At a young age, Krist Krueger learned a lesson that's carried him throughout most of his life—that if you want to do something, best not put too much faith in the assistance of other people.
"I took my first lessons for guitar when I was 9. My teacher was terrible—really impatient, really rude," says the 36-year-old Portland musician from a table outside Vivace Coffee House on Northwest 23rd Avenue. "So my second lesson was to walk in and tell him that I quit."
He ended up teaching himself. Self-reliance has since become the dominant theme of Krueger's creative life. Growing up in Fond du Lac, Wis, he couldn't rely on the hippie couple that ran the town's lone independent record store to supply the punk records he wanted, so he tracked them down on his own, through mail order and road trips to hipper cities like Madison and Milwaukee. And when he had trouble finding committed bandmates for his first serious project, he grabbed an acoustic guitar, jumped in a van and went on tour alone, doing his own booking along the way. As his career has progressed, Krueger has made a point of controlling just about every aspect of it, from recording to promotion. It's not that he doesn't want outside help. He just refuses to waste time waiting for it to come to him.
"I'm not good at waiting on other people to make decisions," he says. "My modus operandi has always been, if we're going to do this, let's do it. And if we're not, then I'm going to do something else. But something's going to happen."
Since leaving Wisconsin for Portland in 2003, Krueger's inability to sit still has allowed him to carve out a considerable niche for himself. He's put out dozens of recordings, mostly under the monikers Southerly and Yardsss, ranging in style from dark-hued folk to instrumental post-rock. Seven years ago, he started a label, the Self Group, initially as a repository for his own prodigious output, which also includes film, literary and visual art components.
He's like an arts scene unto himself, which probably explains why Krueger has never fully integrated into the Portland music scene at large. Despite his prolificacy, he's received relatively scant coverage from the local press. None of his projects have placed on Willamette Week's annual Best New Band poll, and he's never played PDX Pop Now. It's certainly not for a lack of quality: Eclectic as his body of work is, Krueger's songwriting talent travels well, and he's equally adept at expressing an idea through a handful of chords and a melody as he is at using ambiance and texture when he'd rather not speak at all.
Krueger admits that he occupies, in his words, "my own little sandbox." But again, if the alternative is sitting on his hands, waiting for everyone else to catch up, well, he just doesn't have the patience.
"I've seen a lot of people who say, 'I'll tour when I have a booking agent,' or 'I'll put out a record when I have a record label,'" he says, "and I've always looked at that and thought, 'What the fuck are you waiting for?'"
Gradually, though, Krueger has begun to open his sandbox to the outside world. The Self-Group now has a roster of acts who, like him, adhere more to principles than genre. (One such artist, Chicago-based electronic experimentalist Wrtch, celebrates her album release this week at Black Water.) And he's recently expanded his primary solo project, Yardsss, into a three-piece live band. Krueger remains strident in his independence, doing his own publicity and booking his own tours.
"Even though DIY, by title and description, suggests a lone wolf, it's just as importantly and vitally about community," he says. "There is no lone straw holding the cup. We do all of this together, celebrate our accomplishments together, celebrate one another's art and expression together—and, ultimately, our unique yet unified journeys together."
SEE IT: Yardsss plays Black Water Bar, 835 NE Broadway, with wrtch and Coastal States, on Tuesday, June 13. 9 pm. $8. All ages.