Kraus Makes Some Noise Rock for Anxious People

A bedroom can say a lot about a person: their passions, their priorities, their preferred thread count. Will Kraus’ bedroom, a small, orderly alcove nestled above a Mexican restaurant in Bushwick, Brooklyn, is no exception. With two guitars hanging beside his bed, a few drawings leaning up against a wall, and some scattered articles of clothing on the floor, the bare room suggests both minimalism and possibility. When he opens his laptop and a barrage of noise escapes the speakers, it becomes clear that this cordial 22-year-old has the ability to transform his otherwise calm demeanor into a frenzy when given the chance.

I’m in Kraus’ domain on a freezing Friday in December to conduct his second-ever interview, which is occurring only a few months after his second-ever public performance. It’s all happening in the wake ofEnd Tomorrow, Kraus’ debut record under his surname. The album is loud and hectic, with cooing vocals set over spazzy drums and unceasing blasts of dissonance made up of sampled piano, keys, strings, and drones. It’s a carefully crafted attack that clobbers the listener with effects until, eventually, the chaos unifies and opens into a meditative expanse.

As a kid, Kraus dabbled in pop-punk goofballs like Good Charlotte before becoming obsessed with Linkin Park, even signing up to be a member of their fan club. Though Kraus now kindly describes the rap-metal pioneers’ music as “non-nuanced,” he allows that their brand of hyper-angst—served with a side of melancholy—helped him define his formative identity. His Linkin Park fandom encouraged Kraus to make his own music, in the form of electronic and hip-hop beats. Growing up in Dallas, he felt unable to connect to the local music scene—but he had his computer. Around 2010, a YouTube magic tutorial video introduced him to Sigur Rós, broadening his aesthetic scope. Following a breadcrumb trail of blog links, it was only a matter of time before his mind was blown by the likes of Odd Future, Danny Brown, and A$AP Rocky.

Kraus decided he wanted to pursue music as a career and put all his hopes in one envelope—namely, an acceptance letter from the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at New York University. He pulls out a second laptop to show me the beats he submitted to the school four years ago. They sound exactly like what you would expect from a teenager listening to the internet circa 2012: jittery percussion, stoned and scattered Panda Bear vocals, the distinct feeling that the sonic sunshine is covering-up a deep-seated anxiety. He giggles over its predictability and moves on to the music he was making as a sophomore in college. These songs are heavier, more complex; one features a sample of Future’s “Honest.” And then he went through yet another fast metamorphosis to get to the gnarly textures that make up the music he’s making now.

As it turns out, an existential crisis of sorts catalyzed Kraus to stop waiting around for bandmates and create a record on his own. While he was finishing up at NYU, he looked back at his musical output and felt defeated. “I just needed to make something and not care if it was too crazy or weird,” he tells me. He started drumming in earnest his junior year and began working on what would become End of Tomorrow in early 2016.

When the album was finished, Kraus emailed it to several record labels and music writers, looking for an honest opinion. About two weeks later, Brian Justie from Terrible Records, which has released records by Solange, Blood Orange, and Porches, among others, listened to two minutes of the album and sent Kraus a gushing email. “It struck me as something that was made, either explicitly or implicitly, with total contempt for so much other new music that had been coming out of late,” Justie says. “It felt full of conviction and seemed to induce a peculiar nostalgia.” Indeed, even though much ofEnd of Tomorrow can feel like slamming into a wall of sound, the blow is cushioned by a collage of noise that recalls early Flaming Lips, or My Bloody Valentine at their most ethereal. In the apartment, Kraus hands me a copy of his record and tells me his mom thought Justie’s offer was a scam.

Kraus currently works as a tech dude at an insurance firm, a welcome diversion from the hyper-focused musical attitude of NYU. “All of a sudden music is a nice counterpoint in my life and not the sole focus of it,” he says. Though Kraus is in no rush to release a new record, he does have a playlist on his computer titled “Album 2.” He clicks on a few of the new sketches, and they contain more of the ambitious instrumentation and ambiguous yet heartfelt songwriting that’s becoming his signature.

Earlier this month, Kraus played his third-ever show, at Manhattan’s Mercury Lounge. Before taking the stage, he doesn’t seem particularly nervous even though he’ll soon be attempting to recreate the sound of a roaring full band in real-time by himself. He eventually clambers behind his drum kit, awkwardly positioning his lanky frame behind the bass, slips on his pop-star headset, and takes a deep breath. With no warning, he transforms into an unstoppable machine, hitting drums and triggering samples at a dizzying clip. At one point, a stick flies out of his hands and he has to chase after it; when he sits back down, he plays with even more force than before.

Pitchfork: How do you get yourself in such a frenzied state for your live performances?

Kraus: Well, so far I do not like performing live. I find it incredibly anxiety-inducing. This thing is me being so wild and crazy, and when you’re at the onset of it and you’re trying to do something ambitious and different and you literally just have your five friends there, it feels silly. I start wondering, Is this just a vanity project? What are you doing up here, dude? I mostly just fend off panic attacks and then go onstage. And once I start playing, I can’t go backwards anymore.

Do you feel like playing the drums is cathartic?

Yes. That’s why I like them a lot. I’m definitely more of a music-maker than a drummer per se, but that’s the instrument I connect to the most. It feels nice to have a really controlled way to express that side of my personality. I think the music is very melodically and lyrically sentimental, but there’s also the rough element of it. That’s what feels really good about performing live—you can just say, “fuck it!” and the drums are a great instrument to do that with.

You mentioned your songs are “lyrically sentimental,” but I honestly can’t understand anything you’re actually singing.

I am saying words in the album but they weren’t very thought-out. It’s about half just kind of saying stuff into the microphone and half words. I don’t feel like good enough of a writer right now to really have too many lyrics be front-and-center. Honestly, when I was making the record it was during such a confused, anxious time, and I couldn’t even think of stuff to say when I picked up the microphone. I’d just record anything and throw it at the wall.

Even though you can’t quite decipher what you’re saying, the songs have a comforting element, even though there’s all this chaos happening in the background. It’s like when you’re on the subway and everything is so loud but you’re listening to something and you can just zone out.

That’s totally what my album is designed for: When you’re thinking too much or you’re in a stressful situation, to just forcibly batter it out.