Home Read Albums Of The Week: Kris Ulrich | Big In The USA

Albums Of The Week: Kris Ulrich | Big In The USA

The longtime Winnipeg sideman steps into the solo spotlight with a poised, polished debut that shimmers & shines with the heartwaming glow of countless golden oldies.

THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE: “A Daniel Lanois-esque man of many talents (producer, musician, co-writer and road warrior), Winnipegger Kris Ulrich fully branches out on his own with Big In The USA, his voice and vision crystallized by a period of deep reflection.

He has acted as a connective tissue in his musical community — with his hand in projects by Dweller, Boy Golden, Field Guide, Cassidy Mann, Roman Clarke, Fontine and more — and for years cut his chops primarily as a hard-touring sideman for Canadian country artists like Dallas Smith and Jess Moskaluke, further building a reputation as a guitar-wielding wunderkind serving other people’s sounds and songs. But when the world came to a standstill in 2020, the forced stop and time off the road sparked a lot of introspection. “I found myself on stage wanting to be part of the whole creative process, rather than just the performance,” Ulrich explains. “So I leaned into exploring the musical feelings I had when I first started loving songwriting.”

While it was risky to let go of these gigs that often came with tour buses, arena shows, hotel rooms, and job security, Ulrich’s newfound clarity led him to rediscover what making music and writing songs meant to him. Big In The USA is his return to this musical truth, to the spirit of sonic exploration and experimentation he felt when he first started playing and writing songs as a kid. “These songs were born from a feeling that I wouldn’t ever make anything again. But they ended up leaving me with the clearest vision I’ve ever had for my music. It represents a shift in my relationship to production, guitar, and songwriting,” he says.

Built on driving drum machines and woozy synth layers, Big In The USA is bolstered by dogged hooks and a clear lyrical voice. The album is both hopeful and melancholic, simultaneously holding reflections of a dusty past played on old tape machines alongside the surging brightness of future possibility. It’s all sewn together with Ulrich’s tongue-in-cheek self-awareness, a playful blend of self-serious and lighthearted — and a general consciousness of both sides.

Photo by Adam Kelly.

The songs are seasoned, effortlessly catchy, and rich, first-person narratives that offer a full snapshot of his life to date: stories about playing the long game for a music career while accepting the limitations it can offer; small towns that you can love while also wanting to leave; new love; and nostalgic memories. And when Ulrich does lean back into his pro-guitar playing self, he accesses something deep and expressive, the instrument acting in honest conversation with his voice and lyrics.

Recorded at home, Big In The USA also sees Ulrich leaning into a DIY approach and taking charge of the songs’ engineering and production — a process he learned on the fly with his friend Liam Duncan (aka Boy Golden, who co-produced and mixed the album). He performs most everything on the album alongside an enlisted cast of friends from his community, including Dylan MacDonald, Flavio Cirillo and Roman Clarke (drums); Keiran Placatka (keys on Friends On The Internet, Big In The USA, Don’t Think About It and Here In My Mind); John Baron (bass on Lucky); Cody Iwasiuk (percussion on Friends On The Internet, Never Too Late, Big In The USA, Lucky, Don’t Think About It and You’ve Got To Be Patient); and Duncan (baritone guitar on Never Too Late and piano on It’s Okay).

“This record makes me feel certain that I am in the right place, ready to lean into the long game,” says Ulrich. “This album feels like a return to my purest musical self, but also a new path forged that I can’t wait to travel.”

To celebrate the release, he shared a live video for chiming, hyper-catchy album standout Lucky, which was filmed at Winnipeg studio No Fun Club and captures the song’s impassioned spirit. “This song is the most hopeful and energetic track on the record. I wrote it at a time when I thought I might not fall in love again, but had just met someone who felt like a bolt of lightning to my heart,” Ulrich says. “It was fun to play around with superstitions in the lyrics, and it felt really refreshing to write a love song in a way that felt new to me. The recording really holds a lot of my influences in one place — I can hear my love of Springsteen, The Killers, and Tame Impala in it.”