By Deena Douara Karim
As far as rock-band ambitions go, theirs is pretty humble:
“Our end goal is that this is what we do for a living, exclusively.”
It’s clear there is the potential for more – both from the distinctive sound Johnson Crook produces, as well as the seriousness with which the band approaches the business. And it is, of course, a business – but more on that later.
After some nudging, bassist Jared Craig reluctantly admits that a Juno would not be outside the realm of possibility, before both Craig and drummer Trevor Crook finally express the ultimate dream, to play Canada’s most prestigious music venue.
“Johnson Crook live at Massey Hall. That’s a good signifier that you’ve reached a certain plane.”
Johnson Crook is composed of two brothers and two other band mates, all from small towns in the U.S. and Canada, a fact they say has had a “huge influence,” both on their sound and on their camaraderie. They describe that sound as a sort of nostalgic Americana from afar. The Band, The Eagles, Bruce Springsteen, that sort of thing. Maybe a little more country, but without the twang.
Despite that bond, their fusion would appear to be an unlikely one.
Trevor and Nathan Crook entered the scene from Minnedosa, Man. outside of Winnipeg, and their first band was heavy rock, like Incubus or Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Craig, with a penchant for jazz, started out in Greensburg, Penn. where he picked up bass guitar in high school because “everybody played everything else already.” He embraced it and earned gigs with local theatre companies and a spot with the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony before studying classical bass performance.
Lead singer Noel Johnson grew up in Cochrane, Alberta and was more of an earnest singer-songwriter.
They all landed in Toronto to take their music to the next level, and coming together after meeting through other musicians and through the Coalition Music incubator program, “felt so natural.”
“There was a weird connection between the four of us,” says Crook. “It was just easy.”
The band’s members take an egalitarian approach, splitting singing duties and songwriting credits, and pushing each other to develop diverse strengths.
“We always want to grow and progress in what we do,” explains Crook.
Craig adds that the members are all “mutually forming the identity of this band.”
As seasoned musicians, they had seen and heard enough to understand that talent was not enough. They would need to approach their art as a business if they really wanted to have an impact on the genre.
Craig says Coalition Music as well as the Starter Company program helped the band focus on what was really important to growing their audience and their brand, and to say no peripheral things. “They prevented so many missteps,” says Craig, like focusing on merchandise too early or pursuing all venues equally.
They also helped the band develop a website, financing plan, business plan, social media strategy, and what was “incredibly beneficial,” lasting connections with key industry insiders. They praise Vel Omazic, executive director of Canada's Music Incubator, who “really took us under his wing above and beyond the parameters of the program.”
“It’s 90 per cent a business, 10 per cent music,” explains Crook, joking about how he’s been forced to do the things he hated doing in high school that likely led him toward music in the first place.
He works now, though, not for high marks or promotion but to have the privilege of making a living making music on his own terms, alongside band mates that get each other.
Johnson Crook performs regularly at The Cameron House and Castro's Lounge and periodically at The Horseshoe Tavern. Check their website for their schedule, including a performance at the Boots and Hearts Music Festival near Barrie in August.