Allegra Krieger main page

Allegra Krieger Dances on the Edge of Eternity

[Rolling Stone]

After escaping a deadly apartment fire, the indie singer-songwriter levels up with a new album full of brilliant, intense songs

NE NIGHT LAST summer, Allegra Krieger woke up to an apartment full of smoke. Unable to unlock the fire escape, she stumbled out of her fifth-floor walk-up unit in New York’s Chinatown and into an even smokier stairwell. “I just took a deep breath and ran down the stairs, and it got thicker and thicker, to the point where you can’t see,” recalls the singer-songwriter, 28. “So I fell, and then a fireman found me and took me out…. Then you’re outside watching it happen. You’re half-asleep, panicked, and then you’re on the other side of it.”

A few days later — unharmed but shaken, and living in a hotel room provided by the city — Krieger wrote a stark, haunting song called “One or the Other.” “Nancy from the second floor died/On her bed with an open door,” she sings over moody guitar chords. “She tried to get out, but must have turned around/Couldn’t fight that light anymore.” The song builds up to a searching refrain: “What do you know about living?/What do you know about dying?”

“I’ve spent a lot of time in my life feeling very dark about being alive at all,” Krieger says now, nearly a year after the accidental fire, caused by lithium-ion batteries in a ground-floor e-bike shop, that killed four of her neighbors. “And in that moment, whatever was happening earlier in the day, whatever stress … The true thing I felt, right after it happened, [was that] I was so thankful that I made it out of there.”

“One or the Other” is one of several songs on Krieger’s upcoming Art of the Unseen Infinity Machine (due out Sept. 13on Double Double Whammy) that explore big questions about existence and impermanence. In that sense, they’re classic Allegra Krieger songs. On releases like this new album and her 2023 breakthrough, I Keep My Feet on the Fragile Plane, she’s as much a philosopher as a songwriter, writing stream-of-consciousness lyrics that consider her place in the universe and measure the distance between mind and body. “When I write, it’s more a point of discovery or curiosity,” she says. “I’m figuring it out within my own mind. Just musings.”

Krieger is sitting with a cup of coffee in a diner booth in midtown Manhattan, not far from where she now lives in another temporary housing arrangement. As she recounts her influences, like the 20th-century Brazilian novelist Clarice Lispector — her 1964 classic The Passion According to G.H. is a favorite — it’s clear that hers is a unique intelligence. Krieger has also been known to wander over to the science section of a bookstore and pick up a volume on physics for some light reading. “Not because I ever had that much of an interest in science,” she explains. “But something about physics and the fourth dimension is inspiring for me as a writer, just trying to make sense of things that are really hard to make sense of.”

She’s always been like this: a restless mind, a seeker. Growing up in Jacksonville, Florida, she took piano and dance lessons, and began writing songs around age eight. “The first song I remember writing was called ‘The Shadows of My Life,’” she says. “So I had a little drama and emotion always. I spent a lot of my childhood just sitting and thinking.”

Her parents’ Catholic faith was an early refuge. “I had a period where I found a lot of comfort in religion,” she says. “My whole life, up until I was about 18. That was something that I really felt devoted to.”

But music had just as strong a hold on her. As a kid, she had a transformative experience with the movie Shrek. “I thought ‘Hallelujah’ was the most beautiful song,” she says. “It’s funny that it was Shrek, but that scene where ‘Hallelujah’ plays? I was moved to tears.” Listening to other versions of that song got her into Jeff Buckley, who became a key influence.

A few years later, her family moved back to Reading, Pennsylvania, where they’d lived around the time she was born, and her world expanded again. “There was this little record store there,” she remembers. “We didn’t have a record store where I lived in Florida, so it felt very novel.” One day, she walked in and saw Elliott Smith’s Either/Or on display. Playing it at home on a record player she’d gotten at Urban Outfitters, she found a songwriter whose intensity connected with what she was feeling as she headed toward an adolescent crisis of faith.

“I had bouts of depression, as I see it now, throughout high school,” she says. “There was a really dark period where I just wasn’t myself. I don’t think I knew who I was, or what I believed in.”

Krieger moved to Boston and enrolled at Berklee College of Music for two semesters, but dropped out, embarking instead on an aimless odyssey of odd jobs around the U.S. that lasted through her early twenties. “I was waiting for something to ground me,” she says. “I worked at this little roadside motel in California in the desert. I lived in North Carolina on this farm. I worked at a bar there. Then someone I met there told me about this job tree-planting in Georgia, so I moved there.” (She left that job not long after having the disillusioning realization that the loblolly and longleaf pines she was planting were destined to be pulped.)

In 2020, she took a job at a sports bar in Long Beach, California, which she’d later immortalize in her song “Nothing in This World Ever Stays Still” as the place where she’s “writing down an order for boom-boom shrimp.” Fans chant along with that line at her shows now, though Krieger admits she embellished it slightly for poetic reasons: “It wasn’t boom-boom shrimp that was on the menu, it was bang-bang shrimp. But I felt like ‘boom-boom shrimp’ rolled off the tongue better.”

All the while, she was writing and recording songs, releasing two albums to quiet acclaim on the Brooklyn label Northern Spy in 2020 and 2022, followed by the move to Double Double Whammy and a larger audience for I Keep My Feet on the Fragile Plane. She’s found steady work in New York as a bartender, which leaves her lots of time to write. “I love to have the mornings for my creative time,” she says. She free-writes lyrics into an ever-lengthening Google doc, starting a new one each month, and plucking out the best parts for songs when they feel ready: “For the most part, it’s just experiments. I like visually seeing the words.”

She wrote most of Art of the Unseen Infinity Machine before the fire upended her life. It’s full of songs that expand her sound in notable ways, adding electric flesh to her skeletal acoustic ideas. “Never Arriving” is a bright alt-rock anthem that gives the new album its title phrase. “I think you arrive when you’re born, you arrive when you’re dying, and then everything in between is of our own making,” she says. “Came,” another highlight, unfolds in gentle tones at first, until the final word, where Krieger’s voice rises to a scream: “Now you’re a star or a god or a flame/Fuck where you’re going, forget from where you came.”

Both songs tap into an emotionally heightened feeling that Krieger connects with addiction. “I’ve definitely struggled with my relationship with alcohol, and I’ve had other substance dependencies,” she says. “Those songs are about chasing that rapture, that joy, that elation… Being aware of why you have that impulse has been helpful in trying to control that impulse.”

On “Into Eternity,” a rambling gem that’s a centerpiece of the album, she sings about coming “back home to New York, my favorite place in the whole wide world.” After ping-ponging around the country for years, she’s settled in a place she loves.

Krieger recorded the new album last fall at Brooklyn’s Figure 8 Recording, working with co-producer Luke Temple of the band Here We Go Magic, who’s become a trusted collaborator in recent years. The sound was meant to capture the energy of her occasional full-band live shows, featuring backing musicians Jacob Drab on guitar, Will Alexander on drums, and Kevin Copeland on bass. (Copeland, her partner, is also the woodworker who made the custom Telecaster she plays at all her shows, with her first name spelled out in sparkling letters.)

Once the album is out, Krieger is looking forward to bringing that sound to new audiences with her first full-band tour. She also can’t wait to get back to the studio to record some of the new songs she’s been writing — no doubt bearing even more moments of casually profound existential insight. “I have another album ready to go,” she says as the check arrives at the diner. “Honestly, I’m ready.”