Q&A with genuine musical journeyman, Kris Lager - brings a feel good musical experience everywhere he goes

"Music unites us and allows us to see past our differences. It allows us to articulate our thoughts and feelings and convey them to each other. Music has advanced our awareness on issues of race, gender equality, the plight of the poor and so much more."

Kris Lager: Love Songs & Life Lines

A genuine musical journeyman, Kris Lager brings a feel good musical experience everywhere he goes. One of those rare and dynamic performers who deliver a combination of musical ability and charisma, Kris Lager will  make you want to dance, clap, and sing along creating a fun and interactive show laced with road tested songs, and contagious grooves. Based out of Omaha, Nebraska Kris Lager Band has been zig zagging the country spreading their brand of “Feel Good Funk & Heavy Soul” for over 15 years. Next month will release an album called ‘Love Songs & Life Lines’(April 24th, 2018). It was recorded at White Wall Studios earlier this year in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and mixed by Grammy Award Winning Producer, Jim Gaines (Santana, Van Morrison, Steve Miller, SRV). The album is a collection of love songs, and various heart tugging tunes featuring a more acoustic and Folksy/Americana side of Kris’ songwriting. The recording is a slight departure from their ‘Swaggering Rock n' Roll’ and Blues infused electric guitar grooves that make up a lot their 2016 release ‘Rise & Shine’.

Kris Lager Band is quietly establishing themselves as one of the most storied and treasured groups in the Midwest’s music scene.  They honed their skills for many years in and around Nebraska when in 2007 they were invited to hit the road as indigenous.  They backed up frontman and guitar hero, Mato Nanji for over two years and were featured on Indigenous’ Jamie Candiliro Produced (Ryan Adams, Willie Nelson) Vanguard Records release ‘Broken Lands’.  You might also recognize Kris Lager from working and touring alongside Andy Frasco & The U.N. The group covered 3 of Kris’ songs on their 2014 release ‘Half A Man’ and have made ‘Sunny Day Souldier’ a staple at their live shows. This year they also featured the composition on their Ruf Records released live album, ‘Songs From The Road’. The Legendary Bluesman, Tab Benoit is also a fan. Proclaiming “These guys are the real deal! Go see them whenever they come to your town!” He produced and recorded KLB’s 2013 release ‘Platte River Runaway’ at his home studio in Houma, Louisiana. Soon after they worked with Tab Benoit they went to San Francisco and recorded with Bay area funk maestros, Monophonics at their Transistor Studios. The result was 2014’s ‘Heavy Soul & Boogie Trance’ mixed by Orgone’s Sergio Rios. The release caught the attention of Ohio’s Colemine Records, who released two of the tracks as a 45 and also featured the release on their internationally distributed Soul Slabs LP.

Interview by Michael Limnios

Photos: Regina Lager, Celeste Knapp (Happy Garden Gnome) / All rights reserved

What do you learn about yourself from the Blues people and culture? What does the blues mean to you?

My first exposure to live music was the blues and the live blues music community. I hit a blues jam in downtown Lincoln when I was 16 and they were couldn't have been more nurturing and welcoming. In fact, the first time I played there, Chicago Blues Legend, Magic Slim was also sitting in with the house band. The host of the jam, Dangerous Dan Calkins put me up on stage with Magic after I played a couple of tunes myself and proved I could hang. I didn't realize it at the time but looking back it was very profound and inspiring to share the stage with a professional musician my first time out. It's as if it solidified the idea that my dreams could become a reality. Shortly after that I was introduced to The Blues Society of Omaha and they were the same. Great folks who loved live music and supported me greatly.

The blues to me is any emotional musical statement made out of a plea for mercy. That's the only requirement in my eyes...

What were the reasons that you started the music researches? How do you describe your songbook and sound?

My songbook and sound is about as eclectic as you will ever hear. From the beginning I started playing music fully immersed in the blues and guitar driven blues/rock.  I was also a huge Bob Dylan fan, initially because of how much Jimi Hendrix loved him, but I quickly fell in love myself and was enamored by the way Dylan could paint a picture in my mind with his lyrics. 

At some point in my life I have fallen in love with and played almost every style of music. From Funk, R&B, Soul, Gospel, Country, Reggae, Zydeco, Rock & Roll, Hip Hop, and even Pop Music. I have come to the conclusion that I am not and will not be afraid to play any rhythm or melody, and that truly is what music is. When you boil it down to the bone music is just rhythm, melody, and harmony. The sociological and cultural importance we put on the music is a beautiful thing for the music audience and listener, because they can feel connected and a part of something, but it can be a little debilitating for the artist.  I want to bust down those walls and bring people together.  If I'm gonna do that, it's gonna take a fearless, and non apologetic approach to my craft.

"If I could change one thing in the musical world it would be the competitive nature of the business. Artists are selling their souls for recognition. Being famous shouldn't be what drives their motivation."

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

There have been so many great gigs, and jams... Most notably the time my buddy, Rick Galusha, hooked us up with a studio gig with Mato Nanji, from Indigenous. It was 2006, I believe and it was a live in studio thing where about 100 people are in the audience and they leave with a CD of the performance. It was a great concept and a blast to do. Ronnie Baker Brooks even showed up and played a couple of songs with us. Phenomenal jam... Well, a couple of weeks later Mato called me up and asked if we wanted to go on his summer tour with him. We just got done with this crazy/ seedy bar gig in Wyoming where there were three bar fights and the door guy just choked out a guy. I was like, yes please, get us out of here... haha. So for about the next two and a half years we toured as Indigenous and even made a record together. We back up Mato on his Broken Lands Recording.

Another monumental jam in our history was when I met Andy Frasco. Our old bass player brought him into town and promoted Andy's Omaha show. He told me, 'You gotta meet this guy'. So, I went down the night before the show and met him. We swapped road stories for hours and really struck up a good bond. The show was very refreshing. Andy has a way of connecting with a crowd and getting them amped up. He plays into his vulnerabilities and opens himself up to an audience like no one else I've ever seen. We wrote a song together (Take Me Back to Lafayette) the next day and booked a recording studio in Omaha to lay it down (Make Believe Studios). He put the song on his next record, and we did a few tours together after that as well. Even recording with him on his Half a Man CD where he covered three of my tunes. 

Our studio session with Monophonics is another course altering moment for us. I hit up Kelly Finnigan after hearing their record. I was like this is the sound that I'd like to capture. They get a great warm and dirty analog sound that I love. We went to the bay area and made our Heavy Soul & Boogie Trance CD. We learned how they captured their sound and we hit the ground running to make our own studio and recordings with a lot of the same methods. We produced our Rise and Shine CD with a lot of the recording methods we learned from Monophonics.

What is the impact of Blues & Rock music and culture to the racial, political, and socio-cultural implications?

Music unites us and allows us to see past our differences. It allows us to articulate our thoughts and feelings and convey them to each other. Music has advanced our awareness on issues of race, gender equality, the plight of the poor and so much more.

"My fear for music is that people will lose sight of the fact that music is a tool of expression first and foremost. A powerful tool at that and one that should be respected." (Photo: Kris Lager on stage)

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I miss the human element of music. The imperfections of improvising, and the nuances of musicians playing with each other is definitely rare in pop music. Everything is glossed over and polished to the point of being sterile and homogenized. Which is what led me to the blues when I was a teenager. I was enamored with these raw, jagged sounds that I never really heard before growing up on MTV.

My hopes for music is that people will stop idolizing and worshipping musicians as superheroes and superhumans. There's nothing wrong with being celebrated and applauded but to be idolized and put on a pedestal is definitely something as a culture, I believe, we should try and steer away from.

I believe creativity is what makes us human. The arts in general, and singing, and dancing should not only be encouraged but taught to children as healthy ways of expression and mental stability. Art isn't reserved for the gifted. It is a gift for everyone to enjoy and take part in. I don't like it when people say they can't sing or dance. Everyone can sing and dance. Maybe not like others, but who cares. Do you, and use your body as a creative tool for happiness and defining who you are with no shame. To me, It's like saying I don't talk or walk when I have a voice that speaks and legs capable of walking.

My fear for music is that people will lose sight of the fact that music is a tool of expression first and foremost. A powerful tool at that and one that should be respected. My fear is that artists won't have the foresight to think about the effects their music will have on their audience. I believe life mimics art mostly because artists our the visionaries and creative drivers in a culture.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

If I could change one thing in the musical world it would be the competitive nature of the business. Artists are selling their souls for recognition. Being famous shouldn't be what drives their motivation. The only person an artist should be in competition with is themselves. I don't think The Voice, American Idol, or even the International Blues Challenge is good for art and music. It's entertaining sure, but at what cost? Music should be used to bring us together, and collaborate. Not compete and drive us apart.

What has made you laugh and what touched (emotionally) you worked with legendary Jim Gaines?

Jim has worked with some of the most influential and respected musicians of all time so anytime he would start talking about Steve Miller, Santana, or Stevie Ray Vaughan for example I was all ears. He told me a lot of studio tricks and techniques he has used. Those were my favorite stories. He nailed the mixes. I didn't even really have any criticisms. He would send me a track and I would think. Yup, that's it... It was a pleasure and a breeze.

"I believe creativity is what makes us human. The arts in general, and singing, and dancing should not only be encouraged but taught to children as healthy ways of expression and mental stability."

How has the Blues and Rock counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

I have been and obscure musician on the road for almost twenty years and have survived off of the kindness of countless  folks along the way. I have crashed on thousands of beds, couches, and floors. There is definitely a counterculture of folks who love music. Who will take in and care for musicians. I am living proof of it.

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

I have been blessed with lots of great people who have instilled some of their knowledge on me. My Dad is number one, obviously. His words still ring inside of me everyday. Dangerous Dan, who ran the first open stage I ever played at had one rule. 'Have Fun' and that always stuck with me. Magic Slim's brother and Teardrop bassist, Uncle Nick, told me 'timing is everything' and thats another one of those little nuggets that stuck with me.

Tab Benoit has also been a huge influence on me as well. We made a record together about 5 years ago and we have done numerous tours together as well.  We first struck up a friendship after we opened up for him at a Blues Society of Omaha show in Omaha. After the show, we hung out on his bus swapping stories, and listening to music he was producing. At the time, he was making a record for Dash Rip Rock. It had a great country sound to it and I had a bunch of country sounding tunes I wanted to record. So, I asked him if he would produce a record for us. He agreed and a few months later we were down in Louisiana making a record. Tab is probably the most confident person I've ever hung out with. Confidence and fearlessness have been what he has instilled on me. He didn't believe in doing things over and over in the studio. 'Don't think you got another take to do it right', he'd say. 'This is it' 

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

It would probably be in one of my favorite studios... I'd have a hard time picking between Stax, Muscle Shoals, Chess, and Sun Studios... If Wilson Pickett and Duane Allman were there I'd have to say Muscle Shoals. I love the Swampers. They are so funky. everyone of them... What a great band.. But then again if Albert King was with the MG's and Otis Redding had a session that night too I might have to pick Stax Studios for a day.

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