Old and new.
Silly and sincere.
Raucous and academic.
The sonic stylings of Atlanta-based ragtime/Dixieland/Gypsy jazz artist Blair Crimmins and his band The Hookers straddles a line that’s hard to define but a lot of fun to dance across.
Four years and some 500 hundred shows after going pro, Crimmins has toured the country playing venues large and small, and has opened for acts such as Mumford & Sons and Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
Crimmins (vocals, tenor banjo, guitar) and The Hookers — Drew Lloyd (bass), Colin Agnew (drums), Taylor Kennedy (sax/clarinet), Ryan Moser (trumpet) and Daniel Wytanis (Trombone) — will bring their act to Lynwood’s central stage at the Treehouse Café at 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 30.
A multi-instrumentalist and music academic, Crimmins writes songs and arrangements for a classic New Orleans-style horn section consisting of trumpet, clarinet and trombone. His debut 2010 release “The Musical Stylings Of” became a college radio sensation in Atlanta, making him the most requested band on the air.
In 2012 Crimmins showed his musical diversity by writing and recording the full score for the independent short film “Old Man Cabbage.” Then, the following year, Crimmins was the critics pick for Best Song Writer of 2013 in Creative Loafing’s Best of ATL issue.
His next album “Sing-a-longs!” went to No. 21 on the EuroAmerican radio chart and earned him a nomination at The Georgia Music Awards for Best Jazz Artist, and he released his anticipated fourth studio album, “You Gotta Sell Something,” in 2017 to much acclaim.
Crimmins took some time to chat with the Review recently about this, his first trip ever to Bainbridge Island, songwriting, the state of the music industry in a world of streaming services, and the appeal of old-time tunes for young people.
* This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
BIR: Your fourth album was released in 2017, and you called it “the most focused record” you ever made. How so?
BC: I felt like we all went in really prepared and knowing exactly how we wanted it to turn out. Things were very arranged and by the end of the week we got what we wanted out of the recording process and it was really great; we were all really happy with it.
BIR: Your band is a large group and you’re known to be pretty collaborative songwriter. What’s the process when you enter the studio? How much have you already got down and how much is input from the folks you’re working with?
BC: I try and write songs and write arrangements, specifically the horn arrangements, I try to write them in the simplest of ways so that I expect everybody that’s playing them to bring their own personality and their own performance to it. The ideas are there on paper, but really the musicians do bring the arrangements to life.
But the songs themselves are what I’m mainly focused on, conveying the message in the songs in the lyrics and the music.
BIR: The title track of the new album reminds me a bit of that song by The Byrds, “So You Want to Be a Rock ’n’ Roll Star,” in that it’s deceptively jaded behind a great, upbeat sound. Is that your actual perspective on the industry or a bit of satire?
BC: I was going for a tongue-in-cheek satire. There’s a heavy-handed sarcasm in the whole thing. I love the profession that I’m in, but at the same time you also hate it. You see everything that’s going around, and the things that are being rewarded that you don’t think are worthy of reward, and as you struggle to stay afloat in the industry you do what you can and I just wrote this song that was celebrating selling out — in the best way possible.
BIR: People today have access — and usually free access — to more music than ever before in history. I imagine that makes it harder to get noticed or discovered by new fans, but so much of what’s out there ends up sounding the same maybe it’s easier to maintain the listeners who have found and connected with you? Any thoughts on how you’ve managed to make your way through this fickle cultural landscape?
BC: I think if you have the right sound you might be quicker to get noticed, and I think people’s attention spans are not quite maybe ready for certain things, but then the landscape has changed in such a way that when you listen to the most popular stuff on the radio, those people are obviously talented and great singers and everything, but the lyrical content and the subject matter just seems so mundane and unbelievably dumb.
But there are people that are really, really successful that don’t have mainstream success. They’re just huge on SoundCloud or Spotify or whatever, but they’re not household names. It’s hard to judge success at this point. There’s no one kind of standard of musical success at this point — and I hope that continues. I hope it gets more confusing and there are more avenues for different genres and different people to find their niche in the music industry.
BIR: A lot of the cultural gatekeepers of yesteryear are not what they once were, too.
BC: Yeah, and with what we do we can work our way into the different festivals and markets of Americana and bluegrass or jazz, blues, that kind of thing. We’re kind of the black sheep of the festival circuit. They’re not always sure if they want us or not, but we fit our way into a lot of genres.
BIR: Speaking to the popularity of bluegrass and Dixieland and neofolk, is there something in our culture that you see happening now that might contribute to the popularity of such retro-inspired sounds? Is it a reaction to technology and too much Auto-Tune, or maybe the appeal of what we perceive as being simpler times?
BC: There are a lot of festivals that focus just on this old-time American music and there are a lot of young people playing it, so that’s what’s making it such a vibrant market.
BIR: What is it about that music that speaks to those young people? What made you first fall in love with it?
BC: I’ve been doing it for about 10 years now. Not saying that I’m old, but when I started doing it I felt like I was a very young person playing old music and it was super exciting for me to do that at the time — and it still is. I’m still not that old. But it felt like I was discovering something and I think that’s what a lot of young people are doing; discovering the excitement of a genre from the past.
We play in such mixed audiences. I’ll have people come up to us after the show, an older gentleman or older woman who says thank you so much for keeping this music alive. And then we’ll have somebody who’s way, way younger than us, that have never even heard the word ragtime or Dixieland or anything like that, and they’re like, ‘I love what you did!’ So there’s this sense of giving somebody a taste of something they’ve never heard and also of keeping something alive.