By: Jess Goulart
Photo courtesy of Krill.
Boston-based indie rock trio Krill fosters a sound and image that is quirky, raw, and slightly unhinged. For example, their last album, Lucky Leaves, was released via vinyl, digital, and in a deluxe package that includes a USB drive embedded in a ball of mozzarella cheese – because why the fuck not? The mischievous maniac-depressive band was originally comprised of Jonah Furman (vocals/bass), Luke Pyenson (drums), and Aaron Ratoff (guitar). Together they exude a frenetic, experimental energy that’s adored by the tightly knit Beantown music scene. However, when Pyenson left for grad-school earlier this year, it looked as though Krill, only three years old, would meet with an early demise. They recorded Lucky Leaves, a self-referential comi-tragedy favoring minimalist lyrics, erratic rhythm changes, and tripping guitar melodies, as a final farewell. But the original conclusion that the release would be their last is now a bit of a joke, as it appears Krill shall live to rock another day. Furman sat down with BTR to shed some light on the band’s signature mix of frisk and sincerity and to explain how the they went from saying “goodbye” to “fuck you, we’ll power on.”
Krill is an interesting name, how did you guys pick it?
We all grew up together and Aaron was in a band called The Sea Monsters that I always wanted to be in. When they broke up, we wanted to make like a minimalist version of that band. The name just stuck, though we didn’t form what is actually Krill until a couple years ago. It started with me, Aaron, and Luke, who met in college in Boston. But Luke just left the band in August and the new drummer is actually the drummer from The Sea Monsters, so we all have that connection, sort of representing where we come from.
How long have you all been together?
Aaron and I have been playing together for 10 years, but Krill played their first show the summer of 2010. I was living in Baltimore, so we weren’t really a band yet. I moved to Boston of January of 2011, and that’s when we started practicing regularly.
Do you think your sound has evolved a lot?
Some stuff has changed. Coming to Boston and being deeply involved in the Boston music scene we learned to play a lot louder and closer to that heavier sound. Also, when we started we all felt like we were quiet, sort of frenetic – lighter, not gentler – but we always felt kind of wimpy in the way. But we’ve played shows with Pile and Tail Marks, and when you play with some powerful bands, it’s hard to get up there and play gently. We have always liked music that’s been a bit more challenging, so I’d say we started getting bored with the forms pretty early on. I remember from our first tour we would play the same songs every night – we wanted to do more with different forms so we’ve definitely experimented. Some people say Krill has suddenly gone prog rock.
What are your biggest influences as a band?
That’s a tricky question because it’s more like we make something and then after the fact people say, or we say, “oh that sort of sounds like ‘x.'” But I guess what people have always said, what people love to say, is the Pixies. We all like the Pixies, and did a cover of them this past Halloween, because people say it to us so much. I get the comparison, but I wouldn’t say that personally. It’s sort of all fragmented for us. We’ll be writing a part of a song and we’ll say “oh we should do a Pile thing here,” or other stuff will creep in. But it’s hard to trace influences in a serious way.
If you spend some time learning the Pixies songs you’ll see that there’s not too many similarities. There’s a lot of bass lines, I guess, but otherwise I just don’t really see it.
What do you guys listen to?
We listen to a lot of Pile. I listen to a lot of Don Caballero, and as a songwriter I’m very influenced by Bill Callahan, but I’m not sure if that really comes up in the music.
What are your backgrounds as musicians?
We’ve all been playing since high school. Aaron and I have been friends for 10 years, but were always in different bands. I feel pretty self-taught, and same with them. Mainly we’re Jewish kids from the suburbs who listened to classic rock, then Phish, and now more heavy experimental or local music. Same evolution as probably everybody.
Can you tell me about the inspiration behind Lucky Leaves?
The joke is that Luke – we call him lucky all the time – is leaving to go to grad school in London. We had to self-release the album because the people that wanted to put it out wanted us to tour on it, obviously. The whole thing was that Krill was supposed to end. When we recorded the album we decided that Krill would be over when it was released, which is the whole joke of the first song, because by the time that anybody heard that song we wouldn’t exist anymore. But then we decided to keep going, so now it’s twisted in a weird way. The songs themselves were written a year or a year and a half ago and I guess the general vibe is “sad.” We didn’t mean to make it so sad! Our first album was demo tunes we recorded in our basement – lots of extreme delay and stuff like that and then this one was less extreme. I think we were just trying to get the sounds down, I don’t think we have any guiding lights in the album.
The cover art is really interesting, what’s that about?
Yeah one of my friends in college, Emily Feinberg, did that. Emily would make all these collages with a photograph and she would basically maul it and grill on it and print it out and mess with it and finish it on her computer, so it’s all layered and graph-y. So the little guy on the cover is sort of waving goodbye, like a sad tribute.
What’s the writing process like for you?
There are a lot of filters on it. For a typical song I will be taking a long walk and I’ll think of a tune in my head, or one verse, and I’ll sing it into my phone or write it on a piece of paper. Then I get home and I have this guitar that I bought after we went touring in this really little car. I couldn’t bring anything extra from home because there was no space with all of our gear. So I didn’t have a guitar except for this three string guitar that was totally broken; I had bought for like $10. So for most of the songs I will sing it first in my head, then go home and try and play it on this terribly tuned three-string guitar, and then we try and turn that into a real song.
How do get inspiration for the lyrics?
I don’t know, I feel like sometimes you just gotta get lucky and wait for something to pop into your head. I mean, I rip stuff a lot – like the song “Purity of Heart,” the main line is the title of a book that just stuck with me. Often I rip something from a book or something I see and then it just spills out from there.
Are you a big reader?
I am really slow, but I like to read. I read one book every two months, so I definitely wouldn’t call myself voracious.
What was the recording process like for Lucky Leaves?
We recorded it in our friend’s studio called The Silent Barn, in New York. We just went in one day and recorded everything in about 10 hours. We didn’t really know what we were doing. We recorded it all on a Friday and then on Sunday I did the vocals and Aaron added some guitar, but the bulk was done in that 10-hour session. Then the studio worked on mixing for about a month after.
Tell me about the bookends of Lucky Leaves, “Theme From Krill” and “Theme From Krill (Reprise)”?
Like I said, “Theme From Krill” is a cruel joke on ourselves. But now it’s a little foolish, now it’s less of a goodbye and more like, ‘Fuck you, we’ll power on!’ Ian, our new drummer, if he hadn’t decided to join the band it would have broken up. It wasn’t “just find any drummer,” it was “Ian wants to join the band, so yes.” That song is also supposed to anthologize the story of the band. And then, the closing thing is just guitar riffs and no drums, which was fitting, because Luke was leaving so there would be no more drums. It’s a good example of furnishing a joke, but it’s also quite serious, self-referential, and self-aggrandizing, so in the right moments I feel like people can tap into something true about it. Those lines are what people say to me on the streets – “Krill forever!”
We’re kind of fully kidding and fully serious at all times, which I guess some people could find exhausting, but for us it’s the only thing that feels true.
You get a lot of street recognition?
It’s a small scene, so people see this jacket I wear that says Krill on the back, it has a bunch of patches I put on it, and they respond. Mostly it’s people that I know and see at shows, we’re not really friends, but are all part of the scene. It’s an easy way for people to holler at me.
You guys have a cross-country tour coming up in February/March, where are you most looking forward to playing?
Well it’s gonna suck going through North Dakota in February. That’ll be miserable, but once we get to L.A. that might be a bit better. I like weird towns, honestly, like we’re trying to play Marfa, Texas, which might be cool. I think you remember those more, they’re more fun, kind of a crap shoot too.
Do you play a lot of house shows?
We used to play more when there were more houses to play in Boston, but they apparently shut down the scene every two years or so, so that just happened. There’s still a couple houses operating, and we definitely try to. House shows are much better than a stupid club show, you know. That’s how we made all our friends, and tested out all our stuff, figured out how to be a band and how to be shitty and screw up in a safe environment. House shows are by far my favorite.
In closing, could you share one of your favorite band stories?
I remember we all puked a lot in North Carolina one time… that was fun. Oh! We played a horrible show in Idaho once. Our guitar broke, and we slept in their living room, but they didn’t have any heat and the door was open in October. It was really bizarre. Then they paid us in a little brown bag full of cigarettes — even though none of us smoke — and some coins and Sudafed.
Yeah, that was odd.