Five Questions: Kris Orlowski
With his new album, Believer, Seattle’s Kris Orlowski steps forward in two new directions. First, it’s a full-length record (after three EPs) and, second, he’s a band (not just a singer/songwriter). Listening to the depth and breadth of Believer, both points ring out loud and clear — it’s a solid collection of songs rendered in big sonic fashion.
As songwriters do, Orlowski draws from his surroundings — the bleak skies of the Pacific Northwest, the tumultuous emotions of being human, and the precarious state of worldly affairs. Putting it all together, Orlowski sets forth genuinely thoughtful, finely crafted, well-produced pop/rock tunes that would not be out of place next to Kings of Leon, Coldplay, and The National on your FM dial (or favorite festival’s main stage). Let’s hope he gets there.
How has it been different for you — creatively and otherwise — to step up to a full-length record after releasing three EPs?
I love the brevity of EPs — I’m a child of the now generation, and it’s easier to start a small project or pick up a handful of pebbles and cast them into a pond, than to attempt to lift a boulder and carry it to the ocean. While that may sound dramatic, creating a full-length album with 10+ songs that all say something, that all stand on their own is a challenge. I found myself setting aside weekends and long evenings to write songs, to rework songs. It was a great opportunity to cultivate the writer in me, to develop some discipline for my craft. I often run, read, walk outside, or sleep when I’m stuck, and I think I was running about two miles per day consistently for about two-and-a-half months. Taking on a full-length record was a bit daunting, but after three EPs, I was ready to create something that had more depth to it. It was a welcome challenge, but still a challenge.
You’re presenting the new set from a band’s perspective, right? How has the transition from solo singer/songwriter to front man been going for you? And what advantages does being a band have?
From the songwriter’s perspective, it’s exciting to write songs and have a vision about exactly what you want the song to sound like; but I’ve noticed that there is a lot of magic that can happen when you get a group of talented guys (or gals) together in a room to collaborate on a song. The song has really become the focus. The guys have been great about not trying to add unnecessary sounds. After playing together for a couple of years with the same set of guys, it feels like a band instead of a singer/songwriter project… we all get where it’s going and don’t have an ego about what the song needs to be.
You did your college thesis on poverty and have done a good bit of service work, both here and abroad. How does your passion for social justice inform your music?
Yes, I was on track to a very selfless life when I was graduating from college. For some of my earlier songs, there was a huge social bent; I used my lyrics as a platform to speak about social issues that were important to me to try to change opinions. I realized that it started to feel a little preachy after a while, and it seemed a better use of my time might be playing for a cause, volunteering outside of my music, and writing about issues — like the environment — that were important to me while not being so overtly “woe is me” or placing the blame. While saying all that, you can hear a bit of this ‘conscious’ bent in my music still in the song “Fighting the War” which was an anthem about how disengaged our culture can be sometimes with the problems we are facing. We actually just shot a music video in early April for that song. I really wanted to write about the Power Past Coal movement and chatted with my mother about the issues. (She is a HUGE activist up in Belllingham.) After our conversation and a second conversation with my friend Petra, I finished the lyrics to the song. The song still touches on the issue of coal, but gets to the root of the problem — that people need to care more for things to change. I feel like such a hypocrite when I say these things, sometimes, as I forget to recycle or drive my big tour van around mile after mile playing shows. I’m a work in progress.
What does being part of a music community, like Seattle’s, mean to you and your work?
Seattle is a funny city. Steeped in overcast clouds, its tenure in the music industry for producing great artists — names that still echo throughout the halls, like Kurt Cobain and Jimi Hendrix, or hyped bands of the last two centuries like Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Dave Matthews, Fleet Foxes, The Head and the Heart, and this past year’s story Macklemore… there are a lot of people here who love live music and I think this city has a great infrastructure (Music Initiatives, KEXP, EMP, etc.) to foster talented musicians and artists, to help take them beyond this town to a national platform. I love this city, its resources and it’s progressive nature. I don’t think I would have done quite as well without the support that it offers.
What’s up with you guys being robbed… THRICE?
Yeah, I’ve had a lot of things stolen from me. The feeling of being violated is always there along with a panic over how I’m going to find the money to replace it. I’ve had a couple of guitars stolen, a laptop, my favorite pair of underwear, a Sonicare toothbrush, a few amps… the list goes on. I’ve learned quite a few lessons about leaving gear in my car. I just don’t do it anymore — or, if I do, then I do so with the conscious understanding that I may come back and it will be gone. In fact, when I left the house this morning somebody had stolen the front tire off my bike. I keep giving humanity the benefit of the doubt, but I guess you never can be too careful…