The cult of Krill

It’s perfectly mundane, and not everyone gets it. Then again, not everyone is a Krill fan.

By Loren DiBlasi

Leaning back in my chair, I observe the spread before me. I’m in the cramped back room of a Bushwick coffee shop, the din of what sounds like glorified elevator music drowning out the hiss of pouring rain outside. Including myself, there are four people huddled around a small breakfast table. Each of my companions has made a different choice.

Jonah Furman, bass in Krill: one bagel, one donut, no coffee.

Aaron Ratoff, guitar in Krill: one bagel, one coffee.

Ian Becker, drums in Krill: one scone, one coffee.

Clutching my own coffee, I’m watching Ian. He’s eating his scone and tasting little more than the bitter sting of regret. Clearly, he’s made the wrong choice. There is a brief moment’s debate. Soon, he rises from his chair, returning with a nice, plump bagel in hand.

“Every problem in life can be boiled down to sweet versus savory,” he says.

“What about this,” Aaron counters. “Your loved one is on life support and you have to decide whether or not to pull the plug. What then?”

Ian needs no time to think up a retort. “That’s still sweet versus savory. The sweet option would be to keep them alive, because it’s sentimental. The savory option would be to pull the plug. They both have positives and negatives.”

With Krill, even the dullest moments can be noteworthy, because they’re injected with the band’s signature blend of intelligence and dry, eccentric humor.

Krill sets up to perform at David Blaine's the Steakhouse. All photos by Jonathon Bernstein.

I think about offering my two cents, but with the steadfast resolve of a true journalist, I merely observe as my subjects do their thing. Munching my bagel with cream cheese (I always choose savory), I’m quiet. Jonah is nearly finished with his meal, and already debating a second bagel. “I’m really hungry,” he tells me. I assure him that our interview is a no-judgment zone. He doesn’t seem to care.

It’s all so mundane in a way that’s perfectly Krill. The title track of Krill’s 2014 EP Steve Hears Pile in Malden and Bursts Into Tears details an email sent to Rick Maguire (of Pile, duh) proposing their bands play a show together. Unfortunately, Pile have a busy summer ahead, but Jonah takes the rejection in stride.

“I said, ‘That’s cool, man
Busy is a good problem to have.
That’s cool, man
I’ll catch you later.’”

“There’s a passive pressure to make it all seem cool,” says Aaron. Post-breakfast, we take a walk through the rain and then camp out in Aaron’s car. I sit in the backseat, trying not to crush the dozens of CD cases that litter the floor with my feet. “I feel like we actively reveal things that are often obscure about the process and how boring it all is,” says Jonah.

“Some of it’s cool. The show last night was very cool,” Jonah admits. “But the drive to the show was not very cool. I stopped in a mall for pizza, and it was just the loneliest, stupidest thing ever. And to act like that’s not part of what happened yesterday… for me, that’s more of what happened yesterday.”

“Talking about booking a show, emailing someone and them not emailing you back… That’s so much more of the experience than any abstract, poetic lyrics

I ask some really meaty question about the challenges of being in a band, earning a living, and deciding what’s truly important in life. Before anyone can answer, Jonah stands up. “I have to take a shit right now.”

With Krill, even the dullest moments can be noteworthy, because they’re injected with the band’s signature blend of intelligence and dry, eccentric humor. It’s the ideal mix of crass and class, and not everyone gets it. Then again, not everyone is a Krill fan.

Like many others, I belong to the cult of Krill. After falling hard for the first two Krill records, 2012’s Alam No Hris and 2013’s Lucky Leaves, I finally saw them at SXSW, where my obsessive Krill love was finally consummated. I’m pretty sure I cried (in the cool, subtle way). Since then, I’ve cried multiple times while listening to “Turd” on the subway (in the not cool, not-so-subtle way). Sometimes, you’ve just got to go down. Literally.

KRILL FOREVER: it’s not just a saying, but a mantra, and for those who claim membership to this curious club of misfits, it’s repeated loudly, and often.

As I’m interviewing Krill at breakfast, I ask some really meaty question about the challenges of being in a band, earning a living, and deciding what’s truly important in life. Before anyone can answer, Jonah stands up.

“I have to take a shit right now.”

Other dedicated Krill enthusiasts would understand Jonah’s announcement of a bowel movement as not only amusing, but very Krill, so naturally, I’m dying of laughter. As Jonah himself explains, Krill have “quality fans, not quantity fans.” A Krill fan isn’t just any fan. A Krill fan gets it. This is proven upon Jonah’s return from the bathroom, when he pulls out his phone to share what he’s just posted to Twitter. “pooing while supposed to be doing an interview… smh.”

This tweet receives nine likes and several well-crafted responses. It’s perfect, because Twitter is something I’m eager to bring up in our discussion. Like most of their peers, Krill use social media as a means for self-promotion (show announcements, press retweets), a necessary evil of the “small business” aspect of being in a band. Unlike most band accounts, the members of Krill (@krilliamhmacy) have developed a unique language of communicating with their followers (and I use the word “follower” not in the general Twitter sense, but because the Cult of Krill is, of course, a tangible thing).

“I poop and pee everyday” – October 14, 2014 (4 retweets, 15 favorites)

“I’m tired and” – October 28, 2014 (2 retweets, 7 favorites)

“fuckit I am going to An Party” – January 1, 2015 (2 retweets, 15 favorites)

In the fall of 2014, there are ten consecutive retweets from Jose Canseco. There are also posts on current events, and reasons why #BlackLivesMatter. Krill’s Twitter is bizarre declarations and contradictions, purposeful misspellings, unfinished thoughts, strings of emojis. Krill’s Twitter is crude, it’s meaningful, it’s nonsensical. “It’s just how we communicate with each other,” Aaron explains. Krill’s first drummer, Luke Pyenson (now of Brunch) set up the Twitter account. For months and months, it was nothing but “gibberish.”

“Self-promotion on social media should feel totally ridiculous,” says Ian. “It’s easier to have fun with it. It’s literally easier for us to do than to say, ‘Hey, please come to our show.’ That’s way more difficult.”

“That’s not just boring, that’s wrong of you to think that someone would want to hear that,” Jonah adds. “It means you’re so self-involved.”

With any other band, discussing Twitter would feel especially dumb. With Krill, it’s funny, and dare I say, smart. Even a tweet about bodily functions doesn’t seem gratuitous. It connects the small, yet significant community of outcasts and weirdos that make up Krill’s fan base.

By now, the Krill origin story is the stuff of legend. Or something. To some people.

By now, the Krill origin story is the stuff of legend. Or something. To some people. Krill, the organism (not Krill, the band) is the most diminutive form of sea life. Before Krill, the band (not Krill, the organism), there was Sea Monsters, a band with Ian and Aaron, but not Jonah.

“I always wanted to be in Sea Monsters, but they already had more people than they needed,” Jonah tells me, laughing.

Krill’s roots stem from Boston, but the members of Krill themselves hail from the suburbs of Chicago. Like most suburban kids, they liked playing music and going to shows, but didn’t have much in the way of accessible outlets.

“We were seventeen and living in the Evanston suburbs. We would throw shows with our friends, but not even that many,” Ian explains. Their friends formed an “entire scene” around monthly shows held at a coffee shop in Evanston that no longer exists. “The shows were drug and alcohol free, all ages,” Jonah says. “Everyone organizing them was seventeen. I don’t know how they did it, really.”

“I feel like you glorify what it is to be a mid-level band playing venues and stuff,” Ian admits. “Then once you do, you’re like, ‘no, THAT was the real thing!’”

Krill didn’t officially happen until the summer Jonah moved to Boston, where Aaron and Luke Pyenson attended Tufts University. The setting had changed, but the band’s DIY ethic– and relative inexperience– definitely hadn’t.

“We had no idea what we were doing, even at 21,” says Jonah. “Lucky Leaves came out and I just emailed 50 blogs I had never heard of. I got no responses. We just had no idea how any of it worked.”

Soon, the pieces began falling into place, thanks in part to the “cohesive” DIY scene in Boston, including Dan Goldin and Dave Spak of Exploding in Sound Records (to this day, home to all Krill releases). “We started playing at this one house, and they kept having us back,” Aaron explains. “We were totally encouraged in Boston.”

“We met the sort of people who would put you on a bill knowing that, at best, your five college friends were going to come [to the show],” says Jonah. “And that you were also gonna suck. To me, the whole point of house shows is to let bands suck long enough to figure out how to be better.”

The night before our interview, I catch Krill at a house show, held at David Blaine’s The Steakhouse. The venue (or local place of worship) is also the stuff of legend, at least within a certain very specific corner of the current Brooklyn underground. The room is packed, and Krill play mostly new material from forthcoming full-length A Distant Fist Unclenching: long, elaborate songs with complex melodies and a newly sharp, refined precision. It’s magic. There’s simply no trace left of the band they might have been; the band that “didn’t know what a PA was, and didn’t use them,” as Jonah put it. Krill seem to have “made it”, whether they realize it or not.

Of course, “making it” means touring, and with touring comes many inherent challenges. Back in the cafe, Krill detail just some of them. “We need to tour to be good,” Aaron admits. “It’s also the only way we make any money that comes back to us. But it also prevents us from holding down real jobs.”

“You know that book, Our Band Could Be Your Life?” Jonah asks. “I just always think, ‘our band could ruin your life.’ It’s all-consuming. We’ve not gotten apartments because of our band. It’s like, ‘Let’s not live in a place. Let’s not have any income.’ It impacts relationships, too.”

“There’s also no infrastructure,” he continues. “Working 40 hours a week at an office job, that’s a weird lifestyle, too. It has serious problems. But there’s way more social infrastructure of how you do that and live your life and still feel meaningful.”

With Krill, everything’s a choice, and there’s never one clear answer. “It’s hard to be 25 and think you might have to move back in with your parents,” Jonah admits. “That’s not my situation, but it could be in the blink of an eye.”

Aaron offers a glimmer of hope. “It goes back to us making our own decisions. I think we’re really lucky.”

“I get how it’s fun to go on tour where every night’s a party, and people freak out for you or whatever, but on some level you need it to be meaningful,” Jonah offers. “If we didn’t get the weird emails every so often, like, ‘Man, [Krill] is so important to me,’ it would be harder to find meaningfulness.”

With A Distant Fist Unclenching, the meaning has changed, but only slightly. Still inherently sad, its narrative is straightforward yet surreal, dark yet brimming with light humor; it’s the band’s best, most intricate work to date. In its title and in lyrics throughout, Krill advocate the power of letting go, and understanding that when problems arise, finding answers isn’t always easy. “Is it time to go back inside?” Jonah asks, while struggling with inner darkness on first single “Torturer.” With “Fly,” Krill present a vignette in which our narrator weighs the decision of life or death (for a “puny little bug”). “I was confronted with a choice right then and there,” Jonah sings. “What do you think I chose?”

“It’s not a ‘Feel Good’ album,” Jonah tells me. “But it’s about stopping the anxiety of worrying about life. Relaxing, in a way. After a really intense time, what comes next? It’s good for people to listen to our music when they’re feeling really down on themselves or whatever, but I don’t want to make music that’s suicidal.”


Lucky Leaves wasn’t just breakup music, necessarily, but ‘you’re totally fucked’ kind of stuff. A Distant Fist Unclenching shows that there is something after all that, and it’s not necessarily the end.

Once again, our conversation turns to Twitter, and we discuss the “fetishization of sadness” that often occurs on the Internet (as a whole, Krill aren’t fans of the message behind accounts such as @sosadtoday).

“It’s not the type of humor that makes you think,” says Aaron.

“It’s almost like slapstick. It’s emotional slapstick. Like, ‘Fuck, I’m gonna kill myself!’” says Jonah.

Krill’s woe-is-me ballad from Steve Hears Pile, “Turd,” plunges deep into the darkest depths of self-pity. So what happens after you go down? A Distant Fist Unclenching doesn’t offer hope, exactly, but it does help ease the tension.

“The idea that there is something that comes after that time [of sadness], if you just stick it out,” Jonah explains. “That means something. You don’t reach happiness and that other stuff doesn’t go away. But there is something after.”

“Broadly speaking, the first album [Alam No Hris] is about euphoric joy, mostly; very poppy, in-love music. [Lucky Leaves] wasn’t just breakup music, necessarily, but ‘you’re totally fucked’ kind of stuff. A Distant Fist Unclenching shows that there is something after all that, and it’s not necessarily the end.”

“Self hate will be the death of youth culture,” Jonah sang in 2011 on Alam. Three years later, sentiments like these haven’t evaporated for Krill, but they have evolved, and there’s no end in sight. In fact, it feels like just the beginning.

A month after our interview, I’m at Shea Stadium seeing Krill open for Pile (it seems Rick’s schedule has finally cleared). It’s a sold out show and there’s hardly room to breathe, let alone stand. Swaying into the stranger beside me to the tune of “Purity of Heart,” I get a little weepy, and my friends make fun of me. Maybe they just don’t get it.

After the show, I decide to ask Rick Maguire for his thoughts on the power of Krill. Via email, he writes:

“One time, I took an elephant-size dose of LSD and I was able to see the universe from its VERY BEGINNING, and I saw, from a distance, the development of our solar system, but time was traveling so fast, I saw dinosaurs, I saw man and then I saw the future. We were all one consciousness and love was our religion. [Krill] is kind of like that.”

I don’t really do drugs, but I mean, I get it. I guess we all do.Whether it’s because we’re young, or broke, or lost, or whatever, Krill is something we can all agree upon. Sometimes you’re a rotten peanut and sometimes you’re a maximal being; sometimes you’re the tiger and sometimes you’re the fly. It’s just the nature of the beast, which makes The Cult of Krill a shared experience.

There’s a lot to be gained from Krill’s music, but also from Krill themselves. The way that Ian, Aaron and Jonah light up when discussing their art, dedication and commitment bleeding from each sentence uttered. Being in a band doesn’t suck, because everything sucks. You don’t need to be a Krill fan to know that. Still, being in a band isn’t any better or worse than doing anything else in life. Big or small, sweet or savory. It’s all just a matter of choice.