On Wednesday, June 30, Brooklyn-based Inlets are scheduled to perform at Neurolux (opening for DM Stith).
Inlets released their first full-length album, Inter Arbiter, last April on Twosyllable Records. The 40-minute collection of beautifully penned “baroque pop” is far from perfect, but a fine introduction to a young band with big potential. On Inter Arbiter, frontman Sebastian Krueger explores a range of themes—from the desolate to the somber, the melancholy to the cheerful—and does so in a soft, elegant manner. At times, the album seems like a sullen, woeful mess of woodwinds, horns and acoustic clamoring. At others, it comes off as a gorgeous piece of fine art, meant to be appreciated with a glass of wine and a moment of self-reflection.
Krueger took some time from his busy touring schedule to chat with Boise Weekly. Where many artists are confounding and vague when discussing their process, Krueger spoke openly about his creative approach, while giving insight into his quirks, discomforts and future expectations.
Boise Weekly: How’s life on the road? Is traveling with a touring band as picturesque and romantic as it’s made out to be?
Sebastian Krueger: I think romance is an ideal one pushes further and further away. We’re still a grassroots project, traveling to cities and having to work for our dinner. But it’s really wonderful to actually meet the people that are interested in our music. We’ve been trying, when we can, to book a lot of off-kilter places— we’re playing in a Synagogue in Madison, Wisc., tonight, so we can be sure that people coming out for that are there to hear us, and are going to have a unique experience. I guess that’s pretty romantic; just this idea that there’s people everywhere who would come out, even in small numbers, to listen to our music.
One thing that sticks out on Inter Arbiter is the diverse instrumentation. What all do you play?
I play guitar, piano, I play some woodwinds— mostly the clarinet family. I mess around with banjo, bass a little bit. But I’m a really bad drummer, so I try not to do that too often. Otherwise, I think it’s very possible to build a workable vocabulary on many instruments, at least enough to write the stuff that I’m writing now. I mean that in a modest way actually, my banjo playing is pretty bad [laughs]. But it’s certainly good enough to get out what I’m trying to do now.
So which instruments do you have the greatest handle on?
I had dreams—for a moment—of being a jazz guitar player, but not only was that too much work for someone as lazy as me, but I also never felt like a part of that, I don’t want to say clique, but there’s definitely a scene to that kind of music that never felt much like me. Whereas, with this stuff I can be a bit more direct and I can do it by myself in my bedroom and it allows for a pretty thoughtful creative approach.
Tell me a little bit about the recording situation for Inter Arbiter.
It’s a really kind of sad little recording environment, in my bedroom. With, I’m sure, really bad mic placement and all that stuff. But as long as your idea is audible then you’re talking, then you’re able to have a conversation. But I’m not too interested in mic placement and all of that stuff. It’s all so very expensive. There’s something really appealing about the type of indie music where you can just create and you don’t have to have a financier or something like that.
Did it take you a while to complete?
There’s a problem when you do music like [Inter Arbiter] where you endlessly tweak and pick at something, and even debate its worth. I think I got into that trap for far too long, and I’m not sure how helpful that is. I’m more interested in being creative and trying to put out more music, and not having to be defined by one thing—whether it’s a record or a song or something like that. But I think this album took me two-and-a-half years or something.
Do you get caught up in being a perfectionist, or are you comfortable just laying it down and letting it go?
I’m not a perfectionist because I’m so aware of my flaws. And maybe that’s a brand of perfectionism, too, where you pick at something for too long. But it’s hard to assume that label when the recording process is so imperfect. So maybe I’m less of a perfectionist than I am a neurotic.
Where do you do the majority of your writing?
My workspace is my home, but little ideas occur to me all over the place. This is my first really long tour, and so far I haven’t had a moment to be creative. It’s very much about getting to your meetings on time, corralling the band members and being something of a babysitter for the band. It’s not that easy, I’m waiting for the days when we have a tour manager and a tour bus—those are far away yet.
Another thing I like about Inter Arbiter is how it comes off as meticulously composed, almost mechanic. But at the same time, it has a very organic feel. What draws you to these earthy sounds?
Part of it is just what’s at my disposal and what’s the most immediate for me. I have dreams of one day recording some kind of electronica album, but that hasn’t been at my fingers when I have an idea. But there’s something that I hear in the combination of instruments on [Inter Arbiter] that works for me, whether it’s the acoustic guitar or clarinet. But I think there are also some darker elements that I wanted to incorporate, and certain instruments speak to that for me, like the bass clarinet. Then if I want something more aggressive I’ll bring in an electric guitar. But electric guitars are kind of sparse on [Inter Arbiter], for some reason this record ended up being much more of an acoustic experience for me. I wonder why that is? Maybe it has something to do with the bedroom recording process. Maybe we’ll branch into a ruckus electronica-synth band next time we have access to a studio [laughs].
Is the composition process fairly grueling?
I do so much of the writing by myself; it’s pretty solitary and very labor intensive. It takes me a while to find the entry point into a song. Whether it’s the right texture or melody, it’s not often quick for me to know which direction to follow. I have to sit with things for a while. But I’m trying to get free with that; I’m trying to do more writing. I kind of wish the process was editing after the fact instead of editing as I go, but so far that’s how it’s been—a labor intensive, slow build. I referred to it recently as songwriting through puzzle assembly because for me, I just take all of these disparate things, put them together, and as I’m doing it, I sort of discover what I think they mean, and can perceive the song as a whole.
Your lyrics are very poetic. Are there any artists or poets you draw inspiration from?
Sometimes I think my lyrics tend to be more impressionistic—rather, instead of thinking about poets I think about painters. I think about things abstractly, and try to leave the lyrics open to interpretation. I really like the exercise of letting the listener bring what he or she thinks something might mean to the song, rather than telling them exactly what I’m thinking. I suppose I could be criticized for not being direct enough, but that’s my preference. I want the lyrics to reflect a certain ambiguity, though at certain times the lyrics are more direct. “Bright Orange Air” is very much about the psychological effects of orange lighting that municipalities use to minimize light pollution. Every time I went out at night I would be bathed in this orange light—I started thinking about what that meant, and what that did to me, and how it affected the aesthetic and the look of the city. They make things uglier in a way, things become monochrome. There’s an underlying beauty in that, but sometimes I’d like to escape it—and it’s just realizing that I can’t; everyone everywhere is using them.
So do you see stars in Brooklyn?
We see very few. There’s something really amazing about them that you take for granted when you aren’t stuck in a teeming, over-populated city like Brooklyn. But I’m originally from Madison and that’s actually where we are tonight to play a show. It’s been really amazing, really wonderful. The sky is beautiful, the stars come out, and there have been some enormous thunderstorms. I love it, I miss it.
Tell me a little bit about your live show. What can we expect at Neurolux?
We’ve been playing pockets of shows where it’s been acoustic and stripped down; we’ve played others where we take on a rock formation. There’s a couple shows we did in Canada recently where our bassist couldn’t be with us, so it was just me on electric guitar and our drummer. It sort of reminded me of the White Stripes a little bit, as much as we could possibly sound like that [laughs]. So I’m not really sure what I’ll be feeling or what we’ll be sounding like when we get to Boise. But I certainly don’t feel holed into presenting the record as it’s recorded. I certainly find it more interesting to provide a different live show than simply pressing play on the record.
I couldn’t agree more. What do you differently in a live setting?
What I end up having to do is a reduction. I don’t think I could possibly provide all the textures that are on [Inter Arbiter] when we play live. So it becomes this really interesting creative challenge to say, well, based on the guitar what am I going to do with my instrument to fill up that space and to create a momentum within that song and create a dynamic? I think we end up being a bit more direct and dynamic, even though it comes from a reduction.