KEVIN ANDREW PRCHAL
- September 2014 -
HAVE A BEER WITH KEVIN ANDREW PRCHAL
It wouldn't be an overstatement to refer to Sorrow Sings, the newest full-length from Chicago-area singer/songwriter Kevin Andrew Prchal, as a thesis set to music. Purposefully devoted to opposites: light and dark; heaven and hell; life and death; deep love and utter loneliness, Kevin explores these territories with the mindset to accept, or even revel in those differences rather than pit them against each other.
Whether it's John Morton's breathtaking string arrangements, the quivering pedal steel of Todd Pertll, Kevin’s string plucking and crisp vocal delivery, or the many voices that contribute throughout the record (including wife Aly Krawczyk, members of Company of Thieves, Cameron McGill & What Army, AM Taxi, Deals Gone Bad, The Quiet Revelry, and more), Sorrow Sings was brought to life in a way that wouldn’t have been possible without them. These talents were enhanced by the luscious acoustics of Koten Chapel in Naperville, where the album was recorded.
We caught up with Kevin and Aly at Parson’s Chicken & Fish in Logan Square to discuss the August 8 album release at Lincoln Hall, the creative process behind the record and plans for future music.
The Band: Kevin Andrew Prchal and Aly Krawczyk
Drinks of Choice: Two Brothers Sidekick (Kevin); Dark & stormy slushy (Aly)
Kristen from A Beer with the Band: How long have you guys been doing this together?
Kevin Andrew Prchal: I released my first solo album in 2009. When I met Aly, I had no idea that she had any musical ability.
Aly Krawczyk: Neither did I.
Kevin: She had piano training and more musical skill than she gave herself credit for. I’ve watched her evolve over the past year, and I think she has become more confident in her own musical ear. It’s been really nice and interesting to see how that has affected to music we write together.
Kristen: So, Aly, how did you discover your musical ability?
Aly: I've always been really interested in music. I like discovering new bands and I played piano, a little guitar and a little ukulele, but I'm not the type of person who would decide to sit down and just write …I think Kevin heard me harmonizing to a song one day in the car.
Kevin: I didn’t realize she could do that. I think having me around working on songs encouraged your musical ability, whereas before you didn’t necessarily have an outlet for it.
Aly: Yeah. It’s been good for me.
Kristen: Tell me about your recent album release for Sorrow Sings at Lincoln Hall.
Kevin: It went really well. We love playing in the city. There are only a few select places in the suburbs that are more suited for our music. A lot of the venues out there look for cover bands.
Kristen: Do you think you’ll ever leave Chicago as your homebase?
Kevin: We love playing here, but we do hope to expand more around the Midwest – Milwaukee, for example. I think our outlook is that we'll take opportunities as they come or not take them as they come. We’ll just have to see what's in our best interest at that time. But we would love to expand our music as much as possible. Thankfully with the internet it doesn’t require you to be traveling all over the place in order to get the word out.
Aly: Yeah. Also, the members of our band have other musical aspirations in addition to this project. One of our band members plays in two other bands. People have their own lives, but it's really nice to be able to come together and play for these shows. As far as getting a tour together, I think it would be a lot of fun but it might be done in a different way.
Kristen: I feel like that happens often in Chicago. There’s a lot of collaboration and sharing members between bands.
Kevin: I've always been a big supporter of collaborating as much as possible. Especially as a solo artist – you have that freedom to work with whomever you want. It makes it really exciting for me.
Aly: Kevin is really good at bringing people together.
Kevin: It's just something I love to do – connect people. That’s ultimately why I love playing music so much. It’s an outlet for me to do that. I like bringing people together at a show who normally wouldn’t be together on a Friday night.
Kristen: What was the creative process with your just-released album, Sorrow Sings?
Kevin: The entire process was very deliberate. I had a clear vision of what I wanted to accomplish aesthetically and musically. I consider my songwriting process to be a continuously explorative process of trying to still find my voice. I feel like I will always be trying to do that with each album. With this album in particular, it was important having Aly there. She shared the burden and the joys of the process along the way. At times it was stressful, but it ultimately ended up being really, really rewarding. The writing captures a very specific time in my life. And the record documents a lot of important things – the ups and downs in our lives throughout the writing and recording process. One of our band members passed away during the making of it. Aly and I got engaged during the making of it. I'm able to look back in this album and really remember everything that happened. That's something I didn’t plan, but that’s also what makes this record so special to me and to us. That’s what music is for me: it’s a timestamp for what things were like at a certain point in my life.
Aly: But at the same time, the songs on this record are not merely an autobiography.
Kevin: Yeah, none of the songs are directly about personal experiences. I was really exploring the storytelling side of songwriting. The album cover is actually a picture that I found in a box of my grandpa’s photographs. It really struck me, and I used that visual as an imagined narrative of this person in the picture. It’s a story of this guy on his journey. That storytelling explores different things that I was feeling and experiencing at that time, but the songs don't explicitly talk about me or my experiences.
Kristen: I sometimes feel like fiction is more truthful in a way. You're trying to find yourself through other people.
Aly: I’m a librarian actually, and one of my favorite authors, Neil Gaiman, recently did a study that talks about how people become more empathetic because of fiction. Putting yourself in other people's shoes is what makes you able to relate to others. Whether it's songwriting or fiction writing, doing that is a great way to explore your feelings and other people's feelings.
Kristen: For sure. Was music something that you actively pursued growing up, Kevin?
Kevin: Senior year of high school was when it started. My band's first show was in the cafeteria. It’s still the highlight of my musical career.
Kristen: That's a pretty sweet venue.
Kevin: It’s the biggest stage I will ever play. We played “Fight for Your Right” by the Beastie Boys and a fight broke out. It was the most rock star thing that has ever happened to me.
Kristen: What are you listening to right now?
Kevin: My two favorite albums of the year so far are the War on Drugs’ Lost in the Dream and Ben Harper's album with his mom called Childhood Home. It’s chilling. It's just beautiful, beautiful songwriting. He grew up singing with her. I couldn’t think of a more meaningful album to make. The War on Drugs has always been one of my favorite bands. I've spent a lot of time listening to The National, too.
Kristen: Aly, what was the recording process like for you?
Aly: Well, I haven’t been doing music for very long. Like Kevin said, I’m still building my confidence and my ear. It’s also totally new to me to be performing. I haven’t felt completely legitimate in offering my opinion and being super involved in the songwriting so far. But I know Kevin trusts my opinion, which is a good thing.
Kristen: You guys are getting married soon, so that’s definitely a good thing!
Aly: Yeah. It has been a good tool to practice our communication. I’ve been given a lot of opportunities to say how I feel about his songs. He may not always agree with me, but I appreciate that he asks my opinion and weighs it. I can tell that that it’s valued. I'm a careful listener, too. I can hear when something is a little bit off, and I think that has helped as we've been writing and recording. I feel so lucky to be involved in this creative process where Kevin writes the song and then people come together and play it. In the future I think we'll probably do more together.
Kevin: Yeah, we definitely will. I also think when I set off to write the record, I had a very set vision about how I wanted it to sound, look and feel. A lot of the characters and sounds are born from the same place. There was a very clear aesthetic for this album and I think Aly understood what I was doing. She was able to help me guide the songs towards that vision.
Aly: And everyone who plays on the record was amazing. They were all very invested in that vision, too.
Kevin: We all feel we created something. It's not just our success in that regard. It has been everyone's success.
Kristen: Was the process with your 2009 album as deliberate as this one?
Kevin: Not at all. It was more of, “Okay, I have these songs written. Let's record them.” It was a very a small introduction to what I was doing. That's something I want to continue to do with my music: be deliberate with the song writing process. For the next album, I have a clear vision of what I want to accomplish, but I want to be much less deliberate about the recording process.
Kristen: What were the pitfalls of being too deliberate with the recording process?
Kevin: It was pretty drawn out I would say. Next time around, I want to just get in there, make sure we have the songs down with the band, and just get it recorded in a weekend.
Aly: It took basically two years to record this one.
Kevin: Yeah, and we actually recorded it in a chapel. It made a difference in the sound and I think it made a difference in the experience for all of us. I think that if we were holed up in a studio, it would have felt…
Aly: More transactional?
Kevin: Yeah, more like a business, more like a job. We were there to get part of the job done, but placing us in this unconventional setting sparked our creativity.
Kristen: Why did you decide on a chapel?
Kevin: I think it ties into that original aesthetic that I had in mind. I had a very specific vision of how I wanted the album to look and sound and feel. I also wanted to be able to attach the experience of listening to this record to the experience of recording it. It goes back to the idea of treating this experience like a documented time in our lives: we were in our young 20s, in a chapel, playing music at two in the morning.
Kristen: Definitely. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Kevin: Anger is only fear turned upside down. I’ve applied that to my life in a lot of situations. Whenever I find myself feeling angry about something, I'll take a minute, look internally and find what it is that's making me angry about the situation. It almost always comes down to something within myself that I'm afraid of facing. Recognizing that helps me manage a lot of situations in my music and in my professional life; in general interactions with people, too.
Aly: Yeah, I've been thinking a lot lately about the small interactions we have with people. I often meet people who seem to be oblivious to the fact that they're talking to another person. They’re so wrapped up in what they're doing or too busy to be polite. I've been thinking about my own life and my own interactions, and making sure they’re a good experience for both of us. There's no reason for it not to be.