It doesn't take long to figure out that Chauncy Crandall is not your average Americana wannabe. First of all, there's the clear, commanding voice — one that compares favorably to the likes of Van Morrison and Levon Helm. And then there are lyrics like these:
"While you were running for fun / I've been running for my life / While you were with your mistress / I've been caring for my wife."
And finally, there's the local singer-songwriter's sense of humor, warmth and candor, which come across in live performances and on his newly released album, Breakdown.
From the opening title track, with its infectiously attention-getting chorus, to the closing "Laura's Song," about the death of his older sister, Crandall's sophomore effort is a huge leap from his 2012 debut, Every Song Is About You, which he released just a couple years after playing his first open mic.
Crandall's backstory also stands out from the crowd. He grew up on a ranch in a southeast Colorado town with a population of 137 and a median household income of less than $20,000. His mom listened to Leadbelly and Marty Robbins, while dad favored The Band and Led Zeppelin. The first live music he and his sisters heard was at Saturday night rodeos, where country-western bands would play Don Edwards and George Strait songs.
After dropping out of high school to become an independent contractor for Home Depot, Crandall worked at East Coast stores while earning his GED. He returned to Colorado and settled in the Springs a few years later, and has since become one of the city's busiest and most popular performers.
Put all that together, and you've got a combination that could, and should, earn the musician national attention. But whether or not that happens, it's clear from the following interview that Crandall is in it for the long run.
Indy: Let's start by talking about "Mansions to Heaven," which is the most class-conscious song I've heard come out of this town. Is that rift between rich and poor something you were conscious of growing up?
Crandall: I don't think I was ever conscious of it growing up, because I was only really around people that would be considered poor. But then as I became an adult, for lack of a better word, and started going to places like New York and New Jersey, I became aware of the difference between what I came from and what was out there. I also felt, from my perspective at that point, how they saw me and how they treated me.
But that changed over the years, too, from meeting people who would obviously be considered a different class than me and have broken my stereotypes.
What did your folks do?
My dad was a truck driver, and then they bought 450 acres southeast of Las Animas, and became self-sufficient farmers. My dad had a real big accident, where his leg was pretty much crushed, and dismembered, by an I-beam when he was getting his truck loaded at a construction site. They used the settlement to buy a piece of property.
We'd have one or two milk cows, sometimes four or five pigs. So we would always butcher our own meat and grow our own gardens. I don't know if I've ever been middle-class. My mom always told us we were upper-poverty.
When did you start playing music?
We sang a lot in church. My mom always encouraged us. And by encouraged, I mean that if we didn't do what she said, we got a razor strap. So she encouraged us to do that as siblings. But we always enjoyed singing. And every year for Christmas we would get one of those Singalodeons. We didn't get a lot of individual Christmas presents, but we'd get one of those every year.
What is a Singalodeon?
[Laughs.] The Singalodeon was a Walmart home karaoke machine ...
So you got one every year? Did they just break?
Yeah, they always broke. They were ridiculous. And the first guitar that I had was when I got into 10th grade, right before I left home. It only had three machine heads on it, so I could only play the top three strings. It was a Horner electric guitar, and I would plug it into one of the old Singalodeons that the tape decks didn't work on anymore, and that was my amplifier.
This might be a tough question to answer, but I feel like I should ask. The first time I saw you play was down in Florence at their Americana Festival. And the song that struck me instantly was the one about your sister, which also ends this record. I'm wondering whether, a couple years later, it feels any different when you sing it now.
Not really. I don't play it out. I've only played it out a handful of times in the four or five years since it's been written, because it's always a hard song for me to get through.
So that was one of the few times.
Yeah, I think I've probably played that song six times out, and usually by request of somebody. I love the message in it, and I love the song. It's just a hard song for me to get through, because it is very personal. Also, I never wanted it to be something that — I always want it to be for her. Not for everybody else.
So did you think twice when it came to including it on the record?
The only reason I put it on the record is that my family begged me to, because they wanted to be able to hear it.
At what point did you move to Colorado Springs?
I came here in 2003 or 2004. I'd moved back from the East Coast after I stopped working for Home Depot.
Have you been playing out most of that time?
If you count open mics as playing out, about three or four years.
What kind of response were you getting during your open mic days?
I'd always get, "Your voice is great." My guitar playing was not. But most people wouldn't call me out on that. The first couple times I ever played out were at Joe Johnson's open mic in Manitou. And Joe Johnson is one of the people that encouraged me a lot, when some of the other people that were playing music were kind of sticking their noses up at me.
He was also one of the first people I saw play live music here. I walked in — I think it was Mardi Gras or something — and saw Creating a Newsense play, and there were all these beautiful hippie chicks dancing. And at that point — I was still kind of a country kid — I was like, that's what I want to do.
You and Joe both come from small, rural backgrounds.
There's a difference between hearing someone from that background play traditional music, versus someone who discovers it after growing up in the suburbs. Do you think geography is an important part of that?
You know, I think the simplicity of it — and doing it just because it's something that makes you feel good, and makes the people around you feel good — that's important. Not to say that somebody from the suburbs can't have those same intentions. But I think that when you are secluded from other things that could influence you or distract you, your intentions might be more pure.