Dan and Joel Crannitch have had a long history playing together, and, as they embark upon their new project The San Sebastian, you’d think they could have explored every cranny of their musical chemistry over three bands and nearly two decades. Not quite.
“Joel and I have always had a good relationship,” singer/songwriter Dan says of his younger brother. “But he’s been living in Melbourne for four years now, so it was funny when it first happened – he was just going to play drums again. I played him the songs to get his head around the parts, but he said ‘I’ve been thinking, I really want to play guitar and sing in this band’. It must have taken him a lot of courage… at first I was really weirded out – it’s like, ‘Nah, you’re the drummer’. But he really brought the goods.”
You could forgive Dan for still seeing the now-adult Joel as the kid brother on drums. After all, it’s a dynamic they’ve been working on since before Joel hit puberty. “In Year 11 this guy Fuzz and I were creating our band, but we didn’t have a drummer,” Dan says, painting a scene somewhere between Wayne’s World and Round the Twist. “Joel at that stage was 10, and he was in the other room while we were talking about drummers. Then my friend Cameron turns around and says, ‘Dude, the drummer’s sitting on the couch right there’.
“It wasn’t long after that we got him a drum kit, and he learned to play drums by listening to Queens of the Stone Age. Soon after that he started playing shows with our first band Tusk. He was still an absolute kid, and looked like a kid, and we were these hairy dudes in our late teens. That’s how it started.”
Their most recent collaboration was Leader Cheetah, the well-travelled alt-country act that grew out of their cult-favourite post-punk trio Pharaohs. The group wound down after their second LP Lotus Skies as members dispersed across state lines (“sometimes you’ve got to know when to leave it on a good note,” Dan reflects). Inevitably, they drifted. The elder Crannitch briefly charted a different path with short-lived solo venture Love & Other Crimes. A polished studio endeavour with dashes of disco strings and Bowie glam, it was a fun diversion that ultimately didn’t feel quite right.
“I applied to go to Austin to finish these works by a guy called Albert E. Brumley, a really famous American songwriter,” Dan says of the eureka moment. “I got accepted, and that really was a sign that I had to stop mucking around and get back to what I’m best at – to stop pissing around.”
A stream of new songs came quickly, emboldened by his newly rekindled collaboration with Joel. The first San Sebastian album Alive… On The Black Sea soon took shape, recorded in barely-rehearsed bursts whenever the younger Crannitch was home from Melbourne. Soon everything else was lining up in their favour too, from Fleet Foxes producer Phil Elk overseeing the mix to a new live band featuring Jesse Coulter and Jimmy Balderston of punk outfit Grenadiers. “It just felt like the universe was saying ‘You’re back home, this is the right thing to do’,” Dan says.
The result is something not too far from the spacey country pop of Leader Cheetah (the violin work of regular collaborator Tom Spall makes sure of it), but with a newfound comfort and reassurance in each other’s strengths. “We’re not super young anymore,” Crannitch reflects. “Doing it with my brother [gave] me that extra drive. It’s about family and creativity, and nothing to do with money or career.”
For two young men whose formative years together have been built almost entirely around music, it’s also ensured their relationship continues into adulthood even as time and distance come into play. “We’ve always been good friends, but we didn’t talk that often. Now it’s great to have a project that we’re both really invested in, and it gets us together and keeps us focussed on something creative”.
The San Sebastian makes their Australian debut at Silver Raven Festival on Saturday, April 22 at Turkey Flat Vineyards, Tanunda
Tickets available at silverravenfestival.com