I first met Kyle Crane at the airport in Austin before a barrage of SXSW showcases in 2012, when the band I was playing with flew him in from L.A. to be our drummer for the week. Eight years later, Kyle is one of the most in-demand drummers in Los Angeles. He has recorded and toured extensively with Daniel Lanois [Tape Op #127, #37] and Neko Case [#127], and has worked with many others, such as M. Ward, Pomplamoose, Glen Ballard, and Kurt Vile. He also served as Miles Teller's drum double in the critically-acclaimed 2014 film Whiplash, lending hands, sticks, and blistering acumen to its pivotal musical moments.
His first solo record – released this year under the name Crane Like the Bird – is underpinned by a collection of guest performances that reads like a Who's Who of both indie rock and modern jazz, including: James Mercer (The Shins), Peter Moren (Peter, Bjorn and John [Tape Op #65]), Ben Bridwell (Band of Horses), M. Ward, Luke Steele (Empire of the Sun), Sabina Sciubba (Brazilian Girls), Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes), Brad Mehldau, and Kurt Rosenwinkel, to highlight a few. I caught up with Kyle before an Oakland performance with Neko Case to talk about the record and his career path. Kyle is a pure performing musician, so we spoke little about the technical side of recording. That said, his life is a case study on how to survive and flourish in the modern music industry; no small feat, as most of us know.
You grew up in a military family, right?
My dad was in the Coast Guard, so we moved around a lot – pretty much always on the coast until he passed away, and then we moved to northern Virginia.
How old were you when he passed away?
I was 11. It was a week after his birthday. He was 35.
That's an intense age to have that happen.
When you're traveling a lot [because of his job], your parents and siblings become your best friends, because you're leaving every year or so.
Then suddenly that was all disrupted.
Yes. We were in Humboldt, California – this magical place where they filmed Star Wars [Return of the Jedi] and the Ewoks, as well as lots of scenes from the second Jurassic Park film [The Lost World: Jurassic Park]. And all of a sudden, everything changed and we moved to a suburb in Virginia with no trees.
Did you start playing music when you moved there?
Well, I started in California when I was ten. I was in fifth grade and some kids were leaving class. I was sitting there doing some math. I was like, "How come they get to leave?" And some other kids said, "Oh, they're in the band." I thought, "Okay. I wanna be in the band then," just to get out of whatever I was doing. Someone told me, "Okay, well, you've got to sign up for an instrument." I said, "Okay, drums." That first band class, we didn't have any instruments at the school so we'd play on the cafeteria tables. But the feeling of learning how to balance the stick, I remember it perfectly. Then, in my junior year, my mom said, "Hey, there's this place I saw on television called Berklee."
She saw it on television?
On some news show. She told me, "You can do music there." I said, "Really?" I asked my drum teacher more about it and he said, "There're these guys – they call them session players and they get paid to do recording sessions." So, during that thing they do in high school where you get to shadow somebody for a day, I said, "I want to shadow a session drummer." They looked around and said, "Uh, there are no session drummers here."
The Virginia suburbs! So, Berklee happened, and then afterwards you went to graduate school in L.A.?
It's called "graduate certificate" at USC, which is basically like a Master's degree, but only in playing.
Why not just come out and play?
I wanted some money to come in, so I got a scholarship. I wanted to land in a scene where I knew there were good musicians.
Did that work?
Yes. I met [session guitarist] Brian Green, who's part of my band, Monte Mar. Brian plays on my record, and he's one of my main collaborators.
I heard you went around to 100 restaurants and pitched them a live music night?
I did! It's like if you ask enough people on a date, one of them is gonna say yes.
How uncertain was that period?
The Thirsty Crow was a steady gig, and for a while that was my only steady gig. Then they started to accumulate. Five years ago, before I started touring, I had ten steady gigs a week. I had four every Sunday and then six others.
How do you feel about the current music industry in L.A.?
I think it's great. I think there are opportunities that exist there that don't really exist in other cities.
Do you feel it's still necessary to live in a major market like that to do music?
I do. I mean, there's the whole film and television world. There are opportunities that pop up with that. You have to search a little harder here to find what's going on, and it takes some time to get in the loop. It's not like New York, where you walk into Small's and there's jazz going on.
There's that whole spread out geography you have to deal with in L.A.
But when you live there you realize where all the scenes are. The kind of music that I play –...