Some people are not like other people. This might not be news to you – or anyone, really – but I for one sometimes need to be reminded of that. There is no “normal”, but then there is “extraordinary”. To me, Sincerely Craig falls into that category.
Dave and Sasha made their way over to Vancouver from Toronto a couple of years ago, via several detours, using different means of travels and carrying a whole lot of adventurous stories in their luggage. I met Dave through a common friend, who thought it would be nice for the brand-new Vancouverite to be introduced to some open mics and such. It took us a while to finally meet up – so long, indeed, that I called him “Mystery Dave” for a while, wondering if he was actually real – and when we did he already had a band. So much for introductions to the music scene. When I first heard him play I understood why that wouldn’t have been necessary at any rate: The man is a freckin legend, both on the guitar and vocally. I mean, anyone who covers Shakey Graves has to be at least part musical genius, and that’s definitely the case for Dave.
A couple of weeks later, his girlfriend Sasha joined him, and together they were even better. I didn’t get to hear them play for quite some time at first, but when I did I was blown away by the energy they bring to the stage, and by Sasha’s voice in particular. There’s this raw energy that pulls you into their music like a vortex. It’s quite something, really.
The story of how they met is one that Dave and Sasha often tell on stage, and it is also how they came to their name: They met through a Craigslist ad. Obviously, there’s a whole backstory there, and that’s what I came for (and to have some of that good ol’ box red with some friends) when I visited them in their home: Their truck, parked just around the corner from my – and their – old home in Mount Pleasant, sometime in December of 2018, just before Christmas.
Sincerely Craig’s story begins with two pretty different people. On some levels, anyway. You know that feeling when two people seem really different but super similar at the same time? That’s what I get with Sasha and Dave. Sasha is originally from the area around Bathurst and Steeles in North York, where her family moved from the Ukraine not long before Sasha was born. Her first language is, hence, Russian, which you will sometimes get to hear when she’s talking to Gilbert. That’s their dog that they adopted when they lived in Vancouver. Big boy. He makes his appearances throughout the interview.
Growing up, Sasha was more of a sports girl. Volleyball, basketball, soccer, figure skating, gymnastics, horseback riding… you name a sport, she’s probably at least tried it. She was team captain of I don’t even know how many teams during High School, and “absolutely loved sports”. And then she tore her ACL playing basketball, which she successfully ignored until halfway into volleyball season, when she finally had to admit she just couldn’t play anymore, and had her knee checked out. It had to be reconstructed surgically, and Sasha lost a lot of muscle and tissue in her leg. “I had to learn how to jog again”, she remembers – and that was that for sports, at least for the time being.
To make up for the loss, she started painting, dabbled in music a little and eventually sang at a school Christmas event, which she invited her parents to. They, as they later admitted, were quite terrified. They had never heard her sing, and had no idea she was in any way musically inclined.
“It actually wasn’t bad – they were expecting it to be a lot more painful” (Sasha)
When she was about 15, Sasha got into fashion design a fair bit and started volunteering at different events. After High School, she started a degree in English that she never finished because by the time she got to Uni, she was already working runway productions, doing marketing and eventually scoring a job as a fashion editor of a magazine in Toronto in her late teens. The plan was to eventually move to New York and work in the industry there. And then?
“I just woke up one day and quit everything”, she says. She realised she didn’t actually care – about the events, the couture, the people. “I just tend to make changes like this if I feel like I need to totally get rid of this.” And so she did – died her hair green, became a bartender, got a ukulele and a bunny, and started hanging out in Downtown Toronto with her sister a lot. This is the time she really got into music, and the ukulele was her way in. “It’s pretty simple and it’s easy to sing along to”, she says, and so she started going to open mics and to peruse Craigslist to find people to jam with. Which is, of course, how she met Dave. We’ll get to that in a minute. Her parents, meanwhile, were extremely supportive. They got her a guitar for her 18th birthday, which shocks Sasha a little to this day. From then on, she has always done music “in one way or another”, wherever she went.
Dave, on the other hand, had “always wanted to play guitar”, for reasons unknown to him. One of his neighbours growing up had a guitar in his basement that Dave wanted to buy off him, but the guy just gave it to him one day. Dave still has it: A sunburst, junior sized Marquee. He didn’t let his gift go to waste: When he was 8 years old, he would practice for up to three hours a day. Thanks to his brother, who is three years older than him, Dave went from learning to play “Time of your life” and listening to Blink 182 to Cannibal Corpse in no time, and migrated from acoustic to electric around the time he got into Metal.
“The first time you play an electric with distortion – that’s a pretty cool feeling, especially when you’re 11 years old.” (Dave)
Dave is still a huge Metal fan, and he also still plays guitar – or tries to, at least – almost every day. It’s been, with a few lulls when he was a teenager, twenty years now. And it shows that he has been training his soloing skills for the past ten of it, practicing scales and such – “when you start doing exercises to strengthen your pinkie”.
When Dave and Sasha first met, there wasn’t a whole lot of common ground, musically. They “grew up in completely different ways”, Dave says. Dave’s Mom is a jazz vocalist, and Sasha’s musical background is a rather classical one, with her Grandpa, who was a conductor leading a 60 piece choir and performing for the prime minister of the Ukraine. And she does throw in that her Mom used to travel with a circus, and “dance with elephants” – which explains some of Sasha’s enthusiasm for living on the road and her love for animals. So it doesn’t seem to make sense – and still baffles both of them a little – that they stuck with making music together for more than two years before things started to evolve – on a personal level, too. They would go to open mics together and support each other, but they were both playing their own stuff. When Sasha started picking up the guitar, Dave taught her some chords, and “within two weeks of getting her guitar she went up and sang three covers”, he remembers. “We tried to play together, but we just had such different tastes in music, and then we’d get distracted and would go out”, says Sasha. And then they kind of started seeing each other, but never really talked about it, and then Sasha made another one of those life-changing decisions, and went to Maui. First on a vacation for a couple of weeks, and when she came back to see her Grandma who wasn’t doing well at the time, she bought a one-way ticket back to Hawaii.
Three months later, Dave was about to leave Toronto. He wasn’t in a great place – his Dad had recently passed away, he was trying to pass his exams and pay rent at the same time, and was partying too much. So he called a friend in Vancouver and told him he was thinking of moving there – and lo and behold: Said friend knew a guy who had a basement suite for rent. That sealed the deal for Dave, and within a matter of days he had lined up two other friends who were also sick of Toronto, and was set on moving by the end of the month. That was when Sasha called, after they hadn’t really spoken for the past three months, and told him she was coming home earlier than expected. So he picked her up from the airport, and she ended up helping him pack up his life, and they started talking about her potentially moving out west, as well.
On the 29th of May, 2017 they picked up their friend Jorge from the airport, and two days later the big move was happening (with Jorge, and Matt). As Dave was driving his truck across the country, he got another call from Sasha, who had just bought her plane ticket to Vancouver. And the rest, as they say, is history. Sasha got a place to stay for herself, which she probably slept at twice, and mostly used as a studio for painting. They finally started writing together, and the first song they wrote is one of my favourites: “Come for a Ride”, which is a story of their relationship and how they finally decided to go for it. After trying to do covers together, which failed due to their different approaches on that level, they realised they had something much better going on once Dave started coming up with riffs and Sasha inventing vocals over them.
All of a sudden, everything made sense: Dave being the classic Rock and Metal guitar virtuoso – with sometimes a little Spanish guitar mixed in – and Sasha with her love for EDM bringing on the more contemporary melodies… it worked. And continues to work. Their writing process doesn’t follow any routines or standard procedures – they just write whenever, wherever, whatever comes up. Sometimes it’s Dave that comes up with a riff that Sasha clicks with, sometimes Sasha wakes up with an entire song in her head, like with “Oh my”. Sometimes Dave will be up all night, working on a song and play it to Sasha when she gets up in the morning, and she’ll love it – or not: “We definitely don’t hesitate to tell each other when we’re doing something crazy or wrong”, Dave says.
“We just communicate about everything” (Sasha)
And this communication, their intense connection is what is palpable when I listen to their music. It’s not just that their vocals work beautifully together, and they both have this extreme power, that raspiness in their voices. It’s not just that the intricate picking patterns and rhythms – now also supported by Sasha on the bass that she picked up three days before they went into the studio with “Shakin”, their single for the new album that’s coming out soon! – work amazingly with the melody lines, and that Sasha’s way of singing and playing with her voice brings out those little facets. It’s that – and this may sound lame, but I do not seem to be able to find better words for it – they seem to feel each other in their music, as well as themselves. If you ever have the pleasure to meet them, you’ll know what I mean, because this connection is apparent not only in their music, but also in the way they interact with each other and their world. It shows. It pulls you in, and holds you. I will never forget the first time I heard them play live together, and I will never forget those six songs on their first EP, “Can’t stop thinking about you”. It’s just not possible.
Meanwhile, the #NOTFOLK Duo that had to come up with their own genre (“Electrifying Acoustic”, very fittingly) continues to travel the country with their dog, their van, their energy and new videos and albums down the road. All I can say is: If you get a chance to meet them, see and hear them play, take it. You won’t regret it.
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By the way: Sincerely Craig are temporarily back in the ‘couve with a bunch of shows, one of them being The Early Show at Guilt & Co. on December 10th. You should go. Just sayin’.