The first time that Jonah Furman stands me up, a satisfying nap is to blame.
“Fell asleep HARD and missed my alarm,” the Krill frontman texts me an hour after we were scheduled to talk. “I’m around all day tomorrow and won’t blow it!”
The next day, he blows it.
His phone rings. His voicemail answers. I text him: “Classic Krill.”
But thirty minutes later, my cellular device lights up with his 847 area code. “A double dose of bullshit!” Furman exclaims apologetically. This time, fault does not belong with a daytime snooze: “I just, like, fucking forgot. I don’t know – I’m an idiot.”
It’s a late Thursday afternoon, and Furman otherwise feels great. He’s unemployed in anticipation of Krill’s forthcoming fall tour. He just took a walk. He’s cutting open a block of cheddar cheese as we speak. “Everything is good,” he surmises.
Furman’s songs don’t always paint scenes so copacetic. Over two albums and this year’s excellent Steve Hears Pile in Malden and Bursts into Tears EP, he’s established a certain brand of self-interrogative, tightly wound indie rock. The Boston trio’s music mirrors that anxiety: Written in unusual time signatures, it grooves, but in a way that always feels slightly off-kilter and uneasy, like a movie camera perpetually panning from right to left.
The cycle of recording and touring have kept Furman’s life similarly off any one rail for a prolonged period of time. “We do this every two months,” he explains. “You get a short-term job and then you quit.”
This time around, that 9 to 5 grind meant temp work – “filling papers and stuff” – with some editorial freelance on the side. “I think Kafka did it too,” he says of the former. “So I feel cool about it.”
The band has a third full-length in the can, but its second LP, Lucky Leaves, gets European distribution next month via Steak Club Records. The release comes comes packaged with a bonus track called “Peanut Butter” – a song that Furman says has left him “a little tortured.”
What can you share about the new record?
It’s done. It’s been mastered for about a month. It’s been written since May or June. Then we recorded it and there was all this bullshit. It’s currently untitled. I have a strong idea and vision for the title, but we haven’t decided on one as a band.
I wouldn’t say that it’s totally different, but it’s totally different. It’s real sprawling. It’s nine songs and 46 minutes, which means we average, like, five or minutes per song. There’s one that’s seven minutes. It’s way more sophisticated and way more demanding. but it’s not abrasive – there are just long songs that have much more complex narratives and thought going into them.
We’ve been put into this hole of being considered a sadcore band. I actually don’t know what you would call it – an anxiety band or a pained band, maybe. But the whole idea with this record is seeing what happens after a panic attack. It’s not exactly “feel good,” but it’s about how to grow up.
Does Luke [Pyenson] play drums on it?
This record is all Ian [Becker], our new drummer. Ian joined the band in August or September of last year. There was no Luke to this [record], which I’m sure is part of the reason that the songs are different, but there’s also been a shift in our writing and interests.
Drums wise, it’s even more virtuosic. There’s a lot of time signature shit – complicated changes and things like that. It’s a path we’ve been going down, but it’s a little more extreme.
Have those sort of structures and time signatures always appealed to you?
I was actually talking a friend – Jessie [Weiss] from Grass is Green – about this a few days ago. I don’t know what our relationship to complexity and music is. We’re definitely focused on harmonics. We don’t have the thing of shifting parts that change keys and time signatures. We’re very focused on the groove. I do think that this album requires more of the listener in terms of keeping up and following what’s going on, but it still has that pull.
A lot of math rock or complex music requires you to keep up, but it doesn’t really help you along or teach you the rules. Even when we have a song on this album in 15, we establish it at the beginning. It’s like, “Yes, this not like other things that you’ve heard before, but it has its only internal logic that we invite you to partake in.” That’s opposed to other stuff that can be like, “Fuck you. Try to bob your head to this.” It’s somewhere in between: It’s not going to coddle the listener, but it’s also not telling the listener to fuck off.
We’re doing guitar, bass, drums with western scales – all of the normal shit. When you hear rock music – indie rock music, white people music, whatever – the same part of your brain takes over. A listener’s impulse is like, “Oh, I know what this is all about.” By making most of our songs in 9 or 15 or some fucked up time signature, you reset the logic of the listener. From a production side, I can’t stay interested in other stuff. It’s rare to find a song in 4/4 that keeps me interested. People are making the same shit that people have been making for 80 years. No other medium is desperately holding onto convention like indie rock.
What’s the story behind “Peanut Butter”?
That’s a leftover from when we recorded the [Steve Hears Pile in Malden and Bursts into Tears] EP last summer – just before Luke left. I’ve been a little tortured since that song came out, and this the first chance I’ve had to talk about it.
The process of making songs is that you make something, and it exists, and then you’re like, “Oh, that’s what that meant. That’s what that was really about.” I usually can find the good in what I’ve made or see what part of me it came out of.
I’m not disowning “Peanut Butter” – I think it’s a good song and has a valid place – but it was originally just the first verse, which is lyrically a lot more Krill. It’s introspective and thoughtful – like, “What am I gonna do? How I am gonna think about this thing?” And then the second verse is this narrative thing that got sort of tacked on. It wasn’t the original thing. It’s a narrative, which is weird for us. We don’t tend to do narrative stuff lyrically. The ethics of the song are also a little fucked. It’s like assault. It’s bad. It speaks out of this desperate love part of people that has a definite pedigree in rock music.
I’m a little conflicted about the song. I can make the argument for why it’s not a totally evil thing, but it was this one-off that didn’t fit with the EP or, really, Krill stuff in general. I do feel the need slightly to ethically disavow it in some way. I think that the “proper” way that I want people to hear it is as a person considering the unfairness or pain of a break-up, and at the end, that they’re not going to assault their ex-girlfriend.
It’s a tricky one. In terms of what it is, it was this weird outlier. It was a mix of a few songs that I was working on a year and a half ago. It never really fit on anything until we had this split. It’s kind of a weird, not quite full thing in the Krill universe.
What’s your reaction to seeing it get really positive attention on music sites?
I’m conflicted about the song. Not about its quality or worth – just about its ethics. This conversation not included, there is nothing to the music press. There is no consideration to what a song’s about or the career of the band. I get why that it is, but it’s weird, because I actually do think of Krill as my artistic output. I think of this band as three people’s artistic project.
I understand why “Peanut Butter” got on NME and other sites, and it’s just because our Facebook “likes” are growing, and we’ve been at it for a couple of years. It’s just the buzz cycle, which thankfully we have not been too harsh victims of, but it does sweep us up sometimes. And, yeah, it’s weird: It’s a one-off track from a split which was release because we needed a bonus track in the U.K. I’m not against that. I totally understand all of these material reasons. But if you’re talking artistically, that song is not Krill cannon, you know?
Krill has spoken about its allegiance to Boston before. The past few years, the city has produced a handful of great bands that have caught on nationally, like Speedy Ortiz and Guerrilla Toss. How would you describe the scene? Why is important to stay there instead of moving to New York?
Well, let me start with the perfectly Krill answer, which is that Aaron [Ratoff] and Ian are moving to New York after this tour. [Laughs] And we’re all transplants.
There’s a freelance writer, Luke O’Neil, who wrote an article a few years ago about how with Boston bands, it’s like that scene in “Good Will Hunting” where Ben Affleck is like, “If you’re still here in twenty years, I’ll fucking kill you.” It’s weird. Boston isn’t Brattleboro or Burlington. It’s not a small, insular town. It doesn’t shun success. It doesn’t shun the outside world. People are trying to make it here! Its not Brooklyn. It’s not so infected as that. But it also doesn’t have this sense of “Boston or Die!”
It’s hard to talk about a scene. It’s hard to discuss it from inside. You mentioned Gorilla Toss and Speedy Ortiz in the same breath, which is funny because with all the micro-scene things, they’re really not in the same scene. It’s hard, because I’m close to it. All I can really talk about is my relationship with Boston. Boston apologists are like, “Oh, it’s just as good as New York!” Or it’s “New York sucks for all of these reasons.” But New York is awesome. It’s like paradise. There’s everything that you could ever want as a band and a young person. The most fun you can have is in New York. It’s the most convenient. The cost of living in Boston is not so much cheaper than there.
You consciously choose to be in Boston without deluding yourself that it’s more fun or anything like that. It’s just more where you are right now. That type of outlook is more honest. It gives you more presence of mind, like, “I am in this space and it isn’t this other space.” You can choose to not define it in relationship to New York.
But it’s hard, because New York is the black hole of the East Coast. You’re going to get sucked up eventually. It’s just going to happen. There are more jobs. There are more opportunities. There’s more fun. It’s just more fun. There are more people. I don’t know how people can argue with that.
What happens to Krill after the tour? You guys going to make it work long distance?
Yeah, we’re going to do a long-distance relationship. It’ll be fine. It’s weird – I always feel like I’m talking way older than I am. I think we’ll become more project-based and tour-based. I’ll go down there every two weeks and practice and stuff, but we’re going to chill out with the hustle-hustle-hustle thing. I’m not saying that we’re huge in Boston, but we’re not going to do more than sell out the Great Scott, which is the club that we play every three weeks, and we do sell it out most of time. But there’s no more local hustle for us to do. I feel fine about how we’re doing in Boston. And next year we’re touring in Europe and the new album will come out, and we’ll tour on that.
We like touring and all of that stuff, but there needs to be some momentum to it. It needs to feel purposeful, because it’s really a fucking drain. I don’t know what could be more of a drain on the feeling of an adult life than being in a not-that-successful indie rock band. I quit my job every fucking four months, you know? I can never hold down a place. I can never hold down a job. And then your album comes out after a year-and-a-half wait and some stupid blog is going to say, “Quirky slacker rock!” You’re just like, “Fuck all of that.” I think what we’re trying to do is allow ourselves more lives outside of the band. But I anticipate the opposite of slowing down – it’s just going to be kind of shit storm early next year.
Krill’s songs have been rooted in anxiety and self-interrogation, but your music and artwork and social media also convey a certain sense of humor. That’s a rare commodity across the “indie rock” landscape these days. Do you think there’s still a place for humor alongside more emotionally wrought subjects?
First of all, I will say that I have all sorts of Krill theories. I just have strong ideas about the band. I don’t if that’s true for all other bands, but this is what I’ve thought about for the past three years or whatever. This is all that I’ve thought about, so I have strong ideas about Krill.
With regard to the humor thing, I think it’s funny. I think that we try to be funny. I don’t know if the music is funny or if the songs are. Like, “Turd”: I think it’s funny to have a song called that, and I guess that it’s funny that someone would talk about poop, but it’s not a joke. People mention the humor thing a lot, and I’m not sure if they mean that they think I’m joking or that some of the choices of words are funny. I don’t exactly know what people mean.
As far as social media goes, I think it’s just an honesty thing. [Social media] is petty and stupid in a lot of ways. It’s self-aggrandizing and self-promotional and just dumb. And in the list of things that impact the world, being in a band is not high up. I don’t mean it as a defense mechanism. It’s not supposed to cut the seriousness of the music or make it more palatable. I hope that’s not how anyone feels. I hope that no one thinks, “Oh, he doesn’t really mean it.” That is the exact opposite of what I would want it to mean.
Pretending that there’s nothing stupid in the world is totally dishonest when most things are stupid. Most of the things we do as a band, most of the time that I spend in the day, most of the thoughts I think – they’re mostly just dumb. They’re stupid, throwaway thoughts. That’s funny. There’s all of this intense shit too, but most of life is goofy and stupid, like falling on your ass.
I think when you speak in literal and direct terms sometimes, it can surprise listeners in a way that gets processed as comedic.
On the new LVL UP record, there’s a line like, “Did you ever love me at all?” and then next lines like, “I’m going to go order a hamburger.” I understand that’s funny, but it’s also so real.
It also makes me think of Bill Callahan, who has countless lyrics like that. It’s his whole thing. He has that one song where he’s just like, “The only words I’ve said today are beer and thank you.” And then he just repeats, “Beer. Thank you.” That’s funny as hell. I don’t know if it’s funny that he put it in a song or that he put it on record, but it’s also just a matter of what could be truer? It’s a fact about your actual day that does not telegraph or assume or impose any distant meaning on anyone against their will. I find it both funny and way more real than anything else.