The Contestants are a rock band based in Seattle, Washington composed of Ian Crawford, Lucas Poulshock, and Ian Davidson. Recently, guitar wizard and vocalist Ian Crawford (formerly of The Cab, Panic! at the Disco, and NeverShoutNever) chatted with us about releasing the band’s debut album No Contest, returning to his garage band roots, and staying true to rock-and-roll values in the ever-changing music industry.
Rare Candy: What first inspired you to start playing music?
Ian: There was a lot of music in the house growing up. Both of my parents are huge lovers of music. They both grew up playing music. I started playing the drums when I was ten, and switched to the guitar pretty quickly after that. I definitely felt more of an instant connection with [the guitar].
RC: As you got older did you have an interest in making your own music right away, or did you prefer the idea of being part of a band?
Ian: I’ve been writing songs since not long after I started playing guitar. I definitely wanted to be someone who could wear any hat, whether it was writing songs, playing a variety of instruments, producing...
RC: In the past you had said you were ready to make a solo record, and that the Contestants record is a project you had wanted to pursue for a long time. What made you finally decide to go for it?
Ian: The Contestants record started as a solo record, and it was a lot of songs that I had compiled over the years, between The Cab days and the Panic! at the Disco days. I tried [at] it 3 or 4 times. I really wanted to finally do a solo record, [but] when you’re doing it on your own and you’re trying to play all the instruments, it’s a lot to take on at one time, and it can be somewhat overwhelming. I found myself crash and burn a few times trying to really make this vision happen, and I was in a stagnant place for a while.
I go down to a local music jam in Seattle on Tuesday nights and [there] I met Lucas Poulshock, the other guitar player in The Contestants. We hit it off really well just playing music together and we decided we wanted to start a band, so I brought in some of my old songs and he helped me with some of those - to really just put everything in a direction. He was so nice to have as a teammate to execute these ideas. That was extremely helpful and really got me back on the horse, trying to put out a record and I’m really proud that this is a group effort between me, Ian Davidson and Lucas Poulshock. We all came together on this and we recorded most of the record - a lot of it was done in my garage.
RC: Very DIY.
Ian: Yeah! We recorded in a bunch of different and random places and it was a really fun time. It really got me inspired to focus on original music, being a primary songwriter as opposed to being a collaborator with another band. It really gave me that confidence to go at it with my friends again.
RC: Moving to some songs on the record, I think Hanami is a standout …How did the writing for that go? Did you learn Japanese?
Ian: Lucas Poulshock is singing on that song, and he is fluent in both English and Japanese. I did a few Japanese background chants and vocals, so I learned it in phrases. Hanami is a celebration in Japan at the time of year when the cherry blossoms bloom and so, according to Lucas, it’s a song about driving down a highway, going crazy, watching cherry blossoms bloom. It’s really interesting and I kind of like how it's this mystique of a song.
A really important theme that we wanted to project was a mix of American and Japanese cultures together. I think that, especially now more than ever, we really want to celebrate those differences and bring them together in rock and roll music. We wanted to try [to create] something that we had never really heard and we wanted it to come across in the music as a mix of different cultures and different perspectives.
RC: Given the time that we’re in, with everything going on politically, do you think there will be a resurgence of rock as activism and rock music as “a celebration of differences”?
Ian: I do. I think there is always a silver lining to any bad situation and I think that one of the best things that will come out of what has been going on, is that there is going to be great art being made in so many different ways. I think history has shown that. Even going back to Neil Young singing about Kent State. When art is being made as a reflection of bad things or times of change, [it] really has something extra and different. There's something really special about it and it comes through in the music, whether it's subliminally or right away for the listener ...you know what it’s about.
RC: I wanted to go back to the idea of mystique because the way you released the first single for No Contest, Lady Loveless, was a little sneaky. (Rather than a ‘straight release,’ The Contestants hid the song link on one of their social media profiles, imploring listeners instead to go find it!) What made you decide to do that?
Ian: So many people with social media today [are] just like, “Hey check out my band! Do this!” It’s right in your face. We’re a new band, so we don’t necessarily have much of a following, but we wanted to see if we could entice some people instead of just, “Oh! There's another person trying to sell their stuff”, scrolling down here’s another one, here’s another one. We wanted to take a different approach. I don’t think it got us as much traction as we wanted, but it was something where the people who took the time to find it listened to it a little closer. The small amount of response we got was really positive. We’d rather have a small, loyal fan base than just kind of be there in the front with everything.
RC: It was definitely more unique, not just another “Hey! Check out our new single - it’ll be on Spotify and it’s up for preorder on iTunes” scenario.
Ian: Yeah, there’s nothing wrong with that, and everyone has their own way of promoting themselves, but I think with this band, a big part of what we’re saying with the music, we’re trying to say with our actions. This is the first band I’ve been with in a while that’s not on a major label, and we’re really trying to do this completely homegrown and not have other people influence our music, or tell us what we should change so it’ll sell better. We don’t give a shit about that. We want to do what we want to do. Personally, as a lover of classic rock and roll music and everything that was the inspiration for classic rock and roll music - that’s the mentality I think they had. I mean, there was no social media back then, it was word of mouth and what we talked about earlier, “mystique”, in a sense with a lot of music. There was a lot more control in the artist's hands. They really had the capability or the luxury of being true to themselves without somebody influencing them.
RC: Looking towards the future, do you want to play shows as The Contestants, or just make more music and release it? Goals and aspirations?
Ian: Yes and yes. Ian (Davidson) is out on tour with The Wonder Years right now and he'll be back in a couple of weeks, Lucas is in Japan, and I'm moving back home in a couple weeks so, unfortunately life has happened with all of us. We wanted to keep things going right after the album happened, and we are really, really ready to make up for lost time with the Contestants in 2017. We have a lot of stuff planned, starting out in the Seattle area especially. I'm recording an actual solo record right now, too. It's a little bit of a different direction. I'd say one of several directions the Contestants record went is the direction of this solo record, [and it] goes with a lot of the musical influences I've had lately. I'm incredibly excited for what this next year has to come. We have a lot of stuff in the works.