Kray Van Kirk is coming back to Juneau with a few hundred more shows under his belt.
Van Kirk lived in Juneau when he earned his doctorate and worked for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Now, as a full-time singer-songwriter, he resides in northern California. Although he told the Capital City Weekly in a phone interview his calendar typically includes more than 100 shows per year, he isn’t home all that often.
“Now, I’m just on the road full-time, and I just booked some shows in Petersburg, Juneau and Sitka,” Van Kirk said. “Then, I’m flying over to London and the Isle of Man for some shows in October.”
He will play a lobby concert at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 20 at Centennial Hall.
“I haven’t actually played a full-length concert in Juneau before,” Van Kirk said. “It may have two brand new tunes, maybe three depending on what happens this week, but I’ve got a couple new tunes in the hopper, and if those get done, the first time they’ll ever be played for an audience is on this tour.”
He’s excited for some of the songs on the new LP to stretch their legs for a live audience.
“It takes on a life of its own,” Van Kirk said of the first time a song is played live. “The first time you play it, it comes out, and it begins to take on its own form.”
Van Kirk said being a touring musician is a lot different now than it was when he first gave it a go in the early ’90s.
“With the advent of the internet, there are lots of us out there doing it, so in some ways it’s a lot more intense,” Van Kray said. “It always ends up being fewer than I would like. It’s just an ongoing progression. Hopefully in 2020, I’ll have maybe 150 shows. I’ve already booked the first show for 2021, so they get booked pretty far ahead.”
Van Kirk continued to make music but put efforts toward being a full-time musician on hold for more than a decade for both parenthood and steadier paychecks as a state scientist.
“I ended up in Alaska, and I ended up being a single parent, so I stopped playing for a whole to be a dad,” Van Kirk said.
However, he released his third album, and first in decades back, in 2015 and is continuing to hone his craft.
“I was an OK statistician, I was a good coder, but I was not cutting edge,” Van Kirk said. “I realized I had a choice. I could either spend the next 20 years dedicating myself to good fisheries statistical models, or I could spend the next 20 years writing about Don Quixote and the hero’s quest, and I realized that I would contribute more to the world be writing songs than I would be writing stock assessment models.”
He said that wasn’t to disparage people who do the latter, just that it’s something that could be done better by others.
“I don’t see a lot of people who do what I do in turns of the thematic content of my tunes,” Van Kirk said.
In addition to frequent touring, Van Kray said he has a new CD, “The Midnight Commander” in the works.
“The Midnight Commander is an insane old black man on the New York City subway who wears a superhero outfit made out of wool underwear and Xtratufs and a little kitchen towel,” Van Kirk said describing the titular character, “and he runs around and he stops people when he sees them doing bad stuff, but he’s insane.”
Like his past work, Van Kirk said the album examines heroes and a more gender-inclusive take on the Campbellian hero’s journey.
“The new CD is concerned with heroes and trying to make sure that everybody no matter what gender they are, whether they’re gay or straight, what race they are, what language they speak, everybody deserves to look at themselves and see themselves on the heroes quest,” Van Kirk said.
• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.