Spencer Krug On His New Album Fading Graffiti, Becoming A Parent During COVID, And More
Throughout most of the 2010s, Spencer Krug was one of the most prolific musicians working in indie rock. He put out a whopping seven albums as Moonface — several of which were collaborations with Finnish group Siinai — between 2010 and 2018 before effectively shuttering the project with the sprawling This One’s For The Dancer And This One’s For The Dancer’s Bouquet. All this, too, while gigging with his main act Wolf Parade, who came back from a hiatus in 2016 and kept going quite literally until the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
If it seems like Krug’s been quiet over the past few years, though, you might just be looking in the wrong places. Since the release of the final Moonface album, he’s been releasing a new song a month to his Patreon subscribers — a service that he’s since expanded to include unloading his vaults of unreleased tunes, B-sides, and improv jams. The 10 songs on his new album Fading Graffiti, Krug’s first full-length under his own name and the inaugural release through his own Pronounced Kroog label, were originally released through the service in 2019 as piano compositions, and near the end of that year he got together with a few friends to reimagine them as full-band tunes.
The result is Krug’s most straightforward and immediate collection of songs in quite some time — marked by his distinctive voice and illustrative lyricism, but also with a nearly country-rock-ish charm, with chiming guitar lines and miles of reverb. As Krug recently explained to me over the phone from his Vancouver home, the sonic shift was both incidental and intentional: “It’s kind of neat the way these songs transformed,” he says. “The piano versions were more fussy and intricate, because that’s how I end up writing on piano. I had an urge to simplify them a little bit, because I could hear some mellow soft-rock numbers in there. I’m a shitty guitar player, so I knew that if I rearranged them, they’d have to be simple or I wouldn’t be able to play them on guitar.”
Read on for our conversation on songwriting, parenting during the pandemic, why Krug prefers not to work with labels anymore, and the pros and cons of livestreaming.
How has everything been lately?
SPENCER KRUG: Everything?
KRUG: Things have been quiet but insanely busy. I have a ton of stuff to do all the time, but I just do it all from home now, which is weird. The wife and I accidentally decided to have a kid right before COVID happened, so he was born in April of 2020. That gave us a lot to do. We were just getting our head around the pandemic, then he came out. Re-tweaking a career to exist exclusively online was a challenge, and then we started this little label for this record. It’s been a really steep learning curve and a funny year, but also incredibly boring.
How has parenting been for you during the pandemic?
KRUG: I think it’s really cool in one way. Touring has been off the table, and the last tour I was on, Land Of Talk was opening for Wolf Parade. Their drummer had a three-month-old kid at home, but he had to tour — it’s his job, he has to go on the road. It was really difficult for him, and it was probably really difficult for his partner to be a single parent in that scenario, and it was their first kid. Knowing what I know now about what it means to take care of an infant, I can’t imagine being like, “See ya later babe! I’m about to go party in green rooms for a month.” [Laughs] It’s been really good to spend so much time at home.
The last show I saw before the pandemic began was actually Wolf Parade at Brooklyn Steel.
KRUG: I think that was our last show, too.
What are your memories of the last night touring before the pandemic?
KRUG: Oh, I don’t know. Every tour becomes a weird wash and a blur — whatever lineup it was, whatever record we’re touring, every night becomes one big uber-night. Brooklyn Steel is just a giant box, so I remember that. I remember getting some niche artisanal Vietnamese food. Saying goodbye to the crew is always really hard, because you become really tight with those people. “See ya later, don’t know when I’m gonna see ya again!” Same with the openers. That was a fun tour, though. I never really knew Land Of Talk that well, even though she’s from Montreal. I kind of had their sound in the back of mind, but I realized how much I dug it when we were on tour together. It’s like Fugazi at times — really cool guitar styles.
The songs on Fading Graffiti were originally released on Patreon. How has Patreon been for you as an experience?
KRUG: I started Patreon in January 2019, but I started thinking about it in the second half of 2018. I decided that I didn’t really want to do solo work through labels anymore. I kind of broke up amicably with Jagjaguwar, but that’s where all my Moonface stuff was released. They’re just getting bigger, and they want to focus on their bigger artists. I thought the last Moonface album was one of the better Moonface albums, and maybe they thought that too, but it seems pointless to put it on their label because — this is gonna sound like I’m shit-talking them, but it was almost like they couldn’t afford to make it a priority. It seemed like they had more important things to do than worry about another Moonface record.
At that point, I realized I don’t even like that way of working anyway — of compiling songs and waiting and putting them all out at once. I’m perpetually writing songs, so I just started thinking more and more about Patreon. It started as one song a month, and now I do all kinds of things on there. I get to share new material right away, which I really get a kick out of. That’s always my hugest frustration with making records, or writing songs with any band. I want people to hear this now. Sometimes you’re waiting a year, so by the time people hear your new stuff it’s old news to you and your heart and head are in a totally new spot, even though you’re representing yourself with material you wrote a long time ago.
The Patreon took off right away, and the people that are on it really dig it. Halfway through 2019 I started adding improv jams and B-sides. Sometimes I’ll take old songs and rearrange them for solo piano. Since COVID, I’ve been doing livestreams on it. It’s actually saved us since touring has been cancelled — touring being one of the only ways musicians make money since streaming killed record sales. Musicians all over the world have been like, “What the fuck are we supposed to do now?” I very fortunately happened to have this Patreon structure in place when COVID hit, so I just upped my effort a little bit more online and was able to sustain through that.
It’s been a total saving grace. There’s no middleman and there’s no management, and people can be like “I like this song” or “I don’t like this song,” and we can just shoot the shit about it. So when I did a piano tour in 2019, the superfans knew all the new stuff, and it was still new to me. Making records on labels, it’s rare that that happens. Of course, the irony is that I’ve now turned those songs into rock songs that people will hear for the first time, and they’re a year and a half old now.
You’ve played around with reconstituting songs throughout your career.
KRUG: I’ve definitely done a bit of that throughout my music-making. I’ve made second versions of songs that I’ve liked. The very first Sunset Rubdown recordings were a series of MiniDiscs where I was trying songs with a bunch of different instrumentations. There’s four or five versions of “Snake’s Got A Leg” out there.
I like the way that songs transform into entirely different pieces of music when you just switch up the instrumentation or the players. I’ve always liked when I see live acts that have new takes on their old songs too. Just playing what’s on the record is totally cool too, especially if that’s what you want to hear — I’ve done that a lot, of course. But it’s fun to switch it up. I’m doing an acoustic guitar livestream on Patreon with a lot of songs that weren’t written or performed on acoustic guitar, so I’ve spent time rewriting those songs to see how they exist that way. It’s fun to see how they unfold.
Had you ever done livestreaming pre-COVID?
KRUG: Never. But in the back of my head, I think I knew that was gonna be an option that I should at least try out. I used to joke that I’d eventually become a camboy — I’d be doing topless piano concerts. [Laughs] With livestreaming, it’s a thin fuzzy line between doing that and becoming a camboy. I could easily cross over and do dadbod piano shows. It’s always an option. You never know! Money could get tight.
I’ve talked to a lot of musicians over the last year about how they feel about livestreaming. Most of them don’t like it at all. How about you?
KRUG: It’s good and bad. I don’t love it. It’s not the same as playing a live show, and it’s a weird energy. You’re in a room alone in front of a computer. You have to think abstractly for a bit and realize there’s a couple hundred people watching you, and you try to respect that and put on a good “show.” I try to not think of them as live shows, and think of them as a completely different thing I’m just learning about. I try and figure out what energy exists there — between yourself and a bunch of people online.
It’s a fucked up, new circumstance that could very well be a normal part of the future, so I don’t want to write it off and just be like, “This is weird and I don’t like it.” I like sharing live music with people, and it might be one of the only viable ways in the future. Hopefully not. It’s weirdly so much harder than playing a live show, because going on tour used to mean working really hard at putting together 20 songs that you can play well, and once you hit the road you’re almost on vacation. You have very few responsibilities except getting on stage and playing these songs you’ve already rehearsed, and the reason you can do that is because you’re going from city to city and your audience changes every night. If you do the same set two nights in a row, you’re the only one that knows it and no one cares.
But when I’m doing a livestream, it’s the same core fanbase — 500 or less superfans that you can be certain will be the same people the next time you do a livestream. I don’t want to do the same bunch of songs every time, so I’m always thinking of new things to perform, and then I have to rehearse them. It’s weirdly a lot of work. [Laughs] I have to come up with a new set for every livestream, and then I just perform it once, and it’s over. That’s why I’m doing an acoustic guitar set. I’d never go into the world and play a set on guitar, I’m terrible at it. But the people watching the set are my most hardcore fans, who are forgiving and interested. To be perfectly honest, I’m starting to run out of material, so I might have to do improv livestreams soon.
Your lyrics have always been really interesting to me. How have you changed your writing approach over the years?
KRUG: It’s come full-circle. When I first started writing songs, I’d use a lot of fantastical, mythological, and sometimes biblical imagery to disguise a lot of meaning. I’d drape everything in insane imagery as a way to shield myself from having to say how I really feel. But that approach also came from a firm belief — which is something I still believe — that songs should be universally understandable. You should be able to apply my lyrics to your life in a meaningful way. If I write specifically about my life, it becomes a little too narrow.
But after Sunset Rubdown and the first few Wolf Parade records, I got fatigued from that style and approach. There’s only so much animal imagery you can dip into before you’re repeating yourself. [Laughs] With Moonface and Moonface With Siinai, I got more literal, and I liked that challenge to stay poetic and beautiful while being more straightforward and telling more of a succinct, accessible story — which I was maybe okay at for a while.
With my solo stuff under my own name, a lot of those lyrics are just my shitty attempts at poetry from 2018 and 2019. I’ve been turning poems into songs, which is why it’s come full-circle: It’s made for abstract lyricism where it’s gonna be hard for people to know what I’m talking about. But hopefully there’s something in there that listeners can apply to their own feelings so the songs have meaning. There’s a few songs that are literal, but the last time I listened to this record I was like, “I’m really just going off.” [Laughs] No one’s gonna know what the fuck I’m talking about, but that’s okay.
The weird thing for me is that I’m gonna release this album where the lyrics were written pre-COVID, and I didn’t really appreciate how much COVID changed my own way of thinking, as well as everyone’s way of thinking. I think we’re all transformed in some way that we haven’t even realized yet. The last time I listened to it was [last week], and it was the first time in a long time, and I was like, “This seems even harder to relate to than before.”
Hopefully that’s not true, but COVID changed the meaning of everything, and it may have changed the meaning of these songs, too. “Pin A Wing Above The Door” is about the surprising amount of peace you can find when staying at home with your loved one, and maybe that’s not a song people want to hear. But that was written in 2019! Maybe they’ll be like, “I totally get it,” though.
01 “Fading Graffiti”
02 “Winter Sings To Fall”
03 “Having Discovered Ayahuasca”
04 “River River”
05 “Wasted Energy”
06 “The Moon And The Dream”
07 “Serena’s Kills”
08 “One At A Time”
10 “Pin A Wing Above The Door”
Fading Graffiti is out 4/16 via Pronounced Kroog. Pre-order it here.