He’ll sing it only on special occasions, but Minneapolis-based singer/songwriter John Louis has been known to deliver a room-lifting version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road.” That song is about that most American of artistic topics — flight and freedom — and on his just-released debut CD “Drift,” Louis has penned his own ode to the open road in “Out Of Kingfield” that’s every bit as redemptive as the Boss’s classic.
Took the Greenway to the river
With the plan to free my mind
Looking for relief in the water
Your countenance drifts by
Oh something’s telling me
It’s time for us to drive
Let’s get out of Kingfield
Let’s do it right
Let’s get out of Kingfield
“It’s just that feeling of wanting to pick up and go somewhere and have a different view for a while,” said Louis, sitting in the living room of his, yes, Kingfield home Saturday. “I wrote it early in 2014, and I was originally thinking about being in King’s Ranch in Kingsville, Texas, and driving through Texas. But it evolved into being about this place, but transporting yourself.”
Louis grew up in Independence, Minn., and the Twin Cities and, for 12 years, he and his wife Marty raised their two children, Lily and Jack, in Eagan. In the fall of 2013, the couple moved to Kingfield, and have since embraced the many charms of the neighborhood, including the fertile Minneapolis bicycling and singer/songwriter scenes. “Out Of Kingfield,” then, is a tribute to both Louis’s new home and the feeling of flying free on the Greenway, as well as a theme song for anyone who needs to regularly shake the first world problems of this comfy burg and get the hell out.
“It’s not dissing the place,” said John, who took Louis as his stage name and will only say his day job “is in the legal world.” “It’s about picking up and taking off for a while, but coming back. Just get out of town for a while.
“I used to spend a lot of time in this area, but we couldn’t afford a house here at the time. Moving back here opened up all of that again in a way that I hadn’t done in years. I’ve been writing songs since I was in grade school and I was way into biking all through high school and early college, but then would only bike five times a year. And musically, for the previous five years, was pretty dead. Moving here for me, everything clicked: the music, the biking, the community. I wrote all the songs for this record in the last year or so. People were really warm and welcoming.”
The 12 songs on “Drift” (co-produced by Louis and fellow Kingfield singer/songwriter Brianna Lane and Mark Stockert at Stockert’s Uptown-based Underwood Recording Studios) have a similar feel to “Kingfield,” with lots of road-tripping philosophy and yearning hearts looking for more out of life and love, all buoyed by guest fiddle-banjo-pedal-steel-and-three-part-harmony appearances by the likes of Lane, Mike “Razz” Russell, the Cactus Blossoms, and Romantica’s Ben Kyle.
“With this record, I wanted to fit into that folk-country-Americana kind of space. Pedal steel became a big thing on this record, and I love that. It was interesting to see how the record evolved, from what I was initially thinking would be just guitar and voice and maybe no drums, but it became something bigger than that and I love the way it turned out.”
Louis cut his teeth on singing and songwriting in little-seen basement bands over the past two decades, but “Drift” is his official coming-out party. He and Marty have hosted several house concerts over the last year, and he’s been playing bi-weekly at area clubs, with its release party slated for Sept. 26 at the Aster Café, and more on the docket.
“My heroes have been the singer/songwriter types over the years,” he said. “Townes Van Zandt has been a huge influence for a lot of years, and Guy Clark, Gram Parsons, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings, Gillian Welch, Kelly Willis, Leonard Cohen, Slim Dunlap, Brianna Lane, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Jeff Tweedy and a lot more. I gravitate to the people who at least give the impression that they’re feeling what they’re singing, that it’s coming from somewhere deep within.
“I think this is a great record, and I hope it’s something that people will get pleasure out of, that they’ll relate to. When I put on [Son Volt’s] “Trace” or [Wilco’s] “Summerteeth” or [Van Zandt’s] “Live At The Old Quarter,” those records bring me to a state of mind that does something that I’m looking for at the time — whether it’s comfort or getting a break. I’m hoping this record does this for people and that it will bring them someplace they want to be for a while.”
Jim Walsh lives and grew up in East Harriet. He can be reached at [email protected]