Chris Koza on covering Beyonce, oboe accompaniment at Works for Words this Friday

Chris Koza will probably introduce himself first as a musician, then as a lyricist. Over the course of his lengthy career, he has distinguished himself as one of Minnesota's premier singer-songwriters. His recent work as the frontman of folk-pop ensemble Rogue Valley, where he orchestrated the release of four full-length albums within a year, convinced listeners that Koza was both brilliant and insane -- which is perfectly fine, when it comes to artists.

It may be for those reasons that the Fitzgerald Theater invited Koza to curate this year's Works for Words production (hosted by Jeremy Messersmith last year), but it's Koza's approach to the event that will make it worth going. Since the description on the Current's website is a little vague (though, to be fair, Koza wrote it before details of the event had been firmed up), Gimme Noise caught up with Koza to get the full details on the evening.

Here's how it works: The Fitz has given Koza full liberties to take the loose concept of "Works for Words" and interpret it in whatever way he sees fit, along with some collaborators of his choosing. Koza--who's kind of a brainiac, even if the word scares him--asked three local musicians from very different worlds to join him: Andrew Sims (Doomtree), Caroline Smith (Caroline Smith and the Good Night Sleeps), and Gabriel Douglas (4ontheFloor).

"Each of these people have such a strong personality as a musician, so each of them have to have a strong stance on what the lyrics mean for them in the context of the song," says Koza. "I think they each fill a different kind of niche in songwriting. They each approach lyric writing in their own way, and I thought it would be fun to contrast those perspectives and have them all represented."

And what about the works? Koza has never been one to do things lightly (songwriting for Rogue Valley included, at one point, composing for a marching band. It seems as though part of Koza's goal as an artist is to motivate people to think during a performance instead of just order another drink.

"What I'm focusing on is how a song with great lyrics or with okay lyrics can have an equal emotional impact to a listener based on the presentation of the song," explains Koza. "The lyrics can take on a little bit of a different context, like if you have ten drummers playing along to "Mary Had A Little Lamb," that's gonna sound freakin' scary."

Though nursery rhymes aren't part of the arrangement, a little Beyonce is.

"We're doing 'Why Don't You Love Me.' Caroline Smith is doing that song, and I think when you put the lyrics of that song next to 'Tangled Up In Blue' by Bob Dylan, you're like, 'Why are these next to each other?'" laughs Koza good-naturedly. "But then you hear the song and you hear how it engages a listener. The songs break down walls and they get to the same place, and that's what we're trying to show."

Following each of the songs, Koza hopes to get a short-form forum going.

"They're all gonna do an original song and then a cover song, one that has affected them emotionally, and then sort of break down the lyrics of that song, talk about where the song stands in terms of great lyrics. Is it awesome? Is it okay? Why do you like it?" says Koza. "We won't spend half an hour talking about this. In reality hopefully we'll have five minutes of dialogue about this.... But I've always thought healthy debate is the genesis of creative, inspired people."

If all that isn't enough to tempt your fancy, imagine Beyonce's "Why Don't You Love Me" being rearranged (by Koza) for the 40-piece orchestra he's also invited. When was the last time you heard an oboe? Do yourself a favor and consider this delightful alternative to the usual Friday night antics.

Works for Words with Chris Koza (sponsored by MPR) takes place at the Fitzgerald Theater on Friday, June 8. 8 p.m. $25. All ages. 

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