I walk into Square Cat Vinyl on a Thursday afternoon in February, where I’ve arranged for an interview with Indy-based musician Kevin Krauter. Krauter is preparing to release a new solo album, titled Full Hand, on February 28 via independent label Bayonet Records. The release of this album comes on the heels of the December reunion of Hoops, a much-loved dream pop outfit that Krauter is a part of. When we talked, Krauter was scheduled to kick off a three-month U.S. tour culminating in a headlining show at Indy’s Old National Centre on June 27. As the country continues to keep up with coronavirus closures and cancellations, Krauter has shifted the tour to begin in June and end in early August, still playing the same Indy date. These dates are also likely to change.
“I’m interviewing Kevin Krauter here in a few minutes, so please don’t play any Hoops on the shop speakers,” I tell Square Cat co-owner Mike Angel, knowing that the record store is particularly fond of the band.
Angel obliges, and Krauter arrives about 10 minutes later. We take a seat in some chairs on the Square Cat stage and begin discussing the Carmel native’s life story.
“I have six siblings,” Krauter says. “It goes Casey, Nicole, Kelly, me, Katie, Courtney, and Michael in order of oldest to youngest. We were all homeschooled for a good part of our early life.”
Krauter grew up in Carmel, where he still lives. “I’ve lived in the same house my whole life,” he says. “When I dropped out of school to start touring, I just moved back home.” Growing up, all of the Krauter children were involved in choir and musical theater.
“Doing community theater was one of those early hobbies that my mom got us into, and my parents started volunteering with Carmel Community Players, which is a community theater group in Carmel,” Krauter says. “That’s how we started getting to know a lot of people growing up, and being introduced to that early on was really fun.”
Krauter pegs his oldest brother, Casey, as the one most responsible for his early music explorations. “I was hanging out with him when I was younger, listening to all the music that he downloaded on LimeWire and all the CDs he got from Karma Records,” Krauter says. “His early taste is what really inspired me, and we would watch VH1 and Fuse all the time.” At this young point in his life, Krauter realized he wanted to be in a band.
“I was like, That is what I want to do. That is the end-all be-all,” he says. “I would just have a tennis racket and pretend I was the guitarist in a cool band.”
Krauter quickly started to live out his fantasy, forming a Christian rock band with future Hoops bandmate Keagan Beresford in sixth grade. Even at that age, the two shared a similar goal. “I was really wanting to be in a band and be a rock star so badly,” Beresford says. “I thought that was the coolest thing you could do—even cooler than skateboarding.”
During high school, Krauter also met fellow Hoops bandmate Drew Auscherman. Originally started as a solo project of Auscherman, Hoops evolved into a full-on band, playing smaller shows around Indy before eventually being signed to highly touted label Fat Possum Records. Once signed to Fat Possum, Hoops gained international notoriety, going on fairly large tours while the band was college-aged.
“It was definitely really stressful and crazy, just because we had no idea what we were doing,” says Krauter of Hoops’ first major tours. “It was really, really exciting, but also really fucking exhausting.”
Since being signed to Fat Possum Records, Hoops have released one EP, one full-length album, and one collection of older material. After going on indefinite hiatus in July 2018, the band returned with a renewed sense of energy in November 2019, releasing a fresh song in conjunction with their reunion.
“Being able to come back to it on our own terms was something that felt really nice,” Krauter says. “Our label has allowed us to have full creative control. I’m really, really excited about all these new songs. It sounds so different, and we’re all just way more excited about it.”
At the time of this story, Hoops has yet to make any tour plans. Instead, the band is choosing to focus on their forthcoming full-length album, with the help of producer Ben Lumsdaine (who also produced Krauter’s previous two solo albums).
While studying at Ball State University, Krauter found himself with some extra downtime. Hoops was on a bit of a break, and his freshman-year class load was rather light. With a roommate who rarely was around, Krauter found time to start recording some of his own solo songs while alone in his dorm room.
“Up until then, I had written a couple things for Hoops and had this other shoegaze band that I started for a minute called Crystal that I’d written some stuff for,” Krauter says. “But it was nothing that had really stuck or that I thought was any good.”
The music Krauter was making during this early point in his solo career was inspired by somber ’60s and ’70s folk artists like Vashti Bunyan and Sibylle Baier. The angelic acoustic tunes quickly caught the ear of many peers, including that of Ben Wittkugel, who happened to be starting his own independent label at the time.
“I think they were just really great songs, and they sounded timeless,” says Wittkugel, who now runs his label out of New York City with Winspear co-founder Jared Jones. “I didn’t really know the influences or anything, but they just stood strong on their own. They felt very natural, too. It was just someone making music who loved doing it.”
After showcasing his solo talent through these early dorm room recordings, Krauter was invited into a studio at Ball State University on two separate occasions, where he recorded his first two solo releases. Filled with ornate fingerpicking and exquisite vocal melodies, 2015’s Magnolia and 2016’s Changes represent the early folk music chapter of Krauter’s solo career. Like many great songwriters, however, the lifelong Hoosier eventually decided it was time to go a new direction.
“I didn’t want to be a folk artist, and I didn’t want to be a singer-songwriter,” Krauter says of his musical shift. “I was also messing with keyboards and drum machines a lot more.”
With this exploration, Krauter’s music pivoted in more of a pop direction, with catchy melodies still serving as the anchor amid distorted guitar and synthesizers. Released via Brooklyn independent label Bayonet Records, Krauter’s 2018 album Toss Up is marked by standout songs like “Keep Falling in Love” and “Suddenly,” which both received the music video treatment while also racking up more than one million plays each on Spotify.
“It’s really crazy to see how he’s evolved over the years because his songwriting has just kind of turned on its head,” says Beresford, who also plays in Krauter’s solo band. “Since I have this special, intimate relationship with him, it always sounds like him to me. But stylistically, he’s just gotten out there a lot more.”
Krauter’s newest release continues down the same pop-oriented path of Toss Up, but with a little more lyrical vulnerability. “To me personally, it feels more like a poetically accurate reflection of how I’m feeling,” Krauter says of Full Hand. “Rather than having that imposter syndrome where you write some lyrics, and it’s like, Yeah, this sounds fine, but it doesn’t really mean anything.” This turn toward introspection was fueled in part by an important personal milestone. In a January 2020 Instagram post, Krauter shared with the public that he’d opened up to his parents about being bisexual and non-binary. When asked if the lead-up to this discussion with his mom and dad made its way into lyrics on Full Hand, Krauter says yes.
“A lot of the lyrics on this album are about being gay—not knowing it and then realizing it,” Krauter says. “Getting to know myself and not being a boy fully. Being able to explore myself and how I perform gender. How I like to look and how I like to see myself in the mirror and have myself be seen by other people. It’s a pretty trippy process to go through that, and it produced a lot of interesting thoughts in my head that I turned into lyrics. That’s sort of the best way I can process it.”
With this new public admission, Krauter simply feels freer. “It doesn’t make anything different,” he says. “Now I just feel a little more comfortable being myself around everyone.”
Listening to Krauter’s new album in the context of our new reality, knowing he was supposed to be on tour right now brings a different layer to his music. Lines like “Wake up to a morning so listless / come to, sun is looming in” take on a new, increasingly resonant meaning. Krauter says that connecting with people is one of his favorite parts of tour, a sentiment that has undoubtedly only grown as he’s put parts of his tour on hold.
“The one thing I care about most is seeing my homies in different cities that I don’t get to see,” he says. “I like playing shows, and I like meeting fans. But I also think the thing I like most about touring is being able to see people that I don’t get to see normally.”
In the end, it’s these aforementioned “homies” to which Krauter attributes his musical success thus far.
“Just be nice, make as many friends as you can, and some will help you out along the way, which is how it’s always happened for me,” he says. “I’ve just gotten extremely lucky being able to meet the people that I know.”