Brit finds a musical home in Charlotte
Mark Crozer sings, plays, writes, records. Did you catch him on the Letterman show?
12/21/2011 12:00 AM
12/23/2011 11:08 AM
Watch the YouTube video of Jesus and Mary Chain on "Late Show With David Letterman" in May 2007 and concentrate on the silver-haired guitarist. Go ahead, we'll wait for you.
Did you see his face? Focused, turned modestly down toward his instrument, smiling solemnly as he shook hands with his host? That's the face of a man whose world had just begun to turn upside down.
Since that New York gig, Mark Crozer has married the woman he met on that trip, fathered a daughter who turned 2 this year, spread his music widely on the Internet and moved to Charlotte. Back then, he lived near the Cotswolds, a range of hills in west-central England. Now he lives within a few miles of Cotswold mall.
"It's not such an upheaval," says the 40-year-old guitarist, across cups of tea and a plate of wife Jodi's jam-filled cookies. "With Skype, I see my mother on the Internet more than I did when I lived in England. And I really feel at home here."
Crozer has been busy since coming in March: applying for U.S. citizenship, joining Jodi and Ruby in the south Charlotte house Jodi's parents occupy, cutting "Next Christmas" for a Ramseur Records album that featured the Avett Brothers and raised money for the Vickie S. Honeycutt Foundation. He's made his own Christmas EP available for download, has another album ready to release in 2012 and is looking for band members who could tour.
An artist on the move
Change comes naturally to Crozer. He left his native Oxford for Canada - first Montreal, then Vancouver - to pursue music after high school, and he has asked himself many times if he should be a musician at all. At one low point in his 20s, he sold all his musical equipment.
"I got into this West Coast New Age thing and sold massage tables," he recalls. "I was terrible at it. People would tell me, 'Oh, I can't afford this,' so I'd give them a huge discount.
"One day, I walked past a guitar shop. I thought, 'I'll drop in. Just play a bit.' As soon as I touched the guitar, I thought, 'What have I been doing? I have to do this. If I don't, something inside me will wither.' "
Crozer has loved rock music since boyhood, when he listened to The Beatles' "Abbey Road" over and over to copy guitar licks. But Crozer didn't get his biggest break, his come-to-Jesus-and-Mary-Chain moment, until five years ago.
He'd been living a pleasant, mildly dissolute life in an old English mansion with another rocker, writing songs and dropping in at the local pub. But he "came home one night after playing in a London basement for about four people and told myself, 'This is crazy.' "
Then the phone call came. Scottish rocker Jim Reid had founded the alternative band Jesus and Mary Chain in 1983 with his brother, William, but it had self-destructed after years of alcohol, anger and arguments. Jim Reid later formed his own band and used Crozer as a backing musician. So when he jump-started JAMC in 2007, he asked Crozer to play guitar.
When everything changed
The band went to Coachella, the California festival where Scarlett Johansson stepped onstage to sing backing vocals. It visited Mexico, Peru, Japan. Its pass through New York introduced Crozer to Jodi, who ran the East Village tea shop Sympathy for the Kettle. (She still maintains the business online. Get details at www.sympathyforthekettle.com.)
Suddenly, he had almost as many responsibilities as fingers. He'd started a British booking agency in lean times and still handled a few bands. Crozer's own group, International Jetsetters (featuring JAMC drummer Loz Colbert), began to attract notice and released the mini-album "Heart is Black" on the U.S. indie label Planting Seeds Records.
Planting Seeds re-released two solo albums Crozer had made in Canada and an EP of new material, "To Get to You." He started Oxford School of Rock in his home town to give lessons to aspiring guitarists. (He still does that via Skype and teaches songwriting, too.)
Today, with JAMC on indefinite hiatus, Crozer still "tries to feel I'm overseeing the school" and hopes International Jetsetters might play gigs on some future visit to England. But his face is turned firmly forward: "I do feel very British, because that's where I grew up. But having a daughter who's both British and American makes me feel more of a connection to this country. It's going to be a home for me."
Happy in a new country
He has already made friends here. Musician David Childers hooked him up with Ramseur Records. Jeff Spinazzola, a regular at Sympathy for the Kettle before moving to Indian Trail, introduced Crozer to the N.C. Music Factory and NoDa. The two collaborated on "Broke Down Christmas," a wistful song on Crozer's EP inspired by Spinazzola's trip home last holiday in a car with no heater.
"Mark and I were passing lyrics back and forth on other things, and I got a feeling for how he likes to write," says Spinazzola. "He's heavily influenced by The Beatles; there's a sweetness and innocence to the kind of music he likes.
"Because of his accessibility and openness, Mark could galvanize the music scene here across genres. He adds some of that British wit in his songwriting - he's having his best inspiration as a writer now - and people who (get to) know him will want to work with him."
Perhaps Ruby's presence has made her dad more playful: He has recently recorded an ABBA cover ("The Winner Takes It All"), a George Harrison tune ("If I Needed Someone") and a satire of British politics set to a jaunty arrangement ("Same Old Same"). As he enters middle age, Crozer may be re-discovering himself.
"I feel I'm hitting my stride at 40," he says. "I think this can be a new musical start for me. And I've learned never to say 'no' to something, unless I have an extremely good reason."
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