'I was excited by the challenge of making something that is worth listening to and that I thought was worth sharing, with this straight-forward, simple approach and limited means." Spencer Krug is known for his work with Montreal indie-rock bands Wolf Parade and Sunset Rubdown, but he is currently based in Finland, where he works professionally under the name Moonface.
His latest album, the sublimely focused and arrestingly dramatic Julia With Blue Jeans On, is a both a departure (a truly solo album) and a return to something previously left behind (the piano). He spoke from Helsinki, a city where he has lived for almost two years but does not call home.
On Julia With Blue Jeans On, an album of piano and voice only, Krug sings about catching a plane (on the song November 2011) and having "chewed through my beautiful narrative to get out of Canada and into your door," on Barbarian II. Two years ago, after both of the bands Krug worked within had broken up, Krug left for Helsinki. "I had nothing tying me to Montreal," he recalls, "so I thought 'why not?'" He had already recorded a Moonface album there with the Finnish rockers Siinai (Heartbreaking Bravery) and had planned to work with them again. And, as one might have suspected, a girl was involved. Is her name Julia and does she favour dungarees? "Not telling," says Krug.
Making a solo piano record
After a decade of using various keyboards, synthesizers and other instruments, Krug felt the urge to play a proper acoustic piano again. "The winter here is quite long, and it's quite dark and quite cold," says Krug. "I needed something to keep my hands busy." He bought a used piano and moved it into a rehearsal space he shared with other musicians. As he practised on it, new songs came naturally. "I just wanted to make something with my two hands and my voice," says Krug. "I wasn't in a rush. I let it happen over the winter."
On the futility of songwriting
On the album's title track, Krug sings that "making cadences" is a madman's game, or at the very least a young man's game. He's referring to the folly of songwriting and working as a musician. "It's a self-involved, juvenile career path I'm on," says Krug, whose influences include Leonard Cohen, the French minimalist Erik Satie, the obscure singer-pianist Rachel Grimes and Vancouver's indie-rocker Dan Bejar. As for songwriting, Krug questions music as a medium. "To try and express something so beautiful with my limited piano skills and my squeaky voice, it doesn't do justice to the subject," he says, selling himself unreasonably short. "I mean, it's almost insulting. But, at the same time, it's the only way I know how to do it."
On the madness of making a record alone
Without bandmates to offer feedback and rein him in, Krug drove himself slightly bonkers making the album. "Things can get really overthought and overworked," he says. "If you're looking to go a little too far down the rabbit hole of your own psyche, then making a record alone is a good way to go about it."
On the song Everyone is Noah, Everyone is the Ark, which is about surrounding yourself with friends or family or anyone like-minded, Krug wonders about Helsinki: "I don't know if I can call this home." He sees his stay abroad as an "extended visit," and plans to return to Canada within six months. He's thinking about British Columbia, but on the coast instead of his interior hometown of Penticton, where his family no longer lives. "It's something that I've been thinking about a lot lately," he says, "where do I want to live next? Where do I want to grow old?" It's a practical question, but it also gets to a more universal theme: What is one's place in the world? "I don't have an answer for that," he says. "The notion of what is home is kind of a hard one for me."
Moonface, with Dan Bejar's Destroyer, plays the Djavad Mowafaghian World Art Centre, Vancouver, Nov. 16.