Harrison Craig has been wowing audiences with his voice since 2013. With the release of his third studio album Kings Of Vegas (featuring new interpretations of classics such as “Almost Like Being In Love”, “She’s A Lady” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”) displaying a mature sound with swing-inspired direction, this platinum-selling artist (and soon-to-be author) is on a national tour paying homage to the icons he grew up listening to.
Last time we spoke you were working on the Kings of Vegas album – you said it was more in the direction you’ve been wanting to go, about coming into your own and where you want to be musically for the rest of your career. Having now recorded and finished album, do you feel this still rings true?
Yes, I think so. I also strongly believe there’s always room to grow. There was a great quote by Prince and, from not remembering the quote word for word, he was trying to say you should always be looking to grow and expand. You shouldn’t stay in one place for too long, but stay in that line that works for you. Don’t switch to being a metal performer, if that’s clearly not your jam, but don’t stagnate is what he’s trying to get across. That rings true for everything, for this as well. I’m looking forward to going on tour with the Kings, but also growing and pushing that out as well.
I grew up with Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, the Rat Pack – all the greats – that made a huge impact on my life. When I was in Las Vegas, I was taken away by the amount of history that’s still there! Frank Sinatra is still a huge part of the town, even though he’s no longer alive, and goes to show the impact that they had on the town, style and era of the music.
You also mentioned last time that there may have been some original tracks, which obviously didn’t pan out as the album features only covers. Were any songs written for the album which didn’t make the cut?
Yes. I’d been writing quite a few and I didn’t really feel it was appropriate to put them on this record. I think this record, the way it is and way it’s laid out is great and I didn’t think putting a new track on there would have done anything incredible at this point. I thought let’s leave that, put it on a new record and we can go from there.
The album features songs that have been recorded numerous times by various artists over the years – how did you go making it sound fresh, while staying true to you and your sound, while keeping the integrity of the original song?
It’s all in the arrangements and the mark that you put on it. It’s important not to make a copy version or because than it’s not your track, then it’s karaoke. You need to be able to put your own mark on it, put your own flair there, and work with your team and band to make everything work well together. Put your own spin on it, make it yours. It’s really great when you can say, “Hey guys, this was by Nat King Cole, but I’m going to make it cool again for you,” – that’s really fun. That’s something that not many people get to do. That’s very exciting!
Was there a particular song that inspired the new sound and set in motion what the album would eventually become?
There were quite a few tracks, particularly in the style of Presley. He was a rock and roll King! His up-tempos and arrangements he had, they were very inspiring because they made you want to jump around and that’s what I wanted in part from this record. I also took the feeling and style of someone like a Frank Sinatra would have recorded during the middle of his career, when he was feeling like he might have become not all that he wanted to be. Then he came through and just killed it – it was amazing! When I think you hear something like “Send In the Clowns” or something by Sammy Davis Jr. You’ve got “Mr Bojangles” as well. Those tunes, the stories they have and the feelings you get are priceless. I wanted to take that if I could, or at least potions of that of my own experiences, and use them as fuel for these songs.
As mentioned, Kings of Vegas‘ sound differs from previous albums. What’s the feedback been like from people who have followed your career from the very beginning?
They’ve been really supportive. It’s really great to have long time fans and supporters that really care about where I’m heading and what I want to do – that’s always reassuring. Everyone’s been really great.
The tour kicks off at The Palms (Crown Casino) in Melbourne on May 5th. What can we expect from the Kings of Vegas tour?
I think you’ll be really surprised. I’ve been working hard to make this a great show and right now it’s looking like that, so I’m very thrilled. I’m been making it very one man and the piano. It’s very much like a raw experience you would have in a piano bar in the old regions of Las Vegas in the 1930s, 40s and 50s, that would have the Rat Pack there and they’d be crooning along after a long, long show. It’s really raw, intimate and one on one – that’s what I wanted to get across, so no showgirls. (Laughs)
Piano bars aren’t really something you see these days in Australia. Is that kind of lounge music type of performance still celebrated in Las Vegas?
It is quite a lot. But for me I wanted to make sure people understood it was timeless, that it’s alive and a huge part of the history and culture there. I wanted to bring that across because we don’t have anything like that here in Australia. Spending time there and going through places that were throwbacks to those times; I thought to myself, “This needs to be done!”
What is it about Las Vegas that you love?
The people are really cool, the bars are great, it’s the experiences you wouldn’t find anywhere else (like a spice you can’t really trade anywhere else) [but] I think it’s the culture. It varies from place to place around the town ever so slightly, but I know whenever you’re there, you’re going through the old parts of the town, you think to yourself, “How am I here? This is incredible! This is where the Kings used to walk, where they used to come into these bars, they would perform here, they would do this, and they’d do that!” And then you think to yourself, “This kind of music, it’s so timeless – how is it not more mainstream?” I guess that’s the circle of life for these things. I [filmed] three video clips there [including the current single, “Comin’ Home Baby”] and one TV doco, and that’s really exciting and thrilling. It was great just to walk through really well-known places.
You have a semi-autobiographical children’s book called Harrison’s Song (with illustrations by Ann-Marie Finn) out on June 1st. What can you tell me about the book?
I went to Wombat Books and let me say, they have been incredible! What made part of this so fun [is] because they have been so pumped about it too! I came to them with this idea and they were just so thrilled right from the start. I wanted to write this from the avenue of wanting to inspire kids. I really wanted to walk into my experiences. I took my own experiences from my time at school. This is what I went through, these were my hurdles, but you can overcome yours and there shouldn’t be anything that should stop you from doing that. I wanted to talk to them in a passive they could understand and then utilize to help them. I took my own experiences from my time at school and applied them here into a story. It was one that flowed from within me, because it wasn’t a story I had to create. I hope kids can use it as a platform to say, “These are my hurdles, but that won’t stop me from taking on my dream. This is what I want to do and I’m going to get there!”
Kings of Vegas is out now.
HARRISON CRAIG TOUR DATES
May 5th | Palms at Crown, MELBOURNE
May 6th | Capital Theatre, BENDIGO
May 12th | The Lighthouse Theatre, WARRNAMBOOL
May 13th | GPAC Drama Theatre, GEELONG
May 14th | Wrest Point Entertainment Centre, HOBART
May 19th | The Tivoli, BRISBANE
May 20th | Twin Towns Services Club, TWEED HEADS
May 21st | Sydney Opera House Studio, SYDNEY
May 26th | Canberra Theatre Centre Playhouse, CANBERRA
May 27th | Griffith Regional Theatre, GRIFFITH
June 2nd | Sir Robert Helpmann Theatre, MOUNT GAMBIER
June 3rd | Dunstan Playhouse, ADELAIDE
June 9th | Laycock Street Theatre, GOSFORD
June 10th | Glasshouse, PORT MACQUARIE
June 16th | Heritage Bank Auditorium, TOOWOOMBA
June 17th | The Events Centre Playhouse, CALOUNDRA
June 23rd | Bathurst Memorial Entertainment Centre, BATHURST
June 24th | Playhouse Theatre, NEWCASTLE
June 30th | Civic Theatre, WAGGA WAGGA
July 1st | Wangaratta Performing Arts Centre, WANGARATTA
July 7th | Wesley Performing Arts Centre, HORSHAM
July 8th | Mercure Convention Centre, BALLARAT
July 13th | Queens Park Theatre, GERALDTON
July 14th | Heath Ledger Theatre, PERTH
July 15th | Albany Entertainment Centre, ALBANY
July 16th | Bunbury Regional Entertainment Centre, BUNBURY
July 21st | Capitol Theatre, TAMWORTH
July 22nd | Dubbo Regional Theatre, DUBBO
July 28th | Illawarra Performing Arts Centre, WOLLONGONG
July 29th | Shoalhaven Entertainment Centre, NOWRA
August 4th | Burnie Arts Centre Theatre, BURNIE
August 5th | Country Club, LAUNCESTON