I recently took the time to catch up with Jim Kroft, a bursting new talent full of deep, inspiring thoughts and colorful folk tunes! His debut album 'Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea' is available in stores now.
Hi, I'm Beth from Leeds Music Scene!
Nice to meet you Beth! I played at the Mixing Tin back in the day a few times - I have fond memories sleeping in the back of my transit after gigs and trying to sleep as the sweat turned to ice!
Nice to meet you too! So, how are you at the minute?
I am between the devil and the deep blue sea (ha ha). That is the title of my debut album out this month...
An album I'm sure you're very busy promoting! Where have your travels taken you today?
I am sat in my living room in Neuk? in Berlin. It is sleeting down outside, the remnants of a freezing winter, but I am in good spirits...
Great! I know you recently showcased at The Water Rats and Hoxton Underbelly, how was the atmosphere?
That atmosphere was fantastic. They were my first solo shows as Jim Kroft in London. I had not played in London for a few years, so was quite worried about the turn out. However there has been some good chatter going on about the album on blog sites and I think it has helped generate a decent level of expectancy for that album considering it is an independent release.
Sounds brilliant! So, out of all the gigs you have ever played, which, would you say, is the most memorable?
Well, I was in a band called Creel Commission in London for 5 years, then moved to Berlin with Myriad Creatures in 2007. Both bands had great grass roots fanbases in each of their home cities. The most memorable gigs were at Zapata in the Tacheles in Berlin where there were packed audiences, fire breathing dragons, girls on tables, stage invasions, torn up drum kits and pandemonium. 3 sets a night of original music night after night - you canīt do that so much in the West anymore so it is a wonderful thing to have experienced.
Sounds, erm, memorable. What would you say is the best thing about being a musician?
The best thing about being a musician is the daily challenges you face both creatively and financially. You have to follow what the path dictates. I moved to London from Edinburgh to follow the work, then from London to Berlin where I am currently. It is only out here that I finally managed to make a living as an independent musician playing original music. Challenges reinvent us and lead us to new places. Creatively, that is transformative. So I think it is important not to dread or begrudge the hardships of the path - it is exactly that where decent music is made.
Some very deep thoughts there! What do you think you would be doing now if you weren't 'Jim Kroft'?
Dead, in jail or in a madhouse ha ha! For some, music has been a destructive course. It has been about healing for me, about moving from the internal to the external by dealing with what comes up and what you face step by step. Many of us have been driven to the brink in our lives. My brink led me to music, and music led me from that brink. Very gradually, but very gracefully. For me, music is about communion and evolution. It gives to you and part of the responsibility of being given a song is to have the strength to carry that song to its audience. It will find its way, you just need to help it.
It's obvious you're very passionate about your music, how would you describe your sound?
Imagine if Woody Allen had been in One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest... wrong actor, right film - chaos finding form through adventure.
A very original perception! Who did you grow up listening to?
I was old school. I loved 60s music, especially The Doors, then later on The Beatles - mainstream stuff I guess. Britpop was rolling when I was a teenager and that was a fantastic time to grow up - to feel there is a movement of sorts. It didnīt have a message, but it was a great atmosphere...
Do you think certain musicians inspire/inspired your sound?
Absolutely. The artists that inspire me are the ones that have the courage to live in the process. I love the way that Neil Young will stop the car, or put down whatever he is doing in order to let the song come. I like the way Leonard Cohen treats songwriting as a job, i.e. going to the desk everyday and working from a certain time. I like the way that Bowie would step out of his normals, agitate himself, move countries, recreate, transform, break down, build up. Whatever it takes to tap into the ether. It is only with massive courage that I think a songwriter can continue to tap into that space. And to stay in that space you have to have the courage to break down what you know - which can be a frightening experience.
I try to feed from everywhere, and one writer that I always return to is Joseph Campbell. He talks about how you have to deserve 'The Elixir' - that is you have to face the tests that come with discovering something great. What he is saying is that a prophet doesn't just become a prophet. He has to face his tests, he has to go to exile, he has to be worthy of the message. Only then can he receive the message and return to his fellow man with what he has discovered. And of course then he will probably be burnt for it, crucified for it, villified for it, or just plain cut off his ears because what he has seen or discovered is so damn powerful that it drives some mad.
There are just amazing people and things out there, strange stuff that has the ability to inspire and evoke stuff in you in the strangest ways. I think if you want to be a good songwriter you gotta try and go after that stuff, expose yourself, see where it leads you. And you have to be willing to take the gamble that it very well may lead you to your doom, ha ha!
Flying back to the present, who are you currently listening to on your mp3 player?
I have just been listening to the Fever Ray album. I am trying to challenge myself and get into listening to new and different music, breaking out of my norms. Feeding from beats and rhythm as much as harmony. I do find that there is a lot of droning over good sounding sounds and beats. I'd like to do something progressive at some stage... whatever the hell that is!
If you could duet with any singer, dead or alive, who would it be?
My brother Ed, who is one of the greatest living songwriters and has a project which is called The Dog Days on Myspace. Life is so short and you get to see your loved ones so little when you live in a foreign country. So if I get a wish it isn't for anything fancy... just a weekend with those I miss... thanks Mephistopholes!
By the sounds of it, music is obviously a talent that lies deep in the family roots. When did you first know you wanted to be a musician?
I had a eureka moment at the age of 19. I was sitting in the bath. I felt half insane from a mispent youth and was looking after a loved one who was terminally ill. I knew there was no going backwards, and I didn't know how to go forwards. The thing about grief is that no one teaches you about it. When someone dies everyone gets together for the funeral, cries a bit,then gets completely shit faced drunk... and then those that stay behind are left with trying to construct a life from the remnants.
Out of the remnants of my life I began a musical journey. And music has been redemptive, and for that reason I feel completely acquiescent to it. It's like feeling you have to live up to and for that thing that keeps you alive.
As a musician, you must spend a lot of your time travelling away from home. What do you miss the most?
I both travel a lot and live in a different country.
The little things like having a beer in the pub with your old pals. Being able to buy PG Tips and Marmite at the grocery store. Waterstones. Cheap magazines. Not having to spend 5 euros on the Sunday papers. Seeing my nieces and nephews grow up. As Lennon said - life is what happens to you while you make all your silly plans. I have a great life. But there is also the life that you sacrifice when you go after something.
So, what are your plans for the rest of the day?
Ha ha. I have a record release show this week so I will be flyering for the rest of the afternoon, sipping a beer, then rolling on to rehearse with my band. I always look forward to seeing them, they are great musicians and becoming good friends - the best players that Berlin has in my opinion. Here's a plug - Tom Marsh is the drummer and he plays with The Golden Rule and Ondrej Homola (bass) from The Roads.
As an artist, do you ever feel under pressure to do more than you are able to?
What a great question! Absolutely. There is a great line I read recently: 'That which gives light must endure burning'. People make ironic jokes about the cliche that is the suffering artist. But in my experience, creativity is as linked to pain as to anything. To grow entails pain. Picasso was 18 when he moved from Spain to go and live in a shit hole squat and paint in Paris in 1900. That takes fucking balls. The man was extending himself. He had the courage to face his life, to look at his demons, then draw them.
Once you make an album you might feel closed down, and there is a pressure to make the next and sometimes you don't know where the hell it will come from. Cue child birth ha ha. You know, you gotta keep rolling on and keep open and you have to accept the pressure.
The great men put that pressure on themselves. Look at Ali - he would put the most unbearable pressure on himself. But by doing that he made it even worse for his opponents!
What keeps you motivated?
The thrill of the hunt (for songs). Knowing that I need to make and sell records in order to make a living. The challenge of being an independent artist and the pride that kicks in when you say, right all those puppied bastards who have big record deals and are releasing average music, are not going to have one over me and people like me. I love Mr T in Rocky 3 ha ha...
And finally, what should we expect from you within the next few months?
Well the album is released this week. On the one hand I am promoting it, and when I am not doing that, I am writing the new one. Onwards.
Just a couple of quick fire questions now....
Summer or winter?
Hopefully both will keep coming, or we are all doomed, man!
Single or taken?
I hope someone buys my single!
Eastenders or Coronation Street?
The best thing about living in Berlin is writing songs when otherwise you would be watching that nonsense!
Rock or R'N'B?
If the soul's in the music, the music's in the soul!
High Street or designer?
Neither or both, whatever catches your eye, baby.
Day or night?
Let the day break up the night.
The UK or America?
Screaming Lord Such fused with Barack Obama. I do miss Bush, he was so entertaining... and it's good to know that I can get drunk for the next 20 years and still become president - there's always a second chance!
Just to finish, When can we next expect to see you in Leeds?
I love Leeds, and I can't wait to get back there if you will have me.
Thank you Jim, Have a good day.
You have a wicked day, too x