There's the traditional "verse chorus verse" way of writing a pop song, and then there's the Krill way of writing a pop song.
Over the course of two albums and an EP, the Boston trio of Jonah Furman, Ian Becker and Aaron Ratoff have honed their craft and produced a body of work that's heavy on hooks, melodies and acerbic lyrics but extremely light on conventional structures. Kind of psych, a bit math rock, a touch of the unhinged Cap'n Jazz emo mixed with Pavement's gift for a twisted take on classic rock song writing, Krill - above all - just make bloody brilliant pop music that's as giddy and euphoric as you like. And with new album A Distant Fist Unclenching recently released, and second album Lucky Leaves just reissued on vinyl, the band is preparing for a massive 2015.
Once I managed to reign these three big kids in from mucking about with graphics and sound effects via out "hangout" (hey, giant multinational video facilitator), I asked Krill if it’s a bit a weird still talking about Lucky Leaves about eighteen months down line from its original release.
Jonah: “Yeah, I mean it’s old as fuck now…"
Aaron: “But we’re used to it.”
Ian: “And people still want to hear those songs at shows.”
“I think people gravitate towards it more than Steve [the full title of the EP is Steve Hears Pile In Malden and Bursts Into Tears],” explains Furman, “or maybe it just gets more press, I dunno….” But there is one new talking point for the vinyl reissue on Steak Club - the inclusion of “Peanut Butter”, a track also to be found on a multi-split 7” also featuring Ovlov, LVL UP and Radiator Hospital, so surely that’s something for the band to get excited about? “’Peanut Butter’ was this one-off we kinda didn’t know what to do with,” says singer Furman, “but that’s old too, it’s like from sixteen months ago.” Guitarist Ratoff chimes in, unhelpfully: “We recorded it at the same time as the EP…” Great. So nothing new to talk about. Let’s check out.
I’m joking, of course. Krill are quite happy to discuss Lucky Leaves, their label, the local scene in Boston and their forthcoming new album and we touch on all these topics in one of the most entertaining and fun interviews I’ve conducted in a while. We discuss the split 7”, and I’m keen to know more about what makes this loose Boston “scene” and Exploding In Sound such a thrilling prospect right at the moment. “I dunno,” confesses Jonah, brother of singer/guitarist Ezra Furman. “It’s funny, 'cause the split isn’t all Boston. Radiator Hospital is a Philly band, Ovlov is Connecticut but they’re a very well-known Exploding In Sound band, LVL UP is NYC but it is the same scene I guess, extended over a couple of cities or east coast cities….” I ask Jonah if there’s anything he can think of that makes it such a fertile area for bands. “I dunno man; it’s pretty accessible – that’s one thing that makes it unique!” Drummer Becker adds: “Yeah, it’s an easy point of entry and all the music is fairly different…..” before his connection cuts out mid-revelation. Furman takes over: “I was on Wikipedia yesterday for the biggest towns in New England,” he begins, “and it’s like….one of things people try to explain about Boston but it doesn’t come through all the time is that New England is kind of its own region. New York does not associate with New England, and Boston is kinda the biggest city of a small country.”
Ratoff offers another view, focusing on the excellent label Krill and some of the aforementioned bands find themselves on: “I guess another thing is that some of the bands on Exploding In Sound do sound similar,” he explains, “but the Boston scene in general is pretty eclectic. There’s definitely a lot of different sounding bands coming through who play together and go to each other’s shows. There’s even micro-scenes within it…there’s a heavy noise and improvisation scene, but they associate with just normal guitar rock bands who in turn associate with quieter pop bands. If you’re involved in that scene, then you know everyone…” Furman continues to focus on the area his band comes from: “I think it makes sense to think of it [Boston] more as the biggest town in a small area. People try and pretend it competes with New York as a world-class city, and it just doesn't. It’s too small and doesn’t have enough nightlife or investment from outside parties, starting venues and stuff. New York, it’s like there’s endless places to play but here, we’re trying to put on a show in January…we wanted to have it on a Friday and the one venue that really makes sense to play was like ‘you can have it on a Tuesday’, so I guess we’ll have to do it on a Tuesday! It’s not like New York where there’s way more - you could make your own scene. Here, you wanna play a show and it’s like what night is there a show on? And you play that. It’s a lot less picky.” What about the people, does that have an effect? “People flock to Boston because it’s the biggest town,” says Jonah. “It’s not as urbane, the people aren’t necessarily as ‘cool’ or something, they’re just young and want to be in a city of some sort, and they happened to grow up in New Hampshire. You could go to New York, but you’d definitely go to Boston! I think it’s definitely more regional and thus it’s less filtered by coolness or vision.”
Lucky Leaves is a mighty fine record. Ostensibly a pop record with an experimental heart, the songs are euphoric but shot through with Furman’s lyrics which flirt with self-loathing and depression. The trick Furman pulls is to write with his tongue firmly lodged in his cheek, or at least using humour to his advantage, which means that songs which could have been unapproachably dark are left open and welcoming. There are two interesting leitmotifs which appear in a number of songs, and I’m keen to hear more about the regular mentions of dogs and apple cores…so, Jonah, what is going on here? “It was a lyrical motif that kept coming up!” says Furman. ”With dogs...that was a big thing at the start for Krill. The last record [Alma No Hris] involved a lot more dogs…that was a happy love album, the second was depressing – not quite a breakup album but it did turn dark. So with apple cores…when Ian joined the band a year and a half ago and was asking me about the apple core as a motif, what I told him and what stuck with me was that, y’know it’s like biblical and sin or whatever but there’s also…it’s an apple core, the apple is already eaten.” So it’s addressing the past, something that’s already happened and the consequences? “Yeah, it’s a lot about regret, shame and having already done the ‘thing’” agrees Furman. “Sick dogs and dead dogs: I dunno, that’s like innocence, childhood, love…anything good basically, and that’s all fucked on Lucky Leaves. On the new album, there’s none of that I think!”
Given Furman has already detailed the move from happiness on Alma No Hris, through darkness and depression on Lucky Leaves to somewhere new on the forthcoming album can he see a progression musically and lyrically for himself and Krill? “Definitely lyrically; I have a lyrics narrative…the first one is really happy, Lucky Leaves is really sad and dark, and third one…well, the idea is that you’re supposed to have stopped caring about all that…moving past the darkness thing…are we going with that title? It’s called A Distant Fist Unclenching. It’s supposed to be after the bad anxiety attack of Lucky Leaves a bit more relaxing. It’s definitely still a depressing album but it’s less anxious for sure.” Is it case of being happier, or just dropping a level of the “bad stuff”? “Definitely less, or less explicitly like ‘I suck’ or whatever,” says Furman. “Less self-loathing; a lot of the songs are about messing myself up, but within the space of the song I’ll say ‘I’m my own biggest problem but that’s okay’. They move through the whole process a lot more to somewhere that’s okay, whereas on Lucky Leaves lyrically it was seriously doom and gloom, there was no hope on there at all! Musically…I dunno, some people say math rock?” Aaron agrees with the description of the music: “This one is more intricately arranged; the songs tend to be longer and it’s just more involved I think. There’s a lot more going on and the recording quality is a step up…” while drummer Becker, who although only joining the band in 2013 seems like he’s something of a driving force behind Krill, is a bit more expansive: “I’d describe the songs as ruminative, kind of,” he begins. “In terms of your earlier question it does have a connection to other Boston/Exploding bands who have started to put out longer songs. I think that’s definitely a trend…on the last split that Pile did, they had a really long song. The Two Inch Astronaut album which just came out has a lot of long songs, Kal Marks has just started to write some long songs.” Does the complexity come with the length? “They are more complex in a way,” agrees Becker, “and the limitation of having a four minute song with a pretty standard rock structure isn’t really a thing anymore. It’s not complex in a way some really intense math rock is complex. There’s a lot of quick changes and musically it’s really impressive but a lot of the time with that music it’s more about the changes and less about the lyrical content or tone of the song, so the new album is very much like each song is more than the sum of obscure time signatures and weird changes – but they do have that!”
Becker goes on to discuss some of the new songs: “’Peanut Butter’ and the songs we’ll be previewing the new album with, they could not be more different. So that’ll be interesting to see what happens. But I just realised, that’s totally a thing with Boston bands now – a lot of the songs are really long! It wasn’t out of the intention of being difficult or making it hard to listen to or get more intense about…the songs just got longer.” At this point, Furman surpresses a giggle and shouts: “The seven-minute rock song is back! Everyone has got one now!"
I say that it’s often surprising in a way that in the digital age where we can get everything in an instant and there’s such a lack of patience versus demand, that people still want to hear a long song – but they do. Becker agrees: “Yeah! That’s an assumption I had but it’s not even really true, y’know? That’s not a limitation anymore, I don’t think. In a way, it almost feels selfish when you’re writing a long song – it’s more for your own exploration and interest than it is for making it very accessible to someone else. After we wrote the album we noticed the songs were really long, at the time we did not notice at all! It was only when we listened back it was like ‘oh, this is over six minutes long…oh shit, this album is long, do we have to cut stuff out?’” Furman explains that without the worries of having to sell records or compete, it allows Krill to do whatever they want: “In the universe we’re in, we don’t have the pressures of commercialism,” he says. “You do your best at commercial work and it’s still never going to be commercial! Our biggest hit will never get anywhere, commercially speaking. So, we don’t have to worry about that and, you know, we have moments where we ask ‘is this too long, is this too something?’ but apparently the people who want to listen to this just wanna hear what we most wanna do, so we’ll just do that.” Becker affirms that Krill are currently at a place where they’re doing what they want, and people are loving it: “I’ve heard from a lot of people who have heard the album who say ‘oh yeah this is great!’ and then a couple of weeks later they’re finding it really fantastic after they’ve had a chance to listen to it more. The way that a lot of people listen to music these days – at their computer when they have ten free minutes – I don’t think that’s the best way to like this album a lot. But I’m pretty proud of that fact. It’s a record of what you’ve done at that moment. It’s not this perfect version of how you saw the songs or wanted them to sound. It’s just a physical copy of something you made, an artefact, and afterwards, well, things change.””
A Distant Fist Unclenching seems like it might be one of those records we almost forget about in 2015, then its power will hit us full in the face when we least expect it, and Furman’s final words on it point to this as being potentially true: “I think the new album is definitely a grower – which isn’t to say it’s not immediately rewarding necessarily – but I think of it like books. I don’t want to read aeroplane books, I want to read something of value that someone cared enough about to put out.”
A Distant Fist Unclenching is out now via Steak Club and Blood and Biscuits. The band tour the UK and Europe over the next month.