This week’s rock column was going to be a simple review of Madison-based musician Southerly’s latest record, “Best Dressed and Expressionless,” but that seemed inadequate. In attempts to fully appreciate this dangerously ambitious artist, I saw that the story behind Southerly’s music speaks volumes about the kind of passion and drive that is becoming more and more rare in the modern music scene.Southerly — aka Krist Krueger — began his musical career in his hometown of Fon du Lac playing in bands and promoting shows as a teenager. After high school the young musician migrated to Madison to further his career and have a hand in a larger musical community. Soon thereafter, Krueger hit the road for three years straight. “I was always envious of bands that toured full time,” Krueger said, “so when my lease was up rather than try to find a new place, I decided to just hit the road and start touring.”
Without a computer, and with only an assortment of calling cards as means of communication, Krueger moved from state to state, show to show, steadily gaining ground with each stop. With only gas and food to pay for, the homely troubadour toted his music around as his sole possession and propulsion for the next three years.
During this time, Krueger hooked up with a couple of booking agencies but eventually decided to start his own booking agency, named the Crow Agency. While touring and promoting his own music, Krueger also books tours for some 15 bands from all over the country, including the Canadian-based Faunts and Minnesota’s Clair De Lune.
“I saw the way [booking agents] were doing things from my own tours,” Krueger said. “I started making my own contacts, and being more familiar with venues. I knew I could do that for other bands.”
Southerly’s most recent tour was Krueger’s first with a live band. The tour concluded with a less-than-glorified but nonetheless momentous show at Oshkosh’s New Moon Caf. The soothing acoustic songs on “Best Dressed and Expressionless” rocked a little harder but granted themselves the same sincerity and sweetness through Krueger’s smooth guitar playing and discreet vocals.
While his music has the sound and artistic confidence of a seasoned songwriter, Southerly’s music has a darker quality to it — a type of weathered sincerity that only comes from a musician married to his music. The risk-everything approach Krueger’s taken in promoting and playing his music reveals itself in his performances as well as the songs themselves. From the sweet lament of “Naomi Ruth” to the bitter swaggering of “Choke,” the recording of “Best Dressed” captures the mood of each song and milks it to its last delectable drop.
To all the East/West Coast Lawrentian hipsters longing for the raw musicianship of their respective hometown rock scenes, rest assured that Krueger — among other Wisconsinites — continues to pursue the DIY dream straight to the top. With his next record “The Storyteller and the Gossip-Columnist” slated to be released later this year on Fall Records, Southerly shows no signs of slowing down in his no-holds-barred pursuit of success. This kind of pursuit, to Krueger, is its own type of success and it’s quite a remarkable thing to see come to fruition on stage or on an album.
Check out Southerly’s Web site at DharmaKayamusic.com