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Pure Rock Elation

Kris Lager Band Releases New Album
By Kyle Eustice

According to guitarist/vocalist Kris Lager, “boogie trance is the mindset of openness and living inside the groove. It’s a nice steady breath.” It’s also part of the title of the Kris Lager Band’s new album, Heavy Soul and Boogie Trance. Comprised of keyboardist Jeremiah Weird, drummer John Fairchild, bassist Brandon Miller, and Lager, the Kris Lager Band is preparing for the album release party on February 13 at The Hive. It’s been a long road for the group. The seasoned musicians have mastered their instruments through years of practice and perseverance. Often compared to The Black Keys, it’s a comparison Lager doesn’t seem to mind, as he calls them “one of the bands in the world.” Kris Lager had some time to discuss everything from falling in love with rock-n-roll to spirituality and what makes a great guitar player.

When did you first fall in love with rock-n-roll?
That’s a great question. I grew up loving music. I remember loving MTV back when there was music videos on. I used to tape all of my favorite videos on VHS and replay them while having dance parties with my sister and friends. So I grew up with the mainstream pop influence and then around the house my dad would blast classic rock and blues records. Through my dad, I discovered Jimi Hendrix and bought The Ultimate Experience: Jimi’s Greatest Hits when I was 13. It changed my life. All I wanted to do was sit around and replicate those sounds on guitar. I remember getting grounded for shoplifting when I was in the 8th grade. I was grounded for a month, and thank god I was because I picked up the guitar during that time. I never really put it down either. I’d go to school in the morning and daydream about playing guitar as soon as I got out of class. I’d get home and play until my mom told me to go to bed and turn it down. My dad also played and we’d jam for hours on in. He’d play the rhythm and I’d play leads for five hours straight a lot of nights. Through Jim,i I discovered Bob Dylan, Albert King, SRV, Freddie King, Muddy Waters, and a host of others. I just kept digging and digging deeper into American music. It’s funny because I haven’t listened to a lot of guitar players in the last seven or eight years. I suppose because I have my favorites and I’ve studied them fairly extensively. I’ve been listening to a lot of soul and funk music and you can tell by the songs I’ve been writing. Don’t get me wrong I go back and re-visit a lot of my favorite blues artists like Mississippi John Hurt, Magic Sam, and Taj Mahal. But you are more likely to catch me listening to Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Van Morrison, or Ray Charles. I got my favorite classic rock artists like CCR, The Stones, The Beatles, Allman Brothers, and most of the ‘60s and ‘70s bands, too.

You have such an authentic rock “sound.”
The reason I think we have such a ‘rock’ sound is because a lot of our songs are guitar driven; I love a good riff. I love writing music and finding a unique riff on the guitar. We are a very riff based band. Plus, I love screaming and crying guitar solos and you don’t get anymore rockin’ than that.

I’ve been hearing your name for YEARS around Omaha. Let’s start at the beginning. How did you first get into making music?
When I started playing guitar, it wasn’t with any expectations to get on stage. In fact, I was a pretty shy kid. It took me years to even sing in front of people. I remember when I told my dad I wanted to start a band. It was shortly after watching Austin City Limits one night. I was addicted to that show; that’s how I spent my Saturday nights taping ACL on VHS. I’m pretty sure my folks still have my collection in their basement. My dad said go for it and my parents took me to an open stage in Lincoln, Nebraska at Duggan’s Pub. That’s where I met and played with Chicago Blues Legend, Magic Slim. It’s pretty crazy that my first time on stage was with such a musical giant as Magic. I was 16 and I was hooked. I wanted to be on stage, playing guitar as much as I could. I had the good fortune of recording with Magic Slim before he passed away. We made up a song in the studio called ‘Kris Done Took My Woman’. It’s on our Swagadocious album. When we were out in California on tour and on our way to record ‘Heavy Soul & Boogie Trance’ Magic passed away. I wanted to dedicate a song to him during those sessions so we recorded Leavin’ Trunk in dedication to him and our love for his music. It was a song that I learned from Taj Mahal and gave it a ‘Magic’ twist with his staple Chicago Groove. It made the new record. Shortly after playing Duggan’s Pub at 16 I joined my first band and met Jeremiah Weir at band practice. He joined my band a couple of years later and we’ve been touring together ever since. I started Kris Lager Band at the age of 17. At the time I wanted to play with Brian Gerkensmeyer, THE Bassist on the scene. He just got off of the road touring with Baby Jason & The Spankers. So, I went to his weekly gig at M&N Sandwich shop in Lincoln and asked him to join my band. He called me up to jam with him and after a song he says to the audience. Ladies and gentleman this is the start of the Kris Lager Band. I was 17 and thought: That has a good ring to it.
Here I am at 32 and still using Kris Lager Band as a vehicle for my songs.

I like the way Heavy Soul and Boogie Trance begins. The song “All Strung Out” comes in with a bang then leads into the very Black Key-esque song, “Take Care Of You.” Is this the first time you’ve been compared to the Black Keys and if so, why do you think that is?
Oh no. They are one of the biggest bands in the world. Of course we are going to be compared to them. I love the Black Keys, especially their early stuff. I have definitely been influenced by them. I remember our former bassist Matt Evans bringing ‘Thickfreakness’ to band practice one day and saying you Gotta hear this!! I thought Dan’s voice was great and the riffs were unique. At the time I had no idea who Junior Kimbrough was. I learned through them! I remember saying in 10 years these guys are going to be phenomenal. 10 years later they were the biggest band in the world!
Dan and I are both bluesy singers and we both love crunchy, dirty guitars.
Patrick Sweany has been an influence on me as well. Patrick and Dan (leader of Black Keys) grew up together in Akron, Ohio. Dan actually quit playing bass for Patrick when the Black Keys started blowing up. I first met Patrick in Cleveland in 2007 when he played a show with us at The Beachland Ballroom. I told him, I like your sound. It’s reminiscent of Black Keys and he said that Dan actually produced his latest record, which is an amazing record and definitely worth a listen. It’s called Every Hour is A Dollar Gone. In 2013, Patrick played my wedding and his song “Frozen Lake” is my wife’s and my first dance.

I really like the pull out quote on your website where you say something about lifting the audience’s spirit. What does that mean to you?
I had an epiphany many years ago when a friend of mine gave me a book called Zen Guitar and inside this book it talks about three parts to playing music. You have yourself, you have the people playing with you (accompanying), and then you have the audience. And together you all are part of this organic, living thing that is happening. And being aware of this enables you to be a part of something very magical. This sounds like common sense to music lovers, but to actually set the intention and creating the awareness within yourself is powerful. It altered my approach and it developed this desire in me to lift up peoples spirits at our shows. I thought and still do think that if I can make people feel good, and connected to each other through music we can change our whole perspective. It created a paradigm shift that instead of caring so much on making people think I’m great, and ‘talented.’ I make them feel great and I care about people at the shows. Another Epiphany, if you will; happened to me in Eureka Springs, Arkansas many years ago. A couple came up to me and said we love what you do, and we follow you. Now, there was something in the way he said ‘we follow you’. that stuck with me. As if, to say I’m leading them essentially. It rattled my foundation. I have the ability to lead people. I had no idea. I thought I was playing guitar and selling booze for bar owners. It’s an interesting idea I just previously hadn’t explored and that situation led to my desire to uplift people I come across in life and on stage.

What do you think makes a great guitar player?
Passion: It’s a very nuanced instrument. There are a lot of things going on. Fingers on strings that you can bend and shake. It has the ability to be manipulated in so many ways. Creativity. It’s easy to cop another players licks but to create your own and say it your own way has a command to it that I feel can’t be faked. To own your lick and say it your way. It’s the difference between being genuine and just mocking someone.
Simplicity: To say what you mean with the right note and hit that note. Not getting caught up in the cliché lick or riff. Also, vibrato is everything; to sink into that note and hit it like it’s your last means a great deal to me as a musician and music lover. It creates an edginess that I really dig. Tab Benoit comes to mind when I think of a current guitar player with a great vibrato.

What have you gained through music? Lost?
This is another great question. I have gained so many amazing experiences. I have seen this great country, I have seen Canada, and China through music. I remember looking at the ocean one time with the band and saying our fingers and the music has brought us here. It’s a beautiful thing to see the world as an entertainer. People are very welcoming and hospitable. I have friends scattered far and wide that I wouldn’t have otherwise. Life is definitely a give and take. People used to say you can’t have it all and I didn’t quite no what that meant until I became a father and a husband. I lose time with them because of my road time for sure, and that can be overwhelming, But I believe in quality or quantity. I believe in breathing and remaining calm and centered. I’m a student of Buddhism and I am learning the concept of being still and accepting life as it is. Through kindness and gratitude I am finding joy and peace like never before. So, going far into the loss category isn’t something I subscribe to. Music also grants me the opportunity to channel my feelings and experiences through sound. I’ve often said that I am not defined as a ‘Musician’ per say, the music is a means to define who I am.
What are you hoping happens with Heavy Soul and Boogie Trance? Are you seeking a certain level of “success?” Or are you comfortable where you are?
I am hoping people enjoy listening to it and that it spreads to music lovers across the world. We have a record label out of Ohio that wants to put out two of the songs on a 45. We are in the works on that. Of course, I want to have more success; mostly so I can support my family and band members better. I also want to positively influence people. Ultimately I just want more of the same. I love playing music and I feel blessed to do it as a career. A larger base would definitely be a blessing. My immediate goals are to promote these upcoming tour dates and this current recording. I am recording a solo record with Jeremy Garrett this month I look forward to releasing and showing people a side of me that hasn’t been heard or seen too often. I have a ton of folksy/songwriter acoustic type stuff that I really enjoy playing and want people to hear.
Jeremiah has been doing a lot of great recordings that we’ll release this year, as well. Also, we’ll be recording our CD release at The Hive and if all goes well we’ll release that. Plus, I have to personally thank all our friends that kept us on the road this last month and donated to our GoFundMe when our van broke down on the road in Utah. In just a few days our friends donated over $8,000 and that allowed us to get a new van and continue the tour. In conclusion, “success” to me is just living a relatively healthy life and loving the people around me. I hope I can keep doing that for a long time.

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