In my next profile of someone who is authentically Cleveland, I invite you to get to know Craig Rich. Craig is a musician who is not only creating awesome music, but is also focused on giving back to the community.
And as a two-time Cleveland boomerang myself, Craig’s story of having to leave Ohio to truly appreciate it and be drawn back really speaks to me. Read on!
Tell me about your music. What/who inspires you?
I’m fascinated with exploration of both the inner self and the natural world. Social constructs and expectations are mostly folly to me; futile efforts to prove we’re above nature when we should be more in tune with it. For someone who didn’t feel like he even began to know himself until about the age of 28, breaking free from those often overlooked shackles is an important theme of my songs. My music contends or at least questions why we deny ourselves certain freedoms of the soul; like the freedom to continually discover ourselves as we go through life. That’s why I often write from some fairly personal places. Chronicling my move to Cleveland is the most recent example. It’s all a soul search; and I really feel like my style reflects that. I’m creating head-trip inducing soundscapes that are usually a little catchy. I draw comparisons to Oasis, U2, and Johnny Marr among others. If you add a dash of Pink Floyd and launch all those bands into outer-space I think you’ve got the picture. People will read this and think my songs are hippie/stoner songs. That’s really not what I’m after, but I’m not going to tell anyone what they can or can’t be on while listening.
Inspirations, there are many. You can look to the aforementioned bands and many more, but in a nutshell I love ethereal rock music; the really atmospheric stuff. Whether it’s shoegaze, progressive, alternative, new wave, britpop, it’s all good. I like the idea of music that goes beyond the sound of a group of people standing in a room playing their instruments. I’m much more into songwriting as the art-form; rather than just being a passable singer or guitarist. The sum being greater than the parts is when music can really grab ahold of me.
Tell me about your Cleveland story. What drew you here/keeps you here?
It’s a bit awkward to tell this story because it involves admitting that for quite a few years I was fixated on the idea of leaving Ohio. I won’t tell my entire life story, but you can trace a lot back to what I grew up around. There’s a certain amount of “hype” (I’ll call it) when you grow up in suburban Northeast Ohio telling you life in Ohio is a state of perpetual misery. While my upbringing was a place of moderate privilege, I still lived in a pretty uneventful town. There just wasn’t much to do. We didn’t even really have a downtown area. Our best dining options were choosing between Applebees #1 or Applebees #2. Don’t get me wrong, the community is full of great people and they’ve done a great job at maintaining a homey kind of feeling; but by my teenage years I had the itch for being somewhere with more moving parts.
When I fell in love with music and began teaching myself guitar, I had a romantic idea of the art-form; the rose-colored glasses I think we all have when we start out. It came with the belief that to really learn the language and walk-the-walk, one had to plant themselves in a notoriously music-focused city. After a crushing end to a serious relationship, I took it as a sign to dive into this idea full-force. I looked at most of the usual suspects and Portland, Oregon became the strongest contender; with its weird and welcoming charm.
I was halfway through 2016 and found myself falling in love again and having a big decision to make about the direction I thought I was heading. Do I follow my heart and move closer to my new lover in the Cleveland area or do I follow-through on my pursuit of a musical Mecca? For the first time, I actually began to question why I wanted to move. The music industry was now heavily internet focused and less about record deals. Why did it matter where I live if I could release music while sitting in my bedroom? Could I get from Cleveland what I would have gained by being in Portland or Nashville? I think the biggest allure was starting anew; and I didn’t see why Cleveland couldn’t give me that feeling. After all, your frame of mind is about 50% of the battle. I was already getting some familiarity with Northeast Ohio musicians and choosing Cleveland meant I didn’t have to give that up. It also meant I could regularly see my family. I think the most important question was “Have I really given Cleveland a fair chance?” The answer I kept coming up with was “No”.
Since late 2017, I’ve lived in an eastern suburb of Cleveland and began a subsequent love affair with the city. In a short time, I found all the weirdness, the wide variety of places to go, things to do, and most importantly the comfort of a supportive community. That’s what keeps me here. The warmth I began feeling for Cleveland as well as falling in love with my future wife are also the backbone of the songs I wrote on my most recent full album “Transportation Boulevard”. My Cleveland story is all about following my heart instead of my head. For who I am at this point in my life, it’s been the right choice and one I’m proud to have made.
How are you giving back to the community, either personally or professionally?
Ever since I’ve been wired into the NEO music scene, I’ve been wondering how I can pay back all the support I’ve experienced from find Cleveland’s very welcoming and friendly musician community. We’re all very interested in supporting each other. I usually make a point to tip musicians, buy their music, and share content on social media when I go to see them play; as well as make small contributions to college radio.
It’s been heart-wrenching to see not only how the entire world is being affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but also to see our community of artists and musicians be economically crushed without regular work. I’m not a full-time gig worker like some of the musicians I see out there busting their butts for a living; though it’s something I’m constantly working toward. My deepest respect goes out to those who are doing their best to make it work, but the strain is now more than just a burden. Many can’t claim unemployment due to the nature of the work. It feels like the best they’ve been offered is a break on interest for business loans. I don’t think that’s really what we need right now. It’s a bank solution, not a human solution.
I’ve personally dove into recording some ideas for my next set of songs; something many of us are finding time to do now. An idea that didn’t fit with what I was working on started to take shape. At first I wanted to set it aside; but it’s hard to ignore creativity when it starts coming out naturally. With modern music going the way of more frequent single releases and less frequent full albums, I figured a small single release could be a great chance to give back to the community I love. I’m still in the early process of recording all the parts, but I’ll be releasing the song in the coming months. It will be called “A 6ft Bridge” and the release date will hepefully be in early June. My aim is to donate the sales to the NEO Music Relief Fund organized by Cleveland Rocks: Past, Present, and Future – a non-profit organization that’s providing grants to working musicians and live music venues in the area who have lost income due to the pandemic. The single will be made exclusively available for sale on my Bandcamp page and my official site through 2020 once it’s released. Stay tuned to my social media for announcements regarding that.
Where is your favorite place to play a gig? Attend a concert?
My current favorite place to play is CODA in Tremont; where I was lucky enough to have the release party for my newest album “Transportation Boulevard” in January. I also love the atmosphere of the CLE Urban Winery; though I’ve only played smaller showcases there so far.
It’s harder to pick a favorite place to attend a concert. I have a bit of a bias toward the House of Blues since my wedding was held there in 2018 and they did a fantastic job of hosting it. Outside of that, I’m a fan of a lot of the city’s staple local music venues: The Grog Shop, Beachland Ballroom, Brothers Lounge Wine Bar, the aforementioned CODA, and The Happy Dog. Some of my favorite concerts in the area are the outdoor festivals; especially Heights Music Hop at the end of Summer. Walking around and sampling the diversity of live music this area has to offer all in one weekend is unbeatable.