Spencer Krug is leaning against a U-Haul trailer hitched to a late model Dodge Caravan. Taking a break from the droning sounds of The Kevin Costner Suicide Pact, Krug is smoking a cigarette and enjoying some quiet time when I rudely interrupt him and introduce myself. The impromptu nature of this conversation is my fault. Having failed to reach out to Jagjaguwar to request an interview until midnight on Saturday, the chances of getting anything scheduled were slim to none. The Canadian singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist hardly seems put out though. He makes a comment about how even he has a hard time reaching Jag on weekends, before agreeing to a short interview. “Gives me an excuse to chain smoke”
Krug is probably best known as one half of the singer/songwriting team that made up Wolf Parade. He is also known for his other band, Sunset Rubdown. Before that he was with the instrumental outfit, Fifths of Seven. You might also recognize his work with Swan Lake and Frog Eyes. But on this particular night at Larimer Lounge, none of those bands matter. This night is about Moonface and the Organ Music Tour.
Moonface is not just another band or side-project for Krug either — Moonface is Krug. They are one and the same. Moonface is his alter-ego, as well as his sole outlet for music right now, ‘if not forever‘, and there are some exciting things to come. The first being a collaboration with the Finnish band Siinai, a release that is ‘already tracked and in final mixing stages now‘. Krug is a big fan of the instrumental band’s sound and reached out to them about working together. Siinai was ‘largely in charge of the music and [Krug] did the lyrics and the vocals‘. This record of ‘heartbreak‘ will probably be released on Jag under the name Moonface with Siinai sometime next year. A tour should follow shortly after.
The second album we have to look forward to will include Organ Music collaborator, Mike Bigelow. Krug refers to Bigelow as a good friend, as well as a fellow ‘percusion nerd‘. Initially working on a ‘double marimba/digital percussion record‘, Bigelow proved too valuable on the Organ Music material and time got away from them. However, this tour will be wrapping up in the next couple weeks and the original project will become a priority again. ‘Writing and recording of that album will take place through November and December.‘
So why would an artist walk away from the hard earned success of not one, but two bands? Well, it seems there isn’t a very exciting answer to that question. As Krug explains it, “nothing really happened, there’s no real story to tell“. It sounds like the band members in Sunset Rubdown just had different visions of the future after the Japan tour, and those visions did not include the band. Although they haven’t officially announced anything, Krug’s comment that ‘we arn’t officially on hiatus, we could just as well be officially broken up‘ doesn’t make me feel any more hopeful for a new Sunset Rubdown album anytime soon. Likening the band to a marriage, Krug says the relationship just wasn’t working and he had doubts the next album would have been any good. ‘Being in a band is like being married to three or four other people — like any relationship, you can tell when it’s going to come to a close.‘ As for Wolf Parade? “It just can’t happen right now.“
This is crushing news to those of us who are such huge fans of the music, so I had to ask the question about the songwriting process. Is it possible that creativity will strike and manifest itself as a Wolf Parade or Sunset Rubdown song? Does Krug write material in this way? Is material written for a certain project, or does the material define the project it is written for? Does this ‘chicken before the egg’ riddle provide hope?
It seems not.
The way Krug explains it, he does not write without a plan. “When you are working with bands, you are working within the parameters of the band — writing for the boundaries and capabilities of each project.” The bright side is, after seeing Moonface material live, I don’t think we’ll have anything to complain about moving forward. Sure, there will always be a gap in the new release/concert calendars where Wolf Parade and Sunset Rubdown are concerned, but I truly believe Spencer Krug is just getting started when it comes to his Moonface persona.
To be honest, I had my doubts when I walked into the empty venue last night. Not being a huge fan of the Dreamland EP or Organ Music, I drove down to the Larimer Lounge to support one of the most talented artists working today. I don’t have to like all of his material to find it intriguing, but as it got later on a Sunday night, I was second guessing my trek downtown. These apprehensive thoughts were were immediately drown out when Krug hit a button on one of the many machines onstage and music filled the dark room. Lit only by a faint fire projected against the wall and a bright globe lamp, the show had begun. But it wasn’t Krug who demanded attention, it was Mike Bigelow — the ‘percusion nerd‘ was literally a machine himself. Working his electronic drum kit and various other instruments with a religious vigor, you couldn’t help by imitate his actions. “Whale Song” is not an upbeat song, so why were we all dancing?
It was Bigelow’s robotic movements and Energizer Bunny ways that kept everyone moving all night, but it was Krug’s aching voice that kept the small, but dedicated, crowd moving closer and closer to the stage. He pulls you in, trying to decipher his dream sketches, but just as you think you have a handle on what is happening, he buries his head in his organ and you’re left with a veil of hair and a lack of answers.
“Whale Song” gave way to the album opener, “Return To The Violence Of The Ocean Floor”. The song might be about suicide, but don’t tell that to the girl in front of me who was dancing like she was in the club. And you can’t hold it against her. This is music that makes you want to move — it makes you want to follow Bigelow’s lead. After witnessing this spectacle, I can honestly say I cannot wait for this ‘double marimba/digital percussion record’.
“Fast Peter” might be the most straight forward lyric Krug has written for any band, ‘so Peter loves a girl the way that only Peter does, he told me all about it on the balcony when we were high on drugs‘, but that doesn’t mean this is a simple song. In fact, it would be a heartbreaking song if the music didn’t bring to mind Super Mario Brothers on speed. Another track that could only come from the mind of Spencer Krug.
Two highlights of the night came in unexpected forms. Along with every track from Organ Music, Moonface threw in Swan Lakes’ “All Fires” with a breakdown that made you want to slam dance or have sex or do both at the same time. ‘All fires have to burn alive to live!’ It has been said (maybe by me) that Krug brought the brains to Wolf Parade while Dan Boeckner brought the sex, but with “All Fires” he proved he can bring that element to a show without Boeckner there to back him up. The other highlight came in the form of a new song that reminded me (lyrically) of Sunset Rubdown’s “Coming To At Dawn”. ‘I’ll be watching out for the devil while you sleep off last night…send me an angel, send me an angel, right now, right now‘. You have to laugh when a songwriter of this caliber decides to steal from an 80’s radio hit, but don’t think he isn’t well aware of this irony. ‘We call it a reference, you call it a rip off.’
The set ended the same as the album, with “Loose Heart = Loose Plan”, before they came back with something ‘no better or worse than anything else you’ve heard tonight’. “Shit-Hawk In The Snow” wrapped up a performance of everything recorded for Organ Music. ‘That’s all we got guys, cheers‘ In just over an hour I was completely sold on Moonface. This had to have been the surprise show of the year in terms of enjoyment vs. expectations.
So how does one go from touring with a band like Wolf Parade, a band that had achieved a certain level of rockstardom, to driving across the country in a Dodge and playing in front of 50 people? Well, it seems it’s not that hard after all. Krug actually hates travel by bus and would prefer to be in a smaller vehicle with close friends. With bigger bands come more bullshit, and with Moonface being ‘quite small right now, there is very little bullshit‘. For example, this particular night consisted of relatively little setup, a cigarette break, a conversation with ILSUDH2, a show and ‘maybe a salad later’. For someone who prefers smaller venues, this works out nicely, ‘smaller venues and smaller crowds are more intimate, where with Wolf Parade — it was a larger scale and there was a disconnect there‘. On the flip-side, being in a band with a large fanbase does have its advantages, ‘there is an excitement playing for a bunch of people…sometimes in Wolf Parade there were moments of clarity…holy fuck…I am doing this for like a thousand people right now‘. As the conversation goes in this direction, you can tell there is a hint of nostalgia for those times, ‘the guys in Wolf Parade are like my brothers‘, but this nostalgia seems to be for the early years, ‘Wolf Parade started out really DIY…but Wolf Parade can’t exist right now, so there’s no reason to get sad about it‘.
Easier said than done.
But we do have to stop trying to compare Moonface material to Wolf Parade or Sunset Rubdown. Those were democratic bands, with input coming from all members. “When working with a band, I don’t take the song too far. I work on a loose skeleton and a loose idea of lyrics and then we build it together” Moonface, on the other hand, is Krug’s solo project, where the choice to collaborate will be his alone. And while this project is still learning to walk, I think it’s going to be incredibly exciting to watch its progression. Back in 2009 I went as far as to say Spencer Krug was the next Thom Yorke. Back then I was basing this around his work with two bands that were reinvigorating an indie scene that was threatening to become stagnant. Now those bands are defunct, but I still believe the comparison stands. The bands that put him on the map might be history, but this isn’t the 90’s…lead singers don’t give up the stadium shows to regress back to their formative years and start playing sappy ballads at dive bars.
Or do they?
“I kinda wanna just make a folk record — pick up an acoustic guitar and do some singer-songwriter kinda bullshit.” Well, I for one think that’s a record worth looking forward to. Tuba? Oboe? Acoustic guitar? Hell, take two garbage cans and bang on them with a stick for all I care. As long as the songwriting continues down the path it’s been going, I’m in.
* tour poster by Eleonora Zorzi
Whale Song (Song Instead of a Kiss)
Return to the Violence of the Ocean Floor
All Fires (Swan Lake cover)
The Way You Wish You Could Live in the Storm
Loose Heart = Loose Plan
Shit-Hawk in the Snow