Kristie Stremel
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Kristie Stremel

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Music

The best kept secret in music

Press


"In Light Of It All..."


By TIMOTHY FINN
The Kansas City Star

She called the record she put out last year “Here Comes the Light,” a title with overt spiritual implications. Except the “light” Kristie Stremel was talking about didn't shine from above; it came from within.
“I don't talk about it much,” she said Tuesday, “but getting to that point was a pretty intense experience. It really was the most promising thing that happened to me last year. Going way back to my Frogpond days, it was the first time I made a record sober.”

Stremel has been part of the Kansas City music scene since she played guitar for Frogpond, an all-gal indie-rock band that made some heavy waves in the mid-1990s. Stremel left the band in 1997, not too long after Frogpond had released its first album, “Count to Ten.”

She immediately started up another group, the harder-rocking Exit 159, which released an EP and an album before breaking up in 1999. That's when Stremel started a solo career that, for much of the past 3½ years, has kept her either in the studio or on the road and in the thick of a lifestyle that she was neither willing nor prepared to handle properly.

“It all adds up so fast,” she said. “You're in bars all the time, getting free booze…I think back on the Frogpond days, and I still wonder, ‘How did I do it? How did I even get up in the morning?' I hit it hard. I mean, Frogpond took me on the road, and I learned how. It reached a point where I had no idea a per son could go through a day without a cocktail or alcoholic beverage. It was insane.”
File photo
“Playing live again was hard the first time,” said newly sober singer/songwriter Kristie Stremel. “I mean I rarely played shows completely sober. But once I'd done it, it came back pretty easily – knock on wood. A lot of my fans have been real supportive….I'm sure some of my old fans got tired of seeing those train wrecks every night and wanted to see me sober up.”

About two years ago, she said, she bottomed out and admitted she needed help. That began the slow, grueling, one-day/one-step road to sobriety. For anyone in rehab, recovery is difficult, but because she wanted to continue performing – which meant going to bars and nightclubs – Stremel's commitment was particularly daunting.
“It's like I'm going into Satan's den every night,” she said, laughing, “all these dark bars with booze all around. And it's always an option – having a drink – it's always lingering above me. But I know if I touch the stuff again it won't be pretty.

“At first, I had to face some fears about it. So I took three months off. I just didn't want to be in any bars. So I didn't go out, and I didn't play. That was hard. It was kind of lonely, and there was some depression to deal with.

“Playing live again was hard the first time. I mean I rarely played shows completely sober. But once I'd done it, it came back pretty easily – knock on wood. A lot of my fans have been real supportive. So have a lot of the new sober people I've met. I'm sure some of my old fans got tired of seeing those train wrecks every night and wanted to see me sober up.”

“Here Comes the Light” implicitly addressed her rebirth, her newfound clarity, though Stremel gets the feeling a lot of listeners didn't catch onto those themes.

“I guess I was a little embarrassed about having to get help, so I didn't really want anyone to know,” she said. “But I do talk about sobering up, about seeing things in a different light and forgiving myself for all the (stuff) I did. Writing and singing the songs was another form of healing.”

Given her commitment to alcohol-free breakfasts and no-martini lunches, recording those songs required some guidance and extra support, and she got plenty of that from her producer Lou Whitney down in Springfield. “Lou's a social drinker,” Stremel said, “so when it comes to having a drink he doesn't really care either way. So he had no trouble doing things sober along with me, which was great. We made some beautiful music.”

Whitney has been there for her in the clubs and bars, too, every now and then when he and a couple of his other Springfield cronies – Donnie Thompson and Lloyd Hicks – fill in as her band mates.

“I call Lou and Donnie and Lloyd the Dirty Uncles,” she said, “because that's what I think of when I turn around and look at them.”

They will be behind her occasionally later this year when Stremel tours on the new record she expects to start making this spring. That record will be affiliated with Slewfoot Records, which released “Light,” but it will also be distributed through allindies.com, which focuses on smaller records and local music scenes.

“It's going to be more rocking, I just feel it,” Stremel said, “something between what I did in Exit 159 and what I've been doing solo.”

Stremel will hire the Dirty Uncles when she can afford them – “they're over doing shows for $50 a night” – and hire other musicians for smaller venues. But that's something to worry about in a few months. For now, she'll be doing solo acoustic shows, including one Saturday night at Davey's Uptown, where she'll see lots of familiar faces, where the beer and booze will flow and where she'll feel the usual tug of temptation.

“It's the hardest thing I've ever done in my life,” Stremel said. “But all in all it has been a beautiful thing. It sounds really cheesy, but I'd forgotten you could live life like this. I didn't know people could live happy lives without getting messed up. And I'm doing it and playing music. It's hard, but on the other hand it sure makes everything a lot easier.”

- Kansas City Star


Discography

Frogpond - TriStar - Count To Ten - 1996

Exit 159 - Independent Release - Lost On Earth - 1997

Exit 159 - Independent - A Song For Every Mood - 1998

Kristie Stremel - Independent Release - The Detour Ep - 1999

Kristie Stremel - Slewfoot Records - All I Really Want - 2001

Kristie Stremel - Slewfoot Records - Here Comes The Light - 2003

Photos

Feeling a bit camera shy

Bio

Kristie Stremel grew up in Hays, Kansas, a small town in Kansas’ western flatlands. As a child, she played and sang along with her guitar-playing father, whose favorite artists were Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings. At 12, she got her first electric guitar and began playing songs off of the radio and from her family’s record collections. One of five children, she was always performing for her family. At 15, she saw Joan Jett at the Ellis County fair and was inspired to form her first garage band, performing hit songs at the skating rink and school dances. The summer before her senior year of high school, she moved to Kansas City and experienced an isolation that was no doubt helpful in refining her songwriting abilities. At 19, she started performing acoustic songs at the Lake of the Ozarks in central Missouri and at the Big Bang Buffet in Kansas City. By this time, her performance was comprised of half cover songs and half originals. She was constantly writing, as she does today, keeping the guitar by her bed in case she dreamed a song during the night.

At 21, she joined Missouri band Frogpond, playing rhythm guitar and singing backing vocals. In 1996, the band went on to record their album, "Count to Ten", produced by Everclear’s Art Alexakis. With a few minor alternative radio hits, Frogpond toured all over the country, and Stremel came to be known for her charismatic enthusiasm and interaction with the crowd (characterized by her willingness to climb club rafters when a set reached climactic heights). In the spring of 1997, she left Frogpond and formed her own three-piece band, Exit 159, releasing a remarkable 7-song EP, "Lost On Earth". This offering yielded one regional radio hit. With an outlet for her prolific songwriting, Stremel worked fast. In early 1998, Exit released a 12-song LP, "A Song For Every Mood", an album with radio-ready songs, two of which received a great deal of play on area alternative stations. The band won the Kansas City/Lawrence area regional music award, the Klammie, two years in a row, first for "Best New Band" and, the second year, for "Band of the Year." Exit 159 continuously built on a strong following, packing the toughest Kansas City houses and touring the West Coast twice. In the fall of ‘99, the now-4-piece band, featuring three songwriters with individual ambitions folded, and Kristie went straight back into the studio to record as a solo artist.

Kristie Stremel’s solo material was a logical step forward from the work that she did with Exit 159, emphasizing the growing sophistication of her songwriting and delving more deeply into her personal struggles. Her first demo is a 6-song acoustic set, "The Detour Ep". In 2001, Kristie signed on with Slewfoot Records. For the next three years she would tour with her band, tour solo acoustic, and put out two full length records. A 2001 release, "All I Really Want", and a 2003 release, "Here Comes The Light". During this time, Stremel won "Best Female Vocalist" in Kansas City awarded by The Pitch Weekly.

Nearing the end of 2003, it did not take long for Stremel to get back in the studio and start recording her fourth solo album. To be released in the fall of 2004, Stremel plans to hit the road with her newest offering and play shows nationwide. The control exhibited in this new music is a sign of the maturity of an exceptionally-talented artist, and it offers listeners a glimpse of the versatility and subtlety of Stremel’s voice, which draws on both her country roots and her rock background to offer an unusually soulful and personal sound.