Booking for North America:
The debut album from KARIO, Audition is a vessel for the kind of revelatory pop songs that contain a rare constellation of elements: arcane wisdom and unfettered emotion, poetic observation, and wide-eyed philosophy. Named for its mononymous frontman, the collective features some of the most imaginative and idiosyncratic musicians in indie-rock and pop today, including the project’s co-founder/producer Chris Blood; bassist Elijah Thomson and guitarist David Vandervelde (both known for their work with Father John Misty); drummer/percussionist Joey Waronker (Beck, Atoms for Peace, R.E.M.); baritone sax player Jon Natchez (The War on Drugs); trombone player Dave Nelson; keyboardists Chris Caswell, Drew Erickson, Ben Darwish, and John Carroll Kirby; string player/arranger Rob Moose (Bon Iver); and violinist/arranger Eric Gorfain. When met with the edifying perspective of Kario’s songwriting, the result is a body of work that distinctly echoes the frenetic energy of the current moment, but ultimately imparts a far more enduring truth about the endless complexities of the human experience.
The journey toward dreaming up KARIO’s prismatic brand of avant-pop began back in 2019, soon after the project’s lead singer crossed paths with Blood at famed L.A. rock club The Troubadour. “Chris and I started to talk about where rock-and-roll was and where it was going, and we quickly developed a kind of camaraderie,” says Kario. “From the beginning there was a mutual feeling of wanting to find a very eclectic way of expressing the songs that kept bubbling up in me: we wanted to discover sounds that we’d never heard before, that weren’t drawn from the same template everyone else is using.” To further that process of discovery, the pair assembled a lineup of musicians primarily selected for their left-of-center sensibilities. “The songs intentionally have a nostalgic undertone that we wanted to celebrate and also bring forward in time, so we opted for creative players who could challenge our concept of what makes a song sound classic,” says Blood, who as producer also contributed arrangements, synth lines, guitars, keys, throughout Audition.
One of the first songs created for KARIO, Audition’s title track established the abundantly generous spirit of collaboration that now defines the project. “More than anything, I wanted to be the emcee of this marvelous circus we were putting together with all these incredibly talented and original musicians,” says Kario. “So instead of trying to control every last particle of the experiment, we gave everyone the freedom to be themselves as much as humanly possible.” Thanks in large part to that creative abandon, “Audition” unfolds in a delicate collision of sonic details (warm saxophone melodies, opulent strings, radiant bursts of synth), all of which form an exquisite setting for Kario’s intensely vulnerable confession of the longing to belong.
As the spellbinding opener to Audition, “Are You in There” presents a perfect introduction to Kario’s singular lyrical approach, an element informed by postmodern novelist Paul Auster in its elegant tangling of the enigmatic and highly specific. “I don’t think I would ever have written this song without having had to confront those people in my life who turned out not to be the people I thought they were—a confrontation we’ve all had to face over the last several years of indecency on a massive scale,” says Kario. “In contemplating this, I assumed the role of a first-person narrator speaking to the boy inside the man, the boy whose future betrayed his youthful dreams: a kind of apologia to the true self.” With its mesmeric rhythms and luminous textures, “Are You in There” features background vocals from singer/songwriter Hailey Collier, who lent her sweetly ethereal voice to nearly all of the album’s tracks. “In the past my voice hasn’t always married well with a breathy, feminine vocal, and finally I realized, ‘That’s because you’re trying to be so goddamn masculine all the time,’” says Kario. “But now I was able to find a real compatibility with Hailey, and her presence brought something completely new to the record.”
One of the most immediately magnetic tracks on Audition, “Captive” speaks to the collective’s extraordinary capacity to surprise even themselves. “‘Captive’ was never intended to be a love song—let alone a carefree dance song—so much as a riff on a kind of Stockholm syndrome: the embrace of the captor by the captive as a way of claiming freedom inside captivity,” says Kario, who co-wrote “Captive” with Blood. In a prime example of the potent contrast that propels the album, “Captive” twists that sentiment into something euphoric, gloriously ornamented in delirious disco grooves, rapturous harmonies, and lyrics that deftly belie a sense of ruinous desperation (“You can lock me in your future/And throw away the key”).
In its layered examination of the human condition, Audition also encompasses such outwardly searching and socially attuned offerings as “A Long Way From Here.” “I lived down the street from the Lorraine Motel years ago and spent hours talking to the late Coretta King, who was very open about the struggles of raising a family of four under constant threat of death,” says Kario. “This song was written as an ode to all the young Black mothers I’ve known, whose sons and daughters I played with as a child without understanding the dangers they faced.” In a particularly stunning turn, “A Long Way From Here” takes on a haunting quality in the hypnotic repetition of its central refrain (“Please don’t try and stop me now/Said the headlights to the deer”). Meanwhile, “Aliyah” emerged as Kario ruminated on two long-beloved songs—Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” and Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay”—then alchemized his emotional response into a nuanced meditation on the nature of grace. “This is a song about a mistake that cannot be unmade: something grave, irredeemable, criminal,” says Kario. “And yet, the name Aliyah means ‘ascendance’ in Hebrew and Arabic, thus conveying the idea that the narrator is seeking a kind of forgiveness in one last beautiful connection before he’s taken away.”
Even its more blissfully escapist moments, Audition bears a raw emotionality that has much to do with the genesis of KARIO. “At the start the whole idea was to find some of the best players in the world, but only those who reacted to the songs in a profound way,” says Kario. “That was the most critical criteria, and it’s a huge part of why these songs have their own gravitational force.” As he reveals, that shared belief and investment in the project had a dramatic impact on his own creative expression. “When Chris and I first met he asked me, ‘Are you willing to change? Do you have the guts, the energy, the commitment it takes to really evolve?’ And my answer was a resounding yes,” says Kario. “I wanted to be pushed, and that’s exactly what happened as I was reacting to all these wonderful sounds and textures and tonalities that were coming my way. It’s been a true collaboration, and one of the greatest pleasures of my life.”
In reflecting on the unshakable sense of purpose that guided the making of Audition, Kario points to an epiphany he experienced prior to a momentous performance some years ago. “I had a revelation that there’s no reason to ever be nervous when performing, because it’s absolutely not about you,” he says. “You’re here to tell a story for people who are hoping to experience something beautiful, something that will stay with them long after they leave. Once I realized that, it was like sprouting wings.” To that end, he views KARIO as an unpredictable yet entirely natural outcome of years of passionate devotion to his calling. “This whole thing is a kind of love affair,” he says. “It’s a love affair with songs, with the feeling of connection that comes from performance, with the joy of making something beautiful. And if you ever have the opportunity to deliver something beautiful into this world, I can’t imagine why you would ever turn that down.”
KARIO- Audition LP
KARIO- Captive (Your hooks)
KARIO- Aliyah (Against The Sky)
KARIO- A Long Way From Here
KARIO- Are You In There
KARIO - We’re Both In Trouble Now