Uncharted is our weekly showcase of independent artists we think you should hear. This week: Nicholas Krgovich goes acoustic for his harrowing and joyful new record, Who Cares?
This record is a friend for anyone who can admit that their existential cobwebs need dusting. For quarter, third, mid-life, and whatever crises happen next, Krgovich addresses the harrowing question of its title head on. Returning to Vancouver following extensive touring with friends Mount Eerie and Nite Jewel, the artist says he entered “…a transitional period where I spent too much time thinking about things in a relatively limited way.” He needed joy, and he chose to find it in that timeless way: by singing about his problems. For this record he is accompanied by his old friend The Guitar, and it’s his first time playing the instrument in over eight years. Together they set about blooming one razor-tipped orchid after another, tender and bare documents of a crisis where sweetness betrays desperation, and hope can easily be found.
Thanks to the Vancouver time difference, Nicholas Krgovich and I were forced to contact each other via email. Luckily, he had plenty to type about where his new record came from, his work making music for commercials, and why those Vancouver club closures are worth it for a sick Arby’s.
What events in your life inspired Who Cares? What music?
Actually the main thing that inspired Who Cares? was my friend Jason randomly asking if I wanted to put something out on his label Jaz Records. It was last winter and I was house sitting for my aunt with nothing much to do and the weather was miserable every day so I just started hanging out in the house and writing all these songs. Sometimes things start with the title, too. I was out walking the family dog, Sally, and I just thought “I’m calling whatever I make next Who Cares?”
That was kind of my vibe at the time. Dual meanings. Feeling two, often opposite ways simultaneously. Kind of going blank, but not in some enlightened zen way, just blank blank. I think I was in a bit of a fog. And this album is like a souvenir of that time, I guess. Which is funny to me ’cause I consider the album to be quite clear and direct. As far as musical inspiration I remember listening to John Williams’ score for E.T. a lot and There’s A Riot Goin’ On by Sly & The Family Stone. I think subconsciously I was aiming to write melodies that move like a John Williams top line or something off a Mantovani record.
Do you think it’s “clear and direct” in its ambivalence?
No, not at all. It’s a reflection of all sorts of things but it knows what it’s doing and there’s a fire burning. But I can’t speak to how it’ll sound to others.
From what I’ve read, you aim for your albums to conjure specific moods or images rather than genres.
Yeah, there’s usually an overarching idea or “world” that I’m trying to present. One that kind of operates with its own internal logic. So, when that’s the case things like “genre” kind of don’t matter. You just gotta do whatever it is to make the idea sing. I guess the exception would be the Gigi record, which was an attempt at re-creating a kind of Phil Spector/Girl Group pop bonanza. But that record was [my bandmate] Colin’s idea. As far as Who Cares? goes I don’t really know. I don’t think it’s for me to say right now. I was thinking about “alone” a lot. Romanticizing it like that Judy Garland album cover where’s she’s on a blustery beach with a long coat or the hundreds of Rod McKuen songs or that Richard E. Byrd journal.
Your Bandcamp press release mentions writing music for commercials. How have your experiences in that industry been?
Hah, yes. It’s weird. I’ve written pitches for a handful of things over the years but they usually get passed on. It’s super fickle and often impossible and you’re dealing strictly with primary colours. No room for nuance or anything remotely idiosyncratic. And you often have to turn whatever it is around in a day or two. I almost got a Microsoft thing and then they scrapped the whole campaign. It’s nothing that I’ve gone headlong into at all and I think that’s for the best. Although sometimes it’s amusing knowing you’ve spent the day trying to score a Becel margarine commercial or writing a song that this years American Idol might sing. It’s just an interesting exercise. Trying to make something quickly that “works” in a real clear and effective way. Even if it’s kind of stupid.
How is your creative headspace different when you’re writing “primary coloured” sounds with no nuance, compared to your solo work? How do you view these commercial pieces when they’re finished?
On a good day it feels like a fun weird job that I do when I’m not in the middle of one of my own things. It’s like problem solving, using instincts and skills for a different effect than usual. You learn lots too. Deep listening to radio hits and stuff. It all goes somewhere. I would love to write a straightforward song that moves the world. That is the ideal. Nuance schmuance.
Also, there’s been times where I’ve written a song for a pitch and it doesn’t get used but people I play it for are like “that’s really good, you should put it on your next record.” Just this morning while listening to AM radio I heard a McRib commercial with that Justin Timberlake “buh da bah bah bah” melody. To me that’s a total masterstroke. I wish I wrote it.
We’ve heard both in the news and from other artists about the club closures in Vancouver. How has the city changed since they started cracking down?
I don’t really know. When a show’s in town that I wanna see I just go. If Kool Keith used to always play this one place that’s since been shut down, he’ll just play the new place. Maybe the new place isn’t as good, but the old place probably wasn’t that great either.
Vancouver’s not a city to be precious or nostalgic. What little history exists here is either run to ruin or knocked over and turned into a fancy doughnut shop or something. Which is fine with me, I guess. I really love this stretch in downtown L.A. on Wilshire where all these art deco buildings have been repurposed as big box stores. Like you’ll see the most beautiful Staples you’ll ever see there, because the facade and the signage still looks like the ’20s. I think that’s great.
How did touring with Mount Eerie and Nite Jewel come about? Has that opportunity shaped your music or practice at all?
Phil [Elverum of Mount Eerie] and I have known each other for over ten years and working on stuff together and going on tour has just been part of the flow of our friendship. I’ve learned a lot from working with him. I feel like he often creates music as if he’s making a painting, so there’s just a different set of priorities. You’re focusing on things that don’t really come into play as much when you’re writing pop songs. It all helps to broaden the picture.
With Ramona [Gonzalez of Nite Jewel], she called me one day out of the blue while I was folding laundry and said “Do you want to play keyboards in my band and go to Europe?” I feel like we already had a lot in common musically, but whenever you step into someone else’s zone there’s still a lot to observe and learn. Some of the most fun I’ve had making music has been with Phil and Ramona.
What do you credit for your albums being so divergent in style? Is it conscious or does it come naturally?
It’s just how I relate to music. I feel like I hear sounds and ideas before things like genre and style, and that sensibility informs the stuff that I make. And usually I’m the most inspired to work when I’m dealing with things that I love but I don’t really understand. Like I feel the joy is “clawing towards the thing” instead of just doing “the thing”. If that makes any sense.
So challenging yourself to understand something new, either musically or about yourself, is important to your songwriting.
For me that’s just the place where stuff really starts to happen. That’s where the flow is and that’s what brings me joy. The searching and the working, that’s where it’s at.