Patrick Krief’s A Hundred Thousand Pieces is one of the year’s finest records. It’s not immediately apparent; the songs are kind of like a slow-burning sensation. They’ll take a while to settle in your memory, but when that happens they may never leave.
Krief, guitarist for The Dears, previously released his solo work under the name Black Diamond Bay. He has returned to using his given name for the first time since the Take It Or Leave It EP (2007) for an album that is both deeply personal and devoid of a typical naval-gazing, “singer-songwriter” sound.
At a recent Toronto show, we spoke with Krief about his unique guitar work and a regrettable experience with film scoring.
From reading your bio and other interviews, it seems A Hundred Thousand Pieces came out of a dark period in your life.
It wasn’t like, “I’m suffering, I have to make an album!” It was more like I realized while recording that things I had written related to the problems I was having. The album almost got canned because I couldn’t deal with that. I had to say to myself, “Get the fuck up and finish this.” The therapy comes in working, in getting away from the bullshit in your life.
Did you have to wade through a lot of finished songs to make it?
There was a huge pile of songs, 50 or 60 over a year. I finished recording about 17, 10 made the cut. Right now I’m in another process of organization ... [pulls out his phone] I’ve got a ton [of song ideas] going on this thing. Whenever something pops into my head, I go, “Oh, shit ...” Now there’s a batch of about 49 songs, in the shape where it won’t take me long to finish them.
That’s interesting, because the most memorable moments on the album to me are often sounds, choices made during recording, not melodies or hooks.
Listening to the demos, it could’ve easily been a folk record. I run them through that test, you know, does it sound good with just an acoustic guitar? But I have had songs built entirely from arrangement, tried to go acoustic and thought, “This sucks.” Great songs can be built [in-studio], too.
Was it hard to find a band that could recreate such atmospheric music?
It was terrifying. Those first few rehearsals, trying it with the wrong guys, like, “Oh, brother, this is never going to work.” I’m a romantic person in that sense — the first person that knocked on my door and said, “I want to be a part of this,” I really wanted to make it work with him. After five or six weeks of rehearsing I started to get the blues, but it took another person to say, “Patrick, this guy sucks,” for me to find someone else. I got thicker skin about that.
String section aside, you played almost all the instruments on the album. Were there any you had to learn as you went?
Well, the drumming was the hardest part. I’ve always thought of myself as a pretty good drummer but I had one day in the studio to record 17 drum tracks — even for a pro, that would be hard. For me, it was kind of physically and mentally crippling.
For younger people who want to learn how to play music, would you recommend becoming proficient at a number of different instruments as you seem to be, or focusing your energy on becoming exceptionally good at just one?
I would say get really good at something first. Once you have a solid foundation, a root in music, it’ll be easier to understand other instruments — relating a piano part to the guitar. You have to be able to use your ears.
There are a few unidentifiable sounds, a recurring tone on “Love Without Fear” stands out in particular. Did that come from knowing your instrument so well and getting bored of traditional guitar sounds?
I love the guitar. I just think I’m done with that “cock-rock” guitar playing — big tone, yeah! Big solo! If I do those solos I want them to sound angry, like the guitar is screaming, not like “I’ve been practicing!” I don’t know if I set out to make any strange sounds, but I had so many melodic ideas, I was mixing so many guitar tracks, I found it just didn’t sound like guitar anymore. On “Love Without Fear” there’s a track that’s six acoustic guitars, all capoed in different places ... But that sound [you referred to] is a Chinese violin mixed with mellotron and guitar.
What were you listening to while writing or recording?
I don’t listen to music when I’m writing. It’s high traffic [in my brain] already, I want to shut it off. But I’d been to shows, touring with other bands so I was exposed to sounds but I [got more inspiration] from conjuring up images in my mind.
Have you done any film score work?
Yeah. The last one I did ... an indie film, I won’t say what it was. It was a very frustrating experience. I’d done the score in a few weeks, was happy with it but the director was like, “Um, can you change this and that ...” She kept fuckin’ flaking out. I figured she wanted me to just copy the temp track music in the film, cut-up music from American Beauty. I just came out and said, “You want me to fucking rip this off?” and she’s like, “If you could make it very similar that would be great.” So I said, “If you want something else, pay me again.” We eventually went with this crappy score I put together in three hours. At the 11th hour the producers heard my original score and said [to the director], "What the fuck are you doing? Why did you change it?” I don’t know what they used, in the end. I never watched the movie. So please, give me another film project to work on. I love the idea of matching music to images.