There’s a trajectory of sorts to the four tracks of Sleeping on the Woodlands, the new EP from the Alex Krug Combo. It doesn’t travel from point A to point B on a map but instead works its way from an internal landscape to an external one. “I want people to find their own narrative in that and find it applies to them in whatever way,” Krug says of her songs. “I’m not thinking, ‘I’m going to write a song about this.’ It just starts emerging, and I keep working with it. … I follow veins that feel true. Songs make me discover things about myself and about others.”
The band — Jackson Dulaney on lap steel, Zack Page on upright bass, Kyle Samples on electric guitar, Bill Berg on drums and Rachel Gramig providing harmony vocals — will be joined by cellist Isabel Castellvi for a release show at Ambrose West on Sunday, Sept. 15.
The songs on Sleeping on the Woodlands were written at different times, but when it came time to select tracks for the recording, these four “were friends, they wanted to hang out together,” Krug says. “For me, it’s a little bit for the outsider. ‘Woodlands’ and ‘Overboard” are for those who’ve been put on the margins.”
“Arguing Wings” taps into some of the angst that can come from being marginalized, Krug says. And “Merriment,” which uplifts the end of the collection, is a remake from Krug’s previous eponymous trio. That song, she reveals, “feels old, but ‘fun’ old. … It feels like it belongs to this project.” She credits Berg for the energy he brings through his percussion: “The drummer drops the vibe.”
Krug was introduced to Berg, whom she describes as a former “sick fusion and jazz drummer in L.A.” through producer Michael Selvern, who produced Krug’s 2015 EP Gentle Spotted Giants, and returned to work on Sleeping on the Woodlands, which was tracked at Echo Mountain and engineered by Julian Dreyer.
The EP is also a return to form for Krug, who points out that “so much has changed with music and streaming and the American attention span. The EP [format] feels good.” It also addresses the challenge of raising the money to pay for the recording process in an era when a band can drop $10,000 on making an album but can’t count on album sales to recoup that expense.
“We have a lot of gratitude for our Indiegogo backers,” Krug notes. “Whatever challenges there are, the fact that 100 people came forward and made this happen makes all the hard times fade.”
The EP format allows Krug and her collaborators to focus on quality over quantity and the possibility of putting out shorter collections more often.
If Krug has felt like an outsider at times in her own life — and her heartfelt songwriting suggests that such emotions come from personal experience — she has a gift for building community. There’s her multigenerational band, the intimacy of her live performances, and, for fans who follow her on social media, occasional opportunities for truly magical house shows.
Those who made it to Krug’s sweet garden party concert early this summer got to meet the musician’s beloved canine family member, Beast, who passed away recently. He lives on, however, in “Arguing Wings” where Krug sings, “Old brown dog, I wanna be like you. … Never second-guessing, never second-guessing.” There’s not a dog owner parent among us who doesn’t know the feeling.
And if the creative struggle is underscored by the challenges of publicizing and booking shows for an independent band — one that’s queer-identifying and fronted by a woman — Krug is quick to point to the deeper purpose of her work. “I think I’m here for the people who want to go a little deeper. I think I’m here for the real listeners,” she says. “The people I play with … are really concerned with their musicianship. We’re concerned with hanging out and playing music that’s really fun and true to us.”
She continues, “As a band, we really like discovering sounds that feel honest and good.”
WHAT: Alex Krug Combo album release show
WHERE: Ambrose West, 312 Haywood Road, ambrosewest.com
WHEN: Sunday, Sept. 15, 8 p.m. $11 advance/$14 day of show/$20 VIP