I N T E R V I E W
By Indira Neville
Please note this article refers to suicide which may be distressing for some people.
This is quite a tricky thing to write. It is about my friend, and musician Pat Kraus. In both contexts I want to be respectful but also I’m writing for the world so it needs to be interesting. And I want it to be strong and positive and definitely not soppy.
Because it is tricky I’m going to ease into things and start by describing how Pat and I sit on the floor of his house and have a cup of tea and agree on the parameters of the interview this piece is based on. The interview is prompted by his new release, Chocolate, Candy, Love and Dreams.
I tell him I’d prefer not to discuss stuff that can be found elsewhere – his discography, what labels he’s been released on, how old he is etc. Not that this isn’t interesting, it just exists already in a squillion places. I ask if we can instead talk about the why and how and what of the album, especially the healing aspect referred to in the liner notes. He agrees. Result!
An obvious starting place is the word ‘healing’. I wonder what he means by it. Pat’s response is emphatic and honest, “I was desperately trying to keep myself alive and I asked myself ‘what will help me?’ and because music is all I can do, the only answer was making music”.
The desperation was related to the loss of his friend Reuben Winter to suicide in September last year, and Pat’s Ankylosing Spondylitis. Ankylosing Spondylitis is an unfixable painful double-whammy autoimmune and inflammatory condition with a side order of chronic fatigue and depression. Pat was diagnosed in his early twenties and says for a long time he felt angry and closed up, “I wouldn’t talk about it…just tried to ignore it”.
The friend Pat lost helped him change this perspective, “Reuben had Fibromyalgia and was really good at speaking openly and honestly about it. It was significant and it made me want to be like that…he taught me that being open is healing for you and others”. He continues, “So I lost a friend but also a role model and it was a massive loss”.
Chocolate, Candy, Love and Dreams is about Pat’s grief and coming to terms with his illness but ultimately his belief in the potential of life, “I decided I want to be alive”.
The music reflects this transformative optimism. Pat has been Kraus for over twenty years and talks about how mostly he’s made “dirty” sounds with “distorted guitar and blown out drums”. He considers his past releases valid but this time made a conscious decision to do something with an “optimistic spirit” and “that sounds like clean linoleum”.
When I listen to the album I hear this. For me the tunes are joyous and helpful and conjure up an image of being inside a cave full of bright pink glowing crystals. It’s a very nice place to be. I describe this to Pat and he is happy because audio-wise his aim was to make “sound environments that you can hang out in”. He tells me the songs are actually short snippets of longer meditative “zoning-out” things.
The album is made on a synthesizer, “You programme notes and chords and the synth spits them out and you can vibe on a loop for as long as you want to. Then you start hearing things and it evolves”.
Almost all of Chocolate, Candy, Love and Dreams was created while Pat was in bed with chronic fatigue so the synthesizer is also a practical thing. It fits on the fold-out tray. He has mixed feelings about making music while in repose, “it’s positive in that it’s forced down-time but I can still feel productive. But also I’m working when I should be resting”. He describes himself as “a workaholic with chronic fatigue”. Even when his body isn’t working his brain is going pow pow pow! It’s not ideal.
Pat has to spend around half of his time in bed and often this makes him frustrated, “If I was healthy I’d play live and tour all the time but I can’t so I record. For better or worse music is really literally my life. I found a thing I can do and I wanna do it. I don’t know what else to do with myself”.
His music is loved and appreciated by many and feedback on Chocolate, Candy, Love and Dreams has been positive. He was nervous about its reception, “It’s so different. I wondered if it was going to fit in my music community bubble”. He adds though that he likes it, “I usually like my own music”.
I end the interview with daft question, asking him what song he’d sing on American Idol. He laughs and says it’s a “horrific idea. Singing in any context is terrifying to me”. Then he goes, “They would put me as one of the comedy bad ones at the start. And I don’t need that”.
Need to talk?
1737: free 24/7 phone and text number
Lifeline Aotearoa: 0800543-354
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508828-865 (0508TAUTOKO)
Outline (LGBQIT+ help for all ages; 6pm to 9pm any evening): 0800 OUTLINE (0800 688 5463)
Youthline: 0800376-633, txt 234 or firstname.lastname@example.org
What’s Up (for 5-18 year olds; 1pm-11pm): 0800942-8787
Kidsline (aimed at children up to age 14; 4pm-6pm weekdays): 080054-37-54 (0800 kidsline)