As former guitarist for The Dears, Patrick Krief made sizable contributions to shaping that band’s often dark and brooding sound. But working within another artist’s musical boundaries has never been enough for Krief, as evidenced by his latest solo project.
Bearing only his last name, Krief’s two new albums, Automanic Red and Automanic Blue (out simultaneously Sept. 30 on Toronto indie label Culvert Music), contain 20 songs that capture the emotional extremes the Montreal native has lived over the past few years. On one side, there was the loss of several people close to him in rapid succession, along with the end of a long-term romantic relationship. On the other side was the excessive behavior that normally follows these events as a way to cope.
The intensely personal nature of this material led Krief to execute his vision largely on his own, recording all the guitars, drums, percussion, piano and keyboards during sessions at Montreal’s Studio Mixart and Studio Bottega, located on an alpaca farm in Kelowna, B.C.
He did receive assistance in Montreal from engineer David Schiffman (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Tom Petty, Johnny Cash, Nine Inch Nails), and guest vocals from Sam Roberts and Maia Davies. The Kelowna sessions featured local brass outfit Uptown Hornz, along with arrangements further augmented by violinist Kate Maloney, cellist Justin Wright, and Krief’s longtime collaborator Roberto Piccioni on various instruments.
Yet, in the end, Automanic Red and Automanic Blue display the sort of ambition from a single artist rarely seen in Canada. As Krief himself admits, once he immersed himself in following the threads of his ideas, he really had no choice but to follow them to their ultimate conclusion.
This is a large-scale project clearly inspired by some tragic events. How long did it take, and what was the process like for you?
The process was cathartic in every imaginable way. It gave me a way to escape my situation with fantasy, and by telling a story of triumph, I saw a way to live through it.The songs were written over a period of two years or so, and the recording was executed in three weeks. Mixing the record was an ordeal. I ended up mixing it three times before being satisfied with the end result.
You’ll be on tour across Canada this fall. How does it feel to be leading your own band again, and what can audiences expect?
I’m excited! It’s been a while and I’m ready to experience this album live. The audience can expect a band of musicians giving it their all every night. We all love music, and live for the opportunity to play it. Anyone standing before us should be well aware of how grateful we are to perform. They should also know that their presence energy is an integral part of the experience.
You’ve experienced the extremes of the music business as well as a member of The Dears and as an independent artist. What’s your perspective on that at the moment?
I can’t pretend I have any solutions to the issue with commercializing music or the current state of the music industry. I think that people in general are losing focus on all things—namely art—so it’s hard to think of the industry as the “problem.” I think artists and industry alike need to invest more time into developing projects before rushing onto the next thing. Instant success is fleeting, and I would love to see more careers getting built. That is the responsibility of artists in how they build their own story, or manage their expectations and sense of entitlement. And for the industry, it’s in how firmly they stand behind something they believe in.
What are your fondest musical memories as you were growing up?
Listening to the Beatles with my brother in our bedroom.
What are some of the biggest lessons you've learned as you've built your career, and what advice would you give?
I’ll answer this in point form:
Being talented is not enough.
Hard work does pay off. Tenacity does, too.
Be prolific. Know when to let go of something and that it will never be perfect. The closer something gets to “perfection” the more sterile and boring it will become.
Always offer to help musicians or artists you believe in. Don’t hoard your knowledge.
Decimate any sense of entitlement you have.
Treat people with respect in all situations.
Be loyal to the people who helped you early in your career.
Know that the people who work for you are also taking risks. Hear them out and be cooperative.
Respect your vision, and don’t let your mind (insecurities, goals/ ambitions etc) get in the way of inspiration.
Protect your assets. Define all the work you do. Anyone refusing to put something in writing for you is up to no good.
If you’re gonna goof around in a press photo shoot, know they will use THAT picture.
Nobody can ever care as much as you do. Understand that and respect it.
Don’t slag other artists.
Lead by example.
Don’t waste your time or money on “battle of the bands” type gigs.
Be self sufficient, learn as many skills as possible to advance your art and career.
Don’t blame others for your failures.
Understand how others have contributed to your success and credit/ reward them for it.
If you’re not loving it anymore, STOP.
As Bob Dylan says, “know your song well before you start singing” ... and as Willie Nelson says, “you can’t make a record if you ain’t got nothing to say.”