Country crooner Craig Hand bares it all

Few things can bring life into clearer focus than a bad ride on a big bull. Just ask Craig Hand. The singer/songwriter had been dividing his time between his two loves—music and rodeo—when an accident prompted him to hang up his spurs and spend more time with his guitar. It's a decision he's never regretted and with the release of his sophomore album, he couldn't be more excited about the path he chose.

Hand has been touted as one of country music's most talented new artists, a compelling singer and a songwriter of enviable depth and maturity. He's also earned a reputation as a charismatic performer on stage, while off stage he displays an easygoing charm and penchant for not taking himself too seriously - as evidenced by his recent appearance on the cover of Playgirl magazine.

It seemed like an obvious choice to walk away from bull riding and concentrate fully on his other love. Music had always been a passion of the thrill-seeking Florida native and he began honing his skills early writing songs and performing from the tender age of 16.

With a variety of influences ranging from Led Zeppelin to Hank Williams Jr., Hand forged his own distinct musical personality and began garnering a legion of devoted fans around St. Augustine,Florida. He made the leap from popular regional artist to the national spotlight when he signed with Category 5 Records and released his acclaimed debut album A Long Way From Town.

Actor/director Rick Schroedershot the video for Hand's self-penned single Direct Connect, which has continued to impact the marketplace long after its run at country radio. Nextel Wireless has just licensed the song and is utilizing it in their marketing efforts.

Though Category 5 succumbed to the music industry's competitive climate, Hand refused to let it dampen his enthusiasm for creating music and began working on his sophomore effort with producer Charlie Craig. The first single from Hand's new project on Bling-a-Billy Records is Satisfy You, a hauntingly beautiful track about loving someone so much you'll do anything to make them happy. Hand's warm, sensual delivery brings the lyric vividly to life.

It's his distinctive voice combined with his ability to write songs that resonate strongly with his audience that make Hand one of the industry's most promising talents. Whether opening a show for one of his heroes, headlining his own raucous Florida club dates or performing this fall on Cruisin' with Craig, (a Carnival Fascination Cruise that has already had Craig Hand devotees teeming with anticipation), he knows how to give an audience exactly what they want. It's a musical love affair that looks sure to continue for years to come.

In an interview with us, Hand took time to talk about his music and posing as the cover boy for Playgirl magazine’s country music Issue.

Direct Connect by Craig

Your new material is a bit of a departure from the first album. What do you feel is the biggest difference in the sound and why did you decide to go further in that direction this time out?

Craig Hand: The new album is way different from the first one. My writing is all from personal experience. There was a lot of stuff on the first album that I wrote but I hadn’t really been through. It was a lot of sticks and bass stuff that was fun but I think it’s a real age difference in the two albums. The last album was made when I was new on the scene and just having fun. This time the work is really more me. I’ve grown a lot since I recorded the first album and I have learned to start writing more from personal experience rather than just making it up in my head. The new album is definitely more serious and has more of a rock flare to it than the first one. I’m a huge admirer of traditional country music and that element stays in there. There will always be banjos and harmonicas and things like that but as far as sound we are trying to do something a little bit different. I’m also a big fan of Alternative music and I wanted to bring some of that sound into my writing as well, so I think people will be pleased.

Do you find it harder to write from personal experience or has that path yielded better results for you than what you have tried in the past?

CH: It’s actually easier for me to write from personal experience. For a long time I felt like I had a kind of writer’s block that stood in my way when I was fictionalizing everything but now that I’m drawing most everything from my own life it seems to come much easier.

My wife and I went through some things over the time between the two albums and that really encouraged me to gear my writing more toward my life that I had been previously. I’ve been trying to get a record deal since I was 16 years old. I’ve probably got more rejection letters in my office than probably anyone has ever had. I always had the belief that I would make it and be successful but I think I just had to try a couple of things out before I found a common ground between what I was comfortable doing and what people wanted to hear from me.

What is it that you feel makes you stand out from the crowd most as a country music performer?

CH: I think one of the things that makes me stand out as an artist is the fact that I try to stay involved in my work at every level. There are a lot of popular country artists who have come out of nowhere and just got handed record deals just because they were a pretty face with a pretty voice. They get their songs from someone else and they have everything molded and shaped around them. That’s not me. I worked hard for everything from the artwork to the production to the promotion.

I have a hard time giving up control and that has stood in my way since day one. I take constructive criticism very well and I try to surround myself with people who have the answers to all the questions that I’m going to be asking. I don’t ever try to make the rules or reinvent the wheel but I am always involved with it. I’m not someone who is just a pain in the ass all the time but I do like to know what is going on and I really think that is one of the things that really defines me as an artist.

I think if you are in the business you need to know the business and every aspect of it. I’ve seen too many careers take a back seat just because they weren’t involved on a business level. I don’t mean to talk bad about the industry I work in but there is just a lot of stuff coming at you from day one.

What made you decide to pose nude for the Playgirl photo spread? Was there any fear that making that particular move would alienate potential fans?

CH: It was my wife’s idea. See, my wife is pretty damn hot and she suggested one time while we were watching Girls Next Door and I teasingly bet her that I could get into Playgirl before she got into Playboy. It was kinda weird when it really ended up happening. I felt like the way we approached the Playgirl spread was very tastefully done. You really don’t see anything but my ass and if you are around me for more than twenty minutes at a time you might and up seeing my ass anyway. If somebody decided not to buy my album because they saw me naked in Playgirl then they aren’t likely to buy a Craig Hand album regardless.

Knowing that Playgirl is direct marketed to the gay community, did you have any reservations about that fact? Did it bother you at all knowing you were appearing nude in a pseudo-gay publication considering the somewhat strained relationship country music and the gay community has had at times in the past?

CH: Not at all. I’m not a gay man but I have a lot of gay friends. If they want to buy my albums and be a part of the Craig Hand experience I welcome them aboard. It’s real horseshit for people in country music to even try to exclude gay people. If you go to downtown Nashville and hang out with enough people you are bound to run into a lot of them who are gay in the industry. It’s just the way it is. What people do in their personal lives is none of my damn business and I don’t judge anybody for who they are.

Photo by Margo Amala on Unsplash

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