Spencer Krug on Working at a Bagel Shop, the Wolf Parade Hiatus, and His Incredible Career

Spencer Krug on Working at a Bagel Shop, the Wolf Parade Hiatus, and His Incredible Career
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To say I'm a huge fan of Spencer Krug is an understatement. I've followed his pursuits voraciously from his Wolf Parade days to this year's quite good solo album Twenty Twenty Twenty Twenty One, and he's attracted a devoted following over the years with his quixotic and distinctive approach to songwriting. He's an outside-the-box musician with a stacked CV, and he's an absolute peach to talk to as well. We had a great time recounting his career during an hour-plus phone conversation this week, and I'm truly thankful that he put the time in on his end too.

Frog Eyes, The Bloody Hand (2002)

Carey and I had tried playing music together before we lived together—I can’t remember when. I would’ve been 19 or 20. At some point, him and I sat down in someone’s basement, I played an old organ, he played guitar, and we tried jamming. Even at that point, we barely knew each other—we were fellow musicians more than friends. I just knew him from this guy, he was around Victoria.

But we needed roommates, so we ended up living in this house, and he was with his wife Melanie, who drums in the band. I don’t think there was even much discussion about forming a band and who’s in the lineup—maybe he had all of those things churning around in his head. I just started playing with him and Mel because we lived together. So we jammed on songs that Carey was writing. There was never any great plan for me to join the band, it was just convenient.

The jam space was in the basement, and he had a Wurlitzer piano he’d grifted from somebody [Laughs] Mike Rak was the bass player, and Carey was absolutely the songwriter. I didn’t touch the structure, and he didn’t interfere on what I wanted to put on top of his songs. Mike’s bass playing was really simple, and the drumming was really simple, the guitars were chaos, and I was able to lay my patterns somewhere in between all of that. From what I remember, Carey was always like, “That’s cool, let’s go with it.” It was always very easy and carefree. There were no creative arguments or butting of heads. Basically, he was the boss, but I could do whatever I wanted.

I don’t really have memories of recording The Bloody Hand, but I think we did it in the basement. Carey was already getting into home recording at that point. We started doing a few shows, and I did my first real tour with Frog Eyes, up and down the West Coast. I learned a lot from watching Carey onstage. I learned how to not be embarrassed and let yourself go, and really get into it, and that there’s no shame in fully being yourself with the audience. It’s not about posing, but it’s not about staring at your feet either. It’s about an engaging way for you to be onstage, for the audience and yourself—a two-way transmission that everyone can get into. I learned that while watching Carey onstage while I was off to the side, freaking out on my keyboard.

Both you and Carey have distinctive ways of songwriting, to me. What shape was your own songwriting taking at this point?

At that time I was writing some stuff on acoustic piano, but a lot of electroacoustic stuff too, in a pop form. A lot of it turned into early Sunset Rubdown stuff that I put out myself after first moving to Montreal from Victoria. It was computer experiments—I’d do shit like put pieces of paper between the hammers and the strings so it sounded insane, then I’d pull a sample from that and loop it to make some sort of pop song. I was doing a bit of stuff on piano and acoustic guitar, and I used to play bass more too. I was discovering how to multitrack all these instruments.

I did a few years of music school in Vancouver, so I knew how to use Logic Audio, and I had a lot of leftover experiments from school that were half-finished assignments I was still turning into songs. A lot of my memories from back then is being on the computer and moving blocks around. I’d take a sample and pile it up into a weird shape on the screen, press play, and listen to what it sounded like. I’d build a two-dimensional pyramid out of a three-second sample.

Fifths of Seven, Spry From Bitter Anise Folds (2005)

This project came out in 2005, the same year that Apologies from the Queen Mary and the Snake’s Got a Leg EP came out. You were quite busy.

All those records were getting created in 2003 and 2004, and it all just came out in the same year. That early aughts-to-late aughts period of my life is an insane fever dream of releasing music and traveling constantly. It really does all blur together.

I was a hired gun on Fifths of Seven by these two women I barely knew—Rachel Levine and Becky Foon. Rachel played the mandolin and Becky played the cello, she still does. They had gotten the Young Volunteers Grant, if I remember correctly. It’s a grant that a bunch of people were getting in Montreal in the aughts—I think Quebec was offering it, maybe it was federal, I don’t know. You could basically tell the government you wanted to make a CD, and they would give you thousands of dollars. [Laughs] You were a young person, and you wanted to write a play, write a book, whatever—it was very easy to get. Canada is much better with grant funding than America.

So Becky and Rachel hired me on as a third person to write an album with them. I played piano. So that’s what we did. I barely knew them, but I was super broke. I needed to ask an advance from them because I had no money. I never had any money in the early Montreal days, so I jumped at the chance to be a working, paid musician for the first time in my career.

We became friends through the process of writing the album. We wrote a lot of it in the loft in which I lived at the time. I had the space, and I had a piano up there, and they’d come over and we’d make these pseudo-klezmer, pseudo-classical pieces. It was sort of like Frog Eyes in that I’d leave lot of ideas and structuralization of things to them, and then I’d play whatever occured to me underneath. There were a few tracks that I wrote, and they added their stuff too.

It’s a record I really hardly ever think about, because it wasn’t my darling by any means. I think there’s probably some okay tunes on it. I remember this one song called “Waiting” that is just me on piano. It was a song that I’d written in the third year of music school in Concordia. While we were recording the record, I was like, “I have this weird little song we could throw on the record.” It was one of those weird little projects that was about getting the record done so we could get the money from the government. [Laughs] Not to make it sound like it was a cold, passionless experience.

You mentioned being broke around this time. When was the moment where you realized you could make a living off of your music?

It was when Wolf Parade started to take off—probably right before Apologies to the Queen Mary came out. We’d signed to Sub Pop, and I realized that if I worked hard, I wouldn’t have to work a shitty job anymore. I don’t think I’ve mentioned this in interviews before, but by then I had dropped out of school and I was working shitty jobs around Montreal.

I was working at Fairmount Bagels, which is one of the famous bagel shops around there. It’s open 24 hours of the day, every day of the year—there’s literally no lock on the door because it’s never closed. It’s a go-to bagel spot. I was the bottom rung of the ladder there, just doing the worst grunt work—cleaning out the big dough-making machines, sweeping up sesame seeds and discarded bagels all day, carrying flour and firewood around, because they were wood-fired bagels. Pure grunt work.

I was one of the only white people working there, because a lot of people there were Filipino, East Indian, Mexican. Many of whom I got the impression were not necessarily legally in the country. One day, this dude from Jamaica I was friends with was like, “Where are you from?” I said, “Well, I’m from Canada.” “OK, but where are your parents from?” “Canada.” “You’re second-generation Canadian?” “No, I’m fourth or fifth-generation.” His eyes got wider and wider, and he was like, “What are you doing here?” “I’m just working.” “Did you graduate high school?” “Yes.” “Did you go to university?” “Yes.” He gave me shit. “What the fuck are you doing here? You don’t have to be working this job. The rest of us do.”

It was in a friendly way, making me aware of my privilege in life and telling me to stop working such a terrible job and get my shit together. He knew I was in a band called Wolf Parade, and he was like, “Just buckle down and do that. Don’t waste your time doing this.” That was a revelatory moment for me, and I quit shortly thereafter. That was my last job. It sounds like a parable or something, but it did really happen.

I had another friend there, this dude named Lloyd from the Philippines, and he’d work 12-14 hour shifts just rolling bagels. I’d never work longer than seven or eight hours, I never let them schedule me for that long. One day I asked him, “Dude, how can you work so long? This shit is brutal.” And he was like, “Well, I need to make money to send home to my mother and my sister. It’s not a choice, I need to do this.” That was another one of those moments.

Sunset Rubdown, Random Spirit Lover (2007)

Random Spirit Lover was the first Sunset Rubdown record on Jagjaguwar—we moved from Absolutely Kosher, and Jag was making as big of a deal of it as they could. I remember that [Jagjaguwar co-founder Darius Van Arman] came to Montreal while we were mixing, because he was invested in it. He heard all the rough mixes and was like, “It needs more bass.” [Laughs]

The rest of us were like, “Well, there’s no bass guitar in the band, Darius. What do you want us to do? It’s not there.” That was a funny moment. We were cranking the low end on my piano and tuning up the kickdrum. And in hindsight, he was totally right—the songs needed some low end. But back then, I didn’t think like that. Everything was just practical and pragmatic. We didn’t have a bass player, therefore I guess there’s no bass on the songs.

We recorded Shut Up I Am Dreaming at Breakglass Studios with my friend Jace Lasek. The songs were already written, Camilla Wynne Ingr says it took us three or four days, I thought it was probably five. Either way, it was a really tight timeframe to make a record in. With Random Spirit Lover we had more backing and money, so we took ten weeks in the same studio with the same guy. Jace says he has no memory of recording Shut Up I Am Dreaming, but he remembers recording Random Spirit Lover.

I remember having to talk everyone into this idea that I had where I wanted all the songs to crossfade into each other—which they kind of do, right?


Okay, so we kind of pulled that off. [Laughs] Jace was confused, like, “How are we gonna record it?” I had all these markers where one song would end and the next song would start with the riff from the last song. It was all sequenced beforehand, so when it got mastered we could easily cross-fade the songs into each other and it could all sound like one long piece. That was the intention, and it was a bit of a headache to get everyone on board with me—not in a bad way, they just couldn’t figure out what was in my head.

Do you feel like translating the ideas you have into sounds is often a struggle?

It was more frequent back then and less frequent now, simply because I had no real experience. With Sunset Rubdown, I was a bandleader, but I didn’t really have any idea what I was doing. I was so used to working alone in my bedroom where I didn’t have to vocalize my ideas to other people, let alone convince them. Nowadays, I’m much better at working with people and collaborating. It’s never been an issue, though. It’s never stopped me from doing anything, or stopped anyone from working with me.

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Swan Lake, Enemy Mine (2009)

Enemy Mine was recorded in that same basement that Frog Eyes recorded in. Carey and Mel still lived in the same house, and I lived in Montreal and was visiting Victoria, probably to make Enemy Mine. I remember that it was surprising to all of us, and Jagjaguwar, that we were making a second record—because Beast Moans, which was fun, did seem like a one-off that none of us seemed like we would do again. I’m sure Carey was the instigator, and Dan and I were like, “Sure, we’ll come over and write.” Which record has “Are You Swimming In Her Pools?” on it—is that Beast Moans?


Okay, so those songs I wrote in Japan when I was in Tokyo for six weeks visiting my girlfriend at the time. For Enemy Mine, I have less of a specific memory as to where I wrote my songs for that record—maybe it was while I was in Victoria. The idea was that we’d each bring three or four songs, and then track us doing it alone on acoustic guitar or piano before piling a bunch of shit on top of it, together, democratically. That was the process for both records.

Carey had gotten more into home recording, so we had better mics and compressors. We just kind of had fun with it. It’s not anything that any of us took too seriously. We probably recorded it in about a week. There was always this ongoing joke that Carey’s high end was going in his hearing, so there were high frequencies that Dan and I could hear that he couldn’t.

His songs love to fizzle—there’s a high-pitched burning on top of everything. He’d be like, “I have a drum track for this song!” And it’d be all shimmering hi-hats on top of everything. But because it was no one’s baby and no one was precious about it, we were like, “Let everyone do whatever they want, and whatever happens happens.” It’s not like Dan and I were like, “There’s no way those hi-hats are going on top of that song.”

I also remember Dan having sheets and sheets of lyrics, and realizing the music for his song was only five minutes long even though he had ten minutes of shit to sing. He was standing with a pen crossing shit out saying, “I don’t need that.” Usually, with songwriters, there’s a lack of lyrics—it’s one of the more difficult and annoying parts of making a song, speaking from my own experience and from others I’ve worked with. But Dan has so much of the stuff. He’s got that in him.

Carey had throat cancer in 2013, obviously he’s cancer-free now. He’s someone who’s been in your life for quite a while—what was that time like?

I was living in Helsinki at the time. I found out via email, in passing. He wrote a bit of stuff online at the time about it too, which I read. He never seemed too concerned with it. I think he was scared, but it’s not something that he and I talked about in great detail.

Carey and I have worked together a number of times, and I’ve liked getting to add my two cents to Frog Eyes, but for the most part we’ve never lived in the same town except for the couple of years I lived in Victoria. We’re pretty distant from each other, we’re not childhood friends or anything. I’m not saying we’re not close, I’m just saying that he only told me as much about it as he would any other old acquaintance or working buddy.

Wolf Parade, Expo 86 (2010)

At Mount Zoomer took us forever to record, because we just couldn’t get our shit together. By the time we finished it, we had no idea what it was. We knew it wasn’t anything like Apologies to the Queen Mary, so we weren’t surprised when the fans were like, “What the fuck is this?” We were like, “We don’t know!” So with Expo 86, the pressure of making a sophomore record was already gone. We’d already disappointed people, so we could just be ourselves.

That was also the first record where Dante DeCaro was a full-time member of the band. He was segueing into the band on At Mount Zoomer and he appears on it a few times, but for Expo 86 he was there for writing, recording, and the whole touring campaign. When I think about that record, I think about his influences and guitar-playing, and how it’s way more of a pounding rock record than the first two.

That has to do with having another loud, talented guitar player who’s opinionated in his musical stylings the same way Dan is. The way Dan is, I can hear his personality coming through his guitar, and that’s the same way Dante is too. But they’re two different people, so you have two different styles together in one song. It’s not like I wasn’t doing the same thing on keyboards too, so there’s so much going on. Sometimes Dante played bass, but a lot of the time I played left-handed bass.

The four of us recorded it together in Hotel2Tango in Montreal, which is a famous studio. It was the first and last time we ever recorded there, which is funny because it’s such a go-to place. The engineer was Howard Bilerman, who’s a great guy, and we didn’t have a producer so in that instance he produced and engineered.

Howard followed the Steve Albini school of thought of just putting the notes on tape and mixing it. To his credit, that record didn’t need a bunch of distortion or effects because there was so much going on anyway. Besides keyboards, I was playing this thing called the QChord, which Sunset Rubdown also used for a while. It’s like a digital autoharp full of these weird tweak-y synth and organ sounds that you can strum with this ribbon on the side. It’s on “Ghost Pressure.”

There’s some insane songwriting on that record, like “Cave-o-Sapien.” I don’t ever listen to Wolf Parade, but I have a memory of the whole band listening back to that stuff years later, probably after the hiatus, and just being like, “Why is this song still going? Why didn’t we end it two-and-a-half minutes ago?” I don’t know why that impulse was in us at the time, but it was a collective impulse—it wasn’t one person’s doing. These structures would just get built on, and songs would go longer than they needed to go.

It’s one of the reasons why our records since then have been more succinct. We realized that proggy lengths aren’t a great quality to have when you’re writing rock songs. Some people like it, but. We hardly ever play “Cave-o-Sapien” onstage because we could never get through it. Arlen would be dead by the end of it, and I’d be playing the bass with my left hand with these sixteenth-note basslines all over the place. We’d be cramping by the end of the song, so we cut it off the setlist. We’re too old, man.

When Wolf Parade went on indefinite hiatus after Expo 86, did you think that was it for the band?

I felt like it was probably it. It felt like we were done. I feel like we felt like we weren’t gonna make a good fourth record together, and I think we were right. If we had made a fourth record in 2012, it would’ve been shitty because we were all so distracted and enamored with our separate side projects at that point.

For me, Moonface was starting. Dan was pretty deep in Handsome Furs at that time, and he just wanted to go on these world tours with his then-wife. They had this great setup where they could go anywhere because it was just two of them playing electronics. He wanted to do that, and who could blame him? I wanted to do other things.

Musically, I was not satisfied with Wolf Parade anymore. I wanted to do weirder stuff, for lack of a better word. We all knew our hearts weren’t necessarily in it, and there was more and more head-butting with touring. We were doing too much of it and getting sick of each other, as it happens with any band. We made the wise decision to call it, and we could’ve easily said, “We quit,” but somewhere deep down we knew we’d want to pick it up again. Why cut the head off when we didn’t have to?

So we said it was an indefinite hiatus, and it turns out we were right. Now we’ve been back together longer than the first time we were together—not counting the pandemic, so I guess it works out all the same.

Moonface, This One’s For the Dancer & This One’s For the Dancer’s Bouquet (2018)

It’s a confusing one to think about, because it’s basically two records that I sequenced into one. I had the songs I did with Mike Bigelow on marimba, which was recorded years earlier for Jagjaguwar, and there was a completely different set of vocals on top of it. I mixed and mastered it and sent it to them, and at the eleventh hour I said, “Let’s not put out the record, I don’t like it.” This is back in fucking 2012. I said I liked the music, but I didn’t like the vocals, and Jagjaguwar were understanding and supportive, even though they’d funded the whole thing. They said “Let’s put it out when you’re ready,” and I wasn’t ready until 2016 or 2017.

Then I came up with the whole minotaur concept for a set of songs, but because the minotaur wasn’t me and it was the first time I’ve sang a whole concept record not from my own perspective, I didn’t want to have it as my own voice—which is how the vocoder came into play. I think the end result was cool, but I also didn’t think anyone wanted to hear eight songs of vocoder in a row. I didn’t want to hear that. I’d also made this other set of recordings with Ches Smith on drums and Matana Roberts on saxophone, and I wasn’t sure what I was gonna do with them—so I spliced them into one long record.

I also knew I wanted to put the name Moonface behind me, but I’d recorded these things in the mindset of Moonface, so I had the choice of killing the Moonface name and putting one of them out under my own name, or just getting it all out there at once. This is the rest of the existing Moonface material, here’s one long record, hope you enjoy it, this project is done.

That’s ultimately what I did, despite advice from people in the industry and friends. They said, “It’s two records, it’s gonna be too long.” They were right, but I had my reasons for doing it. I think it’s a cool record. I think it is too long, but the saxophone playing is amazing, and there’s a very specific vibe and tone to that instrument that not everyone wants to hear constantly. So I had to break that up a little. It’s a four-sided album, and each side is its own story so you don’t have to listen to it all at once—not that I ever listen to my own stuff, I’m just speaking for other people.‎

Spencer Krug, Twenty Twenty Twenty Twenty One (2022)

This is your second solo album under your own name. How did releasing it feel different from putting out Fading Graffiti last year?

It felt like hammering the nail all the way in. The first one was, “Oh, Spencer Krug put out a record under its own name,” and the second one is,” Oh, he’s really doing this.” I like it better than the first one, so that feels good too—it’s moving in the right direction.

It’s a no-pressure thing, the whole project. I feel old now, and at peace with who I am and what I do. I’m not trying to make it big, I’m just trying to pay the bills. If I can keep doing that while still making songs, I consider that a win, and that’s what this project is for me now. I don’t have to negotiate anything with anyone, I just do what I want, and if I can sustain that I think I’ve got it made.

Patreon was involved with this record—it’s a compilation of songs I put out through Patreon in 2020 and 2021. I did mix and remaster them, but by and large they’re the same songs. My Patreon supporters are very supportive and loyal, and a huge number of those people still bought the record anyway. It’s cool, it’s like a thing we all made together. That community plays a huge part in my ability to sustain myself as an artist—not only throughout the pandemic, but post-pandemic. Can we say that at this point?

I think it’s fine to say whatever, because no matter what, shit’s gonna go down the same way.

That’s true. I think my one regret about this record is that I didn’t plan on touring it. Because the instrumentation is so weird and sporadic, there was never a band involved—it was all home recordings. So I thought it was just for people to enjoy, and when I put it out I immediately was like, “I wish I could play this live.” The touring landscape is so competitive now, everything’s booked six months in advance at least.

But I did learn the whole record on solo piano so I can play the songs live, should the opportunity arrive. I did a livestream of the material, which was also fun. I recorded the piano versions when Wolf Parade was rehearsing in Portland in a studio called Hallowed Halls. They have a beautiful old Baldwin grand there, and they had a free day where I could go in and record all those songs. I just learned them all, so I didn’t have to rehearse anything, and the piano was beautiful and the studio was great.

Maybe I’ll do something with those recordings, and then I could go tour behind it. But I do think people would be like, “OK buddy, you’re really milking this record.”

I feel like your fanbase would probably just jump at the chance to see you live at this point.

Hopefully you’re right. But it’s like triple-dipping the songs, right? That’s getting cheeky.

That’s the name of the game with the music business since day one, though. You’d hardly be the most egregious example of triple-dipping.


There’s no overdipping in the music industry.

Nowadays, if you can get another helping of dip without hurting anyone, go for it.

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Jamie Larson