Jack Klatt: I wanted a real solo album
Photo courtesy of the artist
The last time City Pages talked to Jack Klatt, he was preparing to release Mississippi Roll, a sweeping cross-generational collaboration that surveyed the scope of traditional music along the mighty river's 2,300 storied miles. After recording with a cast of Minnesota legends and filling the Cedar Cultural Center for an epic evening, the twenty-something troubadour took on a quieter project, a solo album, and a series of ramblin' tours right out of his roots-rich lyrics.
Gimme Noise met him at the Palmer's patio for a round of rail whiskeys on a windy evening just before the rains came to talk about his adventures and Love Me Lonely, out this weekend with a show at the Celtic Junction.
"After we did Mississippi Roll, I really wanted to tour down the river with the band, but we never got to it," Klatt explains. "We're finally getting out on the road, regionally, Chicago and stuff. Patty and Josh are busy guys. They've got families and I can't imagine what their wives would do to me if we took off to hobo on the road for a month or more."
"So I did this record to sell on the road. Patty and the Buttons is hot and Josh has his free jazz work." Klatt did tour down the Old Man all the way to the Crescent City, but without his band. "My pal Andy came along," he says. "He actually decided to come along on a coin flip."
New Orleans pianist Stephanie Nilles inspired Klatt to hit the road like a character in one of his songs. "Around this time my life was falling apart a little, it was my birthday. I was wandering around south Minneapolis, drunk in the afternoon, and Stephanie called me. She said she was coming to town, but then said, 'Hey, want to tour with me?'" Nilles, a compelling combination of Tom Waits, Ani Difranco, and Professor Longhair, had been spending most of her time on the road, more than eight months of the year. "Luggin' her keyabord around," says Klatt. "I have mad respect for her, not a lot of people tour like that anymore."
Love Me Lonely paid for its share of drinks on the road. It also introduced audiences to Klatt's fingerpicking style and original songs. "I had been hanging out with Dakota Dave Hull a lot because he'd been playing gigs with us, at Merlin's and stuff. 'Jack,' he'd say, 'You oughta record a solo album.' We tried a few things at Arabica, his studio, and after a while he asked what I thought about mono."
"I liked the idea so we set up one mic and a chair and he kept it that way. We didn't move anything; I'd just come in and record a few tracks from time to time." Klatt compares the album to Dave van Ronk's 1976 disc, Sunday Street. "That record's pretty bare," he says. "You can hear him breathing."
"I wanted a real solo album, not just something with a new unnamed band." Hull engineered the project, as he had Mississippi Roll, and Klatt focused on performing. "I don't think about that stuff," he admits. "Technically, I'm not good at making those decisions. That might work to my disadvantage but I've always just sang my songs and worked with people I trust."
New material wasn't a problem. Klatt had already added so many classics to his sets, and written several new songs of his own. "I was living in this place on the south side and I discovered I could climb out on the roof and watch the sun go down right there by the highway. So I'd bring my guitar and strum some chords every night, that's where I wrote most of the songs."
Klatt's "Two Clown Shoes" was one of the only songs not written on that rooftop. In it he bids adieu to friends lost a May 2012 shooting spree in Seattle. A gunman killed four people in the Café Racer, including musicians Joe Albanese and Drew Keriakadis, known as Schmootzi the Clod. Klatt's last performance at the Racer had been just six months earlier.
"I lived in Portland for a spell," Klatt explains. "It was winter and I'd go up to Seattle to play a show or two. That's where I met Schmootzi. I'd hang out with these circus folks. But I'd heard his music a couple years earlier when I was in Barcelona. There was this guy who came to stay in our squat, Dave Crellin. He was a circus performer and he had his family with him, sleeping in my bed full of bed bugs. His kid was running around having a ball, and he played me this disc of his band, Circus Contraption. And one of the songs was by Drew, "Goodbye Honky Town." I loved it, and I wanted to meet this guy. Dave said if I was ever in Seattle to give him a call, so there I was a couple years later.
"I never knew Joe as well," Klatt continues. "He was the silent type. But this was the first time I ever lost a friend and it really messed with me. 'Where does he go?' You know? I took a trip out there. Drew was a wayward soul, lost and found, his family was the circus. I knew there wasn't going to be any kind of a funeral, but I wanted to go just to be there."
"I found a Craigslist ride the morning I woke up and decided I needed to go to Seattle. She had already left, but called right back and said, 'I'll be at the Hard Times in an hour.' I grabbed some socks and my guitar and let my friend Gus know I was coming. I actually stayed in Drew's house, and spent some time talking with his wife."
"It's funny that when things like that happen a lot of good comes out of it. That's what got me through that experience, but when people like that go they leave a lot of themselves behind. Drew's still around, fucking with out heads."
While Klatt was out rambling his backing band, the Cat Swingers, hardly sat still. Sabyre Rae put together a new group, the Midnight Sons, who are recording a debut. Accordionist and washboard magician Patrick Harison maintained several gigs, notably his Sunday brunches with Patty and the Buttons. Bssist Josh Granowski's work with experimental jazz trio Bookhouse led to a double LP recording of the music from Twin Peaks. Both became part of the Cactus Blossoms' regular act, appearing every Monday at the Turf Club. "While I was in New Orleans, Patty reminded me to call Josh, who had been playing with the Blossoms and with Saybre Rae's band," Klatt explains. "Instead I called Jack [Torrey] and said, 'If you steal my bass player I'm gonna come home and throw your body in the river!'"
Klatt and the Cactus Blossoms, scheduled to record their next album live at the Turf Club on July 5, remain fast friends. On Monday Klatt played an opening set and hung around all night to play with the brothers after bar close, mixing songs like Stale Bread Scotty's "Crack, Crack, Crack" with old-time standards and a Beatles song the Blossoms have been working on. Asked about capturing these moments, Klatt's quick with characteristic ease and charm. "There's always regrets when you're recording," he says. "After I finished 'Stop and Listen Blues,' which I'd just started playing, I knew I could do it better in a month or so. That's always going to be true, and you can't hold on to these things. There's no perfection. It's just a moment in time."
Jack Klatt will perform songs from Love Me Lonely and more on Friday, June 28, at Celtic Junction. The fucking awesome Minnesota legend "Spider" John Koerner will play an opening set. 7 p.m., $12.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.