Interview With: Craig Whitaker of Quick Step John

I am not the kind of chick who waits by the phone for a guy to call, unless that guy happens to be the wonderfully charming Craig Whitaker of Philadelphia’s Quick Step John. Wednesday night, there was a bit of mis- communication about what time he was supposed to call, but everything worked out and I got to chat with Whitaker about the band, their album The Multiple Personalities of Last Week and Next Year, podcasts and Jesse and the Rippers. Yep, Uncle Jesse. Check it out:

Jessica, PopWreck(oning): Hey what’s up, Craig?
Craig Whitaker: Oh not too much. How are you?
PW: I’m doing well, thanks.
CW: Am I on time?
PW: You’re a little late, but that’s OK. No problem.
CW: It was 7:30, right?
PW: I think you said 7 in the email.
CW: Oh, shit. I just opened up my email and saw that it said 7. I’m sorry!
PW: Don’t worry about it, it’s fine!
CW: OK. I was all excited, I thought I was gonna be right on time.
PW: You’ve been involved with Quick Step John since the band formed in 2001. How long before that did you begin playing music?
CW: I guess I first started when I was around 17.
PW: What inspired you to start playing and what did you first start playing?
CW: I saw a kid in high school, he was senior and I was a freshman or a sophomore. He was playing all these Van Halen songs on the guitar and I was like, ‘Holy crap! What is that?!’ I went to Sam Ash and bought a guitar and all these Van Halen song books. Kind of a lofty goal for someone who’s never picked up a guitar, but I just forced myself to learn how to do it. For months and months and months, which became years and years, and just taught myself how to play.
PW: So how did the five you of get together and decide to form Quick Step John?
CW: Well Ed and I worked at a store in Cherry Hill [NJ] called Mars Music, which isn’t there anymore. I recorded a couple songs on acoustic guitar to get some news songs done, not for anything but just because I was writing and I wanted to record. He heard a tune and he really liked it. There were some other guys…it’s funny, we got a drummer from the drum department and a bass player from the bass department. We thought we’d play these songs just for fun and we had this bug July 4th party at the store so we played these songs and thought, ‘That was fun. We should record three songs as a whole band.’ So that weekend, we recorded in my kitchen.
It was so, so silly. We recorded three songs in my kitchen and they got into the hands of a talent buyer for Clear Channel and he heard it and was like, ‘Wow, you guys are good. You guys should play a show.’ He put us on a show at the Electric Factory with
Pat McGee. That was it. It went from nothing to something in a couple weeks. It was really strange.
PW: Yeah, the Electric Factory is a bigger venue in Philadelphia, so that’s an impressive place to play your first real show.
CW: It was realy weird, ’cause I’d seen many show there growing up. Just the fact that I was even there was cool to begin with. Then I was like, ‘Wow, I get to be backstage. That’s pretty cool.’ Then it was, ‘Shit, I get to play?! That’s pretty cool!’
PW: Yeah, to get to be on stage and not looking at the stage.
CW: Yeah, it was just a whole weird thing. I was 21, Ed was 16. It was ridiculous. We’ve had band members come and go over the years but about a year and a half ago, met up with the current line-up and it’s been that ever since.
PW: You guys have been compared to influences you list, like Counting Crows and Ben Folds, and while those bands are obviously huge and awesome, do you appreciate those comparisons or do you wish that critics and listeners would see past that and take your sound for what it is itself?
CW: No, because our sound is a combination of all the bands we like. I think that’s natural. If you grew up listening to Mozart your entire life, and then you sit down at the piano, chances are…or hopefully, if you’re not doing something wrong…it’s gonna have resemblance to that. I think that’s just natural, to sound like the people you associate yourself with and listen to. If somebody said, ‘Quick Step John’s influences list the Counting Crows and Jimmy Eat World, boy those guys have a long way to go,’ that would kind of suck. As long as people are saying we sound like our heroes, that’s the most flattering thing in the world.
PW: I know some artists get upset that critics think they sound like certain other bands.
CW: I think that’s lame. It’s pompous.
PW: It’s just pretentious.
CW: Yeah, it’s silly.
PW: I’m glad you’re above that.
CW: Yeah! I don’t understand how you can be. It’s like, ‘Dude.’ You listen to, I dunno, The Clash your whole life and then somebody says you sound like The Clash and you say you don’t, that’s stupid. Of course you do.
PW: So the new album, The Multiple Personalities of Last Week and Next Year, came out last October. What’s the significance of the title of the album?
CW: I felt like the songs were taking…and this is totally an afterthought. I didn’t sit down and try to write this prog album at all. But after we started listening to all the songs I’d written for the album, I started to realize they were either about one of the two things: things in your past, like coming back and creeping up on you — things you thought were permanently gone, or they’re about looking to the future and hopes, aspirations, dreams, all that stuff.
So that’s kind of how the title came up: I realized the songs were split in between one of two things.
PW: It’s a great album, I really like it a lot.
CW: Thank you so much!
PW: How did the process of creating the new album differ from The Life In Our Years EP and then those [laughs] early demos in the kitchen?
CW: Hopefully they sound better [laughs] as we progressed. If the album sounds as good as the 3-song demo did in the kitchen, I’m gonna quit. All the songs, even back from the 3-song demo back to the new album, I either wrote on an acoustic guitar or a piano. Just sitting around by myself, goofing around. Something just comes out. A lot of these songs were written on my soon-to-be in-laws’ piano.
We’d be over my soon-to-be in-laws’ house after dinner on Sunday, someone doing the dishes and I’m just sitting at their piano while everyone else is watching TV. We’re just kind of goofing around, I’m just doodling around on my fiance’s parents’ piano and the majority of songs were written on that piano and recorded into my cell phone so I could remember them when I got home.
PW: Well, ongratulations on soon having in-laws!
CW: Thank you, thank you very much.
PW: Are you currently writing songs now…are you excited to get back into the studio for a follow-up album, or do you want to ride Multiple Personalities for a while?
CW: I do. You’re in the studio so long making an album that when you first go out to play it, you’re like, ‘Oh my god, I just don’t wanna play these songs anymore.’ You’ve heard them everyday for 8 months. So for the first couple you’re out touring after the record comes out, you’re so sick of it.
But then, after you get through that initial 8 week period, or 3 months, whatever it is, and the record’s been out for a while and people start listening to it and know it… Now when we go out and play places… We played this charity gig for Temple [University] a couple weeks ago and there were 20 people in the front two rows who were singing every word to every song. That is the most touching, flattering, amazing, lucky thing I could ever possibly ask for.
Now it’s like, ‘Wow, I wanna keep playing these songs’ because they’re being received well and people like them.
PW: So I guess that’s the most rewarding thing having created music.
CW: Yeah, it’s cool because if people put your song as their default song on their MySpace page and people take quotes out of your songs and make them their quote on their MySpace page. I’m like, ‘You people have got to be kidding!’ This is the coolest thing. It’s soooo flattering. I just feel really lucky.
PW: Well, it’s all because of your hard work and obvious skill and musicianship
CW: Aw, thank you.
PW: Not long after the CD came out, the single “One By One” ended up on an episode of “ER.” How did that happen? ‘Cause that’s pretty cool.
CW: It was weird. It’s so awesome. A guy sent us a message on MySpace and I know that sounds unbelievably lame. I should have a cool story like, alright, “I flew out to L.A. ’cause I was hangin’ out at The Viper and John Stamos was there and he was like, ‘Yo, Craig! I heard your record and I think it should totally be on my show.’ How about that?
PW: Nice! Too bad it couldn’t have been on “Full House,” because they would have rocked out to that. Uncle Jesse.
CW: Now back to reality, which is not nearly as cool as John Stamos asking me to be on “ER” in The Viper Room.
PW: I’m sure he would, though, if he met you.
CW: That would be awesome! I would be like, ‘Uncle Jesse, can we please have our song on your show?’
PW: ‘And can you play with us? Bring, uh…’ Oh, what was the name of his backing band?
CW: Oh my god, hang on! [yells to fiance] Carla!
Carla: Yes, honey?
CW: What was the name of Uncle Jesse’s back up band on “Full House?”
Carla: The Rippers.
CW: You are awesome and that’s why I’m marrying you! [Ed. note: Adorable!!]
PW: Yes! Nice. Get Jesse and the Rippers to play with you guys.
CW: That would be so cool. A guy on MySpace sent us a message and the record had only been out for like, two weeks. He asked, ‘Who did your licensing? I heard your songs online and I think you guys could be on network TV and feature films.’
I’m like, ‘Oh, sure.’ I figure he’s gonna try to sell us the Brooklyn Bridge or some shit like that. But we’re like, ‘OK, dude. If you’re at
all legit, you’ll send us a contract and we’ll go from there.’ And by the end of the week, this guy had a contract out to us! It was completely legit. We were, ‘Alright, we got nothing to lose. This guy is either crazy. We’ve got the contract, we’ve got nothing to lose.’
He calls like a week later and says, ‘You’re gonna be on “ER” on Thursday.’ I was like, ‘Uh huh…? You’ve got to be kidding me.’ It was down to us and one other band, like two or three days before the music supervisor had to make a decision between us and another band. That was good enough for me: I was totally content to just be like, ‘Holy crap! The music supervisor narrowed it down to us and one other band.’ I would’ve been happy just with that, ’cause at least I would’ve known we could’ve had a chance somewhere else, you know? Then he calls and says, ‘You guys are gonna be on Thursday.’ Unbelievable. Just the weirdest shit ever.
PW: So did you get everyone you know together for a viewing party?
CW: Absolutely did! I remember watching it all excited and jumping up and down. I remember thinking, as we were sitting in my house, everyone came over my house, in my living room, I was thinking, ‘Holy crap, I recorded this song and wrote this song 12 feet away upstairs.’ Obviously when that was happening, nobody was thinking in a few months that we’d be sitting downstairs watching it on national television. Just thinking it went from my studio upstairs to 14 million people, or whatever it was, it’s just such a bizarre chain of events.
PW: Did you tape it, or did “ER” send you a copy since you were in it?
CW: They never sent us a copy of it, but everyone DVR’d it and we just ripped it off our DVR and put it up on our MySpace page. I saved it for as long as I could. We had a big family party, an engagement party at my house for me and my fiance a couple months ago and her family had never seen it. I was like, ‘You guys gotta see this! It’s so cool!’ I went to play it and it wasn’t there.
PW: [laughs] Oh no!
CW: I felt like the biggest bullshitter. It was so funny. ‘No, I swear to god! Go to our MySpace page!’ and they were like, ‘Uh huh. Alright, we’re gonna get some coffee.’ I was just like, ‘Nooooo!’ Damn you DVR! It was funny.
PW: You guys have played with some really great musicians, Matchbox 20, Pat McGee you mentioned earlier, Gavin DeGraw, but if you could put together your dream tour, whether you opened or headlined, who would you have on tour with you?
CW: Oh mygod, that is the most difficult question I have ever been asked.
PW: [laughs] We ask the hard-hitting questions here at PopWreck(oning).
CW: That’s awesome, I like that! I would probably want to be the opening act on a U2 tour. OR…wait, is this like, living or dead, or past/present?
PW: Just run with it. Wherever it takes you.
CW: OK, opening tour, Led Zeppelin, 1974 when they’re touring Physical Graffiti.
PW: And how old were you in 1974?
CW: Negative 4. Yeah, I was negative 4. But I would want to play guitar on “Ten Years Gone.” Sitting in, me, “Ten Years Gone.”
PW: That would be sweet. I would go to that.
CW: I would totally go to that, too. Hopefully I’d be playing.
PW: You guys play a lot in Pennsylvania and Virginia, but where would you like to play that you haven’t had the opportunity to play yet?
CW: Everything we’ve done has been Mid-Atlantic, from North Carolina to New York. I like it here but I actually really, really, really love L.A. and San Diego. A lot! I’m a warm weather guy, so if we had the chance to do some touring in L.A. and up the coast to like San Fran or down to San Diego, that would just be phenomenal.
Unless Cabo Wabo down in Mexico was still having bands, I dunno. We gotta call Sam Egger. I’ll have to talk to him and John Stamos.
PW: So other than playing, have you been to any concerts recently that you’ve gone to see rather than play at?
CW: I saw Augustana last time they came around. I’m trying to think who we saw recently. We saw Death Cab [for Cutie]…god that had to be a year ago at this point. I think Death Cab, Augustana, those are the last two shows I’ve been to.
PW: What are you listening to lately?
CW: I’ve been listening to free podcasts. Everything from “Learn Italian” to photography podcasts. I am really showing my true inner nerd right now, aren’t I?
PW: No, that’s cool. One of my writers is starting to do features on different podcasts. If you have any you’d like to recommend…
CW: Oh, absolutely!
PW: …give it a shout out right here.
CW: But yeah, I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts lately. And I don’t know why. Just so much free, cool stuff you can listen to.
PW: You know, I actually don’t think I’ve ever listened to a podcast at all.
CW: It’s unbelievable how much stuff is out there.
PW: I think that’s why. I’m a little overwhelmed by it.
CW: Oh, it’s easy! I’ll send you some links to some cool ones.
PW: OK. If you send me some links, I promise I’ll listen to them. But I won’t keep you any longer, thank you for giving me a call.
CW: You’re welcome I really do appreciate your time.

Sweet and charming, right? Right. Well you can chat up Craig and the rest of Quick Step John if you head out to Burlap and Bean tonight in Newtown Square, Pa. (more dates below). I recommend it!

Tour Dates:
Apr 25 – Burlap and Bean/Newtown Square, Pa (All Ages!)
Apr 26 – The Escape/Bristol, Pa (All Ages!)
May 02 – Dr. Watsons/Philadelphia, Pa
May 08 – Havana/New Hope, Pa
May 09 – Firehouse Grill/Fairfax, Va
May 10 – Colonial Tavern/Fredericksburg, Va
Jun 07 – Appalachian Brewing Company/Harrisburg, Pa
Jun 20 – The Blue Room/York, Pa
Jul 19 – Steel City Coffeehouse/Phoenixville, Pa (All Ages!)
Aug 10 – Musikfest/Bethlehem, Pa (All Ages!)

Quick Step John: myspace | live review

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