Sitting on the couch at his Kent-area house, drinking a beer and sporting a Stooges T-shirt, singer-songwriter Ryan Kralik talks about his major influences (Pearl Jam, Neil Young, Nirvana). But the 10 songs on Desperate Measures tell a different story, one of love for nostalgic adult rock, laced with shimmering Americana ballads that might come from John Hiatt or Jackson Browne. And "Sometimes Sh*t Gets F*cked Up" is a nice Warren Zevon homage — think 2000's Life'll Kill Ya and his death anthem "My Shit's Fucked Up.")
"I was on a Warren Zevon kick about six months ago," says Kralik. "I listened to every Warren Zevon record ever made. And I'll sit in front of the computer with a guitar and record my own versions of these songs. I get into them, absorb them and, if I like them that much, it's going to have an influence."
Most of Desperate Measures veers away from Zevon-style satire to embrace a wide range of Midwest rock 'n' roll in the vein of Bruce Springsteen (or Bruce Hornsby, for that matter). Themes include wanderlust ("Can't Stay Here"), maturation ("Those Were the Days") and politics ("Economy"). "Long Way Down" could easily become a cathartic crossover radio hit, with Kralik's Bob Mould-meets-Bob Seger vocals howling over waves of plaintive piano, crashing cymbals and surging guitar solos. Credit must be given to J. Crypt, whose piano playing, drumming and production make Kralik's third solo album shine. It was recorded at Crypt's O.S.R. (On-Site Recording) Studio in Hiram.
"We spent three months mixing it," says Kralik. "I've never spent more than three days mixing an album. J. knows all the stuff you don't know about as a player. He pays attention to everything. But he's not the kind of guy that says, 'Let's jam for an hour and pick what's best.' He's like, 'Let's sit down and write down what we're doing.' That was a good change for me."
Kralik's sound has definitely grown over the past three years. In 2007, he released Night Driving, a late-night guitar-rock album focusing on politics, musical demons and bad relationships. That was his first full-length album since leaving his high-school band Eight in 2001. In 2007, he headlined and helped organize the Songs of Protest Kent State festival, while occasionally helping produce local bands like Perfect Circle (not to be confused with A Perfect Circle) and his other musical outfit Psychedelic Tranny. In 2008, he released an EP, Wasteland, eight songs of autumnal and acoustic folk. But Desperate Measures exhibits his most sophisticated sound yet.
"Attention to detail in the recording process — that's what's changed," says Kralik. "I'm the type of person who's naturally inclined to do a take and however it came out, that is the take — unless there's just a clear bunch of fuck-ups. That's how the Stooges would have made an album. That's how Nirvana would have made an album. Well, music's pretty sophisticated these days. On this one, we spent more time working out the songs — not just me showing up and saying, 'Hey, the song's done, everyone play it this way.'"
Backed by J. Crypt on drums and Spencer Draveky on bass, Kralik will play the entire album at the release show (he usually plays just five or six shows a year). Cincinnati's great roots duo Lost in Holland (on Neil Young's Vapor Records) will open.
"I went to a Simeon Soul Charger show, and they had free muffins on one corner of the stage, and on the other corner of the stage they had someone painting while they played with a choir," says Kralik. "I was like, 'OK, what am I going to do?' Free pizza on one corner of the stage, with someone peeing on the other corner? Unfortunately, I'm not sure Musica lends itself to anything too over-the-top and crazy."
Good songwriting will have to suffice.