Get to know Atwood Magazine‘s writers in our special column where they become the interviewees, sharing their personal playlists and talking about their experiences covering music!
Kevin Krein used to be the kind of person who, when introducing a new artist or song to someone, would preface it by saying, “If you don’t like this, I don’t know if we can be friends.” He’s thankfully no longer that kind of a person, but if he asks you about Carly Rae Jepsen and ‘The Kingdom of Desire,’ hopefully you have an answer prepared.
Stream: Atwood Writer’s Playlist: Kevin Krein
Meet Our Writers: Kevin Krein!
Where are you from and where are you based?
Kevin Krein: I am originally from Illinois—I was born outside of Chicago and grew up in Freeport, which is a small, relatively rural town in the North Western part of the state, close to the Iowa border. For the last 17 years I have lived in Northfield, Minnesota, which is less than an hour south of Minneapolis.
How did you get into music writing?
Kevin Krein: So for a few years, from like 2010 until the end of 2012, I hosted a daily radio program on the small station in my town. I had an hour, give or take, and was pretty much allowed to play whatever—I think the station received some complaints when I would do this bit every once in a while called “Shoegaze Tuesday,” and I am sure I played entirely too much hip hop for the demographic of an AM station in a small Minnesota town, but whatever. It was fun until it wasn’t and it’s a long story as to why, at the end of 2012, I needed to walk away from it. Part of it had to do with debilitating depression and anxiety. I spent a lot of time cultivating the songs I’d play every day within my allotted time, and my wife suggested, as a means of remaining invested in learning about new music and actively listening, that I start writing about music, so in January of 2013 I launched the blog I still publish under like two or three times a month—Anhedonic Headphones. The blog, and writing about music, landed me an “observational humor” column in a monthly free arts and entertainment magazine at the end of that year, which I wrote for until mid 2017. And all of that writing—both about music and not, helped me land a job at a newspaper, and all of it has opened up other opportunities in terms of writing for magazines, or contributing album reviews to other sites outside of my own.
I had written some short essays and a few creative non-fiction pieces prior to 2013, but starting Anhedonic Headphones has really gotten me to where I am now in terms of developing a voice and continuing to grow in how I write and what I want to write about. In the first few years of music writing I would literally listen to and write about anything that came along and did not spend nearly the amount of time with an album, and put in the amount of labor it takes me now to put something together, but I eventually (it took some time) figured out that I was more interested in writing something thoughtful, and that really said something about the album and the artist but also about me, if it was an album I genuinely liked and I felt, like, for lack of a better description, being called or compelled to reflect on it. There are plenty plenty of records that I like, and can sit and enjoy as a listener or whatever but that compulsion I need to start taking notes on it and structuring a kind of “braided essay” approach to talking about it just isn’t there.
Who was your very first concert, and who have you seen most recently?
Kevin Krein: The first concert I went to was the New Kids on The Block—I would have been around seven, in the second grade. Another Maurice Starr adjacent group, the Perfect Gentlemen, opened for them. Our tickets were behind the stage, and we literally could not see anything at all. Most recently I saw Yo La Tengo for the third time—the last two times they have come through, they have toured without an opening act, and perform “An Evening With,” where they do two different sets that are roughly an hour each—the first hour is mostly made up of very hushed, or restrained material, while the second hour is made up of any “hits,” or at least some of the more well known tunes they’ve had, and their louder, more unhinged material and theatrical in terms of guitar noise. Ira Kaplan playing a guitar by scraping another guitar across it is fun and all, sure, but I was more interested in hearing how the dense layers of the new album would translate to a live setting.
Who are two or three of your favorite up-and-coming artists right now?
Kevin Krein: I don’t know if she really counts as “up and coming” because she put out a number of self-released EPs in the past, and her full length debut through a label came out in 2021, but Sydney Sprague for sure is a “newer” artist that has been a favorite since the moment I sat down with her album Maybe I Will See You At The End of The World. Incredible songwriting in both her sharp and self-effacing wit, but the arranging too creates like these big, power-pop moments that are as infectious as they are insightful.
Do Gracie Abrams and Olivia Rodrigo count as “up and coming”? I mean they are both backed by major label money and have been wildly successful right from the rip, but they are both relatively, and subjectively “new” artists in comparison to other names within the pop landscape.
Additionally, there is no shortage of groups that are coming out of Pennsylvania—Philly, for sure, has a huge indie scene, with a lot of performers who are slowly building a name and audience for themselves, like Shannon Moser, Tom Morris’ Swim Camp project, and Greg Mendez, but also the group Sadurn, who released their debut in 2022—the right blend of indie rock and hushed folk, and it’s truly something to behold and shows a fuck ton of potential for a group that came together relatively recently.
What’s something you’ve learned from working as a music journalist?
Kevin Krein: I am remiss to call myself a “music journalist,” and even during the two years I spent writing for a newspaper, I was hesitant to ever refer to myself as a journalist. I have learned a lot from the last decade of writing about music and otherwise. In jest, I have learned that fans of Eminem have no sense of humor and cannot stand to hear one shred of criticism about him—there was a time where I was contributing to a music criticism site and I would offer to write pretty scathing reviews of the last few albums that Marshall Mathers had released. I mean I went into them with an open mind or like didn’t want to just shit all over them but ultimately found it very easy to agree with Earl Sweatshirt’s sentiment of how you have to grow up, and out, of music like that—”If you still follow Eminem, you drink way too much Mountain Dew and need to come home from the army.” But in response to these reviews (I think I did at least three), I would receive homophobic slurs hurled at me on Twitter, and threatening comments posted on the review itself.
In earnest, though, I have learned to be a better and more thoughtful writer through music writing. It’s given me a greater understanding of how to analyze things, specifically lyricism, but like how to better describe textural elements or sound in a way that is accessible to a reader who, like me, might not have a background in performing or playing an instrument, but is just an appreciator of music.
What’re your favorite moments covering music? Can be from interviews, reviews, in-person events/shows, anything.
Kevin Krein: I think the ability to make a literal connection with the artist has been something that I would say I am very grateful for over the last few years. Uncertain if it is my “favorite” thing about music writing, but if I have written something rather in depth about an album and tagged the artist on Instagram or Twitter and if fate is smiling upon me, there have been a few cases where that artist has reached out specifically to say thanks and show their appreciation for the amount of time I clearly had taken with their work. And these little brushes with fame and connections have opened up some doors in terms of folks who were willing and interested to be interviewed for the music podcast I host and produce, which is still really surprising to me given the humble beginnings the show had four years ago when I started it. I never honestly imagined that I could continue to develop it to that point, but a lot of singers or musicians are really happy to talk about songs and artists who inspire them and are really gracious with their time.
If you could ask one question to any artist or band, who would it be and what would you ask?
Kevin Krein: The year I finished college, through fate, I was introduced to a group from New Orleans called World Leader Pretend—they had managed to snag a major label deal for their second album, Punches, and even like 18 years later, it’s an album I still revisit pretty regularly. The band itself imploded sometime between 2007 and 2008—their Wikipedia is vague, and says they split up due to “artistic differences” while attempting to work on the album’s follow up. I wrote a thing about the band and about Punches in 2013 when I first launched Anhedonic Headphones, and it’s one of the more popular pieces on the site, still, a decade later, and maybe a year or two after I had published it, one of the members of the band reached out and said he appreciated that I was such a fan of something so short lived and that I written something about it.
So I would want to ask World Leader Pretend—even like one or two members of the group, if not all five members, what exactly happened. I mean artists don’t really owe us more than they already give, but an unceremonious end to a band that I adored, has left me wondering for so long how, and why, it fell apart.
What are you most looking forward to this year, music-wise?
Kevin Krein: The two big releases that I was really looking forward to this year (The National’s First Two Pages of Frankenstein and Boygenius’ The Record) are already out, and outside of the surprising return of the somewhat enigmatic folk singer Julie Byrne, who has a new joint out in July, I feel like there are not a lot of other albums I am, like, really looking forward to hearing unless there is something surprising announced between now and the end of the end of the year—additionally, just in terms of like “music” as an artform, or a tangible thing we experience, I am looking forward to attending the Eras tour. I have never seen Taylor Swift perform live, nor have I been to a concert of this magnitude before.
Can you please explain why you chose the top 5 songs on your playlist?
Kevin Krein: It’s funny. With the music podcast that I host, I ask guests to pick up to 10 songs to talk about on the show and a lot of the time folks will tell me how hard it was to narrow it down—I have been my own guest twice in the four years that I’ve been producing the program, and each time, the list of 10 was relatively easy for me to cobble together, so with the prompt that this playlist could be up to 50 songs, I was like, oh that’s so many! There’s no way I’ll keep thinking of tunes I want to put on here. But the longer I sat with this playlist open and then staring at my record collection and just, like, thinking about songs from my life, the more they started to add up. So I capped it at 40 since 2023, the Jordan Year, is my 40th year.
I used to make a lot of mix CDs for friends in college—but that is a thing of the past now in the era of streaming services and literally nobody owning a CD player in their home anymore, so mixes that have like real thought behind them, to give to someone else, are not something i have done in four years.
This is bookended with instrumental pieces, but also with two songs by Greg Dulli’s original post-Afghan Whigs group The Twilight Singers. I used to open and close things with both “The Twiliite Kid” and “Twilight” all the time, and then from there, at least in this context, it’s just about building and maintaining a certain kind of energy. The version of “Coke” by Flickerstick that’s on here is also a college-era mix mainstay, as is “The Day Brings,” by Shawn Smith’s group Brad. Music has always played an enormous role in my life, and there are things on here that date back to when I was a literal child, things from when I was in high school, from college years (mostly first and last), and then moving into adulthood, shuffling between genres but giving a well rounded portrait of someone who contains multitudes in both an earnest and ironic way.
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:: Stream Kevin’s Playlist ::