Prolific Portland-based musician Kyle Craft has already caught the ear of many with his two albums for the legendary Sub Pop label. Kyle’s 2016 debut, Dolls Of Toyland was an arresting introduction to his passionate vocal style and retro-gazing take on musical history, while 2018’s Full Circle Nightmare was almost like a concept album, playing out like the soundtrack to 1950’s film about teenage miscreants staying up all night playing rambunctious, rebellious rock’n’roll.
Wasting no time in making his return, Kyle is set to release his new album, Showboat Honey, next month, the record taking its name from his newly acquired backing band, who get equal billing on the record. Discussing the upcoming record, Kyle has implied it’s inspired by a twin dose of good luck and bad fortune, “out of nowhere, I find love. Everything went to shit except that. I guess that’s how life works”.
Musically, Showboat Honey seem to take Kyle’s musical vision and imbue it with a new found glam-rock swagger. Steady, distinct drum beats hold the piece together, as slinky bass lines and wailing keys create a back-drop for fizzing guitar riffing and Kyle’s expressive, creative lyricism.
The influence of Bob Dylan is clear, and something Kyle is proud of, “there is not a single thing in my life that has affected me more than the first time I heard Dylan”, yet more so than ever Kyle seems to find his own voice here. Whether struggling on against an avalanche of set-backs on Sunday Driver, or charting, “a date gone awry at a swingers party” on Johnny (Free & Easy), Kyle now seems to create characters and moods entirely of his own imagining.
Ahead of that release, Kyle took some time out to answer our questions, discussing how small town living shaped his sound, the influence of cheap wine on his new record, and how he scrapped an entire album before making Showboat Honey.
FTR: For those who don’t know, who is Kyle Craft?
That’d be me. I grew up on the Mississippi River, small town Louisiana. Got stuck with an old soul and can’t shake it…perhaps some ghost hitched a ride, attached itself, made a home in me. I don’t think anything tops Dylan in 65 and 66. I have a crush on Patti Smith. Natural blonde, self-proclaimed okay writer, and overall real good time.
FTR: Your new album, Showboat Honey, is out next month, what can you tell us about recording it?
It was gruelling, but intensely fun. I enjoy recording as much as performing actually. I went just about out of my mind toward the end there though… My pianist, Kevin Clark, and I pooled our studio gear together and built out a place to track in his garage. To sum up what I mean by gruelling, let’s just say I was in there recording 16 hours a day nearly every day for a total of maybe 2 months and what I mean by intensely fun is that we had an arsenal of cheap wine and other things, like rotisserie chicken and giddy ups, to keep us sharp and on top of our game… One can only function so long at that pace with wine, chicken, and giddy ups… so yeah, I may have lost a few marbles in there.
FTR: We read you’d written a completely different album and decided to scrap it and start again. How did you know that record wasn’t right?
I just had a gut feeling once I sat with it long enough. I finished tracking the last vocal for the “first version” of the record maybe 4 hours before heading out on a two month tour, but once we were back, things just felt off with it. Each song felt like it belonged on a different record because it was missing a certain sonic glue.
FTR: We noticed you’ve included your backing band in the credits this time, was it different recording a Showboat Honey album, compared to a solo album?
Typically when I record, I do most of the composing and producing myself; however, with Showboat Honey, the boys came into the ring quite a bit. The process of writing the songs changed very little, but the recording operation was a little different as I let Kevin and William have more input than I would on producing than I had in the past.
FTR: The album’s coming out via Sub Pop, what makes them such a good label?
There are plenty of reasons Sub Pop is great… The roster’s packed with groovy bands and they all work really hard to make that machine run the way it does. I feel like family every time I’m hanging around the staff and I’m sure “what makes them a good label” is different for everyone, but for me, it’s because they’re more like pals than anything else and looking back, they gave me a shot when nobody else would. It’s not like other labels were beating down the door to get to me… they took a chance and I’m very thankful that they did.
FTR: We read that you said the album is “a combination of bad luck and good fortune hitting at the same time”, what did you mean by that?
Well, frankly I just had this massive string of bad luck going… I’d never experienced an era of my life so relentlessly, comically, and cosmically horrible… Just shit show after shit show in every area of my life except for one… I won’t go into detail about what all had me beat down, but I will say that meeting my fiancé and falling in deep was what lifted the hex.
FTR: What track on the record are you most proud of?
That’s a tough call. Deathwish Blue is one of my favourites because I’d always wanted to do a Lennon ballad type of song and feel like I executed that exactly the way I’d imagined doing it… plus, I finally wrote a song about having love, not just wanting it or losing it. On top of that, we used mellotron quite a bunch across the record and I love putting together string arrangements.
FTR: Do you think growing up in a small town shaped your sound? Do you think your music would be a different if you’d grown up in a big city?
I think growing up the way I did had a massive impact on my sound and my taste in general. Music just never really came through and when it did, it wasn’t all that good. I reminisce about hearing the old Creedence cover band down on the river walk as a kid, but as far as outside influence goes, I just didn’t get it until some of my older friends went to college and brought back records for me. Luckily, by that time, I’d taken the plunge into Dylan, which shaped my songwriting early on.
FTR: What are your aspirations for this record? Do you see music as a viable career?
I try not to have too many aspirations with anything really. I know things can go wrong and they often times do, so to save myself the eye roll, I just live day to day and do what makes me feel best… which is music. I think any career is “viable” if you’re aggressive, cool, and cunning with what you do… unfortunately, I don’t care to be any of those things, so we’ll see how “viable” music is for me. I’ll let you know.
FTR: Who are your influences? What were you listening to when you wrote Showboat Honey?
Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, John Lennon, Townes Van Zandt, Gram Parsons, Janis Joplin, Howling Wolf, Dr. John, Brian Wilson, The Band… I feel like that list can keep going in the readers head without calling names; however, while I was writing and recording Showboat Honey, it was a heavy mix of Patti Smith, Leon Russell, and The Kinks.
FTR: Why do you make music?
It’s one of the only things I dig!
FTR: The album’s obviously coming out on vinyl, are you attached to physical formats? Do you see streaming as a good thing or a bad thing for the music industry?
I am attached to vinyl, absolutely. Streaming is just what it is… bad for the musicians, good for the listener. I’m both.
FTR: What can people expect from the Kyle Craft live show?
The live versions of nearly every song have a different feel than the album takes. We’re unhinged and rowdy on stage most of the time, gets loud. I never aspire to make the songs feel identical to the record.
FTR: What’s next for Kyle Craft?
Tour. Record. Release. Repeat.
Showboat Honey is out July 12th via Sub Pop. Click HERE for more information on Kyle Craft.