Jeff Krause sings about relationships—sans the sap.
The gravely-voiced singer-songwriter lays it all bare on his debut EP Naked & Hardhearted. In the tradition of sensitive male crooners like Amos Lee and Ray LaMontagne, he keeps his Americana instrumentation sparse and his lyrics universal. “Would It Be Alright?” makes asking for consent before a kiss sound downright romantic. “Nobody Else in the Room” is a concerned look at a friend in a domestic abuse situation. And “Carry Your Memory” mourns not getting to know a loved one before it’s too late.
Krause, a Grand Forks native, studied performance at McNally Smith. We spoke to him ahead of his EP release show at Icehouse on Friday.
City Pages: Have you always written love songs?
Jeff Krause: No. I would say love songs are probably the least common ones. The album has a few on it. There are a few different topics going on. I try to find common elements that everyone can relate to but try to make it more layered than that, try to add some weight to the lyrics where I can without making it too terribly overbearing.
CP: Are you able to write about relationships, whether romantic or familial, while you’re in the relationship? Or do you need to wait until it ends to process it and write about it?
JK: That’s an interesting question. I am definitely capable of doing it while I’m in the relationship, but when I’m writing, I try to step out and do a third-person perspective, like, “OK, this is my direct experience. How do I distill that into a song that’s telling a story that’s maybe a little more impactful than just my direct experience?”
CP: Was there a certain singer-songwriter that inspired that style of songwriting in you?
JK: Yeah. Jason Isbell is one of my biggest influences. He has an uncanny ability to write from multiple perspectives. He does a great job of putting himself as a character in the story and writing from that perspective. My life is only so interesting. It helps to borrow from other experiences and other people’s perspectives.
CP: Your songs are very emotionally vulnerable. Is it ever scary to perform them in front of an audience?
JK: I don’t know if it’s scary, necessarily. When I first started doing open mics and that kind of stuff, there was definitely hesitation, like, “Will this be received OK? How are people going to react to this?” And when it is fairly personal subject matter, it’s a little more nerve-wracking. When they’re super directly related to me, yes, there’s a little more uneasiness about standing there and putting it out to a bunch of people. You don’t know how they’re going to react to you. That’s kind of the thing I’m doing with the open mics and the singer-songwriter thing: getting used to the idea of letting it all get out there. You know, the autonomy of art, you don’t have the option to control what other people think or feel or whatever else. It’s just putting it out there and if it’s well-received, it’s well-received, and there’s not much you can do.
CP: Where did the album’s name come from?
JK: This is my first solo release under my name. I wanted to write songs that were very focused on the songwriting so I kept the instrumentation very light. When I was describing it to friends, I kept saying, “It’s very stripped down” as far as the sonic part of it, so “naked” came up, the idea of the songs presented bare-bones. The “hardhearted” part is there are a few breakup songs that have a little bit more of gritty undertones to them. There are often jokes about me being…not hardhearted necessarily, but a little stoic in my presentation of those things. It was almost taking a little jab at myself in a way.
CP: When you’re going for that stripped-down sound, how do you make sure the band doesn’t overpower you?
JK: That’s a great question. I believe in getting people that are already doing a thing that you like and kind of letting them do their thing. For this, it was about finding the players I knew I could trust. Everybody that played on this EP are some of the best players in town. I didn’t have to do a whole lot of shaping. It was just, “Come in and do your thing because I know you’re going to do something great.” It was more about finding the right people and putting them in the room.
CP: What do you hope listeners of the EP or those who hear you play live take away from your music?
JK: At the core, music is entertainment, and I understand that. My hope is that I can take and put out an entertaining show but also have somebody leave with a real message. In “Nobody Else in the Room,” it’s the idea of being supportive of the people around you, the people you care about, and being truly supportive rather than just supportive when it’s convenient. “Carry Your Memory” is the idea of appreciating your loved ones, especially the older generation, while you still have time. So really taking some actual messages away while still enjoying the show. I think really great writers have a way of conveying a wonderful message while also not beating you over the head with it.
With: Jessica Paige and Jillian Rae
When: 10:30 p.m. Fri. July 13
Tickets: $8, $10; more info here