Tucked into the middle of Indiana indie musician Kevin Krauter’s second album, Full Hand, is a song called “Surprise,” which, being as dreamlike and borderline-hypnotic as the rest of the album, doesn’t disrupt the flow of things on first listen with anything besides an effortlessly sweet chorus melody and a deft key change late on. But picking apart Krauter’s lyrics seems to reveal something blackened and biblical: “Sweat on the glass burning holes in my hand / I don’t wanna believe in a new communion / Pour out the wine taste the blood in my breath.”
The lyrics, Krauter assures me over the phone from Colorado where he’s spending time with his girlfriend before an appropriately blissful-seeming day of snowshoeing, aren’t as troubling as they seem on the page — not an outpouring of guilt and misery. Instead, as he does through much of Full Hand, Krauter is joyfully repurposing the music and language he absorbed as a kid. In this case, that means borrowing language from a church he no longer believes in.
Krauter, two years removed from his debut album Toss Up, lives with his parents in Indiana, in the same house where he grew up with his six siblings. This puts him in an interesting position. Few 25-year-olds share a worldview with their families, but Krauter was raised in the church and home-schooled until high school, so moving away from his faith as he has done over the past decade magnifies those differences. It also puts him back among memories of a past life, which is part of what makes Full Hand (out today via Bayonet) such an interesting listen. As he digs into the guitar music of his youth (he cites Grizzly Bear and Arcade Fire as teenage influences, but I swear I hear a strand of Sugar Ray on the gorgeous “Patience”), he also confronts his own upbringing without much resentment. In fact, he seems utterly at ease with his past at points, singing on “Pretty Boy”: “Look ahead, say I see me now / Smiling at what used to stress me out.” On record and over the phone, Krauter speaks about moving away from his faith — and coming out to his parents as bisexual, as he did last month — as liberating and even thrilling experiences.
The FADER: There are points here where you seem to be going back into your childhood and mining memories. How difficult is it to go back in time and try and pick those things out, and why now?
Kevin Krauter: That's just where my head’s at, and one thing that probably makes it easier to tap into is that I live with my parents, in the same house that I've lived in my whole life. When I dropped out of school to start touring I just moved back home. I've been living there with my parents. In some ways it feels like suspended adolescence, like I'm still in high school, still in middle school, elementary school, still hanging out in the same house, in the same place and neighborhood, the same town that I've always been.
Sometimes that gets me down. But for now it's nice. Instead of being apathetic about it like I was at the start when I first moved home, I'm like: This is part of me, and this is who I am, and experiences throughout my whole life inform who I am now.
Your relationship with your parents must be pretty good for you to share space with them like that.
I've been really blessed to have a good relationship with my whole family growing up. We were all homeschooled for the early part of our life, and then went into high school one by one. I'm pretty different from the rest of my family in a lot of ways, and I think that's something that's really informed a lot of the lyrical content of this album — just coming to terms with how I see myself in context with my family and the people that I've grown up around my whole life. Going through your early 20s, you start cementing your own idea of who you are, your own identity — and that can present a stark contrast with what your life has looked like up to that point.
It’s coming to terms with that, with the juxtaposition between who I am and my family. I see myself as different belief-wise, religiously. I'm not religious, but we grew up very Christian, and a lot of my family is still pretty serious about that to an extent. I made it clear that I'm not, and my parents are really understanding. I'm out to my parents, which was huge. It's funny being in a place that you've lived in your whole life, being around these people that you've been around your whole life, and then having to come to terms with your identity.
You were raised in the church, but it wasn’t a fundamentalist Christian upbringing, was it?
There are parts of it that were a little fundamental early on when we were homeschooled, but it wasn't anything harsh or strict. My parents were pretty devout for a long time, and we were going to church every Sunday and youth group every Wednesday. That was our whole community for the longest time, especially being homeschooled. I didn't have public school friends; all my friends were at church. Early on my mom got us involved in community theater, musical theater, and choir, so from really early on me and all my siblings were really into performing we were all really outgoing.
What branch of Christianity was it?
Just non-denominational, we weren't a part of any specific sect. From when I was in kindergarten to eighth grade we went to this big mega-church. Thousands of people attended, and it was this big stage setup, a Coldplay-style band playing every Sunday with lights and fog machines. When I was in eighth grade we switched to this smaller church that was really charismatic and Holy Spirit-heavy. People were really into prophesying, speaking in tongues, laying hands on people, healing, stuff like that. It was a pretty interesting change of pace. I got to play the drums on the church band there for four years straight in high school, which was sick. That was honestly the best practice I've ever gotten musically. Twice a week I was playing drums to a click track for hours at a time.
A few of the members of the staff were ex-Pentecostal, so most of the songs we played were like Hillsong United, classic worship tunes that everyone knows. But every now and then they would bring in some gospel tracks and real fast it would be: "We have our rock on. Hallelujah. Hallelujah", I'd have to learn these crazy drum parts from some gospel song.
That seems like the age, around late high school, when people start asking questions about religion and don't always find the answers. Was that when it was for you?
I was always really into music from an early age. When I got into high school I started listening to more indie music for the first time. I saw Fleet Foxes play on SNL and was like, Oh, this is sick. I got into them and found out about Grizzly Bear and Arcade Fire and all that stuff. I started getting into cooler music around then and I was on the internet more. I got a Tumblr. Spending more time on the internet, spending more time throwing myself into alt culture, definitely confronted me with [the fact that] what I think is cool and the people I look up to do not match.
I was part of a Christian campus ministry for two years in college. I dated someone for a year and a half that I met through that. We planned on getting married because all of our friends were already engaged. That's just what young Christians do. I had this week-long existential crisis where my head just snapped and was like, Break up with your girlfriend, don't get married.
I did, and eventually stopped going to church here and there, stopped going to Bible study. I felt way more freedom to actually be myself and believe what I want to believe.
At what point in that journey do you start talking and grappling with sexuality as well?
It was something that obviously I kind of knew my whole life, but growing up Christian will really obscure your reality in that regard. I never gave credence to it, never considered it to be a reality. I feel like if I was just not bisexual, if I was gay, I probably would've been a lot clearer early on that I was not being true to myself.
It's just recently that I was able to come out to my parents. As time goes on, the more you hide this huge part of yourself to the people that you live with, it just makes it harder and harder and weirder and weirder. But it just happened on impulse. I was driving my dad to the airport at 5 a.m. and just dropped a bomb, then got home and my mom was waking up for work and then I told her immediately. They're super, super supportive.
Was that in between these two albums?
No, that actually happened maybe a month ago.
Oh wow, congratulations! Knowing that, there are a couple of moments on this record where I wonder if you were thinking, When my parents hear this record they're going to read into this...
For sure. That made writing the songs a little more fun. It felt a little more dangerous in a way. It felt like giving myself an ultimatum, because I knew subconsciously that I just had to eventually. I'm going to be talking about it in interviews.
There's one song in particular that stands out to me in terms of your relationship with God, and that’s “Surprise.”
A lot of those lyrics and just the whole feel of that song came about when I was just living at home and spending a lot of time in my room by myself playing acoustic guitar again, which I hadn't done in a long time. I started playing the riff and singing this melody on top of it. The way the melody worked and how the chords sounded, it had an angsty tone. So I was like, Well what if I got some angst that I can explore?
I try not to hold any hostility towards my upbringing or anything like that. There are definitely parts of my past and the faith that I was brought up in that I obviously do not agree with, but just being able to look at that objectively and write an angsty, bratty song about it felt really nice. Employing the religious imagery that is in those lyrics, that's what my life was surrounded by growing up — my faith. They’re really heavy concepts that framed my life, and coming out of that is just kind of trippy. It brings weird, angsty thoughts up with it. To me personally, there's a lot of weight to that language when it's used in a song. I don't want to say it’s an anti-worship song, because that sounds really hardcore. But [I liked] turning it on its head and reclaiming all of that poetic language, all the weight that it represented in my mind for all of my life, and the baggage that it carried with it.