Clive First-Year Crushes Musical Conventionality with Charisma

Getting ready to mount his second concert in the city, Jackson Craig talks about his music and what it means to be a storyteller in today’s day and age.


Gabriela Mancini

Jackson Craig performs for Summer Love Fest at the World Cafe back in July, 2019. A year later, Jackson continued to experiment with developing a persona through his music. (Photo by Gabriela Mancini)

By Nicolas Pedrero-Setzer, Music Editor

Sporting a puffy yellow jacket and an unguarded smile, Jackson Craig sits before me, ready to distill his knowledge of dad-rock and good vibes. Hot off the release of last year’s “Secrets at the Bottom of the Pool,” Craig is prepping his second concert in New York City as an up-and-coming first-year at Clive Davis. Having performed in Philadelphia ever since he picked up a guitar at the age of ten, Craig now brims with enthusiasm, ready to take on the world and redefine our concept of what pop music should sound like.

“Whatever I’m working on next, I want it to be a bit more experimental with the sound and instruments I’m using,” Craig says.

Noting the looseness of what pop music can be, Craig looks to recontextualize familiar sounds with a singular spin of his own that draws from 70s dad-rock, a legacy of soul, and contemporary hip-hop.

“It’s more about the production of the music,” he tells me, “and experimenting with certain sounds that may be more familiar to people, and placing those within the context of my own music, where it might be more about the songwriting or a little more jazzy than what’s typically found in the top charts.”

Used to arranging and recording all of his work from the solitude of his bedroom, Craig finds himself overjoyed by the fact that he’s in a “program with such creative people.” He now holds the ability to warp his sounds as much as he’d like, to explore any genre he might be interested in and work with a variety of artists that carry the same enthusiasm for musical experimentation as he does.

“Coming here and working with different artists that might do rap or EDM or all sorts of stuff like that has made me think about the direction my music could take moving forward,” he tells me.

It’s a sentiment that not only applies to the ever-evolving sonic condition of Craig’s music, but to his drive to experiment with different artistic mediums too.

“I am a storyteller, that’s probably where I get the most joy out of songwriting,” Craig says. “Even though I started out very much as a musician simply playing guitar and singing and stuff, as I’ve gotten older I’ve been focusing more on how to convey different ideas and stories through the art that I’m making.”

Constantly consuming music, films and a myriad of other art forms, Craig notes how each and every artistic force he encounters impacts his music by showing him how “different stories unfold.”

“I’m writing stuff down every single day, things that strike me, things that interest me or other art forms like film that may completely redefine my perception of how a story can be told,” Craig says.

Music, movies and moments from everyday life are all instrumental to the brand that is Jackson Craig, a musical project he’s been meticulously cultivating ever since he played gigs across Philadelphia with a trio of middle schoolers who dubbed themselves Skyline.

“[My brand] is something that I’m still trying to discover and a lot of that comes down to building an audience and seeing what people find enjoyable in my music.”

Ever involved in the creation of his music and the vision of his persona, Craig is always looking for ways to connect with people via his music.

“I want to make music my friends could enjoy and I want to play concerts where people connect,” Craig says. “A lot of what I’ve been trying to do in New York is build that audience and I don’t know … find something that’s true to what I’m doing but still marketable to a bigger audience.”

Now that Craig is in the city, he’ll continue playing gig after gig, just like he did in his early days. He’ll play around with his sound and experiment with a variety of art forms — hopefully, that’ll bring him closer to defining what his music is, what it means to him and what it signifies for the crowds that sing with him at every concert.

A version of this article appears in the Monday, Feb. 10 2020, print edition. Email Nicolas Pedrero-Setzer at [email protected]