Craig Stickland

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"There`s a quote from Miles Davis," says indie singer/songwriter Craig Stickland. "Sometimes it takes a long, long time to sound like yourself." In his recent experience, this has involved jumping through time — looking back at memories to confront them, then forward to unwind them — in storytelling that`s culminated in his EP Lost in the Rewind (MNRK Music Group, June 2nd). "The theme of this EP," he says of the gorgeously plaintive release, "is really about finding myself again."The title track, a harmonic lament, navigates this passage of time, where nothing seems to change. "It came to the point where I really had to take a step back and think about who I am as an artist and who I am as a human being," Stickland explains. "Like, ‘Lost in the Rewind` was written about my inability to be in the present moment." The track sets the tone for the entire EP, which begins with emotional flagellation and ends in acceptance."I found myself thinking back to all of these other moments in my life that I thought had been the best days of my life," he continues. "And, you know, I was concerned that maybe the best days of my life were behind me." In fact, the EP kicks off with that contemplation. The song, "Best Days," is a rueful, balladic reality check that crescendos into a wistful tableau of what happiness used to mean. The track is also one of the EP`s most compelling examples of Stickland`s superpower: an effortless transparency which, however gut-wrenching, feels imminently relatable. His debut, the Juno-nominated Starlit Afternoon, chronicled Stickland`s decade-long struggle to break through into music (he had been paying the bills by bartending and modeling). The album garnered millions of streams on Spotify, with a pair of pristinely lovelorn tracks, the meditative title song and laid-back anthem "Break Every Rule," winning him a loyal following. He`s always possessed an ability to craft transcendent truths that arrive ready to soundtrack your day, your headspace, your life. That is his higher calling. "My journey has always been an attempt to be just a full-time artist," he says. "The process of making this EP has really been a journey of trying to get back to those roots."Lost in the Rewind may sound effortlessly melodic, but the journey wasn`t always an easy one. Stickland initially made the EP he says, "with a collaborator for almost a year and a half." That is until he decided to rethink it all — and only "Lost in the Rewind" and "Best Days" survived that creative reboot. He was already examining the past, sifting through tons of material going as far back as 15 years to ensure he was putting his best foot forward. "Firing Line," a poppier love song that now takes on existential gravity, was one of those songs, as was "Colorblind," a cascading meditation about a failed relationship. It digs into the idea of perspective, "essentially two people looking at the same thing but seeing something different." "I went through many years of trying and climbing, this eternal struggle of being an artist," he says. The pandemic brought back all those feelings, immediately dismantling all that hard-earned progress made with Starlit Afternoon. Touring dried up overnight, and he didn`t even know if he`d ever make music again. Internet-famous for outfitting his sprinter van into a mobile studio so he could tour and record with more efficiency, Stickland adapted those skills into a business making record-studio furniture. In fact, the company has done so well, it continues to make studio set-ups for A-listers such as Finneas, Benny Blanco, and Thundercat. It was wildly successful, and yet Stickland knew, in his gut, that this pivot simply wasn`t his calling."I was kind of just in survival mode. I was losing the plot and direction of my life," he says. "I was living in my van and neglecting my basic human needs. I was barely sleeping." Not surprisingly, music ended up being his salvation. (The woeful, bluesy track "Not Enough Coffee in California" captures this in-between state, "It refers to how there wasn`t enough of a motivator to get me through the day or to make me happy.") When pandemic restrictions lifted, and songwriting presented itself, "I really had to take a step back to find my love for myself and music again," he says. "Lost in the Rewind is me trying to unpack why I did these things." Stickland needed an escape. So, he rented a cabin in the Los Angeles hills, where he etched out most of the EP with a few close friends as collaborators. This was around the time of the George Floyd protests, which imbued his work with the vantage point he desperately needed. "My song ‘Say What You Want` was written about the divide in perspective between the left and right. No amount of property damage can be compared to the cost of a human life," he says of the EP`s transcendent, anthemic coda. "It`s also hinting at, you know, being on your phone and, like, opening it up and seeing a perfect storm of what`s wrong with the world all at once." "I think there`s a level of escapism there that I`ve had to come to terms with as well," he says. "I needed to make a change." As unique as his journey to this point has been, it`s this transparency that makes his music so resounding, so sage. "It`s like the harder we try to achieve our goals, the harder it is to get through," he says. "Sometimes, if you just lay back and relax a little bit — let your life flow to you — it might come a little bit easier than trying to force it, you know?"