Prog rock lives in the unlikely locale of New Orleans. Prog-rock band Glasgow, the nucleus of which is brothers Sam and Jack Craft, released its CD debut, On Earth, last February. That record inspired praise from New Orleans music writers and now Glasgow is preparing its forthcoming release, 1986, a rock opera set in the era of Reagan-nomics and the Cold War.
After growing up in an NPR household, the Craft brothers belatedly discovered ’90s rock. Graduates of the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts and Loyola University, violinist Sam, 23, and cellist Jack, 24, aspired to the classical concert hall but the lure of rock proved irresistible.
“There’s a completely different energy in rock that really attracted us,” Sam Craft said from New Orleans. “You play soccer, you collect Hot Wheels and then you start a rock band.”
In the mid-’90s, Radiohead, Bush and Blur, plus the echoing roar of Nirvana and Pearl Jam, were completely new to the Craft brothers. Empire Records, the 1995 film about an independent record store resisting absorption by a soulless music store chain, captures the era well, Craft said.
As ear-turning as mid-’90s rock was for the Crafts, the brothers’ light bulb moments came when they excavated rock history. Electric Light Orchestra, Queen, Kansas, Emerson, Lake and Palmer and, Craft added with a laugh, Rush, were their missing links between classical music and rock.
The commercially successful yet daring Beatles were another inspiration. As early as the mid-’60s, the Beatles and producer George Martin added string quartets to “Yesterday” and “Eleanor Rigby.”
“The crazy, John Cage-esque middle section and coda of the Beatles’ ‘A Day in the Life,’ ELO’s ‘Mr. Blue Sky,’ we latched onto these incredible arrangements,” Craft said. “And they made it all seem possible.”
Learning songs of the Beatles, the Cars and others some years later in preparation for backing New Orleans-based singer-songwriter Susan Cowsill — youngest member of the hit-making 1960s family band, the Cowsills — for her Covered in Vinyl series at Carrollton Station enhanced the Craft brothers’ already deep musical knowledge.
“When you break George Martin string arrangements down, and Paul McCartney’s bass lines, which are virtuosic, it really tests your knowledge of music theory,” Craft said. “And it’s great having that repertoire under your belt. It makes you aware of all the possibilities.”
The Craft brothers toured the Midwest and East Coast with Cowsill both as opening act and members of Cowsill’s band.
“There’s a lot of me playing the violin and singing at the same time,” Craft said of backing Cowsill. “Jack plays guitar and then plays a lick on the keyboard and then goes back to guitar. That’s why she wanted us, because we can get around on most of the rock band instruments.”’
And working with the charismatic Cowsill is a pleasure, Craft said. “She’s every bit space cadet and genius.”
Glasgow, which includes singer Alexis Marceaux, drummer Jon Arceneaux and bassist George Elizondo, gathered a gold mine of publicity recently through its main-stage appearance at Voodoo Experience. The rock-oriented New Orleans festival is held every Halloween weekend.
“Because we’re a rock band, Voodoo is a real accomplishment, even more so than some of the more diverse festivals,” Craft said.
Hobnobbing with fellow musicians of both regional and national import at the egalitarian Voodoo Experience was fun, too.
“All the artists hang out in the same area, so you get to mingle,” Craft said. “Everyone was casual and there was a mutual respect among the bands. That was the best part, being around Wolfmother, the guy from Jane’s Addiction and our friends in Generationals. A really cool experience.”