Berlin, Germany is home to singer, songwriter, and musician Jim Kroft. Over the next couple of weeks, Jim embarks on a “songwriting adventure” and tour that he’s long dreamed about. With his album Lunatic Lullabies scheduled for release on April 14th, A Music Blog, Yea? spoke with Jim before hitting the road in one of our most detailed and interesting interviews to date. Dive into his spectacular answers below, as we discussed psycho-therapeutic journeys, great extremes, evolving as an artist, and Lunatic Lullabies.
AMBY: Hello Jim, cheers for speaking with us today. What have you been up to?
Jim Kroft: I am just off the flight from the UK back to Berlin after recent recording sessions in London. I’m now entering deep into rehearsals as I’m preparing to play my first gigs in the L.A where I set off next week. Very excited about that as its the fulfillment of a long great dream to play over there! Rehearsing like hell basically!
AMBY: How would you describe your sound to those unfamiliar with your music?
Jim Kroft: I guess I’m a songwriter with a twist of sorts. I love to have architecture in music, that is I tend to write with structure and generally on native instruments. I’m old fashioned in that sense. But on the other hand I love the sonic aesthetics of music, of developing sound, approaching something beautiful with a sledge hammer. I think it is this combination which gives my music a “band feel”.
AMBY: Your new album Lunatic Lullabies comes out this April. What can fans expect to hear from the record?
Jim Kroft: Lunatic Lullabies is really a little meditation on the potentials of a human being. What makes a man as he is? I grew up closer to certain edges than I ever would have wished to have known. It was only through a huge commitment to a psycho-therapeutic journey in my 20’s that I found….an existential foothold I guess you’d call it. So Lunatic Lullabies is, if you like, someone looking back on the storm, and gleaning whatever was learnt from that experience. Along the way somehow I learnt how much human beings across the world struggle with their mental health, with coping with their own histories, what they are exposed to, how damaged so many of us are. I felt like a lunatic for years, and it’s only through extreme discipline that I found a way out/through. When I started writing this album I just wanted to write an album that would help someone in a similar state, to sing a lullaby for the lunatic, a song to soothe the madman. Most of all to present the possibility that whatever space one is in, there is something called hope, and it is available. Often that is a choice though. At the darkest moments the descent is the easier path, compensating pain rather than confronting it. It’s the Darth Vader story played out over and over….we all relate. As far as I see, the reaching out towards the light in those moments is the definition of courage.
AMBY: What was the experience like recording Lunatic Lullabies?
Jim Kroft: It was magnificent. It was recorded at Urchin Studios with the pair of genies that are Matt Ingram and Dan Cox, who are running I think the most progressive and independently minded studio in London. We just wanted to make a record that is a bold statement, which takes joy in its extremes. I wanted to challenge the idea that “modernity” in music is a question of aesthetics. There is a lot of music nowadays which has a very developed style and production, but for me, too often short on songwriting – or the attempt to say something. A lot of the chat in the music industry is of co-writing and “hooks” and the idea that the more people you get working on a song the better it is. Every songwriter on a major label these days seems to have an army of songwriters behind them. That is not “a songwriter”, but the development of a brand by big business. For me personally that is dilution. When I put a record out, I want to put out – for better or worse – the sound of a man’s own vision, his own wrestling with the dark, his own revelation, his own interpretation of what life has offered up for him. I don’t want it to be the collective vision of a team of songwriters making decisions on what is most “hooky” and making judgments on pre-guessing the market place to guarantee the most sales.
I believe that songwriting at its best can be a form of revelation – I’m not saying religiously, but certainly, yes, spiritually. It feels like that when you get a good tune – a breakthrough in your own consciousness and the universe bloody well decides to give you that track because you’ve gone to the edge of your consciousness or to the extreme in your life or being in order to find it. You don’t unearth an elixir by proxy, or write a cracking tune while watching a series or updating Twitter. You have to have full frontal confrontation with existence, and then, just maybe, if you do it for long enough or work hard enough, dear old life might be gracious enough to lend you a melody.
AMBY: What’s the story behind the album’s first single, I Hope You Know?
Jim Kroft: As I mentioned, Lunatic Lullabies was informed by an experience and interpretation of madness – of what potentials lay in front of any human being. Hitler was an art school reject. Stalin had aspirations as a poet. What happened that they turned so far off course, so catastrophically, so terribly and brutally? I don’t believe in the concept of “evil” as something “other” or outside ourselves. Jung said that “it is man that is the great evil”. I don’t believe that either – but I do believe the potential of all these extremes is in every one of us. If you reject it, or build a barrier then there is nothing more dangerous. I think it is only by confrontation with what we find in ourselves that some type of “overcoming” of our history, or nature or upbringing or whatever can occur. You have to recognize it in yourself. When William James looked at a drooling madman in an asylum he thought to himself “that shape am I potentially” and had his first panic attack. What he was waking up to was the “thin red line” between one thing and another. Your life can bloody well turn quickly, and the only defense you have for that is openness. You have to allow yourself to be vulnerable or weak in order to discover something about strength. All these “tough guys” and cynics and egos – its all just bloody projection. There is nothing more pathetic than the veneer of strength, nothing more vulnerable. I think that true strength always walks in some way with vulnerability. All this posturing and clothes and hair cuts, its all nonsense, the lot of it. Just a collective illusion that these things matter. I think the only real thing that matters in this life is the ability to feel a genuine feeling honestly – and that in itself can be a life long journey – especially when you have various shit to deal with ha ha!
I wanted to take all my thinking and experience and boil it down into a pop song. That is, for me, the challenge of a song. To consecrate so many ideas influences into something so simple, but so suggestive of so much more. So “I Hope You Know” was just a meditation of the great journey – of our capacity to rise greatly fall mightily. It doesn’t matter whether it is my life, your life, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, Stalin, Darth Vader, Kerouac, Lennon, Che, whoever – our lives are pregnant with the capacity for great extremes. And when you are at the top there is no greater distance to fall, and vice versa. I’m interested in hero narratives – of the journey it takes to make something, to grow as a human, to build a life. I Hope You Know is all about that – of wandering out into the world as a kid and attempting to build your existence from the base level up.
AMBY: How do you feel you’ve evolved as an artist since the release of your solo 2010 debut Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea?
Jim Kroft: I guess the blessing for me is that I’ve been able to make records and EP’s. I sold enough to get to the next one, but not enough that I’ve had to spend 3 years promoting one album! It’s meant I’ve just had to keep rolling forward, writing, evolving. And that discipline has led to a lot of personal happiness, because I love to write and record as much as I love to be on the road. It has also allowed me to develop fast artistically and in different ways. With the “The Hermit and the Hedonist” I really fulfilled what I started on “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” – this need to get big strings & dense chordal harmony out. It has freed me for “Lunatic Lullabies” which has simpler song structures, no strings, but a more progressive and experimental sonic aesthetic. “Tell Me Where to Begin” is just a dude off his head imagining Rihanna singing over Lennon on the piano….I enjoy where confusion takes me!
AMBY: Does living in Berlin have an influence on your music? If so, how?
Jim Kroft: Oh absolutely, it has been defining really – in different ways and different times. I moved here for the residencies in Cafe Zapata and White Trash which went on between 2007-2009. It was a great time, a lot of chaos, 3 sets of music per night, making your way in a new country, a lot of new faces, a vampire experience if you like. I remember writing Ragdoll and Modern Monk while living next to the Tacheles in an abandoned building where Myriad Creatures lived and worked during that time. So the songs really came out of some very raw experiences….feeling unsettled….many extremes….Assange writing his code during the day at Zapata and rock n roll seeing the night through – a colorful, time for sure! After I went solo, I was searching for reconciliation in myself and my life. That entailed leaving the band, getting lonely, digging in, taking responsibility, attempting to find a new way – a different experience of rock n roll, one that led to a rebirth as a solo artist. During that time the city itself – rather than my own isolated existential experience – started speaking to me – and out of this formed the aesthetic of “Lunatic Lullabies”. Kind of thinking, yeah, I like these dance tunes which are playing everywhere, I’m going to steal some of their rhythms, vibes and sounds and fuse it together with some of my rock n roll…..I’d basically sip on my hefeweisen and think….hmm….this could be cool if it was actually trying to say something!
AMBY: Who have you been listening to lately?
Jim Kroft: I am cursing myself for becoming a proto modern streaming schizophrenic musical listener. I hope to recover from my temporary exodus into digital and get back to the joy and discipline of buying records and living with them!
Other than that I love Thomas Azier who lives in the same district as me in Berlin. Class. I think Erik Penny’s new album is going to be a really good one. I Heart Sharks are flying the flag for Berlin bands & breaking out. Dance on the Tightrope – massive potential. Manors – what a talent. Livingston – incredible reinvention happening there (watch that space). The new Martin and James record is cracking too, especially “You’ll Be Gone”. I like Mighty Oaks too. Lots of great stuff locally basically!
AMBY: What has you most excited for the rest of 2014?
Jim Kroft: Very excited to be going to the States for my first shows in L.A, meeting some songwriters in San Francisco and having an experience on the West Coast! Also incredibly proud that I am now able to release Lunatic Lullabies in the UK as I finally have the rights back from Universal (after they bought EMI who released the record in G.S.A) Also songs are popping out for the next record already, so its possible that I’ll follow up Lunatic Lullabies quickly. We’ll see. On top of that I have a lot of film work through my company “Kroft Films”. Busy time, good time!
AMBY: Lastly, what’s something about Jim Kroft that nobody knows yet?
Jim Kroft: Hmm, not sure anyone knows anything about Jim Kroft yet ha ha! Okay, here it goes – Lunatic Lullabies was released in Germany the week before EMI got bought by Universal and the album promotion was basically shut down as a lot of the EMI team lost their jobs etc bla bla. So that was a blow. But since then there has been this lovely experience where radio DJ’s have been picking up the tunes in many places – Italy, Australia, Brazil, college radio in the states – lots of places and very random. Its been very heartening. As a result of that, the first song is just being licensed for release in America, so that is very exciting and new news. It has been a vindication of sorts because I always knew the album’s worth had nothing to do with what happened on the corporate macrocosmic level. But mostly, I just believe that in any situation in life – good stuff will eventually find its way to its audience.
Thank you Jim Kroft, for giving us your answers!
Alicia Atout | @AliciaAtout