Review and interview by Brian Kious.
Tony Crown is not new to the scene. He made his debut appearance as part of the lo-fi jazz/folk duo, Jane & Anthony, in 2012 with their album, Lounge Noir. It featured a couple songs that went on to be featured on ABC’s Brothers & Sisters & AMC’s Hell On Wheels. Despite the sudden success of their debut outing, the duo disbanded and Tony went on to perform under the moniker, Lawrence & The Lion, and later, Living Room Lava, under which he released an EP in 2013.
2017 finds Tony Crown sailing under his own flag as he embarks on a new adventure with his brand new solo album, Distant From The Universe. When listening to this new record and then revisiting his past material, one can be sure that, despite different musical vestments, Tony Crown is still writing in the same universe as he was with Lounge Noir. While the moods shift from raucous to reflective throughout, he has put together a recor full of songs that talk of conflict, confusions, and self-recognition.
The listener will easily find themselves driving a little faster if they dare start this album while driving as the opener, “Black & Blue” lays out a self-destructive relationship’s details laced with just the right amount of keyboards. “I & The Only” plays like a great 1980s new-wave opus and is all too brief, but that’s okay because it gives way to the gorgeous keyboard opening of “Pretty Little Thing.” The arrangements of “Pretty Little Thing” and “Hang On”, in fact, come out of the 1970’s playbook of David Bowie, or even circa 1975 Bruce Springsteen. As the intro to “Pretty Little Thing” ends it then erupts into the most brain-invading keyboard riff laid over a quasi-reggae vibe. It then takes off during the bridge when Tony Crown’s voice is joined by sweet harmonies.
As of late, the big attraction of this record is “Killing Machine.” This song has been carried to more ears as it was recently featured on AMC’s Fear The Walking Dead. Even without the promotion on the TV show, “Killing Machine” is quite easily the most catchy song of the bunch as you’ll find yourself singing, “good old fashioned killing machine.”
The biggest surprise on the album is Tony Crown’s cover of Steve Miller Band’s “Fly Like An Eagle.” He has taken an anthem of idealistic optimism and made it more high & lonesome. He has succeeded by making the song his own and while his original songs are worth the price of admission, this cover should easily gain recognition.
After listening to Distant From The Universe, I was fortunate enough to meet up with Tony Crown and have a conversation about his album, his art, and his plans for the future:
TONY CROWN: TELEVISION. MUSIC. ART and DISTANT FROM THE UNIVERSE
SMC: You’ve created four distinctly different sounds in four distinctly different acts. In 2012, as JANE & ANTHONY you released the album Lounge Noir, which I believe is also descriptive of that sound. You had the blues/rock outfit, Lawrence & the Lion, then, with Living Room Lava, you released a self titled EP which was more guitar driven rock. Now, you’ve released your brand new solo album, Distant From The Universe, which is more focused on melody and has more complex arrangements. Tell me a little bit about how you arrived at the sound we hear on the new record.
Tony: Mostly I just wanted to do something different. I wanted to think out of the box and push myself into making some real polished material.
Jane and Anthony was an act that was purposefully rough around the edges, Lawrence and the Lion relied on pure emotion, and Living Room Lava is complex rock which can be throwback at times. I wanted to explore sounds and ideas that had always been in my head but never got put down. Some of these songs had been around for over five years and some had steamed from new ideas. Once these ideas were recorded I whittled down nine of them that fit together as well as a cover that seemed appropriate. “Distant From The Universe” is over two years of work in and out of the studio. Over that time I recorded probably over 30 songs. Having no time constraints really helped the process. I was allowed to not burn a ton of creative energy all at once. Kind of like a painting, where an artist might come back to a work several months or even several years later. Working with producer Andrew Stephens was also a huge part of developing the sound on the album. He has helped me take the ideas in my head and bring them to a new level.
SMC: So, it sounds like you went in having a bit of an idea of what you were going for and had a support system there to throw ideas around with, is that right?
TONY: I had the songs already written entirely before I went into the studio. However, once you do actually start the recording process things can take an entirely different turn. Sometimes I would record stuff and hear it on the big studio speakers and not really like the idea as much as I first thought. That’s where Andrew would come in say, “Maybe do it like this” or “Sing this Way.” I would always record my own material or go into studio and be ridged about one part or the other. Being able to let go and just play and sing parts took a lot of weight off my shoulders.
SMC: The album is full of different atmospheres. There’s a lot of darkness like in “Dust To Dust”, or “Killing Machine”, but you also have a little touch of reggae in “Pretty Little Thing”, a dash of pop in “In The Now”, even a little vaudeville in the title track “Distant From The Universe.” Is this how these songs all started out? Tell me about your writing process.
TONY: I was in the studio for two years and in that time I recorded a bunch of different material. I learned music by learning other peoples songs so I guess when I’m writing my own I’m not coming from a particular angle. Mostly, ideas or melodies pop into my head and I’ll try to scribble them down or sing them into my phone. The cell phone is a huge tool in my writing and I allows me to revisit so many ideas I would have forgot. I’ll hear something and try and base a song around a certain phrase, so I do keep a written journal as well. My creative spurts are usually late at night or right after I wake up and drink coffee.
BRIAN: Do you sit down with discipline and say, “Today I’m going to write this song and it will sound like this when finished”? Or do you have a line come to you here and there and over time it all coalesces?
TONY: It is kinda both. Some stuff just seems to come out and other ideas I will beat to death or just move on. I just depends.
BRIAN: I know you’re a fan of Bob Dylan. Is his influence hidden in Distant From The Universe?
TONY: I’m sure somewhere
BRIAN: I hear a little Tom Waits, perhaps some Velvet Underground. Do you feel anyone who has influenced you surfaces in any of these tunes?
TONY: David Bowie.
BRIAN: Oh yeah, I definitely can hear that now that you mention it. Speaking of legends, you include a cover of Steve Miller Band’s “Fly Like An Eagle” on the album. Was that something you had already in mind when you recorded?
TONY: I actually worked on a series of covers before I started recording my own songs. “Fly Like An Eagle” was one of them, but it seemed to fit in Distant From The Universe.
BRIAN: It’s a great performance, and you did what many artists fail to do which is successfully making a cover song your own. How long have you been performing it?
TONY: No idea. Covers are tricky things. However people relate to them a lot more than original music sometimes. I really haven’t been playing the song that long.
BRIAN: A lot of newer artists are not shying away from including covers on their albums now. Veterans are even recording entire albums of covers. Ryan Adams, in fact, recorded a track-for-track cover of Taylor Swift’s 1989. You’re now one of the former. What do you think has affected this change?
TONY: I think at some point, most successful performers or bands play covers to get people listening. It’s a really good strategy. Playing original material is noble, less relatable. I think Ryan Adams is smart, Taylor Swift’s 1989 album was huge [and] his interpretations were relatable to Taylor’s fans.
BRIAN: Are there any songs that you feel are off limits as far as being covers?
TONY: None that I can think of…
BRIAN: Let’s talk about the big news now. “Killing Machine” was recently featured on AMC’s Fear The Walking Dead. Congratulations on that. You must be very proud. How did you get connected with the show?
TONY: Thanks! It’s awesome, a good moment for sure. Jane and Anthony had a few great T.V. spots too. I maintained positive relations with those people, plus I signed with a publisher (Synchaudio) late last year. Everything just [kind of] came together.
BRIAN: Did you write the song for the show or did they hear it and say, “that’s perfect, we have to use that one!”?
TONY: The song was already written. I guess it just worked out.
BRIAN: This isn’t your first foray into television. As you just mentioned, a few years back, under the JANE & ANTHONY moniker, your song “Waiting For My Baby To Come” was used on ABC’s Brothers & Sisters. Have you found that having a boost like that attracts more attention than conventional independent promotion like indie radio, live performance, etc?
TONY: It definitely helps. Its kinda like a shot in the arm. A bunch of people now discover you from all parts of the world. Still, it doesn’t equal universal notoriety.
BRIAN: How about touring? Can we expect Tony Crown on tour in support of Distant From The Universe?
TONY: For sure.
BRIAN: What does a Tony Crown live performance look like now?
TONY: I do a lot of solo acoustic stuff however the full band thing still happens too.
BRIAN: One question about your website (www.tonycrownartmusic.com). You showcase not only your music, solo and LRL, but also photography. You are really dodging a specific label that every artist seems to get hit with. How do you want people to know Tony Crown? As a singer/songwriter? A frontman for Living Room Lava? A photographer? A renaissance man?
TONY: I’m just trying to be a great artist. Having multiple sources for artistic expression keeps things fresh and ultimately boosts creativity, at least for me.
BRIAN: Distant From The Universe is a great album, Tony. I think you’ve done some great work here. What can we expect for the future? More Tony Crown solo artist? A return with Living Room Lava?
TONY: Living Room Lava is about to release a few songs. We had a drummer change and things are finally back on track. I have a bunch of other songs to release so I’d expect some single releases as well as another album. I have another exciting T.V. placement coming up and I’m about to shoot some music videos. I’m pretty exited.
*NOTEWORTHY: As for that exciting TV placement he’s speaking of, Tony Crown’s cover of “Fly Like An Eagle” appeared on Showtime’s Ray Donovan August 27th, 2017. Go visit him right now at his website: www.tonycrownartmusic.com and make sure to check out his album Distant From The Universe, available on iTunes, Spotify, and other popular outlets. Be sure and keep an eye and ear out as Tony Crown certainly has a bright future. (see all socials below)
Tony Crown’s Social Media Links (click to view)