There's no magical secret to singer-songwriter Kris Orlowski's success. He's a nice guy who writes nice songs that nice people enjoy. It's a simple formula that's surprisingly difficult for most musicians to pull off, and one that's earned him the respect of his peers. Whether it's collaborating on an album (Orlowski and violinist Andrew Joslyn teamed up on 2012's The Pieces We Are) or rallying to raise money (the band was robbed!), the local music community has his back. Orlowski and crew will play one of their few remaining shows of the year at Hattie's Lot Party on June 23, as part of Seattle's fundraising festival Noise for the Needy (June 20–23 in Ballard). The proceeds from the festival—which also features Portland folk harmonizers Horse Feathers, Juno–winning Canadian indie rock band Said the Whale, and local favorites the Maldives—support the Ballard Food Bank.
For our latest Fiendish Conversation, we chatted with Orlowski about what draws him to benefit shows, preparing for his new album, and almost dying in Calcutta.
It seems like you're tight with a lot of people in the Seattle music scene. The "We Were Robbed" benefit show at the Tractor in April featured a bunch of talented folks (Allen Stone, John Roderick, Shelby Earl, and more) who were just gushing about you. What’s led you to foster such a robust stable of musical friends?
I don’t know, there’s just so many musicians in Seattle. I like certain musicians because of who they are. For example, Shelby Earl, she’s a super sweet songwriter. John Roderick is the funniest guy in the world. Whenever I hang out with him, I’m reduced to giggles...which is pretty embarrassing, so I try not to hang out with him too much. Those types of people—Allen [Stone], the Gervais boys [of Curtains For You]—I really believe in them as people. I kind of just gravitate toward friendships with them, supporting them as musicians. I think it just kind of turns into something where they want to support me too, I guess. I’m always looking for new music to believe in and support, because that’s an important part of this city that we live in. Some people look at it as we’re all competing, but I don’t think that’s the way it should be, nor the way it is.
What up-and-coming local bands should people check out?
There’s a band out here that’s doing well on a national level, but Seattle hasn’t really taken notice yet. Noah Gundersen is going to blow up in the next year, year and a half. I think a lot of people are starting to discover Noah. He’s kind of one of those guys that’s a slow grow, but you look on his Facebook and he’s got 25,000 likes, but still hasn’t totally captured the Seattle audience yet. He still pulls maybe like, 250 to 400 people in Seattle. He’s not a big artist yet, but I think that’s going to change. He’s one of the people I’ve been following, and I’m friends with, so I’m a little biased as well. I knew Allen [Stone] was going to blow up a couple of years ago, before he did. It’s cool to see Noah in that position. The difference between Allen and Noah is Noah doesn’t really have the same kind of niche that Allen did. Allen’s like this blue-eyed soul singer, but I think Noah’s on that same trajectory in some ways.
What your favorite show you’ve seen in the past year?
Unfortunately, I don’t get to see a lot of live shows anymore because I’m playing a lot. I’m a little biased, but Sara Watkins was probably my favorite show. I was on tour with her for about two weeks and she’s just an amazing artist. She played a show in Phoenix at this place called the Musical Instrument Museum. Literally, they have a theater inside this museum that holds like 250 people. The sound in there was amazing, and she had the full band in there. She’s just so polished and she’s got such a beautiful voice.
If you weren’t a musician, what other line of work do you think you'd pursue?
Right after college, immediately after graduating—like, a week after—I hopped a plane to Calcutta, India and did some service work for the Missionaries of Charity, Mother Teresa’s organization. I totally thought I was going to be doing, for the rest of my life, social justice work in third-world countries. Or at least start then, and then have some like, “We Are The World”–style business, helping to support impoverished youth and women. I did my thesis on poverty in college. I totally thought I was going to go that route. That just wasn’t in the cards. I actually got really sick in Calcutta and I had to fly home. I was hospitalized. They thought I was going to die, and I got through it somehow, and I flew— the story’s a lot more involved and I’m trying to keep it brief—but I flew home and got a job in Bellevue as an office manager and then worked my way up to an analyst role. Then I ended up being a marketing consultant at a firm called Projectline in Seattle. I’ve been there six years. I love doing it, but it’s tough because I can’t do both and do them both really well. It’s definitely a life of sacrifice, working in music, but it’s totally worth it.
Do you feel the appeal of service work leads you to play more charity shows like Noise for the Needy?
Absolutely. The rest of the guys are like that, too; it’s really cool. That benefit we did for MusiCares at the Tractor—we raised $3,600—and since we got most of our gear back, we didn’t take a cent of it. We just gave it all to MusicCares, which is so cool. Those kinds of things make it feel like I’m doing something that still contributes, beyond selfishly getting to play music.
Should fans expect any new material at the Noise for the Needy show?
We’ll probably pull out a new song. We’re working on a record right now. We’re going to record in July and August with a guy named Martin Feveyear; he runs Jupiter Studios. Really exciting. We’ve already got the dates scheduled. That album probably won’t come out until February, but we’ll probably pull out a new song, just because we're not really playing much through the end of the year. We’re doing Bumbershoot, Noise for the Needy, and maybe, like, one more show in November.
We’re going to be doing like this Pledge Music thing, sort of like Kickstarter, for our record. We’ll probably kick that off in two or three weeks. Ivan and Alyosha did one, Mike Doughty, Joseph Arthur, a bunch of people. It’s pretty legit. Ten percent of everything we raise over our goal—or maybe it’s even more than that—is going to go to Invisible Children, another benefit.
Noise for the Needy
June 20–23, various venues in Ballard, $10–$15 (per show)