Spencer Krug is not a happy man. Constantly referred to as the music industry’s hardest working artist, the Sunset Rubdown vanguard‘s a little vexed by references to his bee-like productivity: “I’ve seen a couple of things written that say I’m hell-bent on taking over indie rock and that’s just bullshit,” he bemoans. “I’m just putting my efforts into music, who cares what moniker it’s under?”
Despite his protests, Krug has overlooked the salient point: it’s not the conveyor belt of song that so intrigues, it’s the quality of the execution. Over the past two years, the Montreal-born Krug has been the cardinal cog in long-players by Wolf Parade, indie rock supergroup Swan Lake (twice), Frog Eyes and his own pet-project, Sunset Rubdown; each record is a testament to his unwavering capacity to coax melody from almost any environment.
But a tuneful ear is only part of the allure. Central to Krug’s success thus far - and for success read unrelenting Pitchfork adulation - is a flair for percolating verbose allegories through wonky, off-kilter melodies. Overzealous Wolf Parade devotees champion the floridity of his purple prose like Smiths fans do Morrissey’s, anointing him an ivory-tinkling Faulkner for the 21st century. Krug, however, is less rhapsodic about his song-writing proficiency.
“By no means am I a poet or a great lyricist, I just like to include some sort of beauty in the lyrics,” he says. “Sometimes I’m trying to make them more straight-forward, but it’s still in me to return to the metaphor and I’m not very good at it. My friend Dan [Bejar – aka Canadian solo artist Destroyer] is one of the few people who can pull off poetry and music at the same time. The imagery isn't anything complex. I’d like to get to the point where I could create something like that, without hiding behind metaphors. I’m my own worst critic, right?” He is.
Krug’s sentences are blushed with self-deprecation and reticence, the words punctuated by carefully considered, painful pauses. It’s as if he’d rather be anywhere else than here, talking about himself and his music. Which, it turns out, he would: “Interviews are a weird undertaking. I just think, why not put on the record? It should speak for itself,” he rues. “That’s my purest form of communication... anything I have worth sharing I put into the record. I still don’t get self-promotion, I mean I get it - people are just trying to make money, right?”
He’s right, of course: the music industry is an insatiable cash-hungry beast that pillages pockets with no concern for the fall out. But with release of Sunset Rubdown’s third long-player, Dragonslayer, Krug appears to have opened up the doors to commercial appeal. The histrionic canticles that rendered Random Spirit Lover an acquired taste have been supplanted by rampant flurries of riff and bass, while the creaking, medieval production has expanded to encompass a glooping honey pot of instrumentation.
Dragonslayer could be the record that finally pushes Krug from indie spotlight to mainstream limelight. Not that he’s giving much credence to the prospect: “If any of the three records were commercially viable it would be this one - but I don’t think it is,” he says. “That’s not a good or a bad thing to me. It’s not in the process at all – we just made what we made. We’ve essentially tried to make pop songs, knowing that we couldn’t do it. I don’t see it being a great commercial success, it’ll probably divide people and make a lot of old fans angry and maybe it'll attract a few new ones.”
This new direction coincides with a collective emphasis on song creation. For once, Sunset Rubdown has more than one man calling the shots: “It’s turned very much into a collaborative band – they’re not just hired guns,” explains Krug with a hint of relief. “I’m still the principal songwriter. I bring my ideas to them and then they add their own colours and flavours to them and it becomes Sunset Rubdown. If I was to sit down and record with just a piano and a guitar it sounds all right but it makes me miss the band.”
With Wolf Parade on an extended sojourn and Swan Lake all but defunct, Krug’s eggs are, for now at least, nestled in one basket. “Sunset Rubdown will be touring in the fall and I’ve got one other project I’ve got to figure out what I’m going to do with, but that’s it,” he says before wryly concluding: “I’m no more busy than I’ve ever been. It’s not like I work that hard.”
First published at The Skinny here