Behind the piano: Merrill Crissey

Behind the piano: Merrill Crissey

Every now and then you start talking to someone and it doesn’t seem to be and end to the conversation. Merrill (or Chip) wrote to me a while back when he had just started to release music, and we started talking. Still going! See you in Orlando, someday, maybe!

What is your real name?
Merrill Crissey, but I actually go by the nickname Chip since I share a name with my Dad.

How long have you been playing the piano?
I started piano lessons when I was ten and started taking snare drum lessons which I eventually quit. Paradiddles are hard.

How long have you been making piano music?
I started picking out songs when I was pretty young but didn’t really start writing piano pieces until college. I studied classical piano and some composition at university. But mostly I wanted to write for ensembles and orchestra. It wasn’t until last year that I started writing for piano again.

Tell me something about that moment you realized you could make songs yourself!
I don’t recall the exact moment, but I had a moment once when I was writing my first orchestral piece entitled Svensk Sommar (I had spent a month in Sweden that year). I realized the magic of composing. A part of the piece I was working on just suddenly came together and I fell in love with composing.

Have you made music in other genres before?
Like many, I listen to a lot of different types of music. Everything from choral to indie rock to orchestral. I’ve written pop rock songs, but they weren’t very good and I’m not a lyricist. Most of my stuff is instrumental falling into the classical, cinematic, or neoclassical genres. I scored a short film where it was mostly a jazz trio. My Dad played sax on it. Jazz is one of those genres I love, but don’t feel very at home playing. 

What are your favorite artists in this “piano genre”?
For a project at work we were trying to find some cool aesthetics for an album we were designing. We ran across the Erased Tapes label and that is where I first heard of Olafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm. I guess they have sort of pioneered the latest iteration of pop piano classical. At first I felt like the felt soft piano thing was strange. I mean I was classically trained so I was used to bright pianos that almost sounded like bells chiming. Now here’s this group of musicians making music with the practice pedal on. But slowly it started growing on me and now I love both. I don’t know what it is with the Scandinavians, but they are killing it in this genre. Half of the stuff I’ve grown to love in the last year is either from Iceland or Sweden. But of course there are folks all over the place that are doing amazing things. Thomas Enhco of France is one of my current favorites. He does it all—classical, jazz, contemporary. He’s the kind of pianist I wish I could be.

Is there one song which you play over and over again as soon as you sit down by a piano? Your own or someone else’s? 
J.S. Bach is probably my favorite composer and his music feels so good in the fingers. Recently, I learned of the amazing pianist Vikingur Olafsson. He recorded a Bach organ Sonata movement transcribed for piano that I’ve been trying to learn. It’s such a beautiful and yet fairly unknown piece.

What song inspires you the most when you’re making music?
That’s so tough to answer because everything belongs to a context. I tend to write melancholic music if I let myself, but I try to push myself to break out of the natural 72 bpm mode I’m naturally inclined towards. 

Can you name just ONE song/composition?
Another hard question because there is just so much that moves me. Elgar’s Nimrod from the Enigma variations ranks pretty high on my list of favorites, but there really are too many to say. 

Tell me something about your latest release. 
I released a couple of singles called Bach Reimagined. I took a couple of his preludes from the WTC book 1 and recomposed them. I tried to use a similar compositional device but make the music my own. In other words, I used similar rhythmical or even harmonic motifs but made them go in a different direction. I’m not trying to improve on the master. I like to think that I am telling the same story but in my own words.

What’s happening next? New releases etc. 
A lot really. I’m working on some piano pieces for an album that is partly related to my life in Japan. I lived there for most of the 2000’s and I want to write something that expresses my feelings about that time of my life. I’m also working up some pieces for string that I hope to get recorded. Ideally, I would love to branch out and be writing orchestral as well as piano music someday. 

Anything else you want to share?
Just that I’m grateful to any and all of you who listen to or share my music. I hope it adds some joy to your life. Thanks for letting me talk about music with you. I’ve really enjoyed the little online community of composers I’ve been introduced to in the last year.

Thank you for your answers Merrill!

Please check out the social media below for more information about Merrill and his music. 

Facebook / Instagram / Twitter

And also, of course, on Spotify!