When the pandemic first hit in early 2020, Hoffman Estates singer-songwriter Kevin Andrew Prchal was already on the verge of putting his head down to focus on writing a new album.
“I made a Facebook post that said something along the lines of ‘Hey, friends, I’m going to be laying low on shows for a while to stay at home to be with my family and focus on writing for the next album.’ And that’s where my head was at,” he said. “I had been performing a ton of shows, I was just a little burned out and was giving too much to that instead of creating.”
In that moment, Prchal had no idea exactly how much inspiration lay ahead of him. “Unknowing” Prchal’s fourth full-length album out Friday, May 27, is the product of that time.
The 10-song collection by the Naperville native explores the different facets of Prchal’s mindset during that time. Floating above a base of country- and Americana-fueled harmonies, his lyrics juxtapose the social and political unrest outside his door with the peace and joy he was finding back home with his wife and then-2-year-old daughter.
“I had two choices. I could either submit to the fear and the rage of all that, or I could turn my eyes to my daughter and be there for her and with her,” he explained. “While the talking heads and the internet trolls and social media algorithms were raising America’s blood pressure, there was this beautiful and bursting world to discover every day, and honestly, my daughter helps me see it. And when you see the world through the eyes of a 2-year-old, you tend to be led by curiosity over ego.”
Prchal’s songs reflect that curiosity, questioning the disorienting and absurdly splintering definition of what it means to be an American in “American Oblivion,” honing his focus on family in “What Loves You Back,” and celebrating love in “The Whole World Is Burning.” His wife, Aly, who sings backup in the band, stepped into the spotlight for a Johnny Cash/June Carter-style duet on “New Valentine,” a, well, valentine to their daughter. And while Prchal says his natural mode is to be optimistic, there was some cynicism that bled into the album as he tried to accurately reflect his feelings during that time.
“If you’re a human person thinking and feeling during that time there was so much to react to, and it was really up to each of us to manage how we let it affect us. Some people went off the rails, some people turned inward,” he explained. “I tried to kind of synthesize what I was feeling, not via Twitter outrage or Twitter outbursts, but in my music. Something I don’t take for granted as an artist is that I have this medium to explore and to express myself.”