Deborah Crooks offers a follow up to her 2016 EP Beauty Everywhere with her latest album The Department of the West. Exploring a range of topics, she fills you with Americana sounds mixed with alt-country and acoustic rock. Drawing on personal experiences, each track touches on a different topic and looks at the placed that have shaped her into who she is today. We sat down with Deborah Crooks to talk about the album, solo work versus being in a band, creative processes and much more!
OSR: After considering becoming a field biologist, you started a career as a journalist. What changed to make you want to make music?
Crooks: I’ve loved music, writing and creating things since I was a child but I didn’t get any encouragement in a musical direction then and didn’t think it was an option for me. Journalism led me back to creative writing and that started to crack me open. Seeing Ani DiFranco and Shawn Colvin perform live inspired me to write lyrics.
When a job, then a significant relationship ended amid a lot of drama, I got rid of most of my things, drove across the country, back home to California, thinking ‘fuck it, I’m going to do what I want and write and sing.’ Grief and disillusionment can be empowering!
OSR: Your album The Department of the West was released last year. Does the album have a backstory? The tracks touch on a range of topics, what was your creative process for such a diverse album?
Crooks: I wrote most of the songs over two songwriting retreats in the mountains of Idaho. Many of the songs are about reckoning with the American West, it’s history, natural and otherwise, as well as my personal connection to it. I’m a California native who grew up in a rural area with a deep love and connection to the natural world. Land and land ownership were always important in my family. My father’s side has been in the US for a while, with most generations fighting in the various wars of this country, from Civil to WWII. I grew up thinking it was always the ‘good side’ (Union). But those wars, sadly, included the Indian Wars which devastated the native population. There’s no good side to that or any war. During the course of writing, the #metoo movement got going so that of course influenced a song (Long Roads) and someone I loved passed away which led me to write another (The Other Side).
OSR: How different is this album to the music you have released with the band Bay Station?
Crooks: These songs are all penned by me exclusively, and I recorded them with a different band. It’s still Americana, but the material is more personal. It’s a ‘solo’ project, though of course, I couldn’t have done it with a bunch of people! Bay Station is my project with my husband Kwame Copeland where most everything is co-written.
OSR: There are a few artists who play on the album with you including Kwame Copeland from Bay Station. How did you connect with them?
Crooks: I originally met Kwame many years ago in the San Francisco songwriter scene. We crossed paths at a popular open mic at The Bazaar Cafe, then we were in a songwriting group together for many years. He started playing in my band, and after another while, we finally got together! Everyone else I’ve likewise met organically through playing music in the Bay Area or seeming them play and appreciating what they did.
OSR: Is there a track that holds a special place in your heart?
Crooks: Well, they’re all pretty much from my heart! I think ‘Let the River do the Running’ is my favourite to play while ‘Long Roads’ felt meaningful to write.
OSR: If people could remember one thing about your music, what would you like that to be?
Crooks: That it’s authentic and deeply felt.
OSR: As this is your fourth full-length album, how do you feel it compares to your last three?
Crooks: I think it’s the most realised overall. For a long time, I think my writing was far ahead of my singing and performing.
OSR: How different do you find the creative process when creating your solo music compared to working with a band?
Crooks: I write most of my music myself. Working with a band, at its best, is fun, playful and empowers the song further. I love hearing great players interpret and enhance my songs with their instruments.
OSR: Do you have any exciting plans for the next 12 months?
Crooks: Bay Station is putting a finishing touches on a 6-song EP I’m thinking is sounding pretty great. That should be out digitally sometime in the spring along with several videos. In a different year, I might have also said: “I’m planning a tour” or “I’m playing x, y or z,” but my main plan is to stay home, stay healthy and keep working on a musical I started last year as well as other songs as they arrive. I’ll likely release those to YouTube as a go and see what I’ve got once we’re able to get into studios together safely again.