by Kathleen Larrick
It’s been a couple of years since I last saw Adrian Krygowski, not since his move from DC to Nashville. As he walks through the entrance of IOTA, his old haunt in Arlington, VA, I see his hair is much shorter, his look a bit more polished. But as he greets me, that voice – well, that hasn’t changed. We assess the boisterous classical music overhead and my recording app. “I’ll enunciate,” he promises. I laugh. “I’ll try to enunciate,” he offers. I have a question about that later.
Krygowski has been a mainstay in the DC music scene since arriving in the city from his home in Wisconsin. Nearly every evening, he could be found playing out, producing shows, promoting local music or hosting open mics on both sides of the river. His industry connections in Baltimore and Nashville grew throughout the production of his second second album, Hope for Us, until after six years in the District, Krygowski decided it was time to relocate to Music City to pursue opportunities that just can’t be found most other places.
“In Nashville, a lot of the audience is going to be industry, and the expectation, the opportunity to get signed to something when you get off stage is just much more frequent. It’s hard because the musicianship is great in both places and a lot of other cities; it’s just musicians don’t get the help they need there. Having management, having PR now, having these people who are on my so-called “team” to help every day, they’re doing something that I can’t.” About six months prior to his move, Krygowski was signed to Train Case Management. “That was the biggest thing [about Nashville], having people in the audience who are more industry focused who can help musicians with the things we just can’t do when we’re touring.”
The overhead music abruptly changes from Classical WETA to IOTA’s usual raucous indie mix. Krygowski laughs and moves closer to the iPad mic. “E-nun-ci-ate,” he reminds himself. As a musician who’s been connected to the industry for some time, he’s accustomed to mentoring those who are newer to the scene. Whether he’s returning to his old stomping ground at Modern Times or taking a younger artist on the road, he’s pretty well accustomed to a slew of industry-related questions when he’s back in town.
“I guess for musicians, you don’t have to just look in DC or in Philly for help. If there’s a national act – a good example is the Dirt Daubers – their management is on the West Coast. I doubt they’ve ever even been to DC9. They don’t even know what it looks like. But they sure booked the show. So, thinking outside the box. That’s one big piece of it.” I asked if he has mentorship opportunities in his new home – or if he is now the protégé. “It’s been a little bit of karma walking in. I’ve been really fortunate to get some one-on-one advice from some heavy hitters in that same way.”
Living in East Nashville, Krygowski explains the camaraderie among musicians. It’s the least commercial part of town, and he’s found his niche – a community of touring artists who all hit up the same showcase at the 5 Spot in between runs. “It’s kinda’ similar to WXPN’s World Café and their longstanding open mic in Philly. It’s the same group of people that come every week… It’s not an open mic, it’s called $2 Tuesdays, and it’s a showcase. It’s really – whether you’re playing it or not – it’s usually the same crowd that hangs out every time to either A) play or B) hang out, drink beer and say the same shit you said last week to the same guy.” These folks make their money on the road, so conversations range from favorite Columbus, Ohio venues to opening for national acts. If Krygowski doesn’t make an appearance for a few weeks, no one will blink an eye. In that community, it’s just assumed you’re on a run.
So what’s the word on the Philadelphia scene? House concerts. “It’s been a long time, but I really like the Tin Angel. That was a really cool room. But the last two shows I’ve played in Philly have been house shows.” Ryan Tennis runs a house concert series in Philly – Clubhouse Concerts. “House shows are beginning to stake a claim in what their musicians want to play. It’s a big house show city for music. I think I’m probably gonna try to keep that trend going because they were great. I met fans. I keep in touch with fans that way more than just friends who want to pay a $5 cover charge to see a friend play… and maybe bring another friend out but leave after their friend plays and maybe not even see the headliner. It’s a different culture. People at house shows wanna’ stick around the whole night. And they wanna bring over a case of beer and food for everybody, and they wanna party all night and all crash on the couch. (Not the same couch.)” For a singer-songwriter, this is the sweet spot. Of course, Krygowski would also love to play World Café. With the release of his new album rapidly approaching, he’s gearing up to hit the road hard these next few months.
“January 14th is the drop date, and it’s self-released. There is no label that picked up the record. (Laughs) So, we’re still on the struggle bus sometimes, but it’s a work in progress.” Roam is a new direction for Krygowski– the tracks are raw, more accessible even. Glossy, it’s not. You won’t hear a 25-piece orchestra on his latest album, but you will hear Krygowski. And a shit-ton of shuffles. “You’re right. I am a sucker for a shuffle.” Progressing through that 2/4 Americana rock phase, you won’t hear a live Krygowski set without a two-step these days. He also takes a successful bash at the traditional. Releasing “Jack of Diamonds” was a huge learning experience for him. “To release a traditional song, you kinda’ have to be a little bit of a lawyer. There’s all these hats you have to wear, and they’re not small hats. They’re big freakin’ hats! It was a big learning curve, but I’m proud to have it on my record.”
You might recognize some of the political angst from the title track that we heard in “Bailout Brawl” back in 2011. Both tunes came out of a month of scabbing in Buffalo for his previous company. The album title, Roam, is actually a play on words reflecting that time, that city and his need to move on. “It was an extremely violent environment between coworkers. And I think that’s what got to me the most is that both people in these fights that were getting arrested at this job were both working at the same company. If I knew then what I know now. Well, things would have been different.” Union battles, picket lines and the Occupy movement. He wasn’t just listening to too much NPR – this is stuff he saw every day. “I think it sets the tone for having kind of blue-collar work ethic in the record. People that are still have a 9 to 5 job and are just workin’ their ass off, and nothin’ has changed in the past couple decades… And they’re the kind of person I hope will listen, and I hope I captured a little bit of that.”
When compared to Bob Dylan in voice or in song topic, Krygowski becomes a bit bashful. But it happens. A lot – even right here at That Mag in Stephen Krock’s recent album review. “It’s a really big honor. That being said, now I kinda know where my voice is going. I know what I might sound like when I’m in my 80s. It sure hasn’t slowed him down.” That being said, the topic progression is a bit reversed. “When it comes to love, it seems like it’s the easiest to write about at first. But as time goes on, it’s the hardest thing to write about because people end up reflecting those songs. So yeah, as time goes on – it’s the least of my topics in my music writing. I think of it – my distance from my topics in that regard actually kind of free me. I write about places a lot. I read the news every day. It’s kind of my views on the world that I write about now.”
With this album, not only is he “bringing the music back to the people where it belongs” (as his PR boasts), he finally has a CD that sounds like him. Live. When he went into the studio at the Art Institute of Nashville, Krygowski didn’t even know he was going to lay down tracks to keep. Or use. Turns out, having an album that really sounds like his live stuff is a powerful touring tool. “Just because you spent money on a producer and studio time and musicians, it doesn’t have to be a product. You don’t have to be proud enough to make it a product.” Krygowski discussed the amount of output we’re all exposed to. Social media can make it seem like everybody’s producing more, and while a songwriter can become way more informed about their genre nowadays, the pressure is intense. And unrealistic. “And you wanna be creative, you wanna be writing songs, and they’re not coming, and you start blaming… Facebook!” He laughs. “And it’s big money. It’s big money. You’re spending thousands of dollars in the studio these days even with the competition. You feel like you’ve gotta put it out, but you don’t. You don’t. You’ve gotta be proud of it. So, I’m proud of it. And it just, it’s um… yeah. More than anything else, I’m just proud of what I have, and I find it useful, and the usefulness is what I’m calm about.”
As a booking tool, the album is already doing its job. “It comes out January, two weeks into the year, and I’m already getting yesses for my touring schedule.” He’s playing Sixth and I Synagogue with Grant-Lee Phillips in January, and there are already a handful of confirmed East Coast dates. Philly dates, TBA.
So, what is Adrian Krygowski excited about in 2014? Touring, of course. And SXSW. “It’s a helluva party. Helluva party, and it’s a party where all of your friends are.” It’s a long road to Austin from East Tennessee, but that suits him just fine. He’s at home on the road and still makes time to roam.