhere.com. 

If you've like your event listed in this space, or if your local band has major news or a new release, drop me a line at arts@tucsonsentinel.com.

Friay, May 18

  • Lady Sol ​- 6 p.m. Cans Deli​ (Downtown)
  • The Muffulettas​ - 7 p.m. Monterey Court (North) ​
  • Birds and Arrows - 7 p.m. ​Borderlands (Downtown)
  • Gipsy Kings​ - ​7  p.m. The Fox Theatre (Downtown)
  • RF Shannon & June West​ - 8 p.m. Exo Bar (Downtown) ​
  • Katie Haverly, Mesquite​ - 8 p.m. Club Congress (Downtown) ​
  • Lisa O and the Ocean - 8 p.m. Owls Club ​(Downtown)
  • Daikaiju and the Furys​ - 8 p.m. Sky Bar (Downtown) ​
  • The Unday, M. Cr​ane​ - ​ 8 p.m. Surly Wench (Downtown)
  • Dia De Las Luchas, Special Guests Los Torta (aka Pork Torta)​ - ​ 8 p.m.The Rialto Theatre (Downtown)
  • Golden Boots, Nanami Ozone, DJ Ponytail Cruiser​ - 9 p.m.Cans Deli ​(Downtown)
  • Sundust Road​ - ​ 9 p.m. The Parish  (North)

Saturday, May 19

  • Convocation Of Madness Ceremented, THRA, Chronovorus​ - 6 p.m. House of Bards (Central)
  • Kyklo​ - ​ 6 p.m. Mercado San Agustin (Downtown)
  • Santa Pachita - ​ 6 p.m. Playground Bar and Lounge ​(Downtown)
  • Mik and the Funky Brunch - 7 p.m. La Cocina ​(Downtown)
  • French Quarter - 7 p.m. Borderlands ​(Downtown)
  • Black Forest Society​ - ​ 7 p.m. Sea of Glass ​(Downtown)
  • Horse Feathers, Jillian and the Giants - 8 p.m. 191 Toole ​(Downtown) ​
  • Liquid Summer, Arcsin, Thraxx City & Lil Peptoman - ​ 8 p.m. Cans Deli ​(Downtown)
  • The Jonestown Band​ w/ Watercolor - ​ 9 p.m.Saint Charles Tavern ​(S of Downtown)
  • Bryan Thomas Parker​ - ​ 9 p.m.The Dusty Monk Pub ​(Downtown)
  • Fatigo with Leigh Ann Lesho​ - 10 p.M. Che's Lounge ​(Downtown) ​

Sunday, May 20

  • Hot Club of Tucson​ - ​ 10 a.m Hotel Congress ​(Downtown)
  • Nancy Elliott & Friends - 11 a.m. Monterey Court ​(North)
  • Febbo, Fuentes & McCammond​ - ​ 11  a.m Playground Bar and Lounge
  • Mik and the Funky Brunch - 12 p.m. La Cocina ​​(Downtown)
  • Sunday Sessions w/ Kevin Pakulis​ - 2 p.m. Borderlands ​(Downtown) ​
  • Pearl Charles & Gabe Rozzell​ - 7 p.m. Cans Deli ​(Downtown) ​
  • Al Foul​ - 7 p.m. Che's Lounge  ​(Downtown) ​
  • Tara Belger​ - 7 p.m. Crooked Tooth Brewing Co.  ​(Downtown) ​
  • Jared and the Mill​ - ​ 7 p.m. Club Congress  ​(Downtown)
  • Boyz II Men​ - ​ 7 p.m. Casino Del Sol (South)
  • ​Natalia Lafourcade, Augusto Bracho  - ​8 p.m.The Rialto Theatre  ​(Downtown)

Monday, May 21

  • MC Chris, Bitforce​ - 8 p.m.191 Toole ​ ​(Downtown)

Tuesday, May 22

  • Eb Eberlein’s Spontanous Sessions with guest Mike Wozniak​ - 6 p.m. Monterey Court ​(North)
  • Tom Walbank​ - 6 p.m.Sky Bar ​ (Downtown)
  • Ground Score & Juicy Karkass ​- 7 p.m. Spark Project Collective  ​(Downtown) ​
  • Songs with Steff Koeppen​ - 8 p.m. Sky Bar ​ ​(Downtown)
  • Druid, Super Moon​ - ​ 9 p.m. Flycatcher ​(Downtown)

Wednesday, May 23

  • Miss Lana Rebel & Kevin Michael Mayfield​ - 6 p.m. La Cocina  ​(Downtown) ​
  • Hey, Bucko!​ - 6 p.m. Tap and Bottle North ​(North)
  • Cameron Hood​ - 7 p.m. Public Brewhouse​ (Downtown) ​
  • Tower of Power​ - 8 p.m. Casino Del Sol ​(South)
  • Purple Spectre, Mesquite​ - 9 p.m. Flycatcher ​ ​(Downtown)

Thursday, May 24

  • Cults, Reptaliens​ - ​7 p.m. Club Congress  ​(Downtown)
  • Primitive Man, Infernal Coil, Hist, Blackened​ - 8 p.m. Cans Deli  ​(Downtown) ​
  • Southwest Soul Circuit​ - 8 p.m.Sky Bar
  • Taco Sauce, Bruja and the Coyote, Deschtuco​ - 9 p.m.Flycatcher  ​(Downtown) ​
  • Mute Swan, Shallow​ - ​7 p.m. Cans Deli  ​(Downtown)
  • Bryan Thomas Parker​ - 7 p.m.Borderlands ​ ​(Downtown)
  • Gaza Strip, Shooda Shook It​ - 8 p.m. Surly Wench  ​(Downtown)
  • Mik and Scott  - ​9 p.m. Saint Charles Tavern ​(S of Downtown)
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