Crow Hardly: Lighting a Musical Match

There are a lot of things I could say about Tim Napolitan/ Crow Hardly.  He’s kind, cordial and charismatic.  He’s outgoing, optimistic, open and original.  He’s energetic, enlivening and inspiring.  He’s positive and passionate, and that was before I even met him in person.

Music can mean something similar or directly different to all of us.  To Tim, his acoustic/modern folk  music is “a vice in a lot of ways. I do it because I love it but because it causes me to escape into a state of mind, almost another world.”  He writes in “heavy metaphors…unconventional…stories  in the vein of sounding like urban legends and I enjoy keeping the listener guessing ‘did this happen to him? Did it happen to some one else? Or is this something that even happened at all?'”

When I finally came face to face with Tim, it didn’t take long for us to be engaged in casual musical conversation.  He was refreshingly reinvigorating as he  commended and complimented, lighting a fresh fuse for me, not that I needed the push to keep making progress, although it was adamantly appreciated!   Amidst all the artists playing in the busy background, Tim and I took our time talking about the past, the present, and the foreseeable future.  He not only makes music, applauds all his peers, and has a positive perspective, but he is involved and inclusive with his ideas.

Tim’s music, like him, is honest and innovative.  It’s stylistically flexible, capturing all kinds of characteristics, “like Conor Oberst, Bon Iver and Dallas Green, but I would be lying if even ambient, electronic, and dark alternative acts like Arcade Fire, M83 and MGMT didn’t help me through my writing even if on a sound level.”   The thing I like most about him though, and it’s a long list, is his happiness to help.  He was excited and eager to inform me about a future festival he was hoping to have to showcase local music.  He is lighting a musical match that has the capability to burn bright.

Sara Fincham:  You’ve already described this a little bit, about how music is an escape, but can you elaborate?  An escape from what to what?  What does it allow you to do that daily life doesn’t?

Tim Napolitan:  For as long as I could remember I’ve always had this sense that we as people were meant for so much more, that this gigantic planet is a glorified snow-globe and we’re all here to circle it until it’s all over. When I think of how we as people live…we grow, we go to school, we move on to college, we find love and a job, we have kids and we do this until we die. When you look at it from an outside perspective it scares me, the conventionality of life itself just bothers me. Realistically I know I myself in one way or another will eventually follow the same path but I take a lot of heart in knowing through music I can essentially dream and find solace that life can be exciting and even dreamy if you choose to look at it in another light.

To me music is an accelerator to inspire, to see our world in another angle, another light. I use music as an escape to share my life stories as well as others in a way that aren’t explained through conventional lyrics that I find myself hearing all too much on the radio. I love writing through metaphors with the sense that you’re experiencing my music like a fever dream or in a floaty state. I just can’t do it any other way. With everything, you’ll hear as Crow Hardly grows, you’ll notice despite the heavy metaphors and hot flash like lyrics, its all real things just told in a perspective that I aim in not sounding like anything plainly described in other songs. I don’t try to aim to be different but I can’t settle for anything less.

SF:  We talked a lot about the future – the festival, what we hope to happen to the local music scene.  What is a goal you’d like to accomplish this year – one personally and one for local music in general?

TN:  I would love to find relevancy within the valley and at 24 I’m content with being realistic in goals. I’ve come to the conclusion that all of this could take me nowhere but I never stop believing that through risks come rewards. I still have hurdles to climb and before I can conquer the basics like earning a reputation, continuing to perfect the craft and being prepared for eventually going on the road. I have to figure out what I want to get out of this act. What is ultimately “Crow Hardly?” Is it a one man act,  sometimes more? Is it strictly acoustic? Will it expand past simple stories into more?

It’s all still fresh to me and I’m trying to figure it all out myself. I love what I do though and as long as people keep supporting it I’ll find the motivation to keep doing it. As for the festival, it’s still under wraps but for now all I can say is early May is looking like a prominent time for good local music and for people looking for something fun to get into. It’s definitely a challenge to myself to pull it off among a few others interested in taking it off the ground, so yes it’s definitely the other conquest I want to have take off this year. If it’s a success will it be a yearly thing? I’m hoping so. More will be shared when everything starts coming together.

SF:  What’s the story behind the Crow Hardly name, and who is Crow Hardly?  How is he different than Tim Napolitan?

TN:  The story of Crow Hardly is an interesting one. Ever since I was 16 I’ve been hopping around the local scene playing bass in bands from pop/punk acts to even Christian Metal. It was fun but at 22 at the time I realized it was time to see what I could make of myself. I’ve always had a strong affiliation with the solo acoustic guy lifestyle after admiring talented people like Samuel Bean to Conor Oberst, who have both made careers of writing there lives down on paper and playing said lives in front of crowds. I knew this was the path I wanted to take in the long run and decided to pursue it at a different angle. I went out and I purchased an acoustic bass and stabbed at the idea of solely working gigs on this platform alone…acoustic bass and vocals. It sounds insane and to this day still does when I think about it.

I had my first gig booked at a West Liberty open mic night shortly thereafter. I remember being nervous and in front of about 30 college kids who I never even met, without a name or schtick to work with, but I knew I wanted a name, persona, anything to stand out, but with seconds before playing I still hadn’t had anything and right there and then I’m standing before everyone either about to say “Hi, I’m Tim Napolitan,” or make my stand and create a start right there and then. Out of nowhere I muttered “Hi, my names Crow Heartly thanks for coming out.” Crow came from me watching “The Crow” with Brandon Lee earlier that day and Heartly because…well I’m not too sure!

After the set people came up and thanked me for coming out, you know nice things, but kept referring to it as “Crow Hardly” by mistake. After hearing it a few times I realized ‘I think I like the ring of Hardly over Heartly,’
so I decided to stick with it, so here I am: Crow Hardly. I have a natural fixation for black birds, crows and so forth and crows hark loud, hardly, even so in the long run, it makes sense, plus I think it sounds kind of cool! People often ask me “Are you Tim Napolitan or Crow Hardly?” Honestly I enjoy being called the latter when I’m on stage by fans but it doesn’t bother me either way and keeping it vague and mysterious gives me some enjoyment out of keeping people questioning.

SF:  I know you have friends that also make music. Locally, who have you played with, and if you could pick any artist to play with who would it be?

TN:  I’m blessed by getting to work with some truly exceptional talent around here, talent that’s gone as far as to motivate and inspire myself to work harder and often times reach their level. Since Crow Hardly started I’ve had the chance to perform with acts such as Dalton Conrad, Too Cruel to Be King and even What Great Fangs. Dalton and TCTBK perform on such a stripped level it feels like there being as real as it gets on stage because often times I find artists winging it for the sake of getting through a set or performing what they think “you” want to hear. They play whats in their hearts and there’s not an ounce of fake in them.

With Dalton Conrad and Too Cruel you really get a sense of personality and individualism when they perform. It truly is inspiring to people like myself and I’m happy to call them my friends. Truly great, great artists that anyone who enjoys music should check out and don’t be surprised if you hear those names on bigger platforms down the road. As for WGF? Don’t be surprised to see them as the ones that break out and become the next great success act.

I share a close brotherhood like friendship with the members of that group and it’s just incredible the kind of passion and energy they show on stage and how their fans share back. I often times joke with the lead singer, my best friend Creighton Hill, on what would happen if his act and mine ever made it big because our music is polar opposites in style but we made a promise to support each others acts the entire way no matter how different our paths go. I always jokingly compare it to seeing an act like City and Colour being caught in a paparazzi photo with He Is Legend. Sounds ridiculous right? I have a magazine article idea where we clash and call it “When Crow met the Wolves.” Most importantly though, if I had the chance to pick anyone to perform with it would have to be Conor Oberst in some fashion. I’m such a huge fan but more so of his Americana/Rootsy side projects that anyone should check out…definitely a way away from the usual Bright Eyes material (which is great as well.)

SF:  Folk is my favorite music!  What makes your music modern folk, and when did you begin playing music? And when did you make the conscience effort to keep making music?

TN:  I really hate labeling myself because really I don’t even know what to call it. What do you call an acoustic bass artist? It’s definitely unconventional and it always feels different every time I perform, record or practice. There’s definitely folk influences but there’s also so much tossed into it, it’s like a giant collage of everything stewed into something I like to think is special for anyone who hears. The conscious effort that comes with it comes from me just not wanting to give up on what I love to do in any form. I love music with all my heart, all forms of it.  I couldn’t imagine living my life without being able to perform in some fashion. To me its the safest drug anyone could take and find healing and happiness from and anything else you want to get out of it.

SF:  You mentioned that stylistically you draw from and are inspired by many types of techniques.  Is that helpful or a hindrance?  Do you ever think, ‘oh this sounds too much like so and so,’ or ‘this is a little too experimental?’

TN:  Oh yes, I would be lying if I hadn’t hit certain road blocks. I’m always in the mindset after a song is finished that “it can be better,” “this sort of sounds too much like this.” I mean, countless music tracks have been painstakingly worked on and then scrapped or deleted and that’s a good mindset to have in my opinion. I should point out that inspiration should come naturally and even though I write in the vein of taking stories from others lives as well as my own and keep true validity in every track, you can’t force yourself to write something just because you think it can be a powerful song because not every subject can be turned into a good song and whenever I start realizing “this sounds forced” or “different for the sake of being different,” it gets pitched.

Not everything translates into good material and it’s important to remind myself often “just because you stick to a theme when writing doesn’t mean it should compromise your music.” Yes I write with metaphors and maybe most of  the lyrical output is too intimidating, but in the end all I want is a good song. For as long as I live I’ll always try to maintain the balance of performing with an individual theme but try to make it as expressional and individual as possible. In the end if the listener can relate or connect to the song even in the smallest form I’ve done my part.

SF:  How do you deal with diversity?  You are so optimistic – what allows for that attitude? And do you have any shows we can see you for ourselves at?

TN:  It’s met with good and bad. I love keeping the foundation of Crow Hardly “stripped” and “raw” yet professional sounding and the diversity comes with the foundation of all the songs being played with an acoustic bass. Its met with mixed reactions at times which is why I’m keen on incorporating guitar and drums but I’m trying to be careful from making it sound like a general band. I love the low tone sounds and how off it is at times…it sounds fresh to me, despite the idea being uncharted territory. I mean really who ever heard of an acoustic bass artist riding on those merits alone to make a listenable set? It’s a challenge and sometimes even a struggle because your often times limited to what you can do with just a bass but I’m making it work and hoping in time it exceeds expectations and even the expectations of my own.

As for shows? You’ll find me occasionally strolling to a nice venue called Down on Main Street to perform every so often and as I said earlier I’m working with other talented artist to create a spring festival for around here to perform at. As for now Crow is hiding in the Crow’s Nest working on recording and to have some great songs to showcase right around the same time the festival idea comes to fruition. It’s a delicate process and I need the timing to be perfect…let’s hope all of this comes together perfectly. For now you can find me on hardly to see what I have lined up for the future and to check out what I have to listen to. Now, its all still a very early process but I’m trying to make 2012 my year to take Crow Hardly into a bigger light. Make sure to stick around because more will be coming soon.

Dalton Conrad

Too Cruel to be King

What Great Fangs

Creighton Hill

Conor Oberst

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