A Conversation With Craig Bidiman/Another Musician

TJ usually does these, but I wanted to do one with Craig, so here we are. I met Craig a couple of years ago and I’ve been impressed with his dedication and boundless energy. He is a person committed to developing about a million projects (I relate so hard), not least of which is Another Musician, which started solo, expanded with a record release last year, and continues to grow today.

Hailing from Oregon but now living in Massachusetts, Craig is a mental health and sexual health educator by profession at UMASS Boston. He’s also a spoken word artist, painter, public speaker, nonprofit owner, and the host of Edupunx Podcast, where he  discusses the world of education, politics, and social justice with many everyday people throughout the world (including me, and also Julien Baker).


Also notable is Craig’s nonprofit, The Art of Survival, a DIY nonprofit dedicated to promoting healing for trauma survivors through storytelling and art. My band is actually playing a benefit for Art of Survival this Saturday at Democracy Center in Cambridge. You should go. Craig is playing too, and Michael Fiorentino of Somos is playing (!) and it’s an excellent show for an excellent cause.

–Francesca Olsen

The following is an unedited interview that took place through the wonders of Gmail. If you are interested in being interviewed like this for a future installment, reach out to digitalwheatpaste@gmail.com and we will be in touch.

Francesca: Hi! Let’s begin!

So we’ve known each other IRL for a couple of years (or a year? I don’t know, it runs together), and it’s been cool to follow along with your musicianship since then, as well as career stuff.
Something I’ve always wondered about is how you get tabling gigs at high-profile shows–can you talk a little about that, why you do it, and how people generally receive you (and Katy, too, right?) while you do that stuff?
And of course, we can talk about music: We both recently finished albums and went through all the heckin’ promotion stuff too. When you interviewed me for the Edupunx Podcast you run, we talked a bit about songwriting and how we explore different themes and ideas. What are some themes you’re exploring now in your songwriting (or in pre-songwriting)? Do you ever read a lot to get ready to write? I do–I like to really delve deep and get myself down some interesting rabbit holes. If so, what kinds of things are you reading?
Respond at your convenience! -F

Craig: Hi Francesca!
Sorry this took me forever to get back to you!
Great to hear from you. Yeah, we met on that 9/11 VFW gig in North Adams back in 2016! I got to open for you – it was a chill gig. And only my SECOND gig since I moved to Massachusetts – and I was opening for Julien Baker the week after, so I REALLY needed to shake off the dust.
Since that gig, I’ve played a bunch more in Boston and even released an EP called Farewell, which was about losing my father to cancer. So the most recent writing I released was focused solely on my relationship with my father, and the struggles of grief. During this time, however, I was getting into a lot of different styles of music – specifically shoegaze/dreamwave and folk punk, which are HIGHLY contrasting styles but I wanted to find a way to connect the two in a marriage that made sense for my spoken word style. This is where the song “Active Ghosts” came from.
The new album I am working on is loosely based on the writings of CS Lewis, who is an author I’ve dabbled with in the past. All of his writings before Narnia are so introspective, authentic, and raw – and I’ve always loved that about the dude. His twinge of religious critique is important to me because I’ve sort of adopted his critical approach to faith and faiths. But I’m focusing on his writings regarding loss and pain. So I guess I am still sort of exploring some of the themes on my latest EP – but expanding to a lot more around hope.
The biggest change is that I’m working with a band to write the new album and that’s a whole new experience!
Beyond CS Lewis, though, I’ve been reading a lot of graphic novels that have been giving me loads of inspiration – East of West, Deadly Class, and the Wicked + the Divine have been giving me a lot of ideas lately. And I’ve been revisiting some Philip K Dick and Walt Whitman (for different reasons, obviously) to give me my perspectives on the goodness of the human condition (Whitman), as well as the chaos and potential of human influence (Dick).
Tabling sort of came out of necessity for our scene in Boston. A few of the promoters in the city are incredibly concerned with the safety of concertgoers – and my nonprofit, the Art of Survival, creates a space for survivors to heal and be heard. So we table at a lot of gigs in the area to make sure resources are available and free for folks who need them. It’s been pretty cool because it gets us into gigs, sure, but we also get to meet some pretty amazing people who have huge stories to tell and are willing to do so because we have created a space for it to happen. It’s really empowering work and I’m thankful to do it. We offer patches with all sorts of messages on them (which are available for donations), but everything else (including condoms, lube, and pads) is free.

Francesca: Thanks! No worries, it takes as long as it takes : )

Speaking of Julien Baker. How did that happen? That is pretty awesome! For some reason I feel like you are now buds, too–how did THAT happen?
Will you still be blending genres in your new record? I love the dreamwave/shoegaze/folk punk mashup description. I feel like there is too much genre-ing nowadays and it sort of gets in front of a lot of music that is actually really listenable and relatable.
Some solidarity for you re: your dad. I just lost my own dad to cancer. It is not easy. It’s going to be a long time before I can write about it. Do you do any writing exercises that help you explore those feelings, or does this kind of thing happen on its own for you?
Who’s in your band? Are you writing every part or is it more collaborative?

Craig: Hi Francesca!
The Julien Baker gig came as a result of my partner, Katy, booking Julien to play at Lesley University (where Katy works), and asking me to open the gig. From there, I got into an email conversation with Julien (after she randomly found my nonprofit on Instagram and reached out to tell us that she liked our purpose), and through that random happenstance, we maintained communication and have been in touch ever since. We chat every few days or so through text – but she’s like one of the biggest new names in the music world, and she has a lot going on in her life, so I’m merely thankful for the trust and respect we’ve built as friends over the last couple of years.
The most random thing to come from our friendship is I’ve had some people introduce themselves to me and say that Julien Baker told them either about me or my music or my nonprofit. So, like, that’s always a weird fucking thing to experience.
The new album is being written and demo’d right now! I love it – the process of seeing how some songs begin, how they evolve, and how the mold into new things that you never imagined them being. And working with a band through this process is already changing the way I approach this new album because while my last album was presented as a full band effort – it was very much written separately in parts. This new album (my first proper LP since 2011, mind you) is being written in collaboration with the dudes in the band. Sure, I’m constructing the main structures and skeletons for the songs, especially the words and themes – but I’m opening myself up more to the input of the band.
Also, the album will even be released under a different name than Another Musician – a band name (sort of how you made that move with House Sparrow). Haven’t settled on a name just yet, but I have some ideas that I’m kicking around. It’ll be cool to release this one as a band because it’s going to represent more than me, I think. I’m writing more accessible music and words, which is hopefully gonna make the project connect with a bigger/different audience. while remaining true to my style and ethics. I’ll likely still use AM for my solo releases moving forward, though. Which, I hope to even release a lo-fi acoustic/spoken word album in 2019 as well. A LOT HAPPENING!
As for the styles present on the new album – so far, in it’s very acoustic demo stage, everything sounds very folk punk. But I am always fucking with genres – being a spoken word poet, my songs tend to have a different approach to them, regardless. But I’m experimenting with different ways of singing, screaming, and talking on this album. And musically, my focus is to meld a couple very specific sounds into one – dreamgaze, folk punk, rock, and post hardcore. It’s gonna be something else, for sure!
I’m working with a friend, Josh, who plays bass and played bass in some metal bands back in the midwest a few years ago, as well as two members of the emo-math band, sports. (realsportsboys.bandcamp.com), who are playing drums and lead guitar, and helping me write a bunch of different pieces for these songs. I have plans to play a lot of electric guitar on this album, and having these dudes working on the other pieces is definitely a big help because I’m only so capable on my end of creating the pieces that exist in my head. They’re all being helpful in giving me advice on how to rethink writing my music – because I am learning that writing songs for solo performance or consumption is COMPLETELY different than with a band.
I was very bummed to hear about your dad passing not long ago – I know, to a degree, the feeling of having that piece of life missing. And I remember reaching out to you about his death, in hopes that you know you are not alone in that pain, or grief – you got lots of support in your life!
Writing about my dad was an ongoing process for a while – from when I wrote an instrumental song about him in 2011 (since I didn’t have the words yet), all the way through to this new album, where I still make a couple references to him being gone. Loss, like grief, like mourning, is a process, and the way we turn that into creativity (or don’t, even) can be a challenge, and looks different for everyone. I wrote a number of stories about my dad during college (as a creative writing minor at Oregon State) – sort of cataloging his life along the way to his eventual death.
These exercises – sometimes just spending a few moments making lists about him, or writing down his characteristics in a character profile, or even the things he used to say to me – would help me a lot in terms of HOW I went about portraying him in my writing. Like, I never really knew my dad as a healthy man, so most of my memories are tainted by that lens. Thankfully, I have a pretty solid memory, so I am able to put myself in many of the moments with my dad throughout our life together – relive those feelings, experiences. But I also did a lot of writing in the moment. So that helped – cuz he was sick for a long time. So I always had time – until I had none.

Francesca: Hey! Ok, last one, and then I’m gonna make this a DWP article!

You have a benefit gig coming up for Art of Survival–what do you plan to do with the benefit $? Or are you just raising awareness, or both? Any big project plans coming up for it?
Thanks for saying that about my dad. It has been really amazing how many people have offered support, and how many people who’ve had similar experiences have reached out. Means a lot. I like your exercises–so much of memory is sensory and I think it’s tough for people to take what’s swirling around in their heads and sit down and do the actual work of making it into a list, or exploring one specific exercise around a theme or person.
Have you played a lot of electric guitar before? ARE YOU USING PEDALS?! I remember when I switched from bari uke to guitar it was like a whole world tore open for me. What has that experience been like for you?
Do you have anything else you want to say? Shows or projects you want to plug? Last chance!
Thanks for doing this! This is my first one–TJ Foster usually does them and is the originator of this concept for DWP. I had fun!

The Art of Survival benefit gig – Hell Yes! Fest – was so much fun! We had lots of great bands – including our friends in Animal Flag, Enjoyer, Motel Art, and Ozlo! We raised around $700 from the door, and I made sure to give some to the bookers, and to members of bands who actually stuck around (you know how the DIY scene goes sometimes – people play and then dip, which I’m not a big fan of, but it happens!)
And we made a special short run of shirts that we screenprinted THAT morning for the fest (a run of 14), and sold all but two of them! And of course, patches, and information about how to protect the scene and ensure folks feel a bit safer.
We’ve sort of shifted the initial focus of the nonprofit, which started almost exactly two yeas ago for sexual assault awareness month. We’ve become a tabling and scene-specialized project that is also churning out art (albeit at a slower rate than we started, but it’s still coming along!) for survivors when they submit stories to us!
And yeah, I’ve learned a lot about when and how to write about what I’m experiencing – because sometimes I can be real good about taking in the moment and regurgitating the feels a little later. Other times, I need to give myself space and time to process. And then sometimes, I’m able to process and write simultaneously – those tend to be the times where I have to trust the authenticity of the moment instead of challenging the words I’ve chosen or overthinking for the sake of overthinking.
However, lately, I have been focusing on not settling for the words that will make do – I want to workshop the songs I’m writing, so I’m sharing them with friends. Some folks randomly get a scratchy iPhone demo to their iMessages with the simple comment of “lemme know what you think needs to change.” And friends are pretty responsive. I want to make sure that the stuff I’m putting out now is solid, genuine, and not generic. I also recognize that this sort of process may compromise my initial authentic views/takes on some of the songs, but I think my approach is still uncompromised because I’m pretty good at taking constructive criticism and making it work out in the end.
I’ve played some electric guitar in the past – it’s not necessarily my favorite thing – but holy shit, it’s SO MUCH EASIER than playing an acoustic guitar. I even get a little thrown off when I plug in my acoustic and play around with amplification in that regard. Because I generally spend the majority of my time practicing guitar at work, when I’m tabling in our campus center (since my job is primarily promotion work). So when I take an idea that I’ve been working on at work and bring it to my performance guitar (read: my nicer acoustic guitar), it can feel weird because the contexts are different.
I feel that way now that I’m taking some of my acoustic tracks and playing them on my electric – it’s weird at first. And I am experimenting with pedals – just bought a mini Donner delay pedal, and a friend sent me a Screamer, a WAH, and a tuning pedal – so not too much just yet. I’m still figuring out what they all do, haha. But it’s fun! I’m learning! Even nine years into making music, I’m still very much a student of the craft.
As far as an upcoming GIG is concerned, I’m doing a bunch of talk/performances at colleges in the coming weeks, but for folks in the New England area, I am playing a gig with YOU on March 17 at The Democracy Center in Cambridge, Mass with Michael from Somos, and Paige Chaplin – it’s gonna be super fun! 
Beyond that, I’m doing a bunch of gigs at colleges coming up – where I also incorporate a talk about mental health and surviving a number of issues that go on in my brain and in my life. BUT my hopes for the near future are to get more songs structured with the band, write the full-length album, record it, and play a bunch of gigs. I’m toying with going out for a week or so in the summer – like a solo tour, but we’ll see how that ends up!
Thanks so much for this opportunity to share some thoughts with you!
It’s been great to think critically about my work and the stuff I’m still learning and pondering.
Be well!

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