January 30, 2018 Interview – A.J. Croce
German Philosopher, Poet, and Composer Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “Without music, life would be a mistake.” How true it is, just think of how empty and colorless life would be without the celebration of song. Fortunately, in this space and time, music does very much exist and we are fortunate enough to have those who create it.
A gift not to be taken granted, A.J. Croce understands how fortunate he is to have music, both as a songwriter and a listener. The only son of the late, great Singer-Songwriter Jim Croce, much like his dad, A.J. marches to the beat of his own drum. Influenced by a variety of styles of music, A.J. has a style all his own, putting out albums consistently for over two decades now. Most recently releasing Just Like Medicine in 2017, A.J. yet again offers a piece of his heart and soul to listeners. Recently we caught up with the passionate musician to talk his inspiration, memories of his father, touring in 2018, plus much more.
CrypticRock.com – You have been surrounded by music your entire life. Beginning to perform at a young age, you have gone on to release a plethora of studio records. First, tell us, how important is music to you and what has it meant to your life?
A.J. Croce – Music is my refuge and my medicine. Since my earliest memories, it was the most inspiring and comforting facet of my life.
CrypticRock.com – Many people can relate to that same sentiment, musicians and listeners. Tragically, you lost your father Jim while still very young. A legendary songwriter and performer, was your father’s music something you discovered more as you became of age, and at what point did it sink in how special his work was?
A.J. Croce – I love my dad’s music, though I was more influenced by Soul, Jazz, Blues and early Rock & Roll (not unlike my father).
CrypticRock.com – As you just mentioned, as a performer and songwriter, you clearly have a variety of influences. This is quite evident on your latest album, 2017’s Just Like Medicine. As a diverse record with a list of collaborations, what was the writing and recording process like for this album?
A.J. Croce – It came in a very organic way and it was a painful, but easy album to write. A lot of hard things were going on and I bared my heart.
CrypticRock.com – That emotion certainly shows in each song. You have been relatively consistent in putting out new albums over the past two decades. As a songwriter, is it a challenge to meet deadlines, or do you move at your own pace?
A.J. Croce – I’m lucky that writing comes naturally. As an Indie artist for 20 some years (after being with a major), having a clear concept for the album ahead is very important. Sadly, I can’t just record an album and say, ‘Here’s my new musical,’ because media wants a story as much as music.
CrypticRock.com – Right, that is understandable, and what is music if it is not authentic? As stated, Just Like Medicine is a very diverse album, there is a gritty tone to many of the tracks. Most of all, these songs tell a story. Tell us a little about the inspiration behind some of these songs?
A.J. Croce – The inspiration is in the lyrics and arrangements. If you read the liner notes you’ll see that it’s pretty literal excerpts for the roads, which dives a bit more into metaphor.
CrypticRock.com – They are certainly enjoyable and compelling listens. Amidst the tracks on Just Like Medicine is one of your father’s unrecorded songs, entitled “Name of the Game.” Wonderfully done by you, it is a fitting tribute to him. What was the feeling like for you when recording the song?
A.J. Croce – Like all the songs on the album, I brought them to Dan Penn without saying who wrote or commented-wrote the tune. He picked the ones he liked and we did them. “Name of the Game” was a soulful song and that was the reason I recorded it. Of course it had a very personal element because it’s possibly the only time I’ll have a truly collaborative chance to work with an unreleased song of my dad’s.
CrypticRock.com – That is really wonderful, and as mentioned, it came out great! Speaking of collaborations, Just Like Medicine is full of them. That in mind, throughout your career, you have shared stages and recording studios with many fantastic musicians. What are some of the most important things you have learned from these experiences?
A.J. Croce – I’ve been very fortunate to have had great collaborators. More than anything, I’ve learned to listen, relax when performing, and be open to different ideas. Almost everything I’m proud of in the last 25 year has had a happy accident, which brings out the human aspect. Take chances.
CrypticRock.com – That is some good advice. Without taking a risk you simply never know what you are capable of. You have quite a distinctive voice – both raw and sincere. At what point do you think you discovered your voice, and how have you developed your style through the years?
A.J. Croce – I have a love/hate relationship with my voice. Sometime it does what I want and sometimes I have to alter melody to accomplish the song the way I hear it. Regardless of any variables, I sing from my heart so it’s sincere regardless of any song I might sing.
CrypticRock.com – Agreed, and that sincerity makes the stories told in the songs that much more effective. You have some shows coming up throughout 2018, playing such intimate venues as The Boulton Center in the village of Bay Shore, New York in April. What can those coming out to the shows expect?
A.J. Croce – My shows are high energy. Most people who haven’t seen me are surprised at my piano playing because there aren’t many folks who cover as many genres with the passion that I play with. There’s a certain reckless abandon that is often infectious.
CrypticRock.com – It will be fantastic to see you on stage, and there are quite a bit of shows announced already for the spring. Last question. We also cover Horror and Sci-Fi films on CrypticRock. If you are a fan of either or both genres, what are some of your favorites and why?
A.J. Croce – I love Psychological Thrillers and ghost stories. My favorites are The Changeling (1980), Ghost Story (1981), Rosemary’s Baby (1968), and Don’t Look Now (1973)… from the late ’60s through the early ’80s there were some great ones. In recent years I think The Others (2001), The Ring (2002), Let Me In (2010), and a handful of others have drawn from the classics and done a great job.