By Nicholas Jason Lopez
Don’t forget to count this crow.
A performer for the last decade, Crow Hardly – the musical moniker of Wheeling, West Virginia-based singer-songwriter Tim Napolitan – will release his latest album ‘Heart Deep’ this Summer via OVHXC Recording.
Influenced by artists like Elliott Smith, City & Colour and Bright Eyes, he’s eager to unleash what he personally refers to his best material yet, which fans can get a glimpse of with his new single “Sinking Ship.”
The Music Bugle had the opportunity to chat with him about ‘Heart Deep’ and more.
Music Bugle – What excites you the most about your style of music?
Crow Hardly – The clashes of styles! I’m always back and forth on what defines me as an artist/musician, because the styles that have influenced me over the years are so drastically different. I grew up on stuff like New Found Glory and pretty much all of the Drive-Thru Records catalog on the bus to high school, but as I got older, I stumbled upon prodigies like Elliott Smith and Conor Oberst that had me go, “Alright, I think this is the type of music I want to do.” As a result, I like to think I’ve incorporated my love of energetic pop punk and then the more mature tones in the stuff Elliott and Bright Eyes do. I like to think I’m a splash of genres constantly fighting? Meshing together? I don’t think Crow Hardly can be one without the other and I love that.
Music Bugle – What has been your biggest challenge lately?
Crow Hardly – I think I speak for a lot of other artists when I say the pandemic. I’ve been fortunate to land a deal with an amazing recording company in OVHXC Recording that’s helped me produce the best work I’ve done in years and it happens to be during a time where live music unfortunately cannot be a thing. My last album ‘Gossamer Bird’ came right when quarantine happened and I wasn’t able to perform those songs to the public outside of live performances online. It was heartbreaking to say the least, but with a light at the end of the tunnel, I’m more than happy to have a second chance to show the world what I’m capable of with ‘Heart Deep’ when it drops this Summer.
Music Bugle – How would you describe your 2021 so far?
Crow Hardly – Busy! We all spent last year sitting and waiting on normality to return to life, but I saw 2021 as a chance to take advantage of the time I could be using to play shows and travel and just said, “Alright, so if I can’t perform these shows, I can amass as much content as I possibly can, because what else can I do?” I’ve spent so much of my time recording, recording and recording, sending everything I have to OVHXC and then using social media to promote to get ‘Heart Deep’ out there because I love this stuff. I love the drive, the pressure to keep moving and to get better and I hope it shows when this album releases.
Music Bugle – What inspired the “Crow Hardly” name?
Crow Hardly – (Laughs) Alright, so I was 20 and just recently on a break with the music scene. My last band fell through and I was honestly burned out on starting up another when a friend of mine named Brandon, who’s hosting a music night at his college, says, “Tim! Why don’t you come up and play?” After tossing it around, I decided to give it a try and it’s weird, because it was the most nervous I’ve ever been and I think because it was the first time I’ve ever sang or attempted to write things that were for me and not for a band. So, the night before, I’m saying to myself, “Who am I? Am I just going to go up there and say, ‘Hi, I’m Tim and these are my songs’? I like to take everything I do seriously and didn’t want to come off as an open-mic guy, so as I’m sitting there, I’m watching “The Crow” and I’m like, “Man, that could be something.” Plus, a lot of the material I was writing were love songs, so the next day I say to Brandon, “Can you call me Crow Heartly?” So, stage time comes and Brandon goes, “Alright everyone, give it up for Crow Hardly” and messes the last part of my name up and ever since then, I said “Alright, we’ll just stick with that!” (Laughs) It’s such an off-beat origin story and looking back at my young self, I want to laugh at how silly it was, but here I am 10-plus years later, five albums and a slew of places performed and I’ve been “Crow Hardly” ever since. Looking back to that show, I was so awful and so green, but I love thinking back to that day and seeing where it’s gotten me now. What was most likely a one-off thing ended up giving life to who I am now. Thanks, Brandon!
Music Bugle – What makes you the most proud about where you come from?
Crow Hardly – Where I’m from in Wheeling, West Virginia, our music scene has always been a DIY sort of thing. Small groups of people intersecting in and out of bands, ranging from gutter punk rock to metal. It’s a scene that has and is constantly evolving. The special thing about it is a lot of people in Wheeling support each other, even if the music isn’t someone’s particular cup of tea. So here I am, just got out of a metal band, prior to that, a pop punk band and decided to give this “singer/songwriter” thing a try. Some of my earliest gigs were at these type of shows where I would just stick out like a sore thumb, literally opening for a Southern metal band that was on tour and the people took to me and accepted me as one of their own. It’s wild! The Wheeling scene again has always been one built out of labor of love to anyone trying to do anything and I think that’s what I love most about it.
Music Bugle – What creative advantages do you feel come with being a singer-songwriter?
Crow Hardly – Freedom of expression! As said before, when you’re in a band, you’re writing for a sum of others and a lot of times, it also means your ideas might not necessarily be the vision of what the whole of the band wants. Being a solo artist – aside from the wonderful help I have had and continue to have from friends who help produce these albums – grants you a blank canvas to create whatever it is you want with no limits or ideas off the cutting room floor. Sometimes, I miss the band atmosphere, but it’s also a wonderful reminder that the pace you set is your own and possibilities of what you want to do are endless.
Music Bugle – What was it like putting together your album ‘Heart Deep’?
Crow Hardly – It’s been an amazing journey getting to where ‘Heart Deep’ is. With ‘Gossamer Bird,’ I had an idea of stepping up and making something fuller. In my old work, it’s all pretty raw in its most basic form, but there’s a charm to that, but after three albums of that, I wanted to change it up. In comes OVHXC Recording, who came and really wanted to help push the boundaries of what I could do as an artist. When ‘Gossamer Bird’ dropped last year, it would end up being the best album I’ve ever put out and as my own worst critic, I’ll always stand by that. I love that album. So, with ‘Heart Deep,’ we got together and decided to blow the door down with what we could do. It’s such a “full-sounding” album, more guitar, more drums, everything is just so tight and put together. As much as I love ‘Gossamer Bird,’ it feels like a test run for what this album is going to be and that’s nothing against that album. I love it, but I cannot wait to show the world what this album is going to sound like. It feels like what I’ve always wanted “Crow Hardly” to be, I really feel like people are going to love it.
Music Bugle – How do you feel you have matured musically over the years?
Crow Hardly – Growing up in a constantly evolving scene where it was punk rock and Mohawks to metal and mosh pits, I’ve always been sort of in an “identity crisis” with not only who I am as a musician, but who I am as a person. As I’ve gotten older, I learned to slow down and accept help and criticism when needed. With Crow Hardly, it used be a “Let’s throw this against the wall and see if it sticks.” Not anymore. I feel more put together, more humble to accept help and know I can’t do everything by myself. I love feeling like people want to help, want to make you sound better and be better as a musician and a human being. If Crow Hardly goes on forever, I’d like to think it does so because of my friends who’ve helped me make these records sound better and from the people who help push me to be better. Just because you’re this one guy doing this all by yourself, doesn’t mean you have to do it by yourself. Learn to be humble and appreciate the journey with the people that help get you there.
Music Bugle – Which of your songs were the hardest to write?
Crow Hardly – “You & Me” was a particular rough one, because it was a song I had a very stubborn mindset for it to sound like. My writing process is weird, where when I’m busy working or doing something that isn’t music is when I get most creatively fueled. So, here I am and I got this 50’s-era slow dance song I want to make and I got it in my head, but I just couldn’t get it all together. So, I recorded it and when I played it back, it wasn’t anything close to how I wanted it to be. It was so off the mark, so I’m messaging OVHXC about it and I’m frustrated and was like, “Listen, this is how I need this to sound. Do you think you could make this work?” and then low and behold, I get a copy back and it’s exactly how I envisioned it and in my opinion, is the best song on the whole album. I think I speak for a lot of musicians the struggle it is to put to paper exactly what you have in your head and ending with a result of having to make compromises. That was almost “that song,” but it came through in the end.
Music Bugle – Does social media help or hurt musicians?
Crow Hardly – I think it’s a double-edged sword, but more good than bad, in my opinion. Social media – like with anything in life – can make you lazy and it also applies as an artist or band. It’s a wonderful tool to create momentum, build a brand and keep your friends and fans informed on what’s going on with your music, but that alone doesn’t always make you a successful artist if it’s the only avenue you use. Right now in the pandemic, it’s the only thing we have and I think it’s wonderful we have live media for musicians to use to support their craft, but there’s an element missing if you’re only using it to post clips or share content. I’m a firm believer there’s nothing like seeing artists live in person. There’s a magic there that can’t be captured as compared to watching somebody on YouTube. I also know that people have found success using nothing but social media and trust me, if I could figure out the magic in landing gold with it, I would take that opportunity as well, but using it as a tool and not as your main line is the best way to go, in my mind.