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INTERVIEW and NEW MUSIC: Kris Orlowski plays Gershwin

Photo Credit: Jenny Jimenez

Kris Orlowski has done it again. And by “it” I mean that he’s just emerged from left field with a brand new record in one hand and a monthly music series (curated by Orlowski) in the other.

The album, a reimagining of six George and Ira Gershwin songs, has Kris Orlowski teamed up with producer Nathan Yaccino and local composer Andrew Joslyn “who weaves orchestral strings through each of the new arrangements… [and] the trio reshapes the classic Gershwin repertoire through Orlowski’s cinematic, folk-driven sound.”

Listen to “Things Are Looking Up”, the first single from the Gershwin Sessions Volume One. The EP drops this Friday, October 3rd.

The OTHER cool thing Kris has happening is a monthly music series that will run for an entire year at the top of the Smith Tower. Orlowski is not only curating the series but he’ll be performing at each of the 12 shows and each show will feature a different, established guest musician to share the bill.

I had the chance to catch up with Kris Orlowski about this new project and what he has in store regarding his upcoming full length record.

the mixtape: This Gershwin project kind of came out of nowhere. What inspired you to re-imagine Gershwin, specifically?

Kris Orlowski: I heard about George and Ira Gershwin through a friend and music teammate in NYC. He was telling me about these brilliant songwriters from the 1920s and how cool it would be to cover one of their tunes.

After covering one of the songs, I realized how great the lyrics, arrangements and other songs were. So I decided to cover a few more and it soon turned in to a full project.

tm: Why did you choose to cover the songs that you did?

KO: My friend Keith actually picked them out for me. He’s a real pal. I asked him what other songs he liked and he picked a few that were more obscure. A lot of people cover “Rhapsody in Blue” and “I Got Rhythm”, I wanted to cover something a little different.

tm: Is this your first time covering another artist? If not who else have you covered? Talk about some of the challenges going into the recording of these songs.

KO: I covered “In Between Days” by the Cure with Andrew Joslyn on an EP a few years back, but besides that I’m not sure I’ve released any recordings, though I do have another cover in the works that might be out in the next few months. It’s kind of TBD at the moment.

There was a fear going into these recordings that we would create something that didn’t measure up, or took away from the integrity of the original songs. I think the Ryan Adams’ Taylor Swift covers are a good example of someone covering a song, but not really doing anything to it. Ryan basically just sang the song the way he would sing it. It’s definitely one way to do it, and I don’t know any Ryan Adams fans who don’t enjoy hearing him sing these songs, but my philosophy is if you are covering a song, you want it to sound different than the original, something besides your voice needs to be different — whether it’s the time signature, the orchestration, changing the melodies, or just updating the arrangement.

tm: You worked with local composer Andrew Joslyn on this EP. How easy/difficult was it working together to create the sound of the album?

KO: I wanted to clarify the process during this project. I actually teamed up with a producer named Nathan Yaccino who I’m currently in the studio with as we speak working on the next album. Nate’s really fun to work with because he’s been around music his whole life; he knows what works, what doesn’t. He knows how to build a song up as well as play all the instruments so that’s what we did with this project.

During each new song session, I would come with the skeleton of the song, any new melodies I had, and the chord structures, with my vocals really dictating the vibe of the song, then Nate would run with it. I would come back a few days later with those familiar feelings I feel at Christmas when I get to open a present, and listen to the drums, bass, guitars, and other elements that Nate built from a rough scratch into a full song. That’s where a lot of the magic happened. We would chat about what was working, then I would sing over the track —getting to really focus on how the vocals dictate the vibe of the song both at inception and as the final step in tracking.

That’s where Andrew Joslyn came in — we brought him in after doing a couple of songs and asked if he wanted to be a part of the project. After that, there wasn’t too much direction, because Andrew and I have a lot of trust between us. We’ve been friends and collaborators for a long time, and knowing each others sensibility and the amazing things that Andrew has done for countless songwriters in Seattle and beyond was all the peace of mind I needed. We basically gave Andrew the tracks and said “go to town”.

tm: Why did you choose the song “Things Are Looking Up” for the single?

KO: I enjoy the hope and whimsy of the lyrics of “Things Are Looking Up”. I’ve had an ongoing rule with covering other people’s songs where the lyrics stay basically intact and I try to change the rhythm, rewrite melodies or update the instrumentation to make it mine.

This song felt like it was the most accessible of the six song EP we put together and I kind of fell in love with our version of it. It feels like we have been going through some hard times collectively lately, and I think going into the fall, there is a bit of hope in the air, this felt like it catered to something a little bigger than the song and the project.

tm: You’ve started tracking your next full length album. What can you tell me about the new record?

KO: This new album teeters between straight up rock and a more Nashville folk sound. We have a new bassist and guitar player since the 2014 debut, so that’s changed the vibe a little. I’m also continuing to develop as a songwriter and was album to take a lot more time now that music is my job, to create songs. I’ve never in my life written so many songs for one album. There is a lot of music to listen to, and of course some surprises in store. I’m always trying to shake it up…

tm: Have you ever performed on stage in a play or musical at any point in your life? If so, did you enjoy that experience?

KO: Funny story, in high school I was into drama and my starring role was Harold Hill in the Music Man. Which was comical at the time, because I was also the drum major of the marching band and a varsity soccer player, so people had a tough time putting me in a box. I loved acting and performing, I get it from my dad who used to come to my class for show and tell and sing to kids. I was always very embarrassed, but later in life I learned I was the only one that was in knots about it, the other kids apparently loved my dad and his guitar.

tm: If Kris Orlowski was an action figure what accessories would you have?

KO: Probably a tour van. Right now that’s my only vehicle and I gotta say it’s not the best look for a 33 year old guy with a super 70’s mustache, but it definitely earns me respect on the road.

About the Author

Sean DeTore

Sean DeTore is the Associate Producer of KIRO Radio's The Ron and Don Show (weekdays 3-7). He's been with the guys for over 7 years.


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