AL KRYSZAK: A Refugee of Any Era

Al Kryszak

Al Kryszak from Buffalo, New York has been composing music for theatre and film for over 25 years, but the composer has still managed to manage a solo career releasing music that’s personal and relevant. His new solo album is titled ‘Soft Clowns of the Sea,’ and is scheduled for the February 2nd release. In a new interview for Prog Sphere, Kryszak talks about the upcoming album, the circumstances that inspired it, and more.

Describe the musical vision propelling your upcoming album Soft Clowns of the Sea.

Soft Clowns… is a guitar instrumental and song collection dealing with the current ‘human climate change’ in America. The baritone electric, fretless bass & acoustic guitar tracks chronicle a father calming his son as they drift off in the night sea, from a destroyed past to a future as permanent foreigners. When something stirs in night water, he jokes to his kid that it’s just “clowns in the sea”, to keep him quiet.

What made it the right time to pursue that vision?

Soft Clowns… was born in the first month of Trump on America. “Time Without Guilt” (first-written but last track) was written after a friend in NY City was harassed by ICE Police on the way to her job, pushed against a wall because she was “not quite white” as the song goes. I directed a documentary this year: “Who Made You In America”, and one stop was the “Immigration Holding Center” on the Boston docks, where Italians were held in the mid-1800’s due to their assumed danger to America. I thought of any refugee coming to America & the convenience of time: OK if you’re Irish, German, English or Polish like me, but we draw the line because some frightened white boys emerged like tapeworms from Right Wing internet holes, to find shelter & power in the Oval Office.

Al Kryszak - Soft Clowns of the Sea

Tell me about what you’re communicating with the album cover.

As an artist, I usually do my own design to keep it close to the music, but this time, I told my youngest son, Neil, that I fired the art director (me) because I’m tired of his recent work. So Neil, an internationally acclaimed photographer, sent 7 incredible night shots from the Pacific Ocean: exposed for long periods because he was looking at nothing but blackness. I saw these images as a universal shoreline and knew it provided a perfect allegory to the universal time frame: a refugee of any era, from any shore.

What was the creative process for Soft Clowns of the Sea like?

It was a very focused solo album, & liberating at the same time. The first record produced completely in my Down East Maine studio.

I recorded Mike Brydalski from our Buffalo band, REV, months earlier… just sketches of songs played for him on my Danelectro baritone guitar: hardly finished thoughts. And he somehow predicted future dynamics & changes & played great drum tracks on thin air for me to take back to Maine. Then, I played dozens of takes of baritone, acoustic guitar, fretless bass, piano & organ. After I finished the lead vocals, Maine folk legends Duane Ingalls & Stephen Copel contributed harmonies, so it’s all performable live.

My dog sat there, and I gave her ‘quieter bones’ to chew on, and my wife Joyce, an awesome songwriter, singer & writer, provided merciless yet invaluable critiques of the weaker vocal takes.

Speaking of the album’s creative process, provide some insight into it. How did you document the music while it was being formulated?

As I wrote the songs, I would just pull the car over in Coastal Maine, and yell something or play a beat into the iPhone. Despite being a guitar player & ‘singer’, playing the beat on the steering wheel established the feel of some songs.  As far as documenting the process, I got a lot of exercise running up & down the stairs to my car’s CD player, to double-check the drums, especially kick, & make sure it showed up for the fight.

The upright electric fretless bass kept me honest, setting aside pick technique & getting even closer to the strings & neck board in songs like “Sometimes No Sound”. The FX on “Soft Clowns…” are real, right through the wintertime window pane. The wind howled on February mornings & the frogs (peepers) went nuts on March nights, so I gave up & just let them all be in the recording. (The first track starts with frogs.  “Sun In My Eyes” has constant wind through the mic).

Al Kryszak (Photo by John Guinane)

Al Kryszak (Photo by John Guinane)

Is the dynamic flow of the pieces carefully architected? 

The songs with lyrics are like pillars, suspended by the instrumental tracks. Like everyone else, I guess you use your instincts to shape the order & pace of songs. Growing up on Prog & double albums, I finally sequenced the songs to set the listener off from an immigrant’s shoreline (instrumental) to the final landing song: “Time Without Guilt” (a hit on trump’s use of ICE as a secret police force supporting his personality disorder). I directed an accompanying video for the track, compositing archival government footage from the last US Civil Rights crisis.

As an album freak, used to the 2-sided format, the first half of the CD descends in tempo & pitch, sinking from an aggressive acoustic funk down to the lowest depths of baritone electric guitar blues. The second half gradually rises in intensity as you get frighteningly closer to your goal, then it blows out on Track 18 with a drum & baritone guitar ‘duel’.

Which bands or artists influence your work?

I have been devouring the Prog bands I grew up on as a 1970’s aspiring guitarist. Steve Hackett and Pete Townshend took me from guitarist to composer, where I followed the trail into experimental concert and film music for Turner Classic Movies, KINO & Lincoln Center. Neil Young and John Lennon taught me to say absolutely anything you sincerely believe, and Floyd, Crimson and Genesis illuminated ways to take listeners on a transformational voyage with nothing but headphones for the trip.

Do you see your music as serving a purpose beyond music?

I hope it means something to someone, but I’ve been writing in a void for so long that I couldn’t say for sure. Some of my older songs like “Lost Girls of Juarez” try to represent people without a voice. “Sun In Your Eyes” from the new CD, and other tracks, reference God, not the god of porn star-hiding, teenage mall-chasing, white supreme-cysts, but the other one.

What are your future plans?

A Work for Guitar & Orchestra and performing the new release. And thank you for supporting independent artists and looking for Prog in the present tense.

Soft Clowns of the Sea is out this Friday, February 2nd. For more information visit Al Kryszak official website.

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