Ambling steps: an interview with Sebastian Krueger, pt. 2
|Part two of my interview with Sebastian Krueger:|
(Part one is here.)
NL: Where does the Inlets name come from?
SK: When I started to write, I wanted an introspective quality in there. Of course, I had to cut out a lot of the tendencies to be very obviously introspective, because I didn’t want to beat people over the head with it. And maybe it is a hammer-like metaphor, but it’s just about finding ways inside. I’m sure that Vestibule sprang out of that idea a little bit too. Also, I like the idea of an inlet as an entrance. I think that’s the most important part of any structure or project. It’s the introduction; it’s the foundation for what you’re going to be seeing.
NL: I thought it was cool too, and wondering if maybe it was intentional, that there are so many good anagrams for the word. You have “listen” and “silent” most relevantly, but also “tinsel” and “intels” and “enlist.” Those five.
SK: Oh wow, I’ve never thought of that.
NL: I kind of automatically anagram everything I see. I’m like the Rain Man of words. Are you looking to get a label?
SK: Yeah. That’d be sweet. Yeah.
NL: What does that process involve?
SK: I actually don’t know yet. It might involve the influence of the friends you have or maybe simply writing to people and waiting for someone to approach me. I haven’t really started thinking about that. Especially for the first album, I didn’t want to waste a lot of time waiting for somebody to pick it up, because nobody knows who the hell I am or why they should care. I actually appreciate it, because people lent their ears who otherwise wouldn’t do it if I asked them to pay money. If I end up releasing the next album on the Internet too, that’d be fine with me in the abstract, but of course, I would love to be able to do this with the means to do it completely. Unfortunately, that has to do with money and support and publicity and booking. That’s the least interesting part of the process for me, but I’m going to have to start thinking about it more.
NL: How do you feel about the touring aspect?
SK: Man, I can be divisive about any issue.
NL: Let me rephrase then. Do you like touring?
SK: I haven’t done it yet.
NL: You didn’t go on tour with My Brightest Diamond?
SK: No, Shara tends to tour so lightly. The group is her, bass and drums. That’s it usually. I play with her whenever possible though. I see that lifestyle of touring to be kind of harsh. I see how hard it is for people to deal with. But right now, I do want to do that. I want to see how it strikes me. I want to meet people and travel and play music. That sounds amazing, but then the day-to-day burdens can be pretty overwhelming so I’m not entirely sure.
"Shara and I found each other
in this musical dream. We were
in an alley... and our faces touched."
NL: You talk a lot about insularity and isolation in making your music and then you have the concept of touring. It’s kind of a clash.
SK: Yeah. Maybe this stuff now will lay a foundation for a better time later, getting the opportunity to play your songs and show them to people. But then I have friends who have gone on tour and they don’t have apartments anywhere. They don’t live anywhere. And it’s not as though you necessarily break even. Sometimes, it costs money to tour. It can be pretty harrowing and you’re away from the people you’re in love with and your friends and you don’t know anyone.
NL: But the groupies…
SK: Oh, right. They’re super-fulfilling.
NL: (Laughs.) You don’t have any groupies yet?
SK: No, no, no. (Laughs.)
NL: What are your least favorite aspects of making music?
SK: Well, the hardest part for me is being a performer. I don’t feel like a natural performer. I really like it and sometimes I get close to feeling that sting that people talk about when they’re playing music and feel good about it. But more often than not, it’s an effort. I feel like more like a thinker than an entertainer right now, but I’ll get better at that. That’s the one thing that’s really under my skin, how I can be a better performer. But man, there are a lot of things that suck about making music.
NL: What else? The business aspect?
SK: There’s a problem about making any art and maybe it’s just me being somewhat neurotic, but I have a tendency to question the merit of anything that I’m doing. Whether something is good or bad and sometimes you end up feeling good or bad based on how other people talk about it. Then I have to think about whether that should be valid. (Laughs.) It’s this never-ending cycle of self-criticism and doubt. That’s hard to deal with, but that can also be really rewarding too, when you’re not sure and you take that leap and something gets a good response. Those are the two things that are under my skin right now. And I’m in the middle of recording and in two days, we’re going to film… you know La Blogothèque?
NL: Yeah, definitely. The Concerts à Emporter?
SK: Yeah, we’re going to do one of those. I’m looking forward to it a lot.
NL: Where are they going to film you? Will it be like a bathroom or an elevator shaft?
SK: We’re debating it right now. We’re trying to figure it out… I don’t want to give it away.
NL: I’ll look out for it when it comes out then. What are some of the books you’ve been reading recently?
SK: I’m reading a lot about religion lately.
NL: Are you trying to switch?
SK: No, I don’t have one, which is the way I like it. It’s such a curious phenomenon to me that I’m trying to wrap my head around.
NL: What are you reading about specifically?
SK: I’ve been reading a lot about the history of Islam and I’m reading some atheist philosophy. Clearly, one resonates more with me than the other, but it’s all so fascinating. It’s such an all-consuming thing and I guess I’m just trying to understand it more.
NL: What about your background more generally? Where did you grow up?
SK: I grew up in Madison, Wisconsin.
NL: A nice liberal hub.
SK: Yeah. Hence my job at the civil rights organization.
NL: What brought you to Brooklyn then?
SK: I went to NYU before so I ended up moving to Brooklyn when I got out of school, which was two years ago. I majored in History and minored in Music.
NL: I thought you were going to say English or maybe Creative Writing, because your lyrics are very poetic and studied.
SK: Lyrics are such a weird territory for me, because I don’t have any training in poetry. It’s all just gut-level stuff. I don’t know how to evaluate that. I just know what I like. I spent so many years listening to music and kind of ignoring the lyrical content because I was so much more interested in the mechanics of playing music on instruments. I still feel like lyrics are something I’m finding my way through.
NL: That’s interesting because I was originally drawn into your songs because of the lyrics.
SK: That’s awesome though. I’m glad.
NL: Whereas the music I felt was kind of average to poor. (Laughs.) What is your writing process like? Do you carry around a notebook and jot down lines as they occur?
SK: No. That I don’t do. Lyrics usually come from a harmonic idea. Something I end up finding on the guitar or the piano that I want to put together, something that strikes me in a certain way. Whatever mood that ends up evoking is where I end up going lyrically. Occasionally, I’ll sit down and know what subject I want to write about. More often than not, it just happens with notes and melodies first. It’s really awful when artists talk about “The music found me. I didn’t create it” but if ever that happens, it’s probably because of that.
"[It's] a constant struggle not
to feel like I'm ruining
NL: Right. How did playing with My Brightest Diamond come about?
SK: It’s so awful how nerdy the answer to this question is. Craigslist. You’d love it to be like, Shara and I found each other in this musical dream. We were in an alley and we heard each other playing music and it drew us near each other and our faces touched and we knew it was meant to be. I wish it were something like that.
NL: Can we just claim that’s the answer?
SK: Sure, Shara won’t care, even though she’s married and I just said that stuff about our faces touching.
NL: (Laughs.) I’m sure her husband will know it was a wholesome and platonic face-touching. What is it like to play with her?
SK: I have two answers to that one. There’s one that’s based on me being neurotic and there’s the one that’s the honest truth. The one about me being neurotic is playing with My Brightest Diamond is a constant struggle for me not to feel that I’m ruining something beautiful. The other answer is that it’s amazing. It’s beautiful music. If you know Shara, you just want to have everything to do with Shara. Every time I get to play with her, it’s exciting as hell. I love it. Even though my role is really spare, because there’s got to be room for all of these other nuances in there, it’s still so fulfilling to be a part of that energy. I’m very, very sad that I’m not on the road with them. The flipside of that though is the last thing I want to do is gank a note or have my guitar sound too harsh or get in the way of the vocal. And that takes a lot of effort, because the focus of Shara’s music is her voice and my stuff is just a jamble, jumbling sounds on top of each other. Putting as many notes in a chord as I can is the way I want to go. For her, everything has to leave room for the voice. But it’s learning, it’s education. I don’t play as a sideperson too often, but it’s really good to have that education when it comes around.
NL: So is it difficult to transition from frontman to side project?
SK: There are different problems with each. One is being the focal point and feeling really uncomfortable being the center of everything and telling other people what to do. The other one is being uncomfortable being responsible for other people's music. I don't know if I see more or less difficulty in transitioning between the two. They both can make a guy like me pretty stressed.
NL: It's admirable though that you put this much thought into what you do and that you hold yourself to such high standards. There are plenty of people who’ll just say anything that comes to mind, like, say, pretty much anyone who posts on a message board or even runs a blog.
SK: (Laughs.) Yeah, I hope so. But I’m sure the people who don’t like my music wouldn’t say that.
NL: I don’t think so. They might say they don’t like your music, but they couldn’t claim that it’s thoughtless or one-offed.
SK: Good. Thank you. I made a lot of conscious choices with it. Like you can hear someone washing dishes in the background in certain parts of my song. I didn’t want to spend forever trying to get a perfectly clean feel. Some people may define that as careless, but really, I just ended up not caring.
NL: (Laughs.) I think that’s pretty much the definition of careless.
SK: Oh right, I see. That was a poor rebuttal on my part.
NL: How long does it take you to write a song?
SK: Forever. But sometimes, they come out real quickly.
NL: Are you talking about music or lyrics now or both?
SK: Again, it’s variable. For some reason, when I did the song “You Are An Effigy,” that came out really fast. I knew what I wanted to write about. That made it very easy to come up with something quickly. Right now, I have twenty fragments of songs and I need to pick one and hunker down and really finish. That can be really terrible in some ways too, because I can be happy with that sketch but if I’m not finding the way forward, I don’t want to kill it. And I don’t want to, just for the sake of being productive, destroy what’s possible with it. So right now, I feel like it’s taking forever. But I’m having too much of an existential crisis about what kind of sound I’m going to have and all that stuff. This is the most neurotic interview I’m hopefully ever going to give.
NL: My interview with Woody Allen was way more neurotic. You’re in second place though. What did you listen to in high school?
SK: I listened to a ton of Beatles, which I’m so proud of, but I know everybody says that. And I think I had typical high school fare, which was Beatles and Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. Would it be weird if I admit that in middle school, I was really into Alice in Chains? And I still think that guy is one of the most amazing singers. I don’t know that I still love their music though.
NL: Layne Staley.
SK: Right. He had something going on.
NL: Yeah. Heroin.
SK: (Laughs.) Angst and heroin. Actually, I was trying to think about that, because at some point, I knew someone would ask me about my influences—
"Ultimately, this is the time in
your life when you're supposed
to do stupid stuff"
NL: Not me.
SK: I know. But that question is so hard, because I admire so many people. But the minute I think about it, I forget all their names, who they are and why I cared. Now I can’t even think of any that occurred to me on the way over here. Like, I love Tom Waits. Tom Waits is incredible… I don’t know…
NL: Relax, you’re agonizing over a hypothetical question. And if it makes you feel any better, I listened to Jewel in high school.
SK: Jewel! Oh no! I never went that way.
NL: It was a dark chapter.
SK: I checked out “Who Will Save Your Soul?” recently, and I was astonished at the amount of tongue that she’s swallowing when she sings. It’s crazy! I don’t even remember the song sounding like (imitates Jewel singing badly).
NL: Well, she was never in boys’ choir.
SK: Oh my God, that would help… Now I’m thinking about how dirty that thing I just said about Jewel could come off. Swallowing a lot of tongue.
NL: I think that’s pretty tame for my blog actually.
SK: Well, I just hope that it’s clear I meant her own tongue.
NL: (Laughs.) That’s going to be a pull quote right there.
SK: Feel free to use that as a pull quote.
NL: I noticed that a lot of your press materials note your Brooklyn residence. Do you think that it factors into the songs?
SK: Sometimes, I feel like there’s Brooklyn architecture in the music. I don’t know what that means entirely, but I know there were many summer days of watching weird, washed-up Brooklyn buildings on the way home to go back to my room and record stuff. I feel some of that aesthetic when I listen to the CD. And I’m not trying to crap on Brooklyn at all, but there’s something rundown about this place.
NL: Absolutely, it’s artistic for better or worse. And so my last question is what’s coming up next for you? Do you’ll think quit the job and hit the road?
SK: Ultimately, this is the time of your life when you’re supposed to do stupid stuff. And maybe it’s stupid to quit your day job and go on tour and be financially insecure, but I am looking forward to doing all of that. Hopefully.
Check out Inlets playing at Prince George Ballroom on June 15th. Details here.
Download the entire Vestibule EP here.
* MP3: "Roots on Sidewalks" - Inlets from Vestibule EP
* MP3: "Threads" - Inlets from Vestibule EP
* MP3: "Sunfed Shapes" - Inlets from Vestibule EP
* MP3: "You Are An Effigy" - Inlets from Vestibule EP
* Artist MySpace: Inlets