There's a surprising amount of stateliness to the music that Jeff Kozelski, a guitarist and singer best known for his lengthy stint in the jam-rock band King Hippo and the more indie-leaning (but omnivorous) outfit the Outervention, makes under his own name.
On his debut solo effort, Systematic Static, traces of the funky guitar riffage that King Hippo rode to regional fame remain, paired with Kozelski's weary, direct vocal delivery and lush, occasionally lysergic arrangements. And undergirding everything is a sort of Wilco-esque bent toward experimentation and layered arrangements within the confines of conventional pop rock.
"There was a time where I was in bands like King Hippo where I was playing and we'd be like, 'No slow songs,'" Kozelski says, pondering the evolution of his music over the years. "I think that maybe inside of me I was just like, 'You know what? I like those slow songs.' Sometimes I like to be a little bit more adventurous and less angsty and shit than I was when I was a kid. I mean, I'm almost 40; I'm too old to be pissed off all the time."
As for the motivation to pivot to solo material from the Outervention, Kozelski says it was just time to move on.
"I was writing a lot of songs for bands that were kind of falling apart — well, not really falling apart, just everyone was doing their own thing," he explains. "And I'm constantly writing music and I still have that love affair with recording music that I've had since I was 14 years old."
But more than the need to pull the plug on the band was the sense of freedom and possibility he felt by being accountable to only himself.
"I just liked the fact that I was going to be able to sit in the studio and noodle on instruments and try to write the songs," he says. "This [album] kind of gave me the freedom to say, 'OK, I'm going to play this or play that [instrument]. We'll see what happens.'"
What happens, it turns out, is music that calls back to the rollicking guitar-centric grooves of his early days ("Clandestine Sam," "Lady in the Stars"), plus spacey, blissed-out pop-rock ("Eye to Eye," "Natural Grow") and lushly arranged country-rock ("Born in Zen," "Silent Life"). Kozelski's guitar chops are often present but rarely foregrounded — instead, they exist in constant relationship to a bevy of keyboards and organs that showcase his studio know-how and adventurous arranging spirit without regard for how to recreate the sound live.
"I was doing the jam thing for a long time," he says of those King Hippo days. "I kind of grew up into that being a guitar player. I think most people fall under that, that were my age, that were looking to get better at the guitar. The jam band guys were mostly guitar-pronounced guys, so they were who I followed. But at some point, I just wanted to not be that, you know? I'm more song-oriented [now], and I just kind of wanted a free-flow through space [in the arrangements]. I do still love the jam stuff. On this particular album I was just trying to kind of get it tighter."
Kozelski recorded most of the parts on the album himself, bringing in just a couple of drummers (John Pope and Stratton Moore) to lay down the drum kit parts. To perform these songs live, the guitarist is tapping Wes Powers from Sol Driven Train and David Grimm, who plays with Elise Testone and Wadata, to help translate these studio songs to the stage.
As for the album's release, Kozelski is excited about both the humorous, spacey music videos (by Kevin Hanley's The Business Company) and artwork that accompany it, and the fact that he's putting it out on vinyl (as well as through digital outlets).
"It's all fun, just being able to have the freedom to do whatever I want," he admits. "You know, sometimes you're just in a band and everybody's the chief and it's just like, 'Well this is gonna end up weird.' Different people have different ideas, you know?"