Interview: Craig Payne

Craig Payne is a musician and author originally from England who has been living in New Zealand since the 70s. His current music project is called The Classic Rock of Tomorrow. On his website, you can also find blog posts about his life and they’re a very interesting read. Below, you can listen to his songs, which are really nice modern, fresh takes on golden oldies from the 60s – Beatles and Shadows are big influences:

We’re lucky to have Craig with us on the blog today to talk about his music, life, and writing. If you want to learn more about him and his music, keep on reading! His story is really interesting and inspires you that even when you go through adversity, like in these trying times of 2020, never give up on what you love doing.

Angie Moon: How would you describe yourself to a new listener?

Craig Payne: An eclectic mix of classic influences because there’s so many influences from classical music, big band stuff all the way through to the obvious 60s people like Beatles, Stones, and Shadows so it’s just a huge mix of that.

Angie: What is this project The Classic Rock of Tomorrow?

Craig: It’s a label I decided to give it because you can’t really judge what’s commercial or not these days. It’s heavily influenced by classic rock I guess. And I saw through that is that old programme in the 70s, it’s about an American radio station playing the hits of today 20 years later, so I thought ‘classic rock of tomorrow’ it’s a bit of an angle to try and market it.

Angie: What does classic rock mean to you?

Craig: Probably quality, no swearing, and musicianship. I think it’s more of a genre now than it used to be, people would say classic hits or classic rock meaning old stuff, but I think my stuff it’s obviously new stuff because I write it, but it’s very much in the vein of 60s, probably early 70s. The weird thing is when you write something, you think ‘I think this sounds like this person’ and when they did the review for Making History, the guy’s going like ‘it sounded like Simon & Garfunkel’ and I’m thinking, ‘I didn’t see that coming’. So it’s whatever you choose to make it, I guess.

Angie: What inspires your songwriting? 

Craig: It just sort of happens, really. I just like playing music so pretty much one day I’ll pick up a guitar and go ‘look at that’ and just work from there and then when I don’t feel like playing I don’t do it.

Angie: What do you think of young people keeping classic rock alive by writing about it and making music inspired by it?

Craig: I think that’s good. I mean, people are quite obsessed these days with the latest thing. I mean, some of the music, in fact, quite a bit of the music today I quite like. But a lot of it’s getting a little clichéd. You can tell when someone hasn’t used a real drum kit or they haven’t done any live instruments, it’s all sequenced and that can sound a little bit clinical but people keeping it going and I mean there’s a lot of people in the world, so I think it’s good.

Angie: What new music do you like from today?

Craig: There’s a singer over here called Benee. I don’t know if you’ve heard of her. She’s got a hit here at the moment, “Lonely Chick”. There’s another band in New Zealand called Six60. They’re excellent. They’re probably one of the few New Zealand bands that’s been able to fill out a stadium like Western Springs in Auckland twice. And when you see the show, you think ‘I know that one’.

Looking overseas, new music coming up like Paul McCartney’s one coming up in December. I saw the shorts or the previews of that yesterday and I reckon that’s going to be quite excellent, actually. I might even buy it.

Angie: What were your earliest musical memories?

Craig: Probably age 3 or 4, in a big department store and staring at a Fender Stratocaster on the wall, not actually knowing what it was, but really wanting one. So I think it was probably the shape and the colour, whatever that is, I want one. And then I remember Beatles on the TV on Top of the Pops and stuff like that. So you kind of grow up with those influences. You’ve got BBC radio shows on Sundays. I was listening to Four Tops, their song “Reach Out”, still today you go ‘that’s got a cool piccolo intro’. It’s just things like that. I grew up around people who listened to lots of music. My granddad had a pup and we used to get all the records out of the jukebox when he was finished with them so I was lucky I ended up listening to truckloads of stuff.

Angie: What made growing up in the 60s and 70s so special?

Craig: Probably no more special than someone growing up in 2020. It’s what you’re born into, isn’t it? I think in those days it was probably a lot safer and there was definitely as far as I was concerned anyway, there was a lot of stuff happening musically like, maybe it was just British TV, but there was always a musical thing happening on TV practically most of the week. I saw the movie Ferry Cross The Mersey with Gerry and the Pacemakers and that was, ‘I gotta do that. That looks like a lot of fun.’ Growing up in the 60s, life was a lot simpler. They hadn’t invented half the stuff you got now so your expectations weren’t so high and I think people were easily satisfied.

Angie: What was it like moving around a lot as the child of someone in the RAF?

Craig: Quite unsettling. I remember probably on average 1-18 months maximum living in a place and then when he got out of the Air Force after about a year or so, we moved to Sandwich, Kent. We were there for a whole two years and then they came to New Zealand in ’74 and been here ever since. So yeah moving around, wouldn’t recommend it for anyone with a family. Kids need stability and when you’re constantly going to a new school or you’re constantly on the move, it’s quite unsettling.

Angie: What was the music scene like in Christchurch in the 80s and 90s?

Craig: In the 80s and 90s it was huge. Christchurch was pretty much the band city of the country. In the 90s particularly, we were playing 3 nights a week and depending on where you were playing, lots of covers bands, but I think I worked every Christmas Eve 21 years straight. It was easy to get work. Then mid to late 90s, people that owned venues used to go out and there was a sound and light show, they started introducing sports bars with TVs and gambling in the corner and bands started to basically get wedged out, so it kind of died towards the end of the 90s.

Angie: How has the music industry changed since you started recording?

Craig: In the old days of the 90s, I used to record at NightShift Studios in Christchurch and it was expensive. Even then I knew the guy and he would give us cheaper rates, but still you got in there with probably enough money to do about three hours at a time and now technology, I’ve got an entire recording studio where you could probably record 100 tracks on a song and it’s all sitting neatly in a computer with amplifier stacks and all the effects that they’ve ever thought of. Technology’s made it quite accessible.

Angie: What’s your opinion on streaming and how things have moved onto that and the vinyl revival?

Craig: I wish they had told me about the vinyl revival before I sold all of my vinyl, because I thought that’s crap, that’s out. Streaming, it may get better in the future. For a while there they had a couple of big names in music threatening to sue them for billions of dollars because people weren’t making any money from streaming and I think it’s the case now. It’s incredibly hard to make a living if your music is basically being streamed rather than downloaded after sale. But I think, if you fight something you’re not going to get very far with it so I’m trying to learn all about promoting streaming and embracing the fact that it could or could not work. It is handy though. On the one hand, I might moan about how I’m not making much money out of that if they’re doing deals on streaming for $1/week, then again I don’t seem to have much of a problem listening to music online either.

Angie: Who are your favourite musicians from the 70s, 80s, 90s from New Zealand?

Craig: From New Zealand, because we arrived in 1974 and we’ve been spoilt. I think that the music scene in England was a lot more sophisticated, but New Zealand musicians, definitely a guitarist I grew up listening to was a chap called Gray Bartlett. He was on TV a lot and people used to pop into CJ’s Music, it’s where we used to hang out and that’s where you’d see all sorts of people from the TV. Bands like Split Enz, Dragon, they’d be my favourite ones. Gray Bartlett was a really, still is a really good guitarist, but Dragon was where the New Zealand music scene started to change into more of an original thing because even on the radio here, until the late 80s it was virtually impossible to get New Zealand music on the radio and that all started to change and then the government brought in quotas and now it’s common as. You hear local music on the radio as much as you hear overseas stuff

Angie: How did you get started recording music?

Craig: I probably started when I was about 14 with two cassette players and I do a bit of acoustic rhythm guitar and then I would play that on the stereo and record the next track and end up with a two or three track recording that was probably quite bad, but that was the start and then later on home gear got a little bit better in the 80s and 90s and I ended up with a 4 track home studio and still on cassette. I can’t even remember the last time I saw a cassette. Then you sort of progress, ‘I think I’ll go into a recording studio,’ so that’s where NightShift came in and he taught me a lot about how you record stuff, layer it, and produce in general. And then of course when we hit the 2000s and you’ve got all that technology so easily accessible like, I think I started using Garage Band and then I had Logic Audio and I’m actually currently using Sequel 3, which is made by Steinberg. From a little cassette player right through to that, it’s quite impressive.

Angie: Have you ever toured outside of New Zealand?

Craig: No, not at all. I was really off travel when I finished my childhood. The only travelling I’ve done, I’ve been to Australia numerous times and then my wife and I, we went across the States in 2011 or 12, but here, in the 90s when we did a little tribute show, because everyone else was doing really silly ones, we thought ‘let’s make a whole band’ and do this. We just be up and down the South Island, all over the place and that was what we did. We were actually planning some shows for this year last year but little things kept going wrong like the guitar player would disappear and you wouldn’t hear from him again or something like that. Then COVID hit here in March. It was probably quite good coincidence that we didn’t try to go ahead with it because it wouldn’t have happened.

Even now, everyone’s slowly returning to normal, but I personally wouldn’t take a risk or put in the effort or put in the money to do a show at the moment.

Angie: If you could collaborate with any musician, who would you want to collaborate with?

Craig: Hmm… Probably, there’s two of them actually. On a guitar level it would be fun to put a track down with Hank Marvin because his guitar playing is so diverse. You know you’ve got what people know him for in the early days, but then you’ve got all the sort of cool rock stuff he did later in his career and even the jazz stuff he’s doing now. And probably Paul McCartney would be a definite candidate for the top of the list, based on the fact that a lot of the music I do has been influenced by that particular person. It’s funny, it’s a bit like that ‘If you’re on a deserted island, who are the two people you’d take with you and what would you put in your bag?’ Your stereo, a toothbrush, and a guitar probably.

Angie: Do you have any stories about recording your latest album?

Craig: Just slowly chipping away. I’ve got two definite tracks. Dad died in January this year and COVID, it’s been an absolutely shit year, pardon my French. I’ve just started getting some inspiration or some energy back into it to even consider doing that. At the moment, it’s gonna be different. The track I’ve kind of got that could end up being the opener if you like, it’s kind of like George Harrison in the way of slide guitar and vocal range. At the moment there’s probably another 10 or 11 tracks to come up with. I was quite pleased because all of my gear went away months ago and I couldn’t be bothered. I didn’t really plan on handling the deceased estates for my parents just yet, but there you go.

Angie: When does the new album come out?

Craig: It won’t be anywhere near March 24th maybe, because that’s my birthday and that’s the sort of egotistical stuff I do. I’ll release something on my birthday. That’s about 5 months. Probably quite doable by March, I’d say, but the thing is what I’ve done so far, you may have heard some of the tracks on my website, is to try and do something different, but familiar, but a lot better. So it’s like trying to find some step ups all the time.

Angie: What has kept you motivated this year?

Craig: Until about a month and a half ago, not much. I have written two books and they’re published either through ebooks or paperbacks and the first one came out last October and that’s doing quite well. So I was actually on the verge of quitting music completely and just writing books, but to be honest, after I did a second book this year, Keyboard Warriors, about general online topics, I was actually quite bored by the time I finished that and I thought, I couldn’t think of anything worse than having to write books. To pick up a guitar and you go ‘ooh, this is fun.’ Back in the comfort zone, I think. I got probably knocked around a bit this year through people dying and stuff like that. One day you wake up and you’re like, back in the room.

Angie: What do you usually write [books]?

Craig: The first one, Faulty Caskets, that was autobiographical based on the years I spent as an embalmer/funeral director/mortician because people kept asking questions about it and they’d ask ‘what’s this?’. So I thought I’d put a book out and yes, it continuously sells quite well. At the moment, nothing’s really happening because that’s the trouble with technology, real time figures, and you can see something really clicking one day and you go ‘that’s cool’. So the first one was pretty much all about me and that’s what cracked me up the most about someone doing an online review saying it was all about me and my own perspectives, how dare I. It says on the cover that it’s an autobiography. So I can’t quite see the problem there. The book I was looking at doing, this would be book #3, which I’ve just shelved for now. That was more philosophy and oddly enough called Making History because it’s people you never hear about in the world that probably do the most for the world. You know, like whatever you do. Just looking at things from a deeper angle I suppose. That’s why I stopped writing it because I actually bored myself halfway through.

Angie: How did you get started writing?

Craig: Probably the product of a late education. I left school pretty much unqualified right around my 16th birthday and then things progress as you get older and after I got divorced, I met a school teacher and she said you need to do some papers and I ended up getting A+s and B+s in written communication, psychology, professional communication, and journalism. So that kind of got the ball rolling and then I just thought, ‘I quite like this’. At one time I worked for a newspaper in the newsroom and it’s still a relaxing thing to do, but at the moment I can’t write music and books all at the same time because they probably would both turn out second rate. My interests were late education and thinking it would be fun to have a go.

Angie: Which writers inspire you the most?

Craig: Probably Charles Dickens is the top of the list. I can’t quote his stuff verbatim, but yeah, Charles Dickens, I mean a lot of what he was doing was quite revolutionary in the respect of social comment and actually pointing out a few of the flaws of the Keynesian era. Other than that, he’d be about the only fiction writer I’ve got time for. I’ll just see a biography and go, ‘that looks interesting.’ It could be someone’s life story or just could be topical, factual, you know. I actually don’t have too many favourite writers. One guy I actually quite like a few years ago, Anthony Robbins, the personal coach, because I kept seeing his book advertised on TV and when I went to the library they said it was booked out for the next three months. Ok, gonna buy it then. Inspirational sort of writers. Charles Dickens, fiction. Anthony Robbins for general personal growth. And there was a guy, I can’t quite remember, Robert Sharma, he wrote The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari. That’s a particularly good read if anyone wants to sort of consider the universe. It’s not a bad book.

Angie: As 2020 is coming to a close, what are your goals for 2021?

Craig: Probably to finish this recording project, to avoid any turmoil, like COVID really pushed the boundaries as far as the world goes, hasn’t it? It’s been quite horrible all around. I’d be happy with a very boring routine next year, just settled, happy, healthy, and no parents dying. That would be really good.

Angie: What advice do you have for musicians?

Craig: I would say if you want to learn and instrument or music in general, always go to learn at least two instruments because that gives you a little bit more understanding. Like my poor parents had to put up with a lot of crap from me. There’d be a drum kit here one day. I came home with a tuba and a euphonium once. It’s that experimental stuff. I had brass lessons for a short time. I kind of have more of an understanding of how you write a piece or put together a brass section for a track.

Just to delve into the history of music rather than think that music started in 1999, you know. Because some of those old musicians like I used to listen to the Rat Pack: Sammy Davis Jr, Frank Sinatra, all those. It all contributes to a better understanding. That would be it. Don’t take yourselves too seriously and just don’t have any expectations or become too obsessive. It’s fun if something works out and if someone buys a track, that’s even better, but it’s not the end of the world if they don’t either. Just do it for the fun of doing it and if anything becomes of it, well then that’s a bonus.

You can follow Craig on his website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Shoutout to my friend Patrick for supporting the blog!

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