The Berkeley-based Crooked Flower recently released their four new track EP combines stunning, emotive vocals with all the best of psychedelic, acoustic rock for a chill and charming listen. We got a chance to talk with the guys to know more about their recording proces, themes and more.
● A Crooked Flower, what a name! What is the story behind that?
Crooked Flower is the name of one of our songs – its recorded, but not yet released. Probably our next album or EP.
The song Crooked Flower is kind of a love song. I (Dan Ingberman; guitar, guitar synth – everything in this color is my words) wrote it about a hurtful disagreement with a nearly life-long friend. They had extended what might be thought of as “half an olive branch.”
Usually I write songs by starting with a feeling that turns into some words that turns into a guitar part that suggests more words and so forth.
During this process I might incorporate images that go with the feelings. On this one, I was looking at some origami-like folded papers that my little boy had created. One looked like a flower but it was crooked.
So the “half an olive branch” became “Crooked Flower.”
When we were first rehearsing as a band, we were trying a variety of names. Some were OK, some were bad, some were pretty good. I forget now who originally suggested Crooked Flower, but once we came up with the idea, it basically drove out all others!
● How did you guys meet up?
Daniel Erik’s (bass) dad was my high school friend. He was living in St. Louis with his family when I moved there in 1993. I think Daniel had just turned 2.
In St. Louis my house had a big space to play music, and I had the opportunity to play with a lot of notable musicians. Learned a lot about playing and songwriting.
When Daniel was about 5, he came with his father to my studio. In addition to guitars and basses, I had keys, synthesizers, a drumset, and a bunch of percussion instruments.
Daniel basically went nuts playing with all those instruments. He later told me it was the most incredible day of his life.
Fast forward to 2011. Daniel’s dad has moved close to us in Berkeley, and Daniel moved out. We started playing together. One of the first songs we did was Folkstone, which is on the Crooked Flower album called “The Moon, Anyway.” You can hear what caught my ear about Daniel in his bass part. Its rolling and lyrical and funky all at once.
So I knew immediately that Daniel and I had incredible chemistry. He’s also a uniquely talented musician. Daniel can literally play any instrument. Before Crooked Flower, the two of us recorded a couple of albums together. I played guitar and guitar synth. He played bass, drums, percussion, keyboards, trombone, trumpet, sound effects – you name it. He also did a lot of work mixing.
We had a lot of great songs, but we knew that the music was being held back by our limitations. The first step was to add Patrick Shields on drums. Pat was Daniel’s drummer collaborator in St. Louis and was studying music at University of Denver. He was also widely experienced and highly in demand in Denver, St. Louis, and once he arrived in Berkeley, all through the Bay Area.
Pat, Daniel, and I got together during Pat’s school breaks and recorded a bunch of songs together. Pat’s another person who can literally pick up any instrument and just start playing it. He has this incredible musicality. He also has deep knowledge about music theory and history.
So a lot of Crooked Flower’s polish comes from Pat. But we were still missing a key ingredient: the signature vocals. The three of us were not at that level. We considered several different vocalists. One day Daniel showed us some videos by a vocalist from St. Louis he knew named Angie Dang.
Quite frankly, I was completely blown away by her voice and videos. She did a demo – the song was Crooked Flower! – which blew us away even more.
In the end, Angie moved out to the Berkeley area and off we went.
We quickly wrote a bunch of great songs together. We also incorporated some of the songs that Daniel and I had worked on. Soon after, in January 2015, we went to Jingletown for our first round of recording. We then wrote a bunch of songs and went back to Jingletown again in June 2015.
In these sessions I played electric guitar and guitar synth, Pat and Daniel added some piano in addition to the drums/percussion and bass. And Angie played keyboards, acoustic and electric guitars and sang. Like Daniel and Pat, Angie is one of these people who can make music come out of any instrument. One day at rehearsal she just started learning bass and drums, and within an hour she was really cooking! Plus, she can really sing!
Later in 2015, Pat, Daniel, and I did a project that resulted in an album called The General Maynyrd Band. The name is kind of a joke, combining nicknames for our friend Will Kyriazis, who’s a great friend and a truly gifted piano and keyboard player as well as bandleader, composer, and arranger. Will was Pat’s longtime buddy and collaborator at University of Denver where he accumulated several degrees and a long musical resume. Drew Southern, another great friend and noted guitarist in the bay area also was part of that project.
Crooked Flower continued playing actively during 2015 and 2016. However, as you know, the Berkeley/Oakland/San Francisco area is very expensive. And its tough for bands to make a lot of money these days. So everyone had to run around a lot just to pay their bills.
Although we’d accumulated a lot of recordings at Jingletown, those were essentially basic tracks. So Daniel and I have spent quite a few months rounding out that tracks with some strategic overdubs. For example, Will plays keyboards on a couple of songs on our last two albums. And Drew helped on some of studio recordings which we will release in the future.
Last summer (2017) we got together for a California tour and live recording sessions, which resulted in our forthcoming album Blooming, plus three live videos. (The album and one video are scheduled for release on July 8 – i.e., in just a couple of weeks. Please let James Moore know if you are interested in an exclusive.)
For the performances and live recordings, Angie really wanted to just focus on her singing, without having to also juggle a keyboard and a guitar. I understand – playing and singing at the same time is tough!
It was just so natural to formally add Will and Drew to Crooked Flower. Although Will only appears in a couple of spots on our first three albums, and Drew only on our forthcoming stuff, they are going to be with us going forward. Both guys are amazing geniuses. And so of course, they add a lot. As you will hear in our forthcoming album Blooming and see in our live performance videos, Crooked Flower has added another dimension of wow.
● Before discussing your new EP, I was curious to know more about your award “Too Broke To Fix” from your debut release End of the Rainbow. Tell us more about your song and the award.
Too Broke To Fix is a long-song, or perhaps more precisely, a broken-heart song. Its something that Angie and I share – we’ve each suffered broken hearts. So TBTF is about two people who really, truly love each other. But something happens. One cheats. And the other can’t take them back. But needs to.
The 2015 award is all due to Mike Lidskin of Twirl Radio (96.5 KUBU Sacramento). He’s an amazing guy. Always on the lookout for new music. We had recently put out End of the Rainbow and I believe that Mike either saw one of our shows or heard about it.
And so he started playing Too Broke To Fix. And that gave us a big boost. Not only in listeners, but in confidence. Mike also awarded us with 2015 Concert of the Year for a show at The Starry Plough in Berkeley.
Here’s what Mike said when he gave us the award: “I am pleased to say that your song Too Broke To Fix is my Song Of The Year Award winner. Congratulations!–it’s fiery, rockin’ and upbeat. So many times, it’s been my “go-to” song on my show–it always sounds good, no matter where you put it. It’s an inspired performance, and deserves lots of attention. It’s an amazing debut, and a great way to serve notice to the world that Crooked Flower has arrived!”
Its pretty hard to really explain how much all of this meant to us, and still means. Composing, playing, and performing music is hard work without a lot of financial reward for most bands, even quite successful ones.
Especially when you are talking about people who are as talented as my bandmates, they have lots of other things that they can do with their time! (As do I.)
You know it requires a lot to make the commitment to a band – everything must be right: the people you are with, and the music. It’s like a marriage where you are married in a way to each person in the band, and separately, to the music.
These days it’s an especially long haul. One pays a lot of dues and it takes a long time. If it weren’t for Mike’s encouragement, its not clear that we would have stayed at it past that first album.
So Mike: Thank you!
● Well, I noticed that your latest releases last year didn’t get same awards. What is your commentary about that?
Well, that was really my fault. As you know, we recorded a lot of basic tracks at Jingletown. Gordon Brislawn assembled these into the final versions of the tunes. He also did a fantastic job mixing “End of the Rainbow”.
Regarding the other songs that we recorded at our two visits to Jingletown which appeared on the two albums last year (The Moon, Anyway, and On My Mind), some of them were ready to go when we got them from Gordon. A couple others were missing something.
So, starting in Fall 2016 and the first part of 2017, Daniel and I worked hard to get to finish these recordings. In some cases, it was as simple as adjusting effects. In others, I overdubbed some parts. We also added some parts from Will. Then we remixed the songs we worked on.
After all that work, Daniel and I were exhausted. And it took us a long time. And it got to the summer, and we were doing the tour. So, we just wanted to release the music to have available for folks to take home from our shows.
Unfortunately, it just took so long for me and Daniel to finish the mixing that I didn’t have time to tell people about these disks in advance. The most important objective we had was to reward the folks who were willing to turn off YouTube or Spotify and spend a little money to physically come out to our shows.
But I feel bad about that. Those two albums contain a lot of great songs. We just didn’t do the legwork to support them sufficiently. On the other hand, music today is all about streaming and “the long tail.” People can discover these songs when they find out about our other stuff. So, everything is not lost!
● Okay, you’ve released 3 full-length albums, why this year you thought of an EP instead?
Our first efforts were two EPs. We would give them out at our shows.
When we released them on Spotify etc., we combined them to make the End of the Rainbow CD.
We also made a DVD around the same time, because we made videos for all the songs on End of the Rainbow.
We talked about the other two albums above. Each of the three albums has 8 songs. But, our songs are dense. When there are 8 together on one album, you need a bunch of time to go listen a few times and think about them.
The EP format is just easier for me to digest. As EPs go, this one’s substantial — about 24 minutes. Back when everything was on vinyl, 16 minutes per side – or a total of about 32 minutes – was a complete album. Lots of classic albums are that length or even shorter.
For Darkness and Light, these four songs fit together so well thematically that it was natural to put them together and by themselves, as an EP. More on that in a minute.
Also, these are very “Angie-centric” songs, which ties them together too. In addition to her singing, she makes important instrumental contributions to each song. In Moving On, she plays the first guitar melody (“do do, do do do do do do do, …). In Tunnel of Light, she plays the crunchy guitar which counterpoints my guitar synth. Boyfriend is one of the songs we wrote together. She was playing her acoustic and me the electric. She came up with words and vocal melody (which in our book means she “wrote” the song) and her acoustic guitar is beautiful. It inspired me to play something unique (for me) on the electric which doesn’t happen that frequently. Finally, on Bells of Brixton, which is an instrumental that we improvised in the studio, her keyboards really inspired me on the guitar and guitar synth.
I think of these as very “Daniel-centric” songs too. His bass work is incredible everywhere. Its lyrical, funky, melodic, driving….everything you could want in bass!
The disk is also very “Patrick-centric”. Especially in Bells of Brixton, he’s signaling with the drums where the rest of the music goes.
● Is there a specific theme in “Darkness and Light”?
Yes, I think so. Pretty much “Darkness and Light.”
The songs are written so that the listener can fill in their own details and stories.
My story here is maybe only one interpretation or possibility. Here goes.
The first song, Moving On, is about the end of a relationship where the feelings still linger. I wrote it for Angie when she was going through a difficult breakup. It was so difficult, but she was so strong.
The second song, Tunnel of Light, continues the same story, a little further along the process. I weave images and feelings to the story.
The third song, Boyfriend, has her thinking about a boy. Its either a prologue or epilog to the first two. She wrote these words, so maybe you have to ask her!
The last song, Bells of Brixton, also has the Darkness and Light motif, but this time in a purely instrumental way. We improvised this song in the studio. There was no advance discussion of what we would do or how it would sound and so forth.
But as you can hear, what starts with darkness in this song ends with light. It all turns out right in the end!
● Your recordings were at Jingletown Studios and engineered by Lee Bothwick. What’s your advice for new bands regarding studio and engineer selection?
Jingletown Studios, as you know, was owned by Green Day. It’s the studio where they recorded a bunch of their big albums. And Lee Bothwick is their engineer. The producer we were working with, Gordon Brislawn, introduced us to Lee and Jingletown. General Maynyrd Band also recorded our album there.
We were very fortunate to record with Lee. He is great. Once we find the right studio plus engineer, we tend to stay with them. We would continue to record at Jingletown with Lee, but Green Day has sold the studio. Since then we’ve recorded with Jeff Goodlund at Expressions Studios, and Elton Cunniffe at LightRail Studios. Before Jingletown we did some recordings with David Hughes at Shine On Studios.
All these folks are amazingly good at what they do. They have top notch equipment and know how to use it. They know their (very musical, high-ceilinged) rooms, and can-mic the drums to get a fat sound. They work fast getting all the instruments up on their board and with Pro Tools, so the sessions are very efficient. The are very personable and easy to work with.
Great studios also have collections of instruments and amps. Normally we bring our own drums, but of course we don’t want to move a piano! (Not every studio has a lot of their own equipment, so it’s important to check that out in advance.)
Together, all this is what a new band is looking for in a studio and recording engineer. You can get a good sense by listening to the engineer’s work – if you like what you hear, then that is a good sign. Also when a studio & engineer has a substantial pedigree of bands they’ve worked with, that is a good signal. Obviously in Berkeley (where Green Day started) their stamp of approval mattered a lot.
Of course, the price per hour or day matters. But I wouldn’t let that determine your choice of where to record. The number of hours or days matters too! You can get a lot done very fast with an efficient engineer. We usually do a multi-day deal which lowers the price and allows us to leave our equipment there overnight. It also saves set up time. Of course, its helpful to be well-rehearsed before coming to the studio. That also saves time.
● Are you aiming to film any music videos prompting for your EP soon. If so, which song would you choose and why?
We already have a video on YouTube for the last 6 minutes or so of Bells of Brixton. Check it below.
This is not a performance video. Its kind of a darkness and light mini-story I created by editing public domain footage from NASA and other sources.
There full-length version of the video (it’s a 12 minute song) won’t appear on YouTube. It is, however, on our DVD, which also includes videos from each song on End of the Rainbow, plus two other songs. Besides this one, two other videos are DVD-only. (The DVD is available from our website. Or just shoot me an email. Its $11 including shipping in the lower 48.)
Next month we are releasing our “live in the studio” album Blooming (with Will and Drew). We will also be releasing 3 live performance videos over the next couple of months to go with that album.
In addition, over the next few months we are planning to release at least additional video from each of our disks. I’m working on another video or two from the Darkness and Light EP. Right now, it’s a secret … I don’t like to advertise these things until they are “done.” And takes me a while.
● Okay, finally I didn’t find any upcoming events soon. What are you plans for touring guys?
We’ve had quite a few offers but are trying to be selective. Right now, I’m living in Bellingham Washington with my wife and kids, about 20 minutes from my parents. I’m mostly in the songwriting mode now. I’ll soon return to video making. Daniel has also been busy with all kinds of projects. Angie and Patrick are both in St. Louis now, going back to school. Angie is moving back to Phoenix (where she lived before joining Crooked Flower in Berkeley) in a couple of months.
After she gets settled, we will try to make some definite plans. Probably at least a couple of recording sessions with the new material. Plus some live shows.
This is not to say that we are not busy as a band! We just released Darkness and Light in May. I know you understand how much effort is behind a release. Just the cover takes a long time. Let alone the mixing. And of course, all the administrative stuff.
Then we have our “live in the studio” album Blooming coming out in July, with the accompanying live performance videos.
We’ve also prepared three additional releases: an EP and CD of new studio material, plus a “compilation” that includes a couple of our live recordings which were not previously released on disk.
So there is a lot more Crooked Flower material on the way.