Everything’s All Right: Jonathan Crayne Finds the Way Forward on “Oknow” EP
Jonathan Crayne’s debut EP is like a self-pep talk the Adrian alt-rocker wrote to tell himself every little thing’s going to be all right.
The six-song Oknow chronicles Crayne’s emotional resilience and personal growth after experiencing previous challenges in life and love.
“I wanted it to be character pieces that depict going through different stages—whether it’s being a kid or trying to persevere—while ending things on a high note,” said Crayne, who’s also a guitar, bass, and percussion instructor at Ann Arbor’s School of Rock. “I write a lot of sad stuff, but I don’t want to leave anyone like that.”
He delivers on that promise across Oknow’s six insightful tracks, starting with the hopeful opener, “The Good Kids.” Alongside contemplative electric guitar, Crayne sings, “I think I finally found the meaning / Now it’s time to tell yourself / This will not end!”
To further explore his optimistic mindset, we recently chatted with Crayne about his musical journey and latest EP.
Q: You grew up in Adrian, but spent some time living out of state. What brought you back home?
A: I moved to [Adrian] when I was four, and I went to high school and college there. I went off for a while; I lived in Canton, Ypsilanti, and Ann Arbor for a couple of years. Then I did some more traveling and went to Austin, Texas, and then Virginia. I stayed out there with my brother for a couple of months. I just came back home as the pandemic was hitting.
Q: How did your family encourage you to pursue music? What artists inspired you along the way?
A: When I was 12, I wanted to be a drummer. My mom said, ‘We don’t have drums, but we have your stepdad’s classical guitar lying around, and we’ve got this other guitar in the closet. Why don’t you mess around with those [first], and then if you still seriously want to play the drums, then we’ll get them.’ I just wanted to prove that I was serious, but I was always encouraged by them to do music.
My sister Jessie had this stereo with melted candle wax down the sides of it. It was like her altar [for music]; she listened to Incubus, The Killers, Jimmy Eat World, and Nirvana. I also listened to Sugar Ray, Queens of the Stone Age, Tool, Our Lady Peace, and System of a Down. Then I joined jazz band in high school and branched off into that territory
Q: Your debut EP, Oknow, provides a highly emotive journey through life, love, and loss. What do you hope listeners take away from your experiences?
A: At the end of the day, I think the purpose is to uplift the listener. It also focuses on a lot of things that I struggle to talk about, and I’m not very good at communicating certain feelings. Music lets me feel like I’m communicating that better. When I was young, I used to think, ‘I don’t think anyone else can feel like what I’m feeling right now.’ Then I’d hear a song and be like, ‘Well, they must get it.’ I wanted to achieve that in an honest way, and that’s what I’m trying to do. I really appreciate it when people can connect with it in a way.
A: For me, “The Good Kids” are the kids in my life like my nieces and nephews. A lot of it is about dealing with my own patterns of thinking and reexamining it through the light of these kids. It just renews my spirit when I can spend time with kids. The innocence of children shows you a part of the human experience that you may have forgotten. They’ve gotten me through some hard times. When you teach kids, you get to experience a little bit of their youth as well.
Q: “Don’t Play Joker” spotlights our shameful side and the desire to keep that hidden from others. How does this track warn listeners about the dangers of becoming a “joker” and sharing that persona in public?
A: ‘Don’t Play Joker’ explores the dark primal nature within humans. I think at some point in their lives everyone thinks it’s a better idea to destroy rather than create. Whether it’s anger, self-righteousness, vanity, nihilism, or anything else, some people choose the path of fear and evil. I don’t respect or condone this path. I do enjoy the ambiguity of ‘I’m the Joker, Don’t Play Joker.’ It’s like, ‘Don’t try to be like me’ and/or ‘Don’t cross me.’
Q: You released a new video for “Don’t Play Joker” that features a masked performance in a basement along with autumn-themed shots at an Ypsilanti park. What was it like to record the video with Nate Zuellig, Griffin Schultz, Sam Millett, and Tiffany Kott?
A: I realized I should release a music video for this track before Halloween … that decision and release were done in about six days’ time. I’m extremely lucky to have such talented and gifted friends who were willing to take a chance and share their time with me. I took this all as a challenge and wanted to show everyone what we could accomplish together. We showed the great things you can do with a goal, a [Samsung] Galaxy S10 e-camera, and a $20 magnetic fisheye lens.
Q: “Setting Sun” explores the ending of a relationship and the hope for reconciliation. How did writing and recording this track provide you with closure?
A: A lot of it was inspired by a past relationship, and I wrote that song before the relationship ended. Then it did end, and four months later I was thinking about this song, and I listened to a demo version of it. It was like, ‘Man, I’m talking to myself and have a message for myself in the future, but I was too caught up to see it at first.’ I still care about the people in my past, and I don’t want any bad blood. It’s also closing the chapter on that EP … and you may find that some of the lyrics double as me having inferences about my own career and stuff.
Q: When did you start writing the six tracks for Oknow?
A: Some of the songs were written when I was younger, and I had some songs that were really old that I needed to get out there. I wrote the acoustic song, ‘Monotone Mtn.,’ when I was 14 … while some of the newer ones include ‘The Good Kids’ and ‘Don’t Play Joker.’
Q: Sonically, Oknow includes flavors of ‘90s alt rock, indie rock, jazz, emo, and progressive rock. Why did you include so many versatile sounds across the EP’s six tracks?
A: I’ve been getting into more progressive stuff as I get older, and I think my favorite band for the last year has been Chon. I saw them live, and they were flawless. I just love that kind of stuff now; it’s very meditative. Sometimes it’s nice when a song has no concrete message; I enjoy that ambiguity and how people resonate with it.
A: I started working on the EP in the middle of 2020 in Austin, Texas. I was staying with my friend Brett, and I was having a great time. I met a bunch of cool players, and I played a little bit out there. Once the pandemic started and they canceled South by Southwest, I came back and was making a plan with Chris. I couldn’t play any gigs or do anything else, and Chris couldn’t either. I also got Nate on board with it. We recorded the drums first in Chris’ dining room. Then we did all the guitars in his basement and used Pro Tools. I trusted Chris because he has a good ear, and I would definitely look to him for his thoughts.
Q: On Oknow, you collaborated with some of your mentors, including Dan Kesterke (auxiliary percussion), Dr. Marty Marks (sax), and Dave Rains (keys). How did they help you take the EP’s sound to the next level?
A: Dan Kesterke was my high school band director, and he’s a percussionist. Sometimes we’ll be on gigs together, and we’re kinda like colleagues now. He just came on and did the auxiliary percussion; he was really cool about it. Dr. Marty Marks was the music department chair at Adrian College, and he’s really good at jazz. He’s a heavy-hitter, but he’s back in Oklahoma now. I’m glad we were able to have him on sax at the end of ‘The Good Kids.’ Dave Rains is also a music colleague; he hired me for my first day gig that I ever played guitar for. I know these guys can really play, and I’m lucky to have met a lot of good players. I’m also really lucky that my teachers have always been down with me.
Q: You also collaborated with vocalist Sam Millett on Oknow. How did his backing vocals help enrich it?
A: Sam is one of my longtime friends, and he’s been singing ‘Broken Wing’ with me forever. That’s a song I did with the band Wunderkid in college. Sam has a really fine voice, and I’m hoping we can get his own recording off the ground soon, too.
Q: What’s up next for you? Any plans to write new material or go back into the studio?
A: I’m hoping to record at least a couple of singles. I have some really cool stuff that I’ve been working on for a while. I’m always going to try and do different stuff; I’m always excited to look forward to the next thing.
Lori Stratton is a library technician, writer for Pulp, and writer and editor of sttattonsetlist.com.