Rock-raised alt-folk kid aims to sing a different tune.
—by Sophie Silverstone
While you may associate Sundance Film Festival with the breeding ground for indie films, Sundance is also becoming a major hub for musicians looking to expose their music to new channels and new audiences. I, for one, was not expecting the crafty story-telling and musical authority of Vermont-based alt-folk artist Kris Gruen, who played a handful of shows in Park City last month in pop-up venues specially for Sundance including the ASCAP Music Café, The New York Lounge and the Coffeehouse Chateau.
Although he’s just one guy with a guitar onstage, his presence, his voice and his stories fill up the room as if he’s conjured the presence of his entire family.
“It’s become clear that we’re going to try to be here every year,” says Kris. Sundance is a great place for musicians to get music into film and TV and Gruen admits that Sundance is becoming more and more important for them each year, even more so than South by Southwest, the giant-scale conference of film, music and interactive media happening every March in Austin, Texas.
Gruen released his third album in 2013, New Comics From the Wooded World; think Andrew Bird, Ryan Adams and Iron & Wine. His lyrics are informed by the life of a traveling artist who is simultaneously a family man with young kids, breaking the stereotype that artists must compromise the two. Lyrics such as “Who’s gonna watch the baby if we’re both in the band” brings up an important question… do artists really have to sacrifice the joys of being a parent with a normal life for their pursuit of artistic success?
Coming from a family of artists, Kris grew up knowing “Art first, work first, kids learn how to deal,” as his father is a rock photographer and his mother a rock filmmaker. Kris spent his youth surrounded by artists such as John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Debbie Harry, The Ramones, The Rolling Stones and The Clash. From these examples, Kris realized at an early age that “great artists are normal people with normal problems.”
Clearly he saw deeper than the stereotypical rock-&-roll lifestyle seen by the public. His insight guides his path past that stereotype. “I don’t want to just keep repeating the same patterns before me because that’s supposed to be the way to do it, because that’s the cool way to do it; and drink away your worries in a club each night around the country because that’s what you do as a musician, you know.”
With the release of the new album, Kris expects to continue touring throughout this year. Meanwhile his wife (also a musician) and two daughters, ages three and eight, live in Vermont, where he returns to often, so not to miss out on his family life.
“This is the time in your career when you’re supposed to be broke and struggling. It’s not the time to have a family and a life somewhere. But I’ve done it very differently. I’ve created a place, and a way of supporting our place. I’m determined to prove that it can be done. And if I do, I’m really going to celebrate that and talk about it a lot.”