c a r e l e s s
It was only years later, as awareness of the opioid epidemic spread, that Ryan King would understand just how common his experience with addiction was. It was the early ’00s when he injured himself playing hockey. You can probably already guess how the rest of that story played out. He was prescribed pain killers, became addicted to them, began using heroin and lost years of his life, ultimately landing in jail.
King looks back at that stint in jail with complete gratitude. “I feel like I would have died if I hadn’t went,” he says. “It was what was needed. It saved me.” Upon his release, he went about repairing his life. As he worked to stay sober, he began recording dreamy electronic music under the moniker CRLSS and operating an online music community called CLLCTIVE, helping promote artists across the Midwest and beyond. He felt proud. He was building something. And then he was sent back to prison for a year and a half.
“I felt like I was clean,” he says. “I was doing what I needed to do, but I got pulled over with a little bit of weed. It wasn’t a lot of weed, but in Wisconsin, the second offense is a felony, regardless of the amount.”
If things had worked out as he hoped, King says he wouldn’t be making music anymore. He’d hoped to gain guardianship of his daughter, retire CLLCTIVE and focus on raising her. But after he lost that custody battle, he says, music became the healthiest outlet he had.
“Wanting to be her father and not being able to, because of the decisions I’ve made in my life, I was really beating myself up over that,” he says. “Being an addict, each time you relapse, you’re more embarrassed. The shame is heavier each time. It’s really easy to get down on yourself, and I was so down on myself that I had to write about it. I had to sing sorrow to get it out of me.”
Recorded in the basement of a halfway house, CRLSS’s new EP, Heartstrings, is a clash of light sounds and heavy emotions. His beats are airy and vaporous, his melodies punchy and direct, yet a cloud of grief hangs heavy over all five of these songs, especially the closing ballad, “I Never Went to Texas with You,” a sorrowful eulogy to the many opportunities he’d missed while battling addiction.
“They’re pretty dark songs,” King says. “I’m really anxious about releasing them because it puts you in a really vulnerable space. But I’m at the point in my life where I’m like, ‘This is who I am.’ I don’t want to suffer for fashion at all.
“Music is a selfish thing for me,” he continues. “It’s my own therapy when I work on it. I’m like someone who needs to exercise every day; I’ve got to wake up and make that run. That’s my release. I’d love for people to enjoy my music and dig into it and relate to it, but when it comes down to it, I had to make this music so I could get through that really rough time.”
CRLSS’s Heartstrings EP is streaming on multiple services, including Soundcloud, Apple Music and Spotify.