THEO CRAIG aka DJ T-KRAY—you may have heard of him. As one of the original DJs to grace the XRAY airwaves with his show Take it to the Bridge!, Theo’s long been a champion of PNW music. For over a decade, he’s been making the rounds of the Portland scene as a musician, curator, and straight-up fan. He’s also a super nice guy. Just look at that dog picture. Come on.
Originally from Alaska, Theo spent a few years in Seattle working for KEXP before making the move to Portland in 2007. Although he’s dabbled in guitar, keys, saxophone, and “random instruments” (as he puts it), Theo is primarily a bass guitarist. He’s active in Máscaras, Cat Hoch, and even a Stooges cover band (although he’ll laugh and claim the group’s trying to stop and actually write their own music together).
We sat down with Theo to ask a few questions about his music career, the influence behind Take it to the Bridge!, his favorite call-ins, and the PNW sound (hint: it’s not sunshine-y).
How long have you been involved in music?
“I started playing in a school band and rock bands growing up—once I started playing, I couldn’t stop. I just wanted to learn how to do more, and learn more, and play with people who were better than me, and it’s just never stopped from being like 10 years old to now.
In Seattle I immediately sought out places I could attend concerts as an underage individual. I got involved with underage venues at that time and would Craigslist to get people to play with. There’s like that time-honored tradition of going to the wanted ads and seeing ‘musician wanted’—I’ll join your band! Meeting complete strangers and trying your best to make something good with people you might not automatically first vibe with—or ever—[laughs] you can still learn a lot and get to know a lot of people.”
How did you first start Take it to the Bridge!?
“I was booking for this Rontoms thing, and we’d have 2-3 bands playing, and between [sets] I’d put together a playlist for the engineers to put on at the speakers. There was this weird flow thing that would happen—we’d have to cut the bar audio, and then we’d start the show, and once that first band finished, there’d be just quiet. It just didn’t seem right and I wanted a smoother show, so I started handing the sound person my phone. I made a playlist and included plenty of local tracks.
People started asking me if they could hear it anywhere, if they could get a copy of it, so I put it on Mixcloud. But no one at the time knew what Mixcloud was or would really f*** with it. So it was a problematic place for it. Then, I was like, oh, I could just make it into a thing on Soundcloud and you could download it like a podcast. So I started making a podcast. But then I would have to talk over it and explain why things were picked etc. It just kind of expanded from there.”
How would you describe your show Take it to the Bridge! and the “PNW sound”?
“I feel like the PNW in all its genres is a little damp and rusty. It’s not sunshine music at the very least. Part of it is that we have seasons, so like everyone gets really focused on making new stuff this time of year when it’s cold, when it’s wet… I think that seeps into the music whether you’re talking like the 70s, 80s kind of punk and alternative stuff, to like 90s and current Hip-Hop and RnB. You just hear like a little bit of grit in there, a little bit of darkness without going overboard. We never had, like, a Beach Boys come out of the PNW, we had the Ventures [laughs].
So, my show is new, local, and inclusive, with an aim at promoting the live music community and events.”
You have listener voicemails, right? What’s that all about?
“What it’s all about is literally putting a microphone to the Portland music community. So the ‘Take it to the Bridge! Hotline 503-985-THEO’ [laughs] is an old Google Voice number I’ve had since I first moved here.
[It started because] I was looking for a way to do a phone interview for an artist who couldn’t come in early on the show, and it occurred to me that Google Voice had an option where you could record a call. So, I set up an interview with a local musician, but I missed his call. So he went to voicemail and was like ‘Hey Theo, it’s so-and-so from whatever-band, I don’t know what I’m supposed to do, we have a record we’re releasing this Friday at this club… alright, bye.’
It was perfect! It sounded so natural, especially because people tend to get a little nervous about it, so you get a little bit of that which I think is charming. Sometimes it’s a bigger part of the show, it really just depends, it’s really organic. I usually try to play a track along with the artist attached to that message. It makes for a real nice, homey sound, plus I love the sound of the digital recording.”
Do you have any favorite call-ins that stick out in your mind?
“For a period there was the Portland band Shy Girls that would call in—they were on tour for like a month and they’d call in every week. Their game was to talk as long as possible so they’d pass the phone around and each person would try to talk longer than the previous person, so there’d be these long extended rambling messages that sill were kinda focused on the music but also the experience of tour. Idk it was like a tour diary. I think they were having a lot of fun, I was having fun with it. I appreciate anyone calling in and leaving a message of any sort.”
What else is on the horizon for you, your show and life in general?
“I started working at Mississippi Studios. I’m back in booking their local bills as well as local support for national touring artists, but it introduces the element of not being able to play a lot of [local] music on my show now. I can’t really be playing anything that plugs the venue, especially events I might be involved in… But I realize that there’s so much music in the world, I don’t have to be disappointed that I can’t play a couple of artists coming through.
I think in 2019 I’ll be playing a lot more of outsider music that I like, or even insider music that I like [on Take it to the Bridge!]. I’ll be more focused on playing what I like than playing what’s current. Maybe I’ll double-down on focusing on the local scene and the diversity of the local scene, because I feel like I’ve been a little bit busy since I’ve been away from booking about being involved in what’s going on in local music.
So, as a human being and just as a person in the world, I’ll be at a lot more local shows and new venues. I want to do a good job at everything I’m involved in. I want to book local shows that are reflective of what’s happening here and make sure people know that that venue is open to people who are making cool stuff.
Ok, so in honor of XRAY’s 5th Birthday—do you remember your 5th birthday, or have a favorite birthday off the top of your head?
I remember being five years old because I was in kindergarten, so those were really cool times. That might’ve been the year that I got the Spiderman cake. Not that I was particularly into Spiderman, but I had Spiderman pajamas too, so I don’t know….
I really loved my 10th birthday. My birthday is in the summer, in July, and that particular year, for whatever reason, my parents were not in attendance, so I was left in the charge of my sister who threw the coolest birthday party. No-rules birthday party for me and like all the kids who were still around in the summer time. I don’t think it could be topped—a legendary 10th birthday. There are no rules now, but, we’re used to it.”
You can catch Theo and Máscaras March 29 at the Star Theatre with Bambino. Take it to the Bridge! airs every Friday from 4 to 6 p.m.
Interview has been edited for length and continuity
Words and interview by: Kelsey Shirriff