For the past month, Kris Orlowski has been growing a mustache. It’s not a regal thing—the sort of facial hair Tom Selleck or John Oates rocked circa 1985. Rather, it’s shadowed and wispy—a little “pervy,” the Seattle-based musician will tell you. “One day, on a Monday morning, I was like, ‘I’m not gonna shave. It’s Mustache Monday.’ ”
When it became a polarizing point of discussion among friends, he decided to do something the 31-year-old artist is becoming known for: He let his fans decide. Pledge to support the album he’s currently recording with his band, and you get to help choose the fate of the ’stache.
Orlowski has long considered his relationship with his fans as central to his art. It’s why he queried them—4,807 friends on Facebook, 15,633 followers on Twitter—about what covers he should incorporate into the set list for his next tour. It’s also why he and his band decided to launch a Pledge Music Campaign to fund their current project. And while he’s not the only artist doing this, he may be the most genuinely cheerful about it.
“As a musician who is trying to make a career in music, it’s important to me to connect with fans, it’s something they’re a part of,” says Orlowski. “And at the end of the day, it’s just a lot more fun that way.”
In the past 12 months Kris Orlowski, the band, has made a conscious effort to take its music to “the next level.” The front man says this decision came about around this time last year, when he and his band—Mark Isakson, Tyler Carroll, Torry Anderson, and Greg Garcia—were in the midst of recording their Pieces We Are EP. “We really wanted to make it special,” Orlowski says of the collection of intricately arranged orchestral folk songs that showcase his smooth, booming baritone.
They’ve since had songs featured on Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice; the album climbed the iTunes singer/songwriter charts; and the band sold out the Showbox at the Market alongside friends Ivan and Alyosha. “That record really helped catapult us,” Orlowski says. The release also landed the band a deal with New York-based The Agency Group and a licensing company to shop its tunes. “That was big for me,” says Orlowski. “Because I remember when Macklemore signed with The Agency Group for booking. It was huge.”
For Orlowski, songwriting has always been more than just making music; he wants his songs to make a difference—and connect with people. Through his relatable lyrics, charming personality, and electric stage presence, they’re doing just that.
It’s Orlowski’s accessibility—the genuine good-guy vibe he gives off—that last April brought together some of Seattle’s best and brightest musicians. The concert, which featured friends including Allen Stone, John Roderick (The Long Winters), and Daniel Blue (Motopony), came about after the band’s gear was stolen between tours. When the gear showed up around the city days before the fundraiser, the show went on anyway—and Orlowski and his band donated all proceeds to the musician health and help nonprofit MusiCares. It was a natural move for a musician hoping to get more involved with social-justice issues through his music. “I kind of miss that aspect of my life,” says Orlowski, who volunteered with a program called Arts Aftercare while in college.
Keeping this in mind, the band recently partnered with Invisible Children, a San Diego–based nonprofit that works to inform people about child slavery in Third World countries. “To me, that’s a really important issue,” Orlowski says. “Kids have this level of innocence, and when you take that away from them, that’s one of the worst things I’ve ever seen happen. That’s so fucked up.”
Music is still Orlowski’s main focus. He believes the new material he and the band are writing and recording has the potential to make some waves, and he has set lofty expectations for 2014. He wants to continue to tour the country, sell 20,000 records—and see himself on the cover of Rolling Stone next to Macklemore. (“I’m just kidding about that last part,” he says.) Orlowski is excited about his new material, a batch of which he’ll debut at Bumbershoot. He says there’s more electric guitar, and it’s got a sort of ’80s rock vibe while still retaining some folky elements. That said, Orlowski insists the new tunes are “still him.”
“Bumbershoot is basically going to be our coming-out party in Seattle again,” Orlowski says.
He will give his fans a show, but also ask for their help as he continues to campaign for his new album, with a sneak peek at what they have helped make happen so far. As for the fate of that mustache? As those in the crowd will see, it’s gone. From Kris Orlowski, the fans get what the fans want.
Kris Orlowski plays Saturday at 8 p.m. on the Plaza Stage.