If you’ve ever seen Charlie Krause in person when he’s not performing, he’s usually “looking into space with furrowed brow,” or at least that’s what he sings on “Silence,” the closing tune on his debut album What I’d Give. Finally putting what’s in his head onto the ivory keys and into the microphone, Charlie’s songwriting suits the needs of an old soul. In search of an older sound, his music is primarily acoustic, but heavy-hitting, and by no means is he another ‘acoustic & chill’ artist. Having played solo piano in multiple bars and venues throughout New Jersey, Charlie is naturally inspired by the timeless contributions of Jackson Browne, Bruce Springsteen, and Billy Joel. More than anything, his music aims to tell a story, and he’s excited for listeners to hear his.
It’s safe to say that few experiences in the world of home studio recording can compare to the making of Charlie Krause’s eponymous debut, What I’d Give. Recorded over the span of nearly two years, with a pandemic thrown in during the making, nothing went quite as planned. Needless to say, the album certainly works as a time capsule, as each song surmises the cryptic thoughts and experiences of an enigmatic, folk-rock—and jazz—enthusiast. What I’d Give points out that every year in your twenties, or your early twenties in this case, presents a milestone.
“A lot happens between the ages of 20 and 22—with 23 right around the corner at this point,” Charlie admits. “I’d always been an old soul, or so people say, but what happened between 2019 and 2021 certainly gave my spirit some crow’s feet...”
Fascinated, and naturally attracted to the introspective lyricism of Jackson Browne, Neil Young, and Bob Dylan, What I’d Give’s smooth, primarily acoustic production, with all its affable imperfections, draws inspiration from an older generation.
Recorded primarily as a duo between Charlie Krause and Ross Owen, the engineer and producer of Charlie’s debut, What I’d Give utilizes the layered, track-on-track recording process of putting one instrument on top of another. Ross, already well-versed in songwriting and recording, as he’s already made three LP’s, would record drums and electric guitars while Charlie provided bass, keys, and a piece of his mind.
“It’s kind of the farthest thing from pop punk,” Charlie explains, “or hip hop, or hard rock, or even straight up modern pop. While pop punk for example contains heavy songs regarding light subjects, my record, derivative in folk rock, contains light songs—notably ‘sing-songy’ for that matter—about notably heavy subjects.”
The album’s title cut serves as the mantra for every song, the epicenter of the record’s overall personality. To this point, What I’d Give also divides itself into two parts; the first five songs display dreamy, quasi-romanticized love clichés wishing for better circumstances, while the second half provides damning commentary revealing the truth of what really goes on in the writer’s life and mind.
“Wishing you could be anybody but yourself during a given moment,” Charlie confesses, “that’s what ‘What I’d Give’ is about. It would become oddly prophetic as it was one of the first songs Ross and I recorded—one of only two songs to have been recorded in 2019, and its meaning only became more pertinent as time went on."
The rest of the songs base themselves a bit on the LP’s title cut, like the autobiographical album closer, “Silence,” which leads into “Call on Me.” The finale summarizes the unforeseen circumstances of the pandemic and Charlie’s unusual quarantine experience. Having just dropped out of school, which would turn into taking a semester off and transferring to Monmouth University, he stumbled upon some new material for a prolonged recording project. “I took Phil Murphy’s mandate to the next level,” Charlie notes, “quarantine for me essentially translated into exile. I got into a spout with my family right as the pandemic was unfolding, and there was no way in hell I was spending two consecutive months in our one-bathroom, Red Bank apartment with my mom and my sister. I stayed with my grandparents down in the countryside of Maryland.”
Another song to come out of Charlie’s stay in Maryland would be the Billy Joel-inspired, poppy bossa nova number, “See Her Tomorrow,” a love ballad about the quickening pace of time.
“I wanted to make my own ‘Just the Way You Are,’ you know—but you sort of have to be madly in love with somebody to write a song like that,” he jokes, “and people in general were at their absolute worst during the first year of this pandemic—I didn’t like anybody.”
Charlie’s fantastical love number features the exquisite work of New Jersey saxophonist, Emily Grant, showcasing a contribution that practically gives the song every piece of its worth. Another song working like an anomaly to the rest of LP would be the comparatively upbeat, “Those Green Eyes,” a tune about just that—eyes, eyes, eyes. It would be the only song on the album recorded outside of Avenue B, the studio housing Virtually Atomic Records.
“Only smiles when I think about that song—both sentimentally and somewhat jokingly,” the singer laughs. “During those sessions, I’d never felt mutual support quite like that before. The only price to pay is the fact that everyone involved won’t stop singing that repetitious chorus now.”
Recorded on a whim at Lakehouse Studios in Asbury Park, NJ, the song was initially released under Monmouth University’s independent record label, Blue Hawk Records. You can still find it via Spotify or Apple Music on their Fall 2020 compilation, Reviver, as Charlie’s tune actually opens the record. Having submitted an audition to have a song be recorded at Lakehouse, the program took him on, and a song was made. Charlie’s backup band included Erik Tuttle on acoustic guitar, Ethan Christensen on electric guitar, Mikey Sanchez on bass, Victor Montanaro on drums, and even a special appearance from Georgi James and Ross Owen himself on backup vocals.
“It’s a pretty eclectic mix of tunes,” Charlie comments on his debut. “I don’t think my voice sounds quite the same on each and every song.”
Whether nothing’s really burning, or you happen to find yourself on the outside looking in, What I’d Give is an honest piece of work. What you hear isn’t quite far from the truth, especially when listening to side 2.
“Grab a beer and light a candle,” Charlie advises. “Those are the circumstances I wrote the songs in—they should probably be listened to that way...”