An Interview with Spencer Krug

Zach Linge

Photo: Tero Ahonen

Spencer Krug's career spans projects and decades. He is the frontman of Wolf Parade, Sunset Rubdown, Moonface, and other bands. Krug's new solo album, Fading Graffiti, was released April 2021 through Pronounced Kroog and is also available via BandCamp, Apple Music, Spotify, and elsewhere. Subscribe to Spencer Krug's Patreon for exclusive content and new music monthly!

Spencer Krug's lyrical experimentation inspires critics and interviewers alike to say Krug is “as much a poet as he is a musician.” Personally, Krug's lyrics inspired my early poetry more than perhaps any other single writer or musician. Having learned he follows a few poets on Twitter, and even took a writing workshop with Zachary Schomburg, I reached out for an interview. We talked Patreon, songwriting, poetry, Xiu Xiu, and sad clowns.

Zach Linge

Zach Linge: It feels like coming full circle, having the chance to say how grateful I am for you and your work: I have long benefited from, appreciated, and needed your music. So, thanks for what you do, and thanks for taking the time to talk about words and craft with me!

Spencer Krug: Wow. That's all very kind. It's nice to hear it. And with COVID happening—which means no shows happening—it's really easy for me and probably a lot of musicians to question if there's any value in what I’m doing. I'm kind of in a vacuum, right? I don't spend too much time online. I do post a lot of music to the internet, and that's like the one thing that's kept me making music and realizing there's still people out there that are interested in hearing what I might want to share.

Usually, you get that sort of affirmation and confidence-building when you're on the road. You spend a lot of time alone working on music, but then you take the music out of the world and share it with people, and you get this response. There's that affirmation that what you're doing has value. With COVID I find myself questioning way more than usual what the point of what I'm doing is. Is it just like a vanity project?

The point is, it's very nice to hear. It's rare to hear, these days, that anyone gets anything out of what I do. So, it's very good. I'm just saying thank you.

ZL: You made me think of a recent song where you say, “Is my mind just a mirror making rainbows on the wall?” A lot of poets, writers, and artists struggle with this question. How do I know the value or the import of something that's created in isolation? So, for you a lot of that affirmation comes from in-person events?

SK: As opposed to what? Like, as opposed to the internet?

ZL: A writer might get the occasional kind stranger who reaches out online and says, “Hey, thanks for writing that. I needed you to write that.” But there there's a difference between that and going to a live reading, sharing your work, and having someone say in person, “Wow that touched me.”

SK: Yeah, I can only imagine. I was lucky enough to participate in a live reading only once, like years and years ago now, and I thought it was really fun. Musicians are quite lucky, other than of course right now, in that we can’t go out. It's really built into the career that you're gonna go out and share your work over and over again. You have a chance to hone that part of what you do, the performance of it, and you get to share it with people that are guaranteed to at least be curious. They bought a ticket to be there. You have this already biased audience in front of you. You're totally spoiled. Then you get to perform the songs that you already know they are interested in hearing. It really does boost one's ego.

It's hard actually to keep your ego in check sometimes, I find, and not let the adoration go to your head. I mean, that gets easier and easier when you get older, but I imagine with writers you have that opportunity a lot less, to share in person. I find sharing things on the internet not the same. The way people present themselves online is so veiled. It's so hard to gauge sincerity when you're reading comments online, and it doesn't hit you the same way. I'm much more dubious of people online and wary of any sort of praise or criticism that I receive through the internet.

ZL: There's this thing in poetry, that the "speaker" of the poem is not necessarily the poet themselves. Is the performer Spencer Krug the Spencer Krug on the phone right now?

SK: That's a good question. I like to think so. Maybe not always. Performing music, sometimes you feel more like an athlete than an artist, and that is especially true for the rock bands I've been in—especially once they've been around for a while—like with Wolf Parade or Sunset Rubdown. You do a lot of touring and end up playing some of the same songs over and over again. Even with new material, you rehearse it in a private space, not unlike an athlete, and then you go to the game, right?

What you do is you execute it as well as you can based on your training. That’s especially true for written songs. It feels like you're a high jumper or something. You're just doing the same action over and over again, so you can get it as close to perfect as possible. It's different for improvised music, which is why I'm so drawn to and terrified of improvised music.

I don’t know the answer to that question, if Spencer Krug the performer is the same Spencer Krug that you're talking to right now. I think it depends on the song, on the music, and on the night. If I get quite nervous, which sometimes I do, then I will hide behind this kind of sad clown act. This thing will happen where I'll see myself from outside myself, but I can't stop the words from falling out of my mouth. I'll say a bunch of nonsense, usually bad jokes, and a lot of self-deprecating stuff, which can be me sometimes. So, I think it's as diverse as your actual person is.

This thing will happen where I'll see myself from outside myself, but I can't stop the words from falling out of my mouth.

We all tend to wake up a little bit different each day and present ourselves to the world a little differently as we grow. Even being alive in the world is this kind of performance, right? So, to separate them like that, in a black-and-white way, I think it's kind of impossible. I try to be as sincere as possible on stage, but my comfort level is obviously different on stage than if I'm at home in the bath or something. I'm gonna be a different person. That’s a long-winded answer to a simple question.

ZL: A great answer. I mean, it's a hard question. I imagine there's a difference between an auditorium or a large-stage Wolf Parade show and you at a piano in a chapel with a more intimate audience. I imagine those performances require something different.