Kevin Kratsch hadn’t planned on performing his album release show in front of the silent, unblinking lens of a video camera.
The folk troubadour, who performs as Mister K, had intended to release his debut album, In Event of Moon Disaster, the proper way: with a celebratory live concert in front of a packed house.
Recorded in 2018, Kratsch had been waiting for the right time to release the nine-song, 35-minute album, named after a speech that U.S. President Richard Nixon was to deliver if the crew of Apollo 11 didn’t return home from the surface of the moon.
"I was just starting to roll the album out before COVID hit," Kratsch recalled.
Seized with uncertainty, the 35-year-old, who has performed at Steinbach’s Summer in the City, pressed pause on the album rollout and hunkered down in the 125-year-old converted schoolhouse north of Lorette that he shares with his wife, Avery, and a bulldog named Luna.
Kratsch eventually released In Event of Moon Disaster on Feb. 2 of this year. The virtual album release show that marked the occasion was the only concert he’s performed in the past 12 months.
"The idea of playing without an audience and being on a camera is definitely a little more nerve-wracking," he said.
Over the winter, Kratsch has been releasing a series of music videos. The latest one, for the single "Tamarack," was filmed in a canoe on a frozen backyard dugout.
The recording of In Event of Moon Disaster occurred around the same time he and Avery, a teacher in Hanover School Division, moved out of Winnipeg and onto the eight-acre property near Lorette.
That move would prove to be "serendipitous" once COVID-19 arrived, Kratsch said, as it afforded them more space.
Raised in Winnipeg’s River Heights neighbourhood, Kratsch attended the same high school as his biggest musical influence, Neil Young. Kratsch said music has always been a part of his life. He started out making music with his grandparents and learning songs in his basement.
"It wasn’t until university that I started putting bands together and getting out to play in public."
After finishing university, Kratsch taught school for a couple of years. In 2013, he took a leave of absence to pursue music full-time.
Kratsch said tracking the songs for In Event of Moon Disaster at Canadian Mennonite University’s Paintbox Recording with producer and engineer Rusty Matyas was a "therapeutic" experience,
It was the first album Matyas—a songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who has played with or produced many of Manitoba’s biggest bands—worked on after beginning an alcoholism recovery program.
The two worked closely together, playing through songs and discussing arrangements. Kratsch describes the album as a conceptual record that riffs on his longstanding interest in the cosmos and space exploration.
It is his first release under the Mister K moniker. He previously performed alt-country songs as Kevin Roy but slowly drifted away from that persona.
"I just felt that I had grown so disconnected from the songs I was writing," he said. "I was spending too much time on the administrative side and booking the shows."
Kratsch said he has struggled with anxiety and depression, and he sings about those struggles on the album.
"The Mister K project was about tackling some of those things with identity and kind of figuring out who I was as an artist and what I wanted to say. A big part of that was writing more vulnerable music."
The pandemic made it hard for Kratsch to maintain a sense of equilibrium. With his album shelved and his anxiety escalating, he started to feel overwhelmed.
"The anxiety was really kicking in," he recalled.
To cope, he began photographing and filming a fox den located 100 metres from his back door.
"Every spring, there’s a new litter of cubs in there."
Each morning he’d rise at 6 a.m., make coffee, and spend three hours shooting photos and video from an ice fishing shack. The daily ritual was grounding and "put me back in the driver’s seat," he said.
"I had no plans for it all. It was mainly just a therapy for me really. It was a meditation. I just went out and observed nature."
He later edited the footage into a music video for single "Harmony" and into a longer, album-length video.
In the month since his album was released, Kratsch said fans have been encouraging, sending letters and even a painting.
Unable to play live, Kratsch has returned to the classroom, teaching electronics at Winnipeg’s Garden City Collegiate.
While it’s anyone’s guess what the summer will bring, Kratsch said he hopes to mount a Manitoba tour when the pandemic ends and music fans can gather again.