Catch up with folk-rock singer-songwriter, Jo Kroger, check out her new single "Telephone Call", and look for her sophomore EP, The Simplest, out tomorrow.
What got you interested in music?
Jo Kroger: I've been making music forever [laughs]. I come from a pretty musical family and I studied a lot of music as a kid because I went to a creative performing arts school. I started writing songs as a young teenager with my brother and we had our first band towards the end of high school and I played with a few different groups after that and moved up to New York and just kept making music. I got pulled in with the music scene up here, with the open mic scene and stuff like that, and started meeting a lot of people that really inspired me and a couple people that really pushed me along and started writing a lot more and eventually started recording. [Laughs] I've just been making music forever, seriously.
Do you remember the first song you wrote that you were happy with?
Oh my god, that's such a great question [laughs] because I thought you were going to say, 'do I remember the first song I wrote' and I was going to say, 'yes! It was awful!' [laughs]. It was so terrible and I remember it so clearly. The first song I was really, really pretty proud of I still play today. It was really indicative of the time when I took writing out of being something I did on the side - when I was younger I went to church and played there and played with my brother - and it's really when I took ownership of it that I wrote this song and it changed the game for me, really. It was about how you try things and you get so excited and then you fail and then the next time you get excited you sort of have this little voice in your head that's planning to fail and so you maybe don't get as excited. That song was about being inspired and being excited and not wanting to give up this time, not wanting to sell myself short this time.
Which bands or artists have you been influenced by?
It's so hard. I said recently to somebody that I had this really precocious, pretentious, little goal when I was a fourteen year old that, if I wanted to consider myself a musician, I had to like something from every genre and I think, when people ask what influenced you, they're asking, what do you sound like, and I don't think those are connected necessarily all the time, for me. But, I can tell you, when I was little, Sgt. Pepper by The Beatles was on all the time, James Taylor was on all the time, Elton John, the Man of La Mancha soundtrack [laughs]. Then, as a teenager, it was a lot of punk and rock, but my dad used to play folk songs on the edge of my bed when I was a little girl and I think that's the through line that really keeps it all together, those stories mixed with Ella Fitzgerald with Janelle Monáe with folky songwriters like Nickel Creek or Joni Mitchell.
What current artists have you had on repeat?
I love everything Janelle Monáe puts out, I think she's flawless. Bowie just passed and we're all very, very sad about that, so he's been around forever but this new album from right before he passed, Blackstar, is just incredible and I love it so much; I think it's super inspirational. St. Vincent is really incredible. Who else do I have on repeat? I'm really into a lot of playlists that get suggested at this point because I feel like I learn a lot of new stuff that way.
How would you describe your sound?
I once read in somebody's Wikipedia entry, it said, melancholic pop folk with elegant melodies, and I was like, 'oh, that's me, that's my thing!'. It's very story and personally driven and it's really pop folk with dreamy roots, but I'm always inspired by other sounds so you'll always hear an edge creeping in. I'm somebody who wanted to be a punk rocker at heart but turned out to be a folk songwriter [laughs].
Your songs are pretty fluent on their own, but could you tell us about the inspirations for your single "Telephone Call"?
Oh, sure. It's really about how those close to people who abuse substances end up with the physical scars. I think there's this idea that people who abuse substances are trying to do it because maybe they have depression or maybe they have self-loathing that they're trying to get out of themselves with this self abuse but, very specifically, it had to do with my experiences with alcoholism and friends of mine experience's with alcoholism impacting their lives. It tells a very real story - whether it's mine or other people's - about choosing to move on from that experience and it was a cool writing experience for me because I had never written a song the way I wrote this one. It was neat because you have this juxtaposition of a telephone conversation with the mother that's just the major part of the song and then flashing to current day; it's sort of cinematic, but it's got this really laid-back vibe that almost sounds like it could be a background song, like you could listen to it and not know it's about pretty harsh stuff. That flashing back and forth in view was really the best way I had to reconcile with what had happened in my life and what was happening in the lives around me. I don't think of myself as an issue songwriter, I feel very passionately about a lot of issues, but I think sometimes they can get watered down if you get preachy in your songs so I shy away from that, but this came out and I wanted very badly to tell people that they weren't alone and I let the story stand for itself.
Could you tell us more about your new EP, The Simplest?
The last EP was more straightforward folk Americana, you would put it on on a roadtrip - I mean, hopefully you listen to this one on a roadtrip too [laughs] - and it was just a little more of this straightforward folk vibe where, with this, the producer, Dalton Deschain, and I really wanted to bring edges of all of the different music that inspired me and inspired him - it's interesting and challenging and fun - into these songs. They still have a lot of story at their heart, they still have a lot of really straightforward songwriting, but I wanted to bring some different sounds into it and I think it came out with a really cool indie rock flavor on the singer-songwriter songs. "The Simplest", the actual title track, was really fun as soon as we decided we just wanted it to sound like a classic rock song about the first love falling to pieces, I think we had a lot of fun producing that. There's some darker, more personal stuff like "Telephone Call" and "Ruby Slippers" that are about loss and striving through and there's lighter stuff like "The Simplest" or "Smoke" which are also about pushing through when you get knocked down but in a much more lighthearted way.
What do you hope your listeners take away from your music?
I've always said that in hitting the crux of a problem in my life, in those moments, I find myself laying backwards on my bed, staring at the ceiling, oftentimes listening to music and just finding that piece that resonates with me, that little nugget of truth - even if somebody's experience is completely different - having that moment of feeling connection or sharing is really, really special to me and really crucial to me and I hope that, when people listen to my music, in that moment, they find something in there that tells them that they are not alone. Somewhere someone is feeling something, maybe not the exact same, but something similar and they're not alone.
Is there anything you'd like to add?
I hope everybody enjoys it and I'm excited for whatever comes after this, but this has been a long time coming. It's been an almost three year project because of some of the losses that are on the album and are a part of that story and I'm just really looking forward to having it out there in the world instead of hiding it and sitting on it and keeping it for me.