Artist Interview: Matt Krahula & The Nightmare River Band
Matt Krahula & the Nightmare River Band is a New York City Folk Rock/Americana outfit whose songs are self described as being about “love, loss, pain and drinking… not necessarily in that order”.
We caught up with Matt to discuss his background, the album, its recording process, and the band’s future plans.
True Folk TV: Do you remember the first time music made an impression on you?
Matt Krahula: I’m pretty sure this isn’t a memory of mine, but my parents told me that when I was really little they used to play “The Boy From New York City” by The Ad Libs and I would dance in my car seat. So if we’re looking for the first impression, that’s probably it. The first time I saw an upright bass was a big moment too. I was in 3rd grade. The school music teacher brought all of the orchestral string instruments into our classroom to drum up interested in joining orchestra the following year. When I saw the upright bass, I knew that was the instrument for me. We just had to convince my parents it would fit in the car.
TFTV: When did music solidify itself as something you would pursue as your livelihood?
MK: Throughout high school I was a member of The Empire State Youth Orchestra, an elite high school orchestra in upstate New York. It draws the top high school musicians from all over upstate New York, Vermont, and Massachusetts. It gave me a look at what it might be like being a professional musician. When I was going through my junior year of high school, it became obvious that if I went to college for anything else, music would be taking a backseat. I really wasn’t interested in seeing that happen. I applied to a bunch of conservatories and ended up getting really great results. After a bunch of debate between Hart School, Boston University, and Purchase College, I settled on Purchase College, where I was very fortunate to study under Tim Cobb, the Principle bassist for the New York Philharmonic.
TFTV: You studied classical upright bass in college. The music you make with the Nightmare River Band is slightly removed from the classical world, what was that transition like?
MK: Going to Purchase played a huge role in that transition. Purchase College has a fantastic Studio Composition and Studio Production Program. It made me realize that being a classical musician wasn’t the only route available. While I was practicing upright bass, there was a whole other section of the Conservatory working on perfecting their studio techniques, forming bands, and honing their songwriting skills. Since every band is always looking for a bass player, I ended up falling in with this crowd almost immediately and spent the next 7 years touring and performing as the bass player in the synth pop band, Fire Flies. When Fire Flies parted ways in 2008, I started a new project, which became The Nightmare River Band.
TFTV: What draws you to this create this roots-inspired sound, as opposed to other genres?
MK: I think my connection to roots music comes from my parents. When I was a little kid, they used to play a lot of John Denver, Momma’s and the Poppa’s, and Peter, Paul and Mary. One of my first concerts was John Denver at Saratoga Performing Arts Center. We had really good seats and I remember my Mom being excited because her music teacher from high school was on stage playing fiddle. Years later, I was on the way into NYC with the lead singer of Fire Flies, and he played me Cat Stevens, “Tea For The Tillerman”. I knew instantly that I wanted to make music like that.
TFTV: While writing songs is there a particular mental, or emotional state that you’re hoping to pass on to the listener?
MK: I think it varies from song to song. I usually try to capture the emotion I’m feeling at that particular moment in time. I think more times than not, a similar emotion is passed on to the listener.
TFTV: You built a home studio space to make this record - how different do you think Stormville would be if it were made through a more “traditional” recording process, rather than in the self-directed environment you created for yourselves?
MK: For one, I don’t think it would be as good. Since we had unlimited time and no budget constraints, we were really able to take our time and find the album that we wanted to make. We tracked around twenty songs and then cut it down to eleven. Some of the songs were arranged and recorded with several different versions to choose from. It was a really great experience having the freedom to work this way. Also, the bulk of the band lived in the house while we were making the record, so we just woke up and played music every day. It kept us in sync on the project and there were very few distractions.
TFTV: The album is named after the town where it was recorded - do you think that the geographical context left a sonic signature on the album?
MK: I think the atmosphere of the house played a huge roll. We were in a pretty isolated farm house. There aren’t a whole lot of things to do in “Stormville” so we spent most of the time at the house together.
TFTV: There is a lot of varied instrumentation on the album - how did the musical community at large outside of your core membership play a part in marking this record?
MK: So the core band on this record was myself (Guitar, vocals, bass, mandolin), Seth Faulk (drums, percussion, vocals), and Wil Farr (Electric Guitars, Vocals). At the beginning of the record, we made the decision that we wouldn’t be force feeding parts to other musicians. We wanted to bring in players that we could trust to bring their unique sound to the album. The first recruit we brought in was Todd Caldwell (touring organist for CSNY). I really didn’t know what to expect. Seth had told me he was the best of the best. We watched him shred through 8 songs that day and I knew we had made the right choice. We left the session feeling like we were starting to have an album as opposed to a group of ideas masquerading as songs. So we followed that same path with the rest of the musicians and I think it worked out better than we could have imagined.
TFTV: Were there any mishaps, or magic moments of note during the process of making Stormville?
MK: There is one moment that I always come back to. About a year before we started working on the album, our drummer Seth’s mother passed away after a long battle with cancer. When she passed, he inherited his childhood home in Stormville, the house we would eventually set up to track the record. My grandmother had passed around the same time as his mother, and I channeled my feelings into a song called “First Christmas” (Without You). We started working on that track late one night. It was dark outside and dimly lit in the live room. We ended up playing through the track once. We made it through the whole song in one take. When we looked around, everyone in the room was in tears, including the producer. We weren’t sure if we had gotten the take, but we were sure we couldn’t play through it again. We wrapped for the night and when we woke up the next morning, we listened on playback and knew we had captured a special moment. Although “First Christmas” did not end up on “Stormville”, we released it as a single last year. All of the sales are donated to St. Jude’s.
TFTV: Historically folk music is viewed within a context of narrative-driven lyricism, and very specific acoustic-based instrumentation. How do you see folk music functioning within a landscape where music making, and distribution has become exceedingly accessible for average “folks”?
MK: In general, I think folk music is as big as ever. The proof is in how many sub genres have emerged over the last 10 years. With people taking the reigns as creators and distributors of their own music, a lot of truly original and fresh versions of folk music have been able to see the light of day.
TFTV: Does it seem easier to “make it” as a musician now (as opposed to say, 15 years ago) that recording, and distribution tools are more accessible, or does it seem harder since everyone also has access to these tools?
MK: I don’t think it’s really become easier or harder. New technology has just redefined what the music industry is as a whole. There is definitely a lot more competition out there with the age of high quality home studios. 30 years ago, you would form a band, get signed and then make a record. Now, you make a record, promote it yourself, and a record label might come along and take credit for all of your hard work. Development is no longer something the music industry provides. It’s now the responsibility of the artist. And because of that, it’s created a huge middle class of musicians that never existed before. So, I think if “making it”, is equivalent to headlining Madison Square Garden, it’s probably much tougher today. If your goal is to create a sustainable living, I think it’s more attainable than ever.
TFTV: What does it even look like to “make it” as a musician in 2018?
MK: For me, a lifetime of making music that I believe in would do the trick. A little money would be alright too.
TFTV: Do you think that streaming as the main distribution of music incentivizes creators to produce music with mass appeal even more than when record sales, and radio were the main mediums for distribution?
MK: I think it actually has the opposite effect. Getting radio play is time consuming, competitive and often very expensive. Now, anyone with a computer can upload their music to spotify. There is no “tastemaker” or label telling them that their music doesn’t belong. More than anything, my concern with streaming is that it stresses quantity over quality. With spotify, there are algorithms that work in favor of an artist who is constantly releasing material.
TFTV: With the prevalence of social media, do you find the ability (And necessity) to be 100% responsible for your brand to be empowering, or exhausting?
MK: It can be exhausting at times, but you can also have fun with it. I’ve been touring for around 15 years now. Over the last couple years, we’ve been pretty active on Instagram. I often wish we had more of those memories documented from the earlier years.
TFTV: Having gone through the self-directed recording process, how would you advise artists looking to tackle this process?
MK: If you’ve never recorded your own music before, start small. Try tracking a guitar at home, or vocals. Use your home space as a supplement to professional recording studios. You have to have a plan and a good space. We had a space that was naturally isolated from outside sound pollution. We were able to leave the studio set up for months at a time. We were also very lucky to have our producer/ engineer Rob Cleaveland, who had a clear vision on how we were going to get this done. We couldn’t have done it without him.
TFTV: Do you plan to tour in support of Stormville?
MK: We just played a packed album release show at Rockwood Music Hall to kick things off. We’ll definitely be hitting a lot of our old haunts over the next few months to promote.
Stormville exhibits the classic elements of singer-songer mythos while simultaneously showcasing some important twists which keep the listening experience engaging.
A broad range of instrumentation including keys, brass sections, and group vocals mixed with Matt's distinct style of vocal delivery set this record apart from other folk contemporaries.
Self referential elements (e.g. “Rustler’s moon” lyric in “Hey Now”) contribute building the sense of overarching narrative through the record. The result is a story depicting the ups and downs of navigating interpersonal relationships, life on the road as an artist, and the resulting moments of introspection. The takeaway between the story of the recording process and the actual content of the record is that Stormville is a structure carefully built board-by-board, note-by-note for the listener to explore and enjoy.
If you're up for a journey check out the record here.
”Smoke Settles Down”