When I spoke with Aryk Crowder on a chilly Sunday afternoon in December, I got the impression that this was a man who knew exactly what he wanted out of life.

From the moment I walked into Kitchen Sink — a quaint and quietly quirky indie coffee shop situated about a block away from the Red Line in Edgewater — to the moment we parted ways, Crowder wasn’t the least bit shy about sharing his opinions on any given subject. Before we could even get into the nuts and bolts of his music, I was given an education spanning several subjects: the stained glass wall that adorned one side of the cafe, the comedic inclinations of Joe Rogan and even an update oat the members of the band Chevelle (of early ‘00s fame) were up to these days.

Stand w Chicago

This attitude of conviction carried over into Crowder’s discussion of his music and the solo artist experience in Chicago. Since releasing his first EP, “Ready, Set…”, in 2010, he has been overly familiar with the art of “wearing all the hats” when it comes to finding avenues of exposure for his music. Crowder, who claims his mindset of buckling down and getting things done comes from his mother, is not just a performer, but a manager, PR agent and social media specialist to himself. His capacity to multitask was evident during his intimate set at Elastic Arts only two weeks prior to our conversation. Crowder’s ability to maneuver a guitar in both hands, finagle a tracking machine with his foot, all while effortlessly singing songs from part one of his newly released “2×4” EP was nothing short of impressive.


CUSP Magazine sat down with Aryk Crowder to talk about “2×4”, his plans for 2016 and the brutally honest truth behind making it in the Chicago music industry as a solo artist.n wh

Q&A – CUSP Magazine & Aryk Crowder

CUSP Magazine: When did you decide that you wanted to be a musician?

Aryk Crowder: I started playing music when I was fifteen and bounced in and out of bands. I was one of those kids who got my instrument and played it all day, everyday. I knew shortly after that I wanted to play music, but I didn’t really figure out my niche until I was in my late 20s. I didn’t start singing until I was in my early 20s. It was at that time I started doing the singer/songwriter stuff on my own.


CM: Does that mean you were completely self-taught?

AC: I didn’t go to school. I took a year and a half’s worth of guitar lessons when I was fifteen, but then I got a car. [Laughs.] Once I got a car, I had to pay for that and I couldn’t afford lessons anymore. I was like, “Alright, I know enough to where I can write songs and be in a band.” I started writing songs with my friends. That was my whole point of playing an instrument anyway. I didn’t care to play for other people. I started playing an instrument so I could write songs. That was my sole purpose. That’s all I cared about.


CM: Are you from Chicago?

AC: I grew up in a little town just north of here called Zion. Most people haven’t heard of it. … All the high school kids go to the same restaurant, smoke cigarettes and drink coffee until one in the morning. Local H is from Zion. I had a friend in high school who was tight buddies with the band, so we got to watch their rehearsals. It was really cool to see two guys who went to the same high school as I did play music and take off.

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CM: Did you always know you wanted to be a solo artist?

AC: I popped in and out of a few mildly successful bands, played with a bunch of folks that were really awesome. But, it was never something that stuck, for multiple reasons. Keeping a band together is hard. You have multiple people trying to go in the same direction, [but] life happens. I finally decided to be a solo artist in my late 20s and realized that was what I needed to do if I wanted to continue to play music. I played in a four-piece hip-hop band, and I got encouraged to push out. So, I started doing some cover shows that I played in cafes that were well-received. It was once I started noticing people’s reactions and how good that made me feel about my own skills, that’s when I was like, “Oh. So this is what it’s supposed to be like!”


CM: Can you talk a little bit more about the hip-hop rock band? That sounds really interesting!

AC: [Laughs]. So, I was in this band in high school. It wasn’t like a preconceived notion. This guy named John, who raps, joined. We just came together and … wrote a bunch of tunes. John’s brother fronted us some money and sponsored us. We rented a recording studio in town … and recorded a few songs there. We made some CDs, played some shows. After high school, it ended. When you’re in high school, that’s the majority of your draw. It came to a head and we were just like, “we’re done.”


CM: Has going solo worked for you thus far?

AC: It’s definitely frustrating a lot of times. With how things work in this day and age, you have to wear all the hats. Until you get to a point in your career where you have enough attention, you have to do everything on your own. You can play all the open mics you want, you can be amazing … but, until you get to a point where you’re bringing in a substantial crowd, you have to do it all yourself. It can get really overwhelming. It’s also really rewarding too. At the end of the day, I’m the one who started a project, the one who brought everything together.

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CM: Talk about being a solo artist in Chicago. What’s the music scene like in the city for you?

AC: I think it’s tough. Sometimes it gets really boring. As much as we like to think we’re autonomous, and this whole “army of one” mentality, you need other people to bounce energy off of. I prefer to be alone when I write lyrics, because writing is such a personal thing, but my ideas only go so far. Chicago is so vast, but … just from what I’ve seen Chicago media talk about … unless you are accepted by hipster culture, you’re not shit. You’re not getting talked about in the city. Unless you are approved by the hipster community in some way or form, mainstream Chicago media does not give a fuck about you. They don’t care. You’re not getting any press, you’re not getting anything.

Aryk – “Unless you are approved by the hipster community in some way or form, mainstream Chicago media does not give a fuck about you. They don’t care. “

CM: What was the creative process like for your new EP, “2×4”?

AC: I did my first EP in 2010. I recorded three songs at first to put it out to see what happens, and it did well. Two years later, I went back into the studio and released a single. I got some decent attention for it. Then I started getting to the point where I was playing outside of Chicago and touring, but I couldn’t bring my band. I felt like I needed to have a better representation of my acoustic side, but I didn’t want to do just guitar and vocals. That’s how the looping stuff started happening. I wanted to make a composition instead of just strumming and singing the whole time. The concept of this record came from thinking of how 2×4’s are what you use to build the structure of a house. It’s the foundation, the frame, but there can be more that can go on top of it. The majority of the songs on this record are pretty much bareboned. I can recreate that on my own live. I can take a song like “Feel Loved” that’s on this record and make a bigger arrangement with a full band.

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CM: How did Sidewalk Chalk get involved with the making of this record?

AC: When it came time to do this stuff, I knew who I wanted to play on the record. That’s when I called Charlie [Coffeen] from Sidewalk Chalk to co-produce the song with me. Adrian, my bass player, plays really well, so we wanted Tyler, the drummer, to play on it.


CM: What has the reception for “2×4” been like in Chicago?

AC: It’s hard to say. I worked with a PR company when I released the first one last year, and I got nothing but good reviews. I got awesome radio time, but it hasn’t really been skyrocketing or anything. I think the component that’s coming out next spring is going to be bigger than what this record was. The video for “Perfect Body” is supposed to be coming out [in January]. I just saw the first edit for it yesterday, I’m super geeked about it. It turned out really well.

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CM: What’s the meaning behind the name “2×4”?

AC: Instead of making one eight to ten song record, I was going to make two four-song EPs.


CM: What’s your songwriting process like?

AC: I’m a very slow songwriter. Maybe it’s because I’m older or less inspired. Songwriting is definitely a muscle. For me, I got to a point where I was burnt out on a lot of stuff. There was a point a couple of years ago where I took a break and just stopped. I said, “I’m not doing shit. I’m not booking any shows, I’m not posting on social media. I’m not doing anything.” That’s where a lot of the songs from 2×4 came about, when I started writing them. It was 2014 where for about six months I didn’t do anything. I wrote. That’s all I did.


CM: What do you have planned for your music in the near future?

AC: “2×4” part two will be out in spring. I think after this EP comes out, I need to release a full record within a year. I’ll probably wind up starting a Kickstarter in the fall [of 2016]. I’m gonna start promoting “2×4” part two on college campuses, maybe play some low key shows during the summer. For this new record … I’m going to try to push it out on the college radio markets.


CM: What makes you unique as a musician?

AC: Even though I’ve found the majority of my audience are 25-35 year-old women who appreciate pop and R&B music, I’m not necessarily a pop artist, and I’m not an R&B artist. People that like pop music … I’m more soul than what they’re used to. But people that like soul and R&B music, I’m not as soul as what they’re used to. I’m in the middle between those two. Unfortunately, there’s no label for that yet. I can get up and go sing with Anthony Hamilton and be legit, be considered family, but I’m not his style. I don’t mean to compare myself to black artists, but I know that’s what my singing is like. I know it has that soul, R&B flare to it, but I’m not soul and R&B.


CM: Is there anyone or any place you think we should reach out to?

AC: Batter and Berries, it’s in Lincoln Park. A black-owned brunch and lunch joint. The food is fire. When I drove by, I knew something was up. I went there one day, and the food was so good. In terms of bands, reach out to Sidewalk Chalk. They’re blowing up. Harold Green. He’s a poet … a spoken word artist. He’s doing a lot of great things right now. He’s insightful. Amanda Bailey would be a good person to talk to. She can play violin and rap at the same time and plays with the Civic Orchestra. She was on “Saturday Night Live” with Chance The Rapper.

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CM: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

AC: [As a musician], don’t find the audience and make the music for them. Make the music and then find the audience. Like James Brown said, “Don’t fake the funk.” I say that a lot. Don’t fake the funk.
To stay up to date with Aryk Crowder, visit his website and follow him on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Stay tuned for the “Perfect Body” music video dropping on Jan. 29 and part two of the “2×4” EP to be released in March.

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