Rediscovering the Forgotten Work of Craw

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If you are a music fan, you’re probably familiar with the phrase “I’ve heard of it but haven't heard it.” Now that the internet is a thing (the internet is sticking around, right?), you probably hear it way more than you used to. Everyone knows a little bit about everything, even if they’ve never actually heard the thing in question. Musician/journalist Hank Shteamer took it upon himself to excavate the early catalog of Cleveland post-hardcore band Craw, a quietly influential group that somehow managed to do what is now almost impossible: be forgotten.

How and when did you first hear Craw?

I first heard Craw in 1994 or 1995. At the time, I was a high-school metalhead growing up in Kansas City, and I came across a review of their first, self-titled record in a local fanzine. It sounded enticing — the writer made some crack about how you might want to hide all your knives and other dangerous household objects before spinning the record — so I sought it out next time I went record shopping.

Why do they resonate with you?

Craw opened me up to a whole new world of music. I had no idea that there was such a thing as heavy music that didn’t conform to conventional metal tropes — everything from the standard metal “look” to the lyrical content to the quality of the music itself. Craw’s music was unspeakably heavy, but also gorgeously textured. These days, we take it for granted that metal is more or less an art music, but back in the early ‘90s, much of the music I was consuming in the style felt very adolescent. Craw seemed grown-up to me, and all the more unsettling for it. In the two decades since I first heard them, I’ve never heard any other music that captivates me as much as Craw’s first three albums. Anyone interested in heavy, adventurous, intelligent underground music needs to hear these records.

Do you have any idea why they aren’t talked about more today?

Craw never fit into any kind of box. Terms like “math rock” and “post-hardcore” apply, but only in a very broad sense. Their music demanded full attention — it was never going to be something you put on and rocked out to, like many of their better known contemporaries (Jesus Lizard, say, whom Craw shared bills with). Also, they had the misfortune of being on a tiny label that folded soon after releasing the first two Craw records. Many of their contemporaries — such as Dazzling Killmen from St. Louis, probably the band that was closest in style and approach to Craw — had the good fortune of being distributed under the Touch and Go umbrella, so their music stayed in print for years after they broke up. Craw’s records disappeared entirely, so if you didn’t get ahold of them in the mid-'90s, or happen to catch a show on one of their few tours around that time, you probably haven’t heard of them. Plus, they’ve had no real web presence for many years, and out of the seven musicians who played on these three Craw records, only two of them still play music regularly, and only one of them (drummer Will Scharf, also of Keelhaul) went on to work with any remotely well-known band. Basically, they’re a classic blip-on-the-radar band — either you found out about them during their initial lifespan, or you probably missed out entirely.

Do you see a whole new world of people like yourself reissuing cult-favorite bands that managed to retain ownership of their music?

Definitely part of the impetus for this project was seeing all this great early-to-mid-'90s post-hardcore resurfacing via loving reissues — everything from the Slint and Jesus Lizard reissues down to the Rodan, Bitch Magnet, Floor and Moss Icon compilations. The Hydra Head label, which put out Craw’s fourth album, Bodies for Strontium 90, in 2002, has done the same for bands like Botch and Oxbow. It seems like the history of this period is really being cataloged and preserved in a very concerted way. Yet in the 20 years since Craw was a full-time active band, they seem to have simply vanished from the record, as it were. I’ve been continually shocked that even people who are real scholars of this period and fellow connoisseurs of weird, heavy underground music have never heard of them. That always seemed like a serious injustice to me, and when I found out from the band that they’d retained full rights to their music, I felt like I had to make an effort to get these records back out into the world.

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