INTERVIEW: Singer-songwriter Rich Krueger is ready for busy 2018

In 2018, Rich Krueger plans to release two albums, including January’s Life Ain’t That Long. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Next year will bring not only a new album from Chicago-based musician Rich Krueger, but two new albums. That means 2018 will be a busy one for the singer-songwriter, who was born in Brooklyn, New York, and now calls the Windy City home.

Krueger performs as a solo act and also leads The Dysfunctionells, who have played with Peter Stampfel and The Holy Modal Rounders. He has a folksy sound that’s harder around the edges than most acts, combining real-world lyrics with catchy guitar riffs. There’s an countrified ebullience in “A Short One on Life” and a contemplative musicality on “Yesterday’s Wrong…”

Recently, Hollywood Soapbox exchanged emails with Krueger about his recording efforts. Questions and answers have been slightly edited for style.

What can fans expect from your upcoming recording efforts?

I am currently recording two albums. The first is virtually completed and is called Life Ain’t That Long. So far preliminary responses have been fantastic. Check out the reviews of the record preview release and EP called Overpass, which features alternate mixes of two tracks on Life Ain’t That Long.

[Here’s] a great U.K. review on the Antifolk blog. Also check out this amazing — and I mean amazing — glowing review of my EP “Overpass” from Glasgow music critic Paul Kerr!

LATL is my first attempt at making a ‘real’ album, rather than just recording demos, featuring lots of great musician friends who have played and recorded with some of the greats. … The feel [of] the album moves from Americana sounds, through rock ‘n’ roll and singer-songwriter sounds, all the way to R&B-tinged blue eyed soul.

Life Ain’t That Long has 10 tracks plus a bonus track. It will be released on Friday, Jan. 26, 2018. It will be sent out for radio and publicity on Nov. 1, 2017.

Recording has already begun on the so far untitled second record, which I hope to release at the end of next summer.

What inspired you to make these albums?

I had been wanting to make a record like these for years, but available time, money and opportunity never all arose at the same time. What got the ball rolling is that a friend needed a good recording of a song of mine, ‘The Gospel According To Carl’ for a play he was involved in. We began the project in 2016, and it just kept on going.

When did you realize that you loved music and wanted to be in a band? Does it go back to when you were a child?

I used to sing in choir when I was very young, just 6 or 7, and was encouraged to do this by my mother. …

Who are some of your musical influences?

What made me want to be a songwriter was growing up listening to the original cast recording of Jacques Brel Is Alive And Well And Living In Paris. I wanted to write and sing songs like Brel. Songs that were fierce, honest, unflinching and unnerving. But I have many, many other influences from Tom Leherer to Paul Simon to Elvis Costello to Graham Parker to Van Morrison to Billy Bragg to Peter Stampfel and The Holy Modal Rounders to Captain Beefheart to Lou Reed to Tom Waits to Loudon Wainwright III to Richard Thompson. To name just a few.

What’s the difference in the music scenes between Chicago and New York City?

I am way more familiar with Chicago scene obviously than New York, but I love playing New York. In the past, I’ve played the now-defunct Bottom Line, The Mercury Lounge, and even Town Hall once! And we just did a really successful show last month at The Sidewalk CafeĢ (home of anti-folkers such as Jeffery Lewis and Kimya Dawson). … We’ll be back in the spring if the fates allow, and I hope to be doing a couple of shows in and around Los Angeles. There [is] a great critical mass of musicians, writer[s] and artists in both cities. It may be easier to play in clubs in Chicago. It is certainly easier to park the band’s van in Chicago, or nearly anywhere, compared to NYC.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

RICH KRUEGER/Life Ain't That Long: Hits are easy. Being admired by Holy Modal Rounders is another story. Chicago secret weapon Krueger loves life in the left field of back porch music and delivers a set that does make the Rounders proud. While his musicianship is polished and his lyrics make you go ‘huh?', this cat is a strange folkie for today's strange times and drugs. The perfect antidote to anything that sucks (as long as you aren't happy to be sucking it), this is a wonderful clarion call to the real disaffected that want to know there's someone else out there that sees things the same way. Where's the Earl of Old Town when you need it? Smoking.

Rich Krueger. Overpass

Krueger coverWe do love our mavericks here at Blabber’n’Smoke, folk who approach music from a slightly different angle and Rich Krueger seems to fit that bill. He was a member of The Dysfunctionells (who described themselves as “THE Butt-Ugliest Band in Chicago”) and who recorded at various times with Peter Stampfel and Michael Hurley, so, a good maverick pedigree there.

Krueger, who works as a neo natal doctor in Chicago, is readying two solo albums for release and this EP is a foretaste of what’s to come. Recently he was a finalist in the New Folk category at The Kerrville Folk Festival and Overpass opens with the fine fiddle fuelled A Short One On Life, a song about a female barfly who picks up strangers in bars. With gritty lyrics, Krueger describes her hard life, nights spent with, “one night wonder(s) with a heart of gold and a name for his cock that no thinking person would ever even name a dog” before some slide guitar from Seth Lee Jones adds some muscle to the song. In Between, Kingfish is a powerful song about homelessness with Krueger weaving Huey P. Long (AKA The Kingfish) and Sam Walton (founder of Walmart and born in Kingfisher, Oklahoma) into the tale, contrasting their respective philosophies. Over a lachrymose fiddle and weeping accordion (played by John Fullbright) Krueger achingly highlights the plight of the underprivileged and ends the song with a surreal vision of Long and Walton sitting in an abandoned car beside a derelict Walmart with Woody Guthrie and Franklin Roosevelt for company. A potent symbol for the death of the New Deal.

Next up Krueger takes a sharp turn on Yesterday’s Wrong (Green) which is coloured by tablas, sarangi, tanpura and kanjira giving it an undeniable Indian sound. It rambles for over six minutes in exotic fashion as Krueger seems to lament the loss of innocence that permeated the sixties and the ecological nightmare we all face. Recalling Donovan or The Incredible String Band it’s hypnotic. What Are We is perhaps the most straightforward song here in terms of its delivery as Krueger offers up a Randy Newman like piano song with soulful vocal backing. Here he sings of Nero setting Rome alight and suggests similarities with his present day President. A hidden song at the end, Kerrville, Oh My Kerrville, written back in 1991, finds Krueger with acoustic guitar identifying with his idols, musical and otherwise, on a humorous take on the festival which is somewhat tongue in cheek but stuffed full of arresting images.

It’s a tremendous listen and it bodes well for the forthcoming albums. You can buy the EP here

website

EP Cover 

Richard Krueger’s Overpass EP review

For an intemperate hoarder of gaudy artifacts of 20th Century pop culture, Dr. Krueger steadfastly avoids the pop tropes of the contemporary world.

Here you’ll find no slushy lo-fi three-chord rave-ups, nor computer-bred beats, nor gratuitous hip-hop urban sprechgesang, nor autotune, nor chilly subsonics, nor dance floor breaks, nor whispery girl vocals, nor webs of delay loops. In fact, you may find no hint of the 21st Century at all.  But for all that, this is a surprisingly eclectic collection: each of the four songs (putting aside the hidden track) is provided a unique setting with an appropriate cast of guest musicians.

At his core, Krueger is an old folkie at heart (although an esotericist in practice), with a folkie’s love of text above all.

You may lose count of the times he sings past the bar haphazardly into the next line.

None can dissuade him in this.  An anglophile par excellence, dare I say a not-so-young English romantic in the manner of Graves or Housman or D. Thomas, tuning their inner radio to such exquisitely refined sensitivity so as to receive the etheric broadcasts of some idyllically throbbing world soul from two or more universes away.

Typically, Krueger’s modus operandi involves digging out a small shard of memory or impression, not enough to even call a story, and spin a phantasmagoric avalanche of imagery around it.  This may prove antithetical to the contemporary audience, who may grow restless with his protracted enthusiasms; nonetheless, his is a precious contribution.  Krueger’s loquacity is a singularity.

No one ever asked me to write liner notes, and I would never usually volunteer such a thing, involving as it does some physical effort.  But heck, since there are only four songs (plus one – SECRET!), here’s the quick rundown for the attention impaired:

Track One: A Short One on Life.  Of course, the “short one” runs well past the four minute mark.  As always once Krueger starts to unload he can’t stop himself.  Sonically, he seems to be making a bid for the Nashville radio mass audience, but he almost immediately self-sabotages with, well, length, vulgarity, embittered politics and unguarded anatomic observations.

Track Two: In Between Kingfish.  Probably the heart of this collection, yet the hardest to parse.  If I understand this correctly (probably not), it takes place in a semi-nomadic Hooverville cum refugee camp of destitute working and middle class cast-offs in California’s Central Valley.  (The ghosts of ?) Huey Long and Sam Walton have established their haunt here and reminisce freely.  Franklin Roosevelt and Woody Guthrie also show up, sleeping in an abandoned car.  So m takeaway is: in the next life no one has any say in where they go or who they hang out with.

Track Three:  Yesterday’s Wrong (Green).  Each successive song seems to grow less structured and more discursive.  This one takes a turn toward South Asia with tasty tabla and sarangi (a kind of vertical viola/hurdy gurdy honeycombed with resonating strings).  There seemed to be no discernible narrative and also:  Why Green?

Track Four: What We Are.  This brings this collection to a satisfying conclusion, with its gospel overtones and wooden hearts and name-checks history’s most evil fiddlers, Emperor Nero and Spade Cooley.  My fave.

Overpass is a preview of his current project, a half-finished two-disc collection gradually assembled from songs old and new.  If this handful of songs is in any way representative of the whole, followers would be well advised to reserve room for three spots on their CD racks for the follow-up.

 

In "A Short One on Life," the opening track of Chicago singer-songwriter Rich Krueger's as-yet-unreleased new CD, he tells us that one thing he's learned is that "life ain't that long."  And maybe it isn't, but his songs sure as hell are - there's hardly a one under 4 minutes in length and several venture into the 6 or 7 minute range - but Krueger's got stories to tell, moods to paint, and sometimes his brilliant, exuberant  bursts require longer than the standard radio airplay time length.  His unbridled wordiness, passion and irreverence invite comparisons to Loudon Wainwright III, Randy Newman, and the Sex Pistols.

 

Krueger is no musical neophyte, having weathered Chicago's music scene for years with his madcap band The Dysfunctionells, now scattered to the winds.  For this new project he gathers stellar players from Chicago, Tulsa, and other locales including Scott Daniel on fiddle, Seth Lee Jones on guitar, Brian Wilke on pedal steel, a pounding rhythm section and an unearthly gospel diva emitting celestial warbles and shrieks.  In "The Gospel According to Carl," Krueger presents us with an over-the-hill used car salesman's philosophic musings on life and religion which carry the listener to heights of transcendent joy.

 

"77 and 17" is a hard-rocking autobiographical retrospective which among other things reveals Krueger's surprisingly mature actual age - 57 - and some of his early influences and losses.  "Can't See Me In This Light," a beautiful mournful tune powered by accordion and electric guitar, asks for love, forgiveness and redemption, while "What Is It That You Want" is an angry wake-up call to the complacent non-participants of our society.

 

Throughout this lyrically artful and musically diverse collection, Krueger's soulful voice carries us over his debris-strewn chaotic emotional landscape to a place of catharsis and - dare we say it - peace.