Driving home from La Crosse, Wisconsin, four years ago, Jack Klatt saw the serpentine belt on his ’78 Toyota give out, leading him to Viroqua. Three years later, he would return to the same small town to record his latest album, Shadows in the Sunset, at the Ark, an old church with as many stories to tell as the singer.
Shadows is only his second album, but Klatt has been collecting songs for as long as he can remember, beginning during his high school days when he got into John Lee Hooker and into in his vagabond life after he quit his day job in 2006.
“I was doing a lot of construction work — it was awful," says Klatt, who will celebrate the release of his new album, Shadows in the Sunset, Saturday at Icehouse. "There was one day where I was digging out a guy’s basement and lugging around buckets of concrete for two days straight. That second night, I went to play a gig and realized I could quit my job and actually make money with music.”
That epiphany led the throwback singer-songwriter to the road. His first stop was San Francisco, but after six months of playing gigs and working in a coffee shop, he realized his romanticized version of the city and reality didn’t always line up. His travels then took him to Texas and eventually Spain for a year. He recently returned home to Minneapolis.
In the Twin Cities, Klatt paid his dues in the bar circuit, but it soon wore on him. “I didn’t want to be a bar band,” he says of his time with his old band, the Cat Swingers. “I’m not into that. I’m a songwriter. At shows, you don’t want people to feel overwhelmed, because you’re thinking, ‘Come experience my feelings.’ It’s a fine line.”
Klatt reworked his songs to focus more on the melodies and lyrics. He even taught himself new guitar fingering techniques by taping two fingers together to get a different feel. And in 2014, he returned to the Ark in Viroqua to capture the tracks that make up Shadows in the Sunset.
There, he found an acoustic space ripe for recording. He called up his engineer friend Tom Herbers and his band — Patrick Harison (lap steel, accordion), Josh Granowski (upright bass), Chris Hepola (percussion), Nikki Grossman (fiddle) — to join him three hours southeast of the Twin Cities.
“I really wanted to work with tape machine, and Tom specializes in analog. The tape gives the music a warmer quality, so we mixed straight to tape. When we arrived at the Ark, it had been sitting alone for a while, so I had to go around with a 2x4 and bang on the walls to get the bats out.”
Before the bats could return, the band recorded for two straight days.
"There was some magic in that church. There’s a lot of crazy energy in those walls," Klatt says.
Shadows showcases Klatt's growth as a songwriter. The expansive and gilded country record is tender, thumping, and relaxed, played as if Klatt was sitting by a clear river of sounds where centuries flow together. The vibes are imperceptible, restful, and everlasting.
His sound and influences are steeped in old soul, perhaps because he’s (possibly) lived so many lives in his 30 years.
“It’s what comes out of me. The only time I ever had my palm read – and I don’t put much stock into that type of thing – I liked what the palm reader said," Klatt remembers. "She took a look and said, ‘This is your soul’s last life. You’re gonna learn everything you need to, then you’re going home.’ I was like, ‘All right.’”
When: 9:30 p.m. Sat., May 7.
Tickets: $8-$10; more info here.