Accidental guitar discovery leads to music career

Mark Crissinger’s interest in music began when he discovered his mother’s YMCA campfire guitar while on the hunt for Christmas presents. He performs at Acme Food Co. Friday (Jan. 3). - Photo Contributed
Mark Crissinger’s interest in music began when he discovered his mother’s YMCA campfire guitar while on the hunt for Christmas presents. He performs at Acme Food Co. Friday (Jan. 3).
— image credit: Photo Contributed

Mark Crissinger was just a boy looking for hidden Christmas presents under the stairs when he discovered something else.

Crissinger stumbled upon his mother’s YMCA campfire guitar and began playing around with it.

“I just liked the sound of the strings and I liked that I was able to create anything,” Crissinger said. “I seemed to get off on making the sounds even though I didn’t really know how tune it.”

Eventually, someone showed Crissinger how tune the guitar and he began playing and writing songs.

“I just started making up stuff and writing songs right away,” he said. “Finally someone showed me how to tune it and then I got a real guitar.”

Crissinger, who will be performing at Acme Food Co. on Friday (Jan. 3), said the first song he ever wrote was called ‘Kati,’ which was about a girl he liked at the time.

“I actually found the lyrics for it the other day and I might bring it back,” he said.

Crissinger, now 46, was born in Pointe-Claire, Que., and moved Toronto in 1987. He began exploring the growing music scene in the city and eventually became a regular performer at Grossmans Tavern.

“It was a really good time in Toronto. It was a wave of music with a lot of bands like I Mother Earth and Our Lady Peace that were forming and were really giving the Canadian music scene a boost,” Crissinger explained about the Toronto scene. “It was right around the time the CRTC changed the laws about what percentage of Canadian music had to be played on the radio. It was opening up the doors for a lot of young Canadian bands that wouldn’t have been able to get noticed otherwise, but because these laws changed they needed more Canadian content, they just couldn’t be playing The Guess Who and Rush all the time.”

In 1989, he became a member of Sweet Jones, where he remained until 1993. During Crissinger’s tenure with the band, he opened for the likes of Our Lady Peace, Blue Rodeo, 54-40, Tea Party, I Mother Earth, the Ramones and the Tragically Hip.

Crissinger said that he learned lots during his time with Sweet Jones, but that much of what he learned doesn’t apply to his work today.

“So much has changed in the business since I was doing that. I was still recording on two-inch tapes in those days as opposed to now where you just play into a computer and they edit everything,” he said. “What I learned isn’t really applicable except for the work ethic. You still need to work really really hard to get to where you want to be in this business.”

In 1993, Crissinger decided to become a solo artist and spent two years performing in Toronto. He also ended up sharing the stage with the likes of Burton Cummings, Pat Rush, Jeff Healey, Lee Oscar, and Jack de Keyzer.

“It is nice to be able to put on your resume,” Crissinger said about performing alongside higher profile artists. “But they are just people.”

Two years later, he joined Toronto-based band Caution Jam, where he remained until 2007.

“It was a breath of fresh air,” Crissinger said about his time with Caution Jam. “It was so much fun to be in that band and it was a creative time. We made a point of being creative while on stage and we had a huge repertoire so we could pretty much play any gig.”

In 2007, Crissinger moved to British Columbia and has been performing as a solo artist ever since. Earlier this year, he released his latest album, a six-song EP titled ‘Terra Nova.’ Crissinger was also nominated for a 2013 Vancouver Island Music Award for his song ‘In Love With a Liar.’

“It’s definitely a rock album, but it’s not hardcore or anything like that,” Crissinger said. “It’s just a rock and roll album about a lot of issues and things from my past that went awry in terms of relationships.”

Crissinger has performed across Canada both as a solo artist and as a band member. He said things are very different now after all the changes the music industry has undergone over the last 20 years.

“Those shows where you get a full house now are rare,” he said. “Back in the day Halifax was a great play to go. Those shows were fantastic.”

The music scene in Nanaimo, he said, is very much alive and well and he encourages members of the community to come out to more live shows.

“There are a lot of really great things that are happening here in our community in Nanaimo and bars are making it as easy as possible for people to come out,” he said.

Crissinger said regardless of how many people buy his albums or come out to shows, he remains grateful for all the support he receives.

“It is not about how many Twitter followers you have. It’s about being grateful for what you do get, big or small,” he said.

For more information, please visit www.reverbnation.com/thebluebudzz.

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