Before recording his debut full-length album, Kris Ulrich wasn’t sure that he would ever make another record.
“I was kind of caught between two roles of like being a side person and playing guitar for other people a lot,” Ulrich said. “I think throughout the pandemic too, I just felt so creatively tapped, like I just didn’t feel like I had a direction.”
Out of this period of confusion and fear came Big in the USA, an album of widescreen, synth-laden heartland rock and pop full of heartfelt reflections on days gone by and hopes for the future.
“I feel like at the time, I was writing it to tell myself that, you know, that things eventually would work out,” Ulrich said.
To bring himself out of his writing slump, Ulrich had to find a new angle to work from.
“Every time I want to make something new, I kind of need to find a new instrument or something that inspires me,” he explained.
For Big in the USA, the piece of gear that inspired him was a drum machine, which led to a shift in his writing process.
“For a lot of the time I was writing on acoustic guitar, just me and acoustic guitar, and that’s how I would write songs,” he said.
“When I got the drum machine and I eventually got a synthesizer too, I started jamming with myself in a way, like having a drumbeat going and having a synth pad going and then I’d play bass along to it or I’d play acoustic along to it, and it felt more like I was writing a certain mood instead of writing a song.”
You can feel the impact of this new style of writing in the music. Ulrich introduces a whole new world of textures into his production, bringing to mind ’80s Bruce Springsteen and bands like the War On Drugs in its mix of dusty Americana songwriting and glossy, cinematic production.
“There is kind of a Manitoba sound, I think,” Ulrich said, referring to a lineage of folk rock set out by Neil Young. “I think that these songs still, they have that maybe at their core, but I think that the production is a lot more adventurous than I’ve ever done before.”
Ulrich also credits his friend Kieran, who goes by the name francis rae in his own work, with inspiring the new sound after his work on the demo for the opening track, “Friends on the Internet.”
“I sent it to my friend Kieran, and he didn’t say anything but just sent back a version of it with like 26 tracks he had built onto it, and I was just blown away,” Ulrich explained. “I was like, whoa, this is so cool. Once he did that, it kind of steered the record in a direction.”
The record was co-produced and co-mixed with Boy Golden, and Ulrich also shouted out his friends Field Guide and Slow Spirit for helping out in the writing stages.
Despite its hard gestation process, Big in the USA is an album that Ulrich feels fully confident in.
“I think it’s the first time I’ve made something where I don’t have any hesitations about it, I’m just super excited about it,” he said.
“I don’t wish anything was different.”
Big in the USA is available on major streaming services.