New Harmony Indiana balances life and music
"I've been working on this record since about 2004," says New Harmony Indiana's driving force, singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Matt Krajewski of the band's second CD, "America's Physic." (That may be why this writer actually forgot he played on one of the songs included!)
"I wanted to take my time to try to get it right," he adds. "Perhaps not quite this much time, but sometimes life gets in the way of music."
Krajewski and his bandmates – fellow Hoosier Joe Vent and Brian Wendtlandt – are all dads and all have full-time jobs. But New Harmony Indiana isn't a hobby. All three have long been involved in the Milwaukee music scene and NHI is just the latest entry on three long local music resumes.
So, as is the case for many hard-working musicians, art has to share a calendar with life. But Krajewski and company aren't giving up.
"We are working on playing out a more often," says Krajewski, "as long as people are interested in coming out to see us. I really hate organizing shows, but I love playing."
That same dedication led New Harmony Indiana to work long and hard on "America's Physic," a collection of 15 slices of Americana that are a mix of country, folk, bluegrass and rock. The band got a little help from friends like Otis Gibbs and Sarah Kozar, too.
Thanks, in part, to the metallic sideshow preacher grit of "Devil Take the Hindmost," which immediately sets an alluringly sinister tone, "America's Physic" isn't a tame two-step through roots music. Krajewski says that was the plan all along.
"I made a definite choice to leave the challenging tracks on," he says. "'Devil Take the Hindmost,' 'Mlle Rachel en Hiver' and 'I Am Not Your Mule' are kind of harsh songs, but I left them on there because I think they are interesting, if a bit dissonant.
"I really didn't want to make a record that was all watered down to appeal to the widest possible audience. That seems to happen way too often these days and the result is weak records. 'Mlle Rachel en Hiver,' which was written long before Justin Vernon got dumped, is probably my favorite song on the record."
Another interesting inclusion is a cover of Eric Blowtorch's "That Was The Modern World," a very personal song about a former Milwaukee music scene stalwart.
"When I started writing this recording I made a very conscious decision that the songs would be about experiences, friends and family," says Krajewski. "(Blowtorch's) 'His Majesty's Ska' from 'Shame a Politician' was one of my big inspirations.
"I started covering 'That Was the Modern World' because it's another one of those songs about real people I know. The song is really personal, but it's also fairly universal. To those of us musicians that came up in the punk and post-punk era I have always felt it really hit home."
Krajewski says he recorded a version of the song for New Harmony Indiana's first record, 2003's "Parlour Music," but was dissatisfied with the results.
"I really like this version," he says. "I feel like we got it right."
"America's Physic" also features another local music cover.
"'What You Look Like Tonight' was a little ditty that Stu (Bruce) and Alex (Ballard) used to do back in Baku Press days," says Krajewski. "Somehow I remembered it – at least my version of it – and started playing it. Again the style really fits what I am playing these days. I sent a copy of it to (Baku Press drummer) Miguel (Urbitzondo) and he thought it was an old Baku Press recording; I thought that was a pretty good sign."
The bulk of the songs on "America's Physic," however, come from Krajewski's pen and are mostly very personal. For example, his grandmother was dying at the time Krajewski was writing for the record and that experience made its way onto the record, he says.
"That was fuel for several songs. 'Before She Goes' is written from my grandfather's perspective. She died in October, the summer had been hot and dry and then the day she died it started raining. It rained for about two weeks. 'It Started Raining' was written about that feeling of not being able to make sense of things, or things being out of order when people die.
"Other songs are about other people, most of which I shouldn't go into. (Though) I suppose it doesn't matter too much. I take pieces from real people, real stories, but, of course, they are spiced up and changed."
Because his songs come so organically, Krajewski says he's compelled to keep moving forward, even though he can't make music the full-time focus of his life. So, yes, expect another New Harmony Indiana record ... but who can say when.
"I am planning to work on more material," promises Krajewski. "There are already two new songs I want to record. Not sure what form recordings will take, but I have no plans to stop."
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