May , 2013
By Vinny Cecolini
Suffering to Create a Masterpiece in the Playlist Generation
JAM Magazine Interviews Singer/Songwriter/Guitarist ... Patrick Krief
All Photos Courtesy of Patrick Krief Facebook
Best known for his work with Montreal's The Dears, Patrick Krief remains little more than a cult figure outside of Canada. Thanks to a new record deal with Rock Ridge Music, and an attention grabbing U.S. tour that featured a showcase at Austin, Texas' South by Southwest Festival, that will soon change.
Unlike most of his previous guitar-driven music, Krief's latest solo effort, Hundred Thousand Pieces, weaves dark, gloomy soundscapes with personal, often introspective lyrics. A gorgeous listening experience that demands to be listened - not as a collection of songs but in its entirety - Hundred Thousand Pieces hints at what a collaboration between the Flaming Lips and Pink Floyd might have sounded like.
Produced and performed almost entirely by Krief - drums, piano, keys, bass, guitar, percussion and vocals - Hundred Thousand Pieces is an album that demands repeated listens to be understood. It's a culmination of a journey that began when the 13-year-old guitar prodigy snuck into bars around his native Montreal, jamming with house bands. His musical voyages have taken him around the world with The Dears. Now it's time for a solo journey of self-doubt, of starts and stops, in what's destined to be the sleeper hit of the year.
JAM: How did growing up in Montreal, North America's most European-flavored city, influence you both as a singer and a songwriter?
Patrick Krief - Honestly, it has an influence that I don't quite understand. Perhaps, if I moved away for a period of time, I'd begin to understand. Montreal has this sort of melancholic feeling. There is a gloom, but the cost of living is low and it's a beautiful city. The weather is awful; just brutal. Everyone I know who lives there has a love / hate relationship with the place. It's like a woman who treats you terribly but is great in bed.
JAM: What is the meaning behind the title Thousand Little Pieces?
What do you think it means?
Jam: I believe the title is your reflection in a shattered mirror. Each shard of glass holds a personal story. Therefore, you have not one, but a thousand stories to tell.
I like that. There is a song on my first solo record (2007's Take It or Leave It) called "Broken Mirrors". It's about what you look like standing in front of a broken mirror. The "hundred thousand" number just kept popping into my head. At the time, it felt like a weird, but important number. Then it became an irrational obsession. When the record was completed, I started giving the title all sorts of meanings. Yes, it is about being shattered into many pieces, but why I chose that number as the album's title I still do not know.
JAM: Is it true that the creation of this record become so emotionally draining that you had to step away from it for six months?
I tracked all of the music and it was time to lay down all of the vocals. Creating the music on this album was challenging. I wasn't being easy on myself at the time, so I stepped away. I had a rough start with it. When I began writing the album, I had a band that I basically decided to disband. I was playing demos for the drummer. I looked at him and said, "I don't think you're into this." He said, "Your songs are not that good." I'm an ultra-sensitive person. You can't say things like that to me. That comment stayed with me.
JAM: Did you immediately delete his contact information from your cellphone?
No. I was not being easy on myself.
JAM: So you just became too emotionally invested in this project to the point it was physically and mentally affecting your well-being?
Let me put it to you this way. The people that helped me with this record, told me I was nuts. They told me in not so many words I was too close to the record and I was losing it. Whenever I tried to lay down vocal tracks, I'd suffer epic anxiety attacks. I was not even half-way through a verse before the attacks would begin.
JAM: That's investing way too much of yourself into the music.
I had this room in my apartment where I had the mics set up to record the vocals. One day, I just left that room, closed the door behind me and did not go back inside. When I reopened the door several months later, everything was how I had left it - the computer was turned on; the pre-amps were still on. I was afraid to walk into the room. I needed the break.
JAM: In addition to wasting a lot of electricity, what were you thinking each time you walked back into that room?
I just thought "Fuck it! Whatever!" I started writing music for another album. I didn't think that I would ever finish Hundred Thousand Pieces or put it out. I started writing this new batch of songs and I started running three to five miles each morning.
JAM: Some artists use exercise to get the creative juices flowing. Is that what happened for you?
Three months into that regiment, I began thinking, "Hey, I need to finish the record. I owe it to myself. The unfinished songs began ringing in my head."
JAM: What does the drummer, who said your songs were not that good, think of the completed album?
I gave him a finished copy of the record and he said, "This is beautiful." At that point, I felt even more like an insane person.
JAM: All artists experience bouts of insecurity. It is a natural part of being a creative person:
Yes. And then I thought to myself, "Ah, that's just laziness." I get influenced in random ways. I don't buy many new artists' records and soak them in anymore. These days, I absorb music in a weird way. I'll hear a song that I like in a bar and I'll ask around about it. I'll go home and check out the song and then I'll move back into my own world. Or I may go see a band perform live and I'll soak in all of these elements, but I don't study anyone. I did that when I was younger with The Beatles and the other bands that I loved. Now, my influences come from all over the place. That's why I think it is difficult to define what I am doing.
JAM: Do you consider your songs dark, moving and personal?
I spent a lot of time on the sound of the record. I treated my vocals like one of the instruments. I didn't want it to sound just like a voice. It had to fit with the arrangement. On "Perfect Bodies," for instance, I felt that a dry vocal just wouldn't make sense.
JAM: How do the vocals on your latest solo disc differ from the songs you're currently writing?
They're very different. I recently played some of the new songs for a friend and he said, "I would never have thought you wrote songs." I asked him, "Is that good or bad?" He said, "It was great, but it didn't sound like anything you've done before."
JAM: Your insecurity is like a double-edge sword, especially for an artist looking to establish themselves outside of Canada? Fans want to see an artist evolve. Listeners who enjoy Hundred Thousand Pieces, however, might be shocked by your next record, if it is indeed that different.
That is the problem with living in a "playlist generation." If an artist does not fit into a category some listeners will say, "I'm confused by your new music, so fuck you, I give up." That's what happened with The Dears. When we put out 2004's Thank You Good Night Sold Out, it was an orchestral, cinematic record. When we released Gang of Losers two years later, it had a classic rock vibe. People didn't know how to categorize what they were listening to. It wasn't until years later that people began to embrace it.
JAM: Would you agree that you created Hundred Thousand Pieces much like an author composes an epic novel? There are chapters written where you need to leave it alone for a while. When you go back to it, the composition looks fresh again. Hundred Thousand Pieces was written on the road, in your apartment and in the studio.
I actually want to sequence my next album like a new chapter. I want the first song on the next record to feel like it is the successor to this album's closing track, "Love without Fear." I want the next record to feel like I am taking off from where I left off and then switching gears. Who knows what is going to happen. I've written so many songs that I'm seriously considering the simultaneous release of two albums. I have completed composites of three or four songs that are about 28 minutes long.
JAM: Was it true at one point you were actually considering turning your musical career into a hobby?
It was a momentary lapse of reason. I wondered if I should still be a fulltime musician. I wondered if I had no choice but to pack it in. I finally accepted that everything else is going to have to come second: my comfort, my living space, whatever else. That will all suffer before I stop playing music.
JAM: How did those thoughts affect the creation of your latest solo effort?
I often thought, ‘Why am I doing this?' I'm going to put this out there and it's going to get torn apart or it will be praised and do absolutely nothing for me. I was being cynical because the music industry is in the toilet. But I got lucky in North America when I signed with Rock Ridge Music. They are working with me and taking a realistic approach. No one is promising me a Grammy Award at the end of the year, but they are doing their work. That is all you can ask for.
JAM: What was it like to play a series of showcases around the Unites States and perform at this year's South by Southwest festival?
I feel most at home at the center of the stage singing my songs. It's where I truly exist. I can now say that I want to do this the rest of my life. There was a bit more pressure performing at such high profile gigs, but I've embraced it. Give me the more important shows in my life. I'm up to the challenge. As I get older, my perspective has changed. I'm not afraid of things like I used to be. I am finding things a lot more enjoyable now.
JAM: What is the next step?
More touring is the immediate plan. We hope to line up some more shows on the East Coast during the summer. I also would like to do a full U.S. tour early this fall, just as long as I don't lose all of my supporting musicians by then.