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Interview: Jim Kroft

18 min read

Jim Kroft has been on the verge of cracking the big time for a few years now. His debut album Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea and follow up LP The Hermit and the Hedonist carved a successful foundation for the singer to launch into the mainstream market. It was was album #3 that Jim was swiftly snapped up by EMI Music and gave the Berlin/London based singer-songwriter his first taste of major label success.

Unfortunately that success was short lived. Soon after his signing, a merger between EMI and Universal Music meant that Jim’s dreams of international success within the historic label were on the chopping block and Jim once again found himself as an independent artist. Thankfully this career setback didn’t stop Jim from moving forward and he has recently released his 3rd studio album, Lunatic Lullabies to his growing fanbase.

Following the release of Lunatic Lullabies we caught up with Jim to talk about the new album and to find out he thinks of the fickle and ever-changing music industry as well as what the future holds for one of our favorite singer-songwriters. Here is what he had to tell us:

Brendon Veevers: Hi Jim, how are you and where in the world are we talking with you today?

Jim Kroft: Hey Brendon – I am just back at my desk in Berlin after playing my first shows in the US. I´m totally jet lagged and was up at, so forgive me if I ramble!

Jim Kroft Portrait Black1BV: Congratulations on the release of Lunatic Lullabies. It has been a bit of a rough ride in terms of getting the album released and I want to ask you about that shortly. Firstly though, can you tell us a bit about the record and what we might expect in terms of sound/style and themes?

JK: I recorded 10 of tracks as an independent artist before EMI signed me and funded the completion, mixing and mastering of the tracks. So the album developed very organically and independently. Especially I was looking to push sonic frontiers. I couldn´t afford to continue with my string orientated sound, so borrowed some synths & dusted off my guitar pedals – and the songs developed from there!

The sound really developed from the fact I started the record with no record deal, an interest in developing a more modern aesthetic and the fact that there was a Juno 60 in the studio – which characterizes the album. Regarding the latter point, we tore the studio apart to be creative with the few synths available and it was a tremendous sonic journey.

BV: Is there any one favourite track for you as the creator on the record or is that like asking you to choose your favourite child?

JK: I think that “Threads” was an important song simply because it became a corner stone for the aesthetic. That song was in fact a very old tune from back in my days playing residencies with Myriad Creatures in the Tacheles. I think sonically it is very colourful and unusual, and that is something which stayed on my mind in the development of the sound.

BV: What would you say are the key differences of this album and your first two releases, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea and The Hermit and the Hedonist?

JK: I think that there are 3 differences. First is that I simplified the writing process – that is the songs are harmonically simpler. I was feeding from a lot of modern music, and what was on the radio, rather than from more progressive old fashioned song structures. The second is the development from a string based sound. And finally I felt in a more positive frame of mind & just wanted to have a bit more groove on the record.

BV: As a songwriter, where would you say you draw the most inspiration from when sitting down to write the lyrics to a new record?

JK: Songwriting is always a spiritual indicator for me. A song usually coincides with a breakthrough in my development, or some basic realisation. With say Modern Monk (off my second record) I was really in a very far out state in the writing of that song – alienated, abroad, alone, living in a borrowed furnitureless apartment, and experiencing a relapse of panic attacks which i had felt I had overcome. So it is really pulling from a very complicated mental space & existential experience. On the other hand “Tell Me Where to Begin” (off Lunatic Lullabies) started off as a frustration at myself that I couldn´t get to my anger – the first lyric goes “I´m weak and I don´t know where my anger is”. That is exactly what I was feeling and the song rattled out from there. Funnily enough, I think the song has a sense of anger – and defiance – and I think that i got to my anger through the writing somehow.

JK: Recently I met the American Songwriter Diane Warren and asked her what the key is to her process – and she just said “show up”. I think that is the key behind everything – if you are not showing up, inspiration has no vehicle!

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BV: Why the name Lunatic Lullabies. What is the inspiration behind the name of the new record as it sounds a little twisted?

JK: Actually I would say it is the opposite of twisted! The title comes “after the storm” if you like. I had been through a rough ride in my teens and twenties, and it took a lot of work, self discipline and – looking back – courage, to get through. In the writing of this record, I wanted to write songs for people in that state –  a song to soothe the madman, a lullaby to calm the lunatic. All I really know is that the deepest pain has humbled me, and that sorrow has been key to discovering a broader understanding of the human condition.I don´t want to go back to some of the things I have felt – but I am glad to have lived through them. If a record can offer some type of hope or guide or respite, then that is all I could ever hope.

BV: Talk to us about your creative process when it comes too creating a new record. What are the steps taken from the starting point to the finishing stages of a new album release?

JK: The starting point is always time I think. For me songs evolve when I allow myself time to retreat from a lot of the modern every day – whether mails, touring, catching up with a friend, watching a series. It involves getting back to a more basic form of living. Modern life is so frenetic – and it has to be in many ways because the business of going about making a living is a challenge you renew everyday and is unceasing. Goethe said that “talent is nurtured in a room but that character is formed in the stormy billows of the world”. And i think that sums it up neatly for me. To get to the songs, there is an element of retreat – in that it come out of “being”. If i´m on tour, I may write bits n bobs, but really I´m rolling hard, not “being”. I need a cup of tea, head space and to just be with myself and ideas. And song I write tends to come from a native instrument first & develop from there. With Lunatic Lullabies, I spent a lot more time developing the direction of the sound at home – demoing the songs, than I usually do. And that was rewarding. But on the whole, I like the sound to evolve out of the experience of having a “frame work”, then going into the studio with the guys and just hunting it together.

BV: Are you a perfectionist in the recording studio or do you tend to take more of a spontaneous/improvised approach to putting tracks down?

JK: It always depends on the song and type of album that you are making. My first album “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” was cut live in 10 days – bang. And all the warts make for the character because it was a moment in time. Lunatic Lullabies is definitely more produced, but it never got to being “thought out”. We committed as we went, because we were in such a good vibe in the studio. So it is equally spontaneous in a different, more considered way.

BV: Growing up, who would you cite as being fundamental influences to your development as an recording artist and creative individual?

JK: I grew up in Brechin in between Aberdeen and Dundee. My first musical explosion was after buying 2 tapes – one was Little Richard and the other a Beatles compliation. They just exploded something in me, and from that moment on I was a music fanatic. But i never planned to be a musician. I wanted to be a writer, and that was the predominant fixation in my teens. However, it was really my own experiences that committed me to the musical path. My mother´s passing as a teen. Feeling fucking barking in my early 20´s. Intellectually feeling that a career that involved an office would suffocate in my mid 20´s. Most of all I just feel aspirational about the power of music. Some people seem to think that it has lost its relevance as an art form – or even that the arts have somehow lost their relevance – at least in effecting something societally on a broader front. But for me – and I say this as someone with a degree in Art History – I think that the importance and relevance of music and Art has never been more important, and more powerful. At least potentially.

We are living in more and more nucleated living circumstances, people are becoming more and more cut off from one another, there is a growing cynicism, a growing scepticism, a growing isolationism. I think that kids growing up frequently don´t know what the hell to believe, think or do. You have a cursory browse through Tumblr and you find so much self harm talk, so much fear and angst. And I think kids frequently don´t have somewhere where they can be safe with whatever they are feeling. And usually these feeling are the most legitimate feelings in the world! However, society somehow teaches us that they are “wrong” or “defected” or “fucking weird” or whatever. But in fact these are legitimate responses to a society that has completely and utterly lost its spiritual centre. Of course there are ways we can find our freedoms – and as we become adults that is part of our challenge. But what concerns me is just how tough i think it is for kids nowadays – especially as they grow up so fast, and the need to project a strong sense of self – or ego – or cool – or whatever – is at complete odds with their own experience & natural reaction to the state of society.

And how fucking bonkers do you feel when your reaction – which is a totally legitimate and natural to a very confusing and lost society – is interpreted by that same society as “weak” or “wrong” or whatever. That’s why so many end up self harming, or not eating, or going down very dark paths.

I think that the importance of the arts is to counter all this & for that reason it is more relevant and important than ever before.

So “Lunatic Lullabies”? Its about saying – yes feel mad, feel crazy, its legitimate, its real, its natural, and the only goddam way to over come it, to understand it, to get to a place of growth and health – is to not reject it – not hide it – not hold it inside and let it manifest into something destructive and life threatening.

That is the narrative I´m trying to have a look at – through the simplest of things, a pop song. Can you communicate to someone – when they are in the shit, confused, hurt, mad, depressed, terrified and when their life is on the line – that where they are is an okay and natural response.

I believe that music can still be a guide, an educator, something revelatory.

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BV: You encountered a major brush with bad luck with the release of Lunatic Lullabies with the Universal takeover of EMI, the label you were signed to after the independent release of your first two records. Can you tell us about what happened there and where you are at these days in terms of a recording contract?

JK: I was signed by EMI in 2012. It was a great day in my life, because historically it was such a wonderful label. A label where artists were able to grow, develop their careers, their music, their minds. And I was signed – by a fantastic team – who wanted to base my career – over 3 albums – on that premise. However, with the Universal take over, the head of A&R called me and said “look Jim, its looking bad, I´m not sure what is going to happen to the new comer artists. I think we should rush release the album to make sure that it at least gets released, rather than leaving the danger that the new label shelves it”.

So we brought the release forward by a month and the album was released on a Friday. And on the Monday, the Universal deal was finalized in the European Courts, and a few days later, all the new comer acts were dropped or shelved.

It then took the best part of 2013 to get the rights back so that I could get the album independently releasted in the UK.

Since then though, some magic started to happen and I´ve just signed the first single release in the U.S, DJ´s are being very positive about the record and the record is finding its way in an old fashioned word of mouth, softly spreading way.

And for me know, I know the next deal will come in at the right time. I´m just doing to work hard, drink tea, get up at dawn, react, write songs and not worry. The world finds its way to you again, always at the right time. Sometimes the best thing you can do is just wait and be with it. Kettle on!

BV: It must have been a defeating feeling to essentially have had the floor ripped from beneath you and this major loss of support and promotion. How did you deal with the loss of your contract and has it left a bitter taste in your mouth in terms of recording an album in the future?

JK: Thank you for asking this question, i think its very intuitive. I find it interesting that the blogosphere is essentially obsessed with buzz. During my time as a musician I have seen a lot of “successful” acts appear, go mental in the buzz, then disappear. Shortness in careers in music – especially nowadays – is nothing new. But I do think that it takes a certain type to really make a life – through good or bad – in music.

Despite people talking of the “new possibilities” arising out of the decline of the record industry, I do actually think that the modern industry is probably the purest example of the feudal system in history. What do I mean by that? I mean that the machine is completely vested in its own interests. As an artist, if you reach a certain threshold – start generating enough cash – the machine starts working for you – and the possibilities – from touring, to radio, to promotion – are endless….as long as you are willing to work hard.

However, the reality is that to break into that threshold – that “club” if you like – is I think about luck, talent and usually the right people backing you. I have seen most of the best musicians I ever saw fall by the way side along the journey. The fact is that new music still struggles to break through into the mainstream because of 1) the sheer amount of noise from the sheer amount of music & 2) The fact that all the air time and air space is taken up with the acts that self-generate the revenue.

People might construe a certain sense of “sour grapes” here – but I would state that is not the case here with me. It is just an observation that acts from Coldplay to Rihanna to Justin Bie…whatever, get the mileage, and a fraction of acts on smaller labels – let alone independent artists, manage to break through. That doesn´t mean there is not a lot you can still do. But yes, my sense of the music industry is that it is essentially Feudal….

Jim Kroft with hat in black1BV: That leads up perfectly to our next question for you. The direction of the music industry is quite uncomforting with the closure of most brick and mortar record stores around the world, the merging of major labels and more and more artists going at it independently as well as the rise in demand for digital over physical releases which leave artists in a worse financial position than ever before. What are your thoughts on the state of the music industry these days?

JK: People talk of streaming services as a breakthrough sometimes. But that is based on the premise that in the “naughties” people were just wily nilly stealing music through pirating. Streaming services brought a degree of legitimacy in that there was at least a modicum of representational pay for a stream. But getting back to the Feudal idea — is not being bound to work for a system which pays you the tiniest tiniest fraction of what you product is worth, a form of servitude? (and yes we musicians are bound to it because for most of us its all we have)

The reality is that streaming generates huge revenue for the companies involved, enabling careers, cars, end of week cheques, safety, health insurance  –  while the people who serve that system – albums made at great expense by musicians- see the tiniest joke of a fraction from that revenue.

This is not even a complaint. It is just a fact – it is how the world has evolved to this point.

But I do feel that there is a moral question which has not been properly addressed.

Most streaming services  you can listen to any album for free without subscribing. I just think that is wrong. You should have to subscribe to listen to a product that cost money to make. By law you should have to pay to have any access at all, and by law that money should be shared with the people who make that system possible – the musicians.

I think there is a moral repugnance in living “second hand” off other people´s creations. What does it say about our society that these businesses are rewarded while the people who create it get nothing? That is the very definition of servitude.

BV: After all of the record label issues we had to struggle through, you went on to create Kroft Films. Can you tell us a little bit about this venture and what inspired you to create this company?

JK: All of the above ha ha! I needed to supplement my income way before losing the deal. So I started working part time for various companies making trailers for businesses. I started doing my own videos as a D.I.Y artist when it got too expensive to continue working with other people. Then as I did more work, I started getting more work – more work than I can handle! So i´ve done music videos for EMI, Virgin, Universal, a trailer for Reebok, Laphroaig Whiskey, all types of other stuff. At the moment I have stopped taking on any new work because I just need to song write, and to prepare the next steps in my musical journey. But it is great to have the film work as a partner & a joyful and unexpected growth out of my path!

BV: What are your plans for the future in terms of your recording career? Are you hopeful to record another album in the future and if so, what path do you see yourself taking?

JK: I will carry on making records I hope until my time is done! They are one of my companions on this journey. One of the interesting things about moving into your 30´s as a songwriter is how your sense of perspective evolves. Like most, i guess, in my 20´s I wanted success. Or more perhaps the sense of financial or worldly reward or recognition for my work. At this stage, and this may seem cryptic or deluded, but I am incredibly grateful for the stage of my career I am at – that is a functioning working musician in or around the underground.

I feel that success tends to make artists boring – its often a killer. And the machine or the vested interests of the society will often dress up the next “best ever album” or whatever because the machine depends on its success for its own sustenance. So you so often have very mediocre work dressed up as a 10/10 album or “the work of the decade” – just because that´s what happens to be the flavour of the month. But the reality is that a Revolver or a Harvest or an In Rainbows or a Seldom Seen Kid, doesn´t come so regularly – and that´s okay.

In relation to my own path, I do feel that the lack of “broader success” has kept me hungry, kept me focused, and has kept things interesting. I feel that my path is evolving in a fragmented, non-linear, broken way. And it´s good for creativity, good for living, good for keeping things real. Our society is obsessed with money, with success, with stars, with beauty. But only because often our own lives are not interesting enough for us. I think someone like Bukowski is fascinating for people nowadays because so few people go into the arts out of the choice of a life journey, but rather in the hope of making it successful. Every Tom Dick and Harry who had music lessons, as a kid will make a go at music nowadays, almost just to give it a shot. But I think the notion of a calling, or having an epiphany for your path still exists too.

I´m in the game, for better or worse for the long run. I may or may not have more or less success, but I know I´ll be around longer than most of today´s hot stuff – after all I already have been!

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BV: Are there any plans to tour the record throughout 2014?

JK: Absolutely. I´ve just been over for my first three gigs in the states, which has been a life long dream. In a couple of weeks we are playing the first show in Moscow, before later touring later in the year in the far East.

BV: What else do you have planned for 2014 Jim?

JK: In many ways gaining the rights back for Lunatic Lullabies from EMI has helped me close this cycle. It was hard to look forward while the album was landlocked in Germany, Switzerland and Austria. It kind of seemed ridiculous in this day and age that songs can get landlocked, but that was my experience with signing for a major in a turbulent time.

Now that I am full circle I am free to look ahead. But really, that has manifested in “arriving in the moment” – if you like. When you are on the road you are very much in “promotion mode”, or in the studio in the spirit of “creation” – getting something made. It´s very proactive & engaging. At the moment though I am enjoying a period of working hard on my playing – enjoying learning new songs, writing, most of all just improving – paying some new dues I guess!

It´s important sometimes to allow things to take their own course. Nowadays in music – because it is such a challenge financially – it is so easy to be always going after something – a tour, a promotion, a record. It feels really important to me in this moment to return some type of essence or core. And that is being up at dawn, writing, drinking tea, learning new techniques, sometimes feeling inspired, sometimes feeling daunted or oppressed by the hours, or the confrontation with whatever thoughts, or doubts or demons come up. But most of all, letting it all have the space to come out. It´s a different space, an important space, and for me, it is where songs come from. And at the moment, there is a new bunch of songs progressing quickly. There are so many forms they can take, but its just nice to be with them for a bit and eventually see where they lead me. They always do somewhere.

BV: Thanks for your time Jim.

JK: Thank you so very much for the support all at Renowned for Sound – and for the wonderfully interesting questions. Sorry for rambling on ha ha!

Jim Kroft’s new album Lunatic Lullabies is out now. Keep up to date with Jim on