For all of the rockers, rappers, and artists in between who swear they “live” the lifestyle represented in their music, few can make that claim as accurately as John Kraus.
A lot of the people who first hear Kraus and his backing band, the Goers, probably aren’t even too familiar with the stories behind the folky, maritime rock the Long Beach group performs, but the sea shanties coming out of the vocalist’s mouth share quite the history with the singer.
“I work on an educational vessel, so I’ve capitalized on working in the maritime industry,” Kraus says. “I’ve been working on boats for about 20 years, so I’ve learned a lot of these songs just from the culture that comes on to the boats. The music scene is very different than the maritime industry, but I’m a musician who’s played in rock bands all my life. I wanted to blend the two together.”
By combining his two musical loves, one of Kraus’s main goals was simply to make sea shanties as a whole a little more listenable and fun for the landlubbers around the world. The harsh ocean tunes generally aren’t something that most casual music listeners would find on their Spotify, but Kraus and his crew have found the unique mixture to be their calling. Not only is it a way for the seaman and his merry band of misfits to play music they’re passionate about, but it’s also brought them success in their very specific corner of the local music scene.
“Everybody needs a niche, right?” Kraus says. “In order to stand out from the crowd, you can either manufacture something that’s fake or you can play what you know. I know these songs — and a lot of them have a rich history — so I’m interested in making them cool and fun to play. We also don’t play typical rock instruments. There’s a tuba and a fiddle, and those guys come from jazz and bluegrass influences. I don’t think it’s something you hear too often.”
Although it may seem like a random assortment of instruments to have in a single maritime rock band, the Goers actually came together more naturally than any of Kraus’s other groups. Drummer Dave Dutton has been Kraus’s friend and bandmate since grade school, while the tuba player (legendary Weekly illustrator Bob Aul!) is the frontman’s brother-in-law. Add in the host of other musicians that the singer and multi-instrumentalist personally knows — such as fiddler Tim Weed from his bluegrass rock band, Rose’s Pawn Shop — and the diverse sea shanty pushers had the perfect vehicle for both their covers of classics as well as their own original tunes.
On their latest record, Live on Land, the full crew came together to record tracks together for the first time. As opposed to Kraus’s two previous sea shanty efforts — which were both essentially solo projects that were then brought to the band — Live on Land sees the quintet all working together to bring their full sound and energy to the maritime tracks new and old. Although Kraus recommends new listeners dig into the previous discography — such as 2012’s Derelict — and maybe even learn some of maritime music’s background and history (in order to better understand the band’s cover songs) before checking out this weekend’s release, the new album certainly sounds unlike anything else most people have ever heard before.
“We recorded it about a year ago live in Claremont,” Kraus says. “There’s a music venue there that’s also a studio, so we were able to get a good recording of the live show we played there at the same time. Not everything we played made the record, but we spliced up about eight songs to put on the live record.”
Of course, for those who want the full force of Kraus’s sea shanties in person, they’ll also be celebrating the record release with an onshore party of their own at Wreckless Fullerton on Saturday, September 15.
John Kraus and the Goers perform at Wreckless, 136 W. Commonwealth, Fullerton, (714) 519-3179, www.reckless.us, 8 p.m., Free, all ages.
Josh Chesler used to play baseball for some pretty cool teams, but now he just writes about awesome stuff like tattoos, music, MMA and sneakers. He enjoys injuring himself by skateboarding, training for fights, and playing musical instruments in his off time.