The room went through a strange transition the first time I saw William KO, the most recent musical side project by Will Schreitz of Cult Tourist. Schreitz gripped the microphone, eyes closed, singing to a backing track of recorded music. He was still, focused, and the audience stood in a sort of quiet reverence, afraid to disturb him. The music pulsed, though, played through pop tropes distorted by odd whimsy; the drum track banged. After just two songs, everyone—no matter how shy—started dancing. By the end of the modest set, it was hard to recall how everyone had begun at a standstill, and Schreitz' performance was one of those quiet moments of ecstasy in a sparsely attended warehouse show that remind you why you shake off your after-work fatigue and get out there.
Schreitz has undergone numerous transformations as a musician since moving to Santa Fe about six years ago. Originally more preoccupied with acoustic music, he would often be seen busking on the Plaza or outside La Montañita Co-op in the Solana Center.
"I grew up with music on the radio. I didn't grow up around people playing music, so a lot of what I listened to was pop music," Schreitz tells SFR. "I got interested in acoustic music because I wanted to know about folk music and roots stuff, then I just got interested in recording music and doing something like what I heard on the radio as a kid."
Those pop music touchstones are unmistakable, especially the Prince-like cry that splits through Schreitz' most recent single "Truth" that otherwise disrupts the passionate calm of his tenor. There is an otherworldliness to his version of pop that goes beyond radio hits of the past or present—a haunted quality that is informed by the modern pop composer archetypes like Arthur Russell, Jonathan Richman or Ariel Pink. In addition to the spell cast by his live performance, Schreitz' vision feels magnetic at a time when so few musicians seem to have a point of view beyond "being in a band sounds like fun!" In today's over-saturated market, it's easy to gauge from creative output whether someone is intimately familiar with what they actually want. But the control inherent with the solo act comes with complications for Schreitz.
"I've had a number of people that I've played with, and that was really fun. I was also performing like this before, and there's something that's powerful about just one person with a microphone," he says. "But it can also feel kind of campy; I also like to control everything, and I have a vision, but in the end, I think it is about people playing music together. Not this special person, but lots of people getting involved."
It remains to be seen what effect a band would have on Schreitz' recorded music—and it all might be best left to Schreitz himself. He records frequently, often in the mornings at the shared jam space at Rockin' Rollers when other musicians are likely still in bed. He plays all the instruments, layers backing and lead vocals and has complete artistic freedom.
Occasionally, collaboration does nothing but complicate an already sound formula. Live, however, it would be a treat to see what started as intimate bedroom pop fleshed out by an expansive band. While soft-spoken and thoughtful in nature, one would hope Schreitz would put his foot down when needed and keep the integrity of his songs intact, but he says that attitude has led to mixed results.
He initially built a band of friends to play the material from his 2017 EP, Rivers. "I was kind of calling the shots and that was cool," he recalls, "but it felt limited."
Thus, the search becomes about a balance between a pop and modern classical mindset; a balance between a single voice and how it can interact with many; and a balance between dancing and standing still. The material is strong enough to withstand complication and expansion—and anyway, it's in good hands.
William KO with Doom Lagoon, Cliff Rose and Lady Like Venus
8pm. Thurs Nov. 8. $5-10 suggested donation.
Zephyr Community Art Studio,
1520 Center Drive, Ste. 2