Curt Krause prefers a strange face to a familiar one.
EDMUND WAYNE With Dearborn, The Singing Mechanic. Fremont Abbey, 4272 Fremont Ave. N., 414-8325, fremontabbey.org. All ages. $8-$14. 8 p.m. Tues., Feb. 12.
It's not that he doesn't appreciate the regular fans who come to all his shows, those family members who've cheered him along as he's walked the unlikely path of a musician, or the artists who've harmonized alongside him in recording sessions. But a thrill comes from playing a room of faces he's never seen—people whose names he doesn't know, and who probably don't know his.
"You want to be taken seriously," he says. "But when you play out of town, even though there might only be 15 people there, that's 15 people who don't know you and are strictly there because they want to hear your music. Or maybe because you have a pretty girl in your band."
That's why the 27-year-old Snohomish songwriter—who spends his days working on his family's farm and nights performing as Edmund Wayne—keeps his show on the road more often than not. He plays big cities, sure. And in Seattle and San Francisco, buzz has been building: a "Song of the Day" nod from KEXP in November, a "Beard of the Day" notice from an L.A. DJ. But it's in small towns filled with folks he doesn't know that Krause is most comfortable, places like Ashland, Ore., Cottage Grove, Ore., and Pullman. Even if such comfort carries risks.
"We played a show and we went out afterward with a bunch of people from the show," he says of a trip to Pendleton, Ore., with his previous band, Buffalo Death Beam. "There were a bunch of cowboys that were trying to pick fights with us. 'You longhair, get out of our fucking town!' "
But those places leave a mark on Krause's music, too—a sense that it can speak to any regular old folks. He says, though, that Edmund Wayne's music too commonly gets lumped in with indie folk, a label he thinks gets attached to bands who don't yell and have a few slow songs. "Before the Fleet Foxes," he says, "folk was, like, an easy brand on anybody who was an American and who wrote a song about himself or somebody else."
Krause and his band stray from folk, instead producing songs rife with solitary imagery and deep with sentiments of loneliness and moments of humble humanity. He sings about praying in the morning and cussing at night, eating when you're fat and begging God when you're lean.
He takes his ex-bandmates Sean Knox and Tiffany Harms on tour with him, along with drummer Luke Knezevich, to make his recorded material and live performances sing. But the songs on the Edmund Wayne EP are written by Krause, all about the people he's met through the years. Friends he's watched divorce. An uncle. An ex-lover. Another family who, like his, runs a farm nearby.
Most people have no idea he's written a song about them. "Yohanna," for example, is about a man named Sergio who works on his family farm, and whom he recently worked side-by-side with to build trellises in their apple orchard. "I hear him on the phone in his room most days, talking to his mother that he hasn't seen in 16 years," Krause says. "He is a humble and beautiful man. He has no idea that I wrote a song about him."
Krause realizes he doesn't always need people to know that these stories are about them. They don't need to be in the crowd, swaying to his songs, for them to matter. But he also knows he'd have nothing without them.