Oli McCracken Pens New Music After Life Changes

Grace Mirzeler
Oli McCracken penned a poignant new single, "Sleep for Days," for his forthcoming EP of the same name.
When Oli McCracken’s mother passed away after a period of cancer remission, the Denver-based singer-songwriter and guitarist grappled with his craft. “I took a break from writing, because every single song was about yearning for her," he says. "It was very hard. So I thought, ‘How can I create a different environment and character to explain the story of what I’m going through?’”

The outcome was a dark song that paints a picture of what the 27-year-old Americana/blues musician describes as “a grim house: The guy and girl are addicts — vagrants — in a stagnant relationship; they’re lost and tired of being in a tough and shitty situation.”

A bucket full of sand and old burnt cigarettes / …leaks above our bed had left the sheets wet / And there's nothing in this place to offer comfort / But the chain that we keep pulled at our front door / There ain't love here / We don’t care / Just as soon as this is over / I'm gonna sleep for days

“The last couple of weeks my mom was alive, my family and I were driving to and from the hospital every day, one hour each way, twice a day, to go see her,” says McCracken. “And it was during Christmas, when a lot of our family from abroad was over to spend it with us. So there was this absolute grind of running to and from the hospital and then coming back home and having to do chores around the house like decorating the tree and putting up the lights outside. And all this shit seemed so trivial at the time."

Looking back, McCracken, who was born in Scotland and grew up there as well as in Australia, Chicago and Houston, says, “I wanted this dim picture, darker than the one I was in.” He admits the song turned out more like a journal entry, where you think, “Maybe I shouldn’t share that one...’”

But the song served as a letter to himself — a reminder to be grateful for what he has. “When I wrote ‘Sleep for Days,’ it was more so a, ‘Hey, snap out of it! I could have it worse, like these characters in the song,’” he says, “because I had a roof above my head and a warm bed. I had my father, my brother and people that loved me. But it was a sad and exhausting time, where I wanted to turn my brain off. And that theme runs throughout the song.”

"Sleep for Days," one of four singles from his forthcoming EP that bears the same name, will be released on Thursday, November 11, and McCracken’s soulful vocal delivery captures the song's powerful imagery and poignant sentiment.

McCracken will release one song off the EP online each week for the next few weeks — a teaser approach that many artists are taking to keep fans on their toes.
click to enlarge OLI MCCRACKEN
Oli McCracken
On Friday, November 19, McCracken will drop the next single, “I’ll Be Drinking,” an earthy track hinged with an emotional, higher-octave chorus, chilled guitar strumming and some keyboard lines sprinkled throughout. Although not as pensive as “Sleep for Days,” the song's lugubrious lyrics reflect on indulging in unhealthy temporary coping mechanisms.

I’ll be drinking only a few / This ship is sinking / Here I’m captain and crew / I’m stuck, focused on you / All I need is just a sprinkling / (But) it’s you in the crossfire / I ain’t fixing to expire / Or break down on you.

“The way I wrote these songs — how they poured out of me — made sense in my head chronologically to release them in this sequence,” says McCracken, who is still working on a release date for the EP with his label, Third & James Records.

He presents himself as a sensitive man in the majority of his work, which spans from 2016's From Scratch EP to 2019's Just a Few More Hours album to his current offerings. His lyrics create imagery that blends with a sound influenced by the likes of Van Morrison, John Mayer, Amos Lee and BB King. “We’re all softies,” he confirms.

McCracken chose to do his undergraduate business studies at the University of Denver because he was so inspired by the live-music scene in the Mile High City: “I love the elements of live performances. And the level of talent in this town is humbling. There’s an abundance of amazing jam bands, like Float Like a Buffalo, Norah Jones-like artists such as Claire Heywood, [and] poets like Covenhoven, who I think is a great author reincarnated, with his amazing soundscape and picturesque songs.”
click to enlarge Oli McCracken will release one song per week online for the next few weeks. - OLI MCCRACKEN
Oli McCracken will release one song per week online for the next few weeks.
Oli McCracken
McCracken began playing guitar in high school, but his curiosity for the instrument dates back to third grade, when he discovered his father’s guitar lying around. “We lived in Chicago, and every house had a tornado shelter crawl space, which my parents used as a storage to keep a bunch of stuff, and I was in there one day and found my dad’s guitar. I was strumming the chord strings, and I ended up breaking it accidentally,” he says, chuckling, “but the seed was planted. That, and my mom playing 1960s and ’70s soul music like the Temptations and the Four Tops all the time throughout the house, every day, certainly played a role in the music I make.”

His passion for old R&B and soul has only grown over the years; McCracken is an active collector of old vinyls. “I got introduced to it toward the end of high school. We had all these cool record stores in Evanston, just north of Chicago, which is where I got hooked on records from Ray Charles and Bobby Bland & B.B. King — that powerful, in-your-face soul with so much emotion channeled in the music. As I’ve gotten older, I have loved researching and finding old-school records that have incredible soul, like the gospel sounds of Mahalia Jackson, Leon Russell, and the Staple Singers with Pop Staples.”

With more fresh material in the pipeline, McCracken and his band have been working on eight additional songs for an upcoming full-length album that they plan to put out sometime next year, after the new EP is released and has had some breathing room.

“I’m having fun with songwriting again," he says, "and the band and I are trying out different ways of playing songs, whether acoustic or plugged in, to see how they’re going to work out on record and live.”

Keep up with Oli McCracken on his Spotify page, YouTube channel and Instagram page.