Kyle Craft's fiancée was very clear.
"Whenever we first started seeing each other, she was like, 'We can hang out, but don't write a song about me,'" the singer/songwriter — whose third album Showboat Honey is out July 12 Sub Pop — recalls to Billboard. "And I was like, 'Okay, okay, I won't, I won't,' and it was like the further we got into our courting, I was like, 'You know, I think I might write a song about you,' and she just every time would look at me like she was gonna kill me."
Eventually, Craft succumbed to temptation and wrote "Deathwish Blue," a soaring ode to their relationship that, fortunately, changed her mind.
"I wrote that song and showed her and she was like, 'Oh my god, I love it!'" Craft says the track, the video for which is premiering exclusively on Billboard today (June 19). "I just wanted it to be my gift to her in a way. It's basically just a present for her."
Craft explains that the pair aren't really dancers, but they pulled it f. "It's just kind us going around and dancing together for the first time," he says.
Though he wrote and tracked "Deathwish Blue" by himself, Showboat Honey as a whole is a more collaborative effort, named for the backing band that was finally solidified prior to its creation and co-produced by Craft, piano player Kevin Clark and bassist William Slater. Craft says the plan was always for the album to be named for the group.
"I knew that I wanted to do that with this record for sure, especially considering that they're much more a part it, and I wanted it to feel as if it had a solidified entity because it does," he says. The name Kyle Craft & Showboat Honey, pulled from a lyric from "Buzzkill Caterwaul" ("Once you were the showboat honey, but your ship sailed out"), reflects their unique bond.
"That song's basically about kind watching the world roll by, and it's more about that isolation, that sort feeling kind left in the dust it, and I feel like everybody in the band kind has that mentality, so it's nice to have that with everyone," Craft explains with a laugh. "It's funny, it feels like a little club misfits or something. Our band is very strange; the way the glue sticks it all together for each us is very strange. But I love every one those guys to death."
Showboat Honey was close to being an entirely different record; Craft and the band recorded and mixed 10 tracks before he scrapped half the album at the last minute and decided to start over.
"That first] version the record, I finished at 4:00 in the morning before leaving for a two-month tour at 7:00," he says. "And so I was just really hammering the stuff out, because I felt like I had this deadline. I wanted to get this thing done and over with and put it out. The longer I sat with it and listened to it, I just got this creeping feeling that kind made its way into my mind where I was like, 'This isn't it. This isn't the album.' It sounded focused, I guess, in its mood, but somehow also really fragmented in its structure. The songs felt related lyrically and emotionally, but it was hard to hear the country tune next to the glam rock tune next to the murder ballad. So in that way, it felt very broken to me."
A redo was in order. "So I just was like, 'Okay, I'm just gonna try and write an entire new side this album, because I don't want to insert other songs that weren't good enough to make the cut in the first place,'" Craft says. "I wanted to make it feel more cohesive, so I was like 'I'm gonna make a whole 'nother side a record,' basically. And so I went through and I think there was just two weeks where I wrote half the album, just really sitting down with intent, trying to really be fast about it. At the end the day, it was putting the same poison in a different kind dart."
The result is a cohesive set tracks centered around a rough patch that hit at the same time as Craft was falling in love. ("I felt like I was serving] this psychological jail time, in a way, and then out nowhere this relationship blossomed into this thing where it was like, 'This is the only good thing in my life right now,' and it made me realize how when everything's going good, you take it for granted and forget how important other] things are," he says.)
Fans his glam rock-influenced sound will find plenty to latch onto, but he hopes that ultimately what they'll hear is him. "I hope that people can hear my voice, you know, and not Meat Loaf or something," he says. "You know what I mean? I think it's really hard for people, especially nowadays, to hear a band like ours and to not hear like, 'Oh my God, it's like Queen or like Meat Loaf or Bowie.'" He knows why they do — "I wear my influences on my sleeve" — but he insists he's come into his own and found his natural voice. Showboat Honey is pro that he doesn't sound like anyone but Kyle Craft.
"Maybe I'm crazy, maybe I do sound like Meat Loaf, but I don't think so," he says with a laugh. "I don't think I'm crazy. And so I just hope that at the end the day people can hear an artist instead a genre."