Pain, beauty, loss, redemption, renewal.
Few artists capture life’s travails and triumphs as penetratingly and as powerfully as Kalamazoo singer-songwriter Brian Koenigsknecht.
His appropriately titled latest album, “From the Shallows to the Deep,” stands as his masterwork – a dark yet uplifting musical journey through the highs and lows of Koenigsknecht’s struggle with bipolar disorder, coping with his father’s stroke and his “emotional connection” to the Earth and Michigan’s robust music community.
“My new album began as a suicide letter really,” says the veteran artist, who’s been performing for more than 30 years. “If I were gone tomorrow, how would I want people to remember me? I had almost given up on music, my family and life. Coming to terms with my depression and reaching out for help, I began to turn my life around. I turned to doctors for my bipolar disorder and my family for support and to the Kalamazoo music community for inspiration.”
The resulting project – recorded and produced by Brad Frank (Pillar to Post) at Knob and Tube Sound Studio in Kalamazoo – unfurls as an enchanting collection of deeply personal tunes that are at once melancholy and hopeful, enhanced by special musical guests from the region’s music scene: Samantha Cooper, Megan Dooley, Matthew Borr, Carrie McFerrin and many more.
Indeed, Koenigsknecht pays tribute to Michigan musicians in “Earthwork Songbirds,” a track inspired by the Earthwork Music collective’s annual Harvest Gathering: “I feel the Earthwork songbirds sing their precious parts … I hear the earth work in the sweetest harmony / We see the earth work and it isn’t just a dream / It isn’t just a dream.”
Koenigsknecht’s own dream has revolved around music since the age of 9 when his father and mentor taught him how to play Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” on guitar and harmonica. What followed were family performances at churches, festivals and schools, with Koenigsknecht starting to write music and play coffee houses while attending Northern Michigan University in Marquette.
Since moving to Kalamazoo in 1998, the singer-songwriter has established himself as in-demand act with a voice that’s been compared to Ray LaMontagne and David Gray, performing regularly at venues ranging from Bell’s Brewery to Kalamazoo State Theatre. He’s also a member of the band Pillar to Post.
“I write songs inspired by my life, the lives around me and a world that I am grateful for and feel is worth saving with the hope to move the listener to feel, to think, and to action,” he explains. “I consider myself a successful artist because at the age of 43 and in a state with so much talent, I am still performing weekly.”
And with the spotlight shining on his most compelling collection yet, Koenigknecht hopes to get those songs heard by as many fans as possible.