THOUGHTFULNESS AND MODESTY are two of Sebastian Krueger’s most endearing qualities. But as we sit talking in a Williamsburg coffee shop, it quickly becomes apparent that the troubadour behind Inlets, a densely layered, classically influenced indie-folk project, sometimes has both in excess.
The multi-talented Krueger deftly superimposes intricate guitar progressions over twinkling banjos and effortlessly weaves together moody clarinets and elegant piano lines on his debut full-length Inter Arbiter, out this month. Nevertheless, he calls himself only a “fairly reasonable tinkerer” on each instrument. And when he describes his creative process, his selfeffacement comes sharply into focus.
“I seem not to have a holistic picture of things. I sort of build up songs with little discreet moments that I enjoy and pile them on to each other… I think a lot of people write a song and figure out how to arrange it later. But I actually work at it from the bottom,” Krueger says. “Maybe that’s weird. I actually don’t know if that’s weird. It sounds a little weird talking about it.”
But Krueger’s attention to detail has yielded a collection of hypnotic, textured songs with subtle complexity, and through his intuitive process, whether or not he fully embraces it, he’s ultimately able to channel his musical tangents into a coherent whole. Though he crafted much of the record alone in his Brooklyn apartment in whatever free time he could find after his day job, he often worked with a regular cast of characters, including bassist Nathan Lithgow and drummer Michael Resnick (both members of the electro-pop group ArpLine). And he called on a number of well-known collaborators, including Angel Deradoorian, who lends ethereal backing vocals to “Sunfed Shapes” and performed with Inlets before she joined the Dirty Projectors, and Beirut’s Zach Condon, whose signature horns pepper the album. Krueger also brought in violist Marla Hansen and cellist Maria Jeffers, from the string quartet Osso, whom he met when they all played with My Brightest Diamond.
Krueger began working on Inter Arbiter not long after releasing the Vestibule EP, his initial Inlets record, in 2006. And the first song he started working on for the album, “Bells and Whistles,” evolved over several years. The quiet, introspective piece starts off slow, with delicate piano, lightly plucked strings and gently swooping clarinets, and his smoothly resonant voice rises to a falsetto, then blends into a swell of horns. When asked about the initial inspiration for this song, he answers with characteristic caginess.
“I hesitate to be too forthright about some of the material, because I write lyrics in certain ways that I think are ambiguous, which I really like because that lets folks get whatever is personal to them,” he says, but then relents. “It’s about the conflict between faith and reason… It doesn’t really compute for me that a lot of people have this cognitive dissonance about faith and the mechanics of daily life.”
But perhaps the single greatest obstacle to Krueger’s own daily life, at least in terms of his pursuit of music, was until recently his over-reliance on reason. After years of toiling away on Inter Arbiter in fits and starts and having all of his musician friends encourage him to quit his job, which was always an impediment to recording and touring, he finally took their advice. He took a leap of faith and hurled himself into the great unknown of being a full-time bandleader who’s able to hit the road when the opportunity strikes, and he sees Inter Arbiter as the segue to this new life.
“It’s a down payment on being a creative person. I sort of felt like I’ve been squelching that for too long,” Krueger explains. “And this is a way of not waiting any longer. I don’t want to wait until I’m sure of everything. I think that’s elusive.”
Krueger readily admits that his tendency to overanalyze his own work was a major hurdle to finishing Inter Arbiter and ultimately led to the record’s title, which signifies “the space in which you stop putting judgments on yourself,” he says.
“It’s sort of about not having to decide what value this has for other people,” he says, “and letting them figure that out.”
>>INLETS April 23, Union Hall, 702 Union St. (at 5th Ave.), Brooklyn, 718-638-4400; 8, $10.