Kyle Craft grew up in a tiny Louisiana town on the banks of the Mississippi, where he spent most of his time catching alligators and rattlesnakes instead of playing football or picking up the guitar. He’s not the born product of a musical family, and bands never came through town–it was only a chance trip to K-Mart that gave him his first album, a David Bowie hits compilation that helped inspire him eventually to channel his innate feral energy into songwriting and rock and roll.
That self-made talent drives every note of Dolls of Highland, Craft’s exhilarating, fearless solo debut. “This album is the dark corner of a bar,” he says. “It’s that feeling at the end of the night when you’re confronted with ‘now what?’”
Craft knows the feeling well–Dolls began to take shape when everything he took for granted was suddenly over, including an eight-year relationship. “All of a sudden I was left with just me for the first time in my adult life,” he says. He decided to get himself and the music he’d been working on far away from the ghosts of his home in Shreveport, Louisiana, to make a new life for himself in Portland, Oregon, living under a friend’s pool table while he demoed new songs and started to tackle his own question about what came next.
Dolls of Highland crashes open with “Eye of a Hurricane,” a whirlwind of ragtime piano and Craft’s dynamic, enthralling vocals. He calls it a “jealous song,” stirred up by the memories of an ill-fated crush and a drama of “weird little connections, a spider web of what the fuck?”
The swinging, resonant “Lady of the Ark” is also tied up in that web, “a very incestuous song,” says Craft. “It’s about these messed up relationships, maybe involving me, maybe revolving around me.” Most of the characters and atmospheres on the album come from in and around Shreveport, where Craft briefly returned while recording the album for an intensely productive reckoning with his past. He stayed in a friend’s laundry room in the Highland neighborhood, where he recorded the whole album in two months on a home studio rig. “I dedicated the album to Shreveport and called it Dolls of Highland for all the girls and ghosts in town who influenced it so strongly.”
Craft eventually returned to Portland where Brandon Summers and Benjamin Weikel of The Helio Sequence helped refine and mix the album to move it from its DIY beginnings to a more fully realized work. Craft played most of the instruments on the album, but the recorded songs transmit the power of his live performance. “It’s just letting go,” says Craft. “I think it’s just all about feeling it in your chest.”
And then there’s Craft’s unforgettable voice–”I’m fully aware that I have a very abrasive, very loud voice, but Bob Dylan is the one that taught me to embrace that,” says Craft. “I stray away from him from time to time, but always come back. I don’t want to come off as antique, but I also don’t want to be afraid of paying homage to the stuff I’ve always loved.” With those influences as inspiration, Craft’s talent and singular creativity move the conversation into new and unpredictable places.
And no question, this album is very much about moving forward. “After everything fell apart, it didn’t take very long for me to learn who I was and what I should be doing,” says Craft, who is walking out on the other side with Dolls of Highland.