By Zach Schepis
Photo courtesy of The Patti Fiasco.
Alysia Kraft grew up in a small town in Wyoming. By the time she graduated from her high school, she was among one of only a dozen other students in her class–all of whom she had known since the first grade.
But all was not entirely quiet on the Western front. While Kraft whisked along in her serene isolation, her mother’s past beckoned from a strange and distant road. Mrs. Kraft had brought a piece of the city with her into the whispering pines; an artist originally hailing from the cold streets of Detroit, she hit the road in hopes of falling in love with her “cowboy.”
Not surprisingly, the story sounds almost like it was ripped straight from the lyrics of one of her daughter’s folkloric songs, which you can hear performed by her country/rock ensemble The Patti Fiasco.
“My upbringing was strange in that it mixed the rural life with faraway elements of music, art, and culture that my mom brought with her from the outside,” Kraft tells BTR. “It’s almost like I was destined to break out and discover it on my own.”
She was training to become a Division I basketball player at her college, but soon realized the overwhelming commitment wasn’t where her passion was rooted. Thankfully she decided to break away from the sport; had she pursued an athletic career, the world would have been short another great songwriter.
Kraft had always been infatuated and influenced by music, but never got around to trying her hand at it. One day, she stumbled into an old pawnshop in her town and walked away with a rickety old acoustic guitar. Buried beneath the dust and memories of those who had strummed before, Kraft awoke the spirit of storytelling that would sail her free from the small town blues of Wyoming.
Within a couple weeks of playing and teaching herself, the budding songwriter became so engrossed in music that she began writing her own material. She argues that it seemed like a much better idea to construct her own songs than to try and learn someone else’s. Her fearless abandon and independent determination would come to later define her as a musician, lyricist, and stage entertainer.
After Kraft spent a few months practicing the guitar, taking her songs to the stage proved to be the next logical step. There was a quaint coffee shop near her college that hosted regular open-mics, and it was there that she mounted the musical parapet before her first live audience.
“I’ll be the first to admit it,” she tells BTR between laughter. “I was probably terrible.”
Whether or not her first few performances were any good, one thing remained certain: Kraft exuded an engaging stage presence and magnetism that naturally drew audiences towards her. The moment she realized her power, Kraft adds, was when she decided that playing music for others was what she absolutely had to do with her life.
At the same weekly open mic Kraft met a young guitar player whose talents she was floored by. His name was Dee Tyler, and the two hit it off almost immediately. Tyler had played in a band called Green Street Majority for close to a decade, and coincidentally was contacted only days before regarding an opportunity for an approaching gig. He asked Kraft if the two of them should put together a band.
The answer was a resounding yes, and before long Tyler called out each of the best musicians he knew in the area to come out and play. The result? You guessed it, The Patti Fiasco was born.
With an entire band pulled straight out of the woodwork–and featuring instrumentation bizarre as the electric dobro–The Patti Fiasco started cultivating a sound that drew equally from the country twang of the Wyoming wilderness and the ripping blues of Western cities.
“Dee saved me years of putting together a band and a sound,” says Kraft. “He knew the best players in the area, and they respected the hell out of him, so when he called on them to play they didn’t ask twice.”
“Don’t think twice, it’s all right,” as the rambling Robert Zimmerman rumbles from the pathways of yesteryear. The Patti Fiasco were well on their way towards perfecting a live sound of rowdy intimacy when they decided to hit the studio and document their remarkable trip.
What resulted was Small Town Lights, a crossroads of a sort; split between the high roads to the coast and the quiet nestled woods from which the band sewed its humble beginnings.
To hear the rest of the interview, tune into this week’s episode of the Discovery Corner.
Or discover The Patti Fiasco for yourself here.