The duo Folk by Association came together a bit more than

six years ago, in 2000, quite by accident, says Karen

Krajacic, the group’s brunette half. Krajacic, who sings

and plays guitar, was performing at a show on the Jersey

Shore, and another performer, Jill Unger, struck up a

conversation with her.

"She suggested we work together on one song that evening,

do it sort of off the cuff, and I said no," Krajacic says.

Ouch.

Despite that initial rejection, Krajacic soon realized

that the two women shared similar musical tastes and

styles, and that their voices sounded good harmonizing

together. "We realized that the professional chemistry was

there, and the next time we were scheduled to play at the

same place, we did do a couple of songs."

The rest is history, as they say. Krajacic and Unger began

practicing together, and soon they were formally a duo.

"It was an accidental but fortuitous turn of fate. We were

both very forthright about how serious we were about music

as a profession, and it has been a progression from there,

a slow but steady progression," Krajacic says.

Folk By Association will perform a Sunday morning

breakfast series show at Orpha’s Coffeeshop in Skillman on

January 21. The duo will also perform at John and Peter’s

in New Hope on Sunday, January 28. And they recently

performed at the new Coffeehouse Cafe in Pennington.

Both women have extensive backgrounds in folk, or at least

the sounds of singer-songwriters. As influences, the duo

cites performers such as the Indigo Girls, Simon and

Garfunkel, Fiona Apple, Tori Amos, and Joni Mitchell, but

there are also touches of other genres as well. The

group’s second CD, "As We Travel" (available through

www.perplexed.net), released in the spring of 2006, is a

nine-song disc with production values that represent

somewhat of a departure from the band’s live shows. That

is to say, the duo added some other voices, including four

guest musicians. Krajacic and Unger take a lot of their

pride and identity from their harmonies, which are

prominent in this disc, as well as slight but definite

influences from jazz and world music.

"We are harmony-driven," says Krajacic. "That is the thing

that seems to catch people’s ears. Songwriting-wise, what

we do reflects our personalities. Jill is much more

laid-back, and I really envy that. What normally happens

is that I’ll bring her a song I have written or that I

think we could do well, to see if it’ll click for us, and

she’ll come up with the harmonies or the accompanying

parts."

The duo’s name comes from a realization that the style it

plays is not just folk. "We did not have a name for

ourselves the first few months," Krajacic says. "I like

the name because from my perspective, the side of my

musical personality was a lot more folk than I ever had a

chance to express, but the name also reflects what Jill

brought out of me. We are not just folk; we incorporate a

lot of different kinds of music. A lot of people tell me

that we are kind of hard to place, and that says to me

that we are something unique, and that’s good. I do not

want to be easily defined."

Krajacic grew up in Robbinsville. She is of Slavic

ancestry – her father, Ely, emigrated from Croatia more

than 40 years ago, and her mother, Irene, is locally born

of Polish heritage.

Recently, Krajacic went to Croatia and visited the areas

from which her family came. "For a year and a half, I

tried to learn Croatian," says Krajacic. "I tried to go

the self-taught route – the flash cards, that sort of

thing. But I just wasn’t quick enough."

Despite a brutal civil war that divided and destroyed the

country in the 1990s, Croatia is attempting to bring

itself back as a tourist destination. And it’s done a

pretty good job, according to Krajacic. "It’s so beautiful

there. When you go to the populated areas of the coast,

you can see the high number of tourists there from many

European countries. Driving through the countryside, you

can also see a lot of ruins, the shelled-out houses, the

things that have not yet been rebuilt."

It was tough on her father, Krajacic says. "But people are

quite positive about the future there. A lot of people say

Croatia is the best-kept secret in Europe. It is really an

amazing place. If you go, you have to see Dubrovnik, with

its walled old city. It’s incredible."

As she was growing up and attending Notre Dame High in

Lawrence, Krajacic was not particularly musical. "I was

kind of looking for ways to express myself artistically,"

she says. "I tried painting, drawing, learning piano. But

it was when I was in college and had friends who played

guitar that I really became hooked."

That was at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, PA; she

graduated in 1997 with a bachelors in sociology. "I

immediately became obsessed and transformed myself into a

self-taught musician. To my parents’ chagrin, that’s when

I decided that I wanted to do something with music."

It has been a struggle for the Ewing resident to make a

living as a musician – Krajacic, 30, has no other job –

but she has been willing to put in the work to make the

music work. She spends all of her waking hours either

practicing, writing, or booking her duo’s gigs around the

country. "I have fallen into the role of being the booker

and manager and doing whatever promotional stuff. This is

what I do on a day-to-day basis," says Krajacic, who is

single with no children. "It’s the most challenging thing

I can imagine. I am constantly putting myself in

unconventional circumstances, calling people, working out

contracts."

Her efforts have largely paid off. Last year, Krajacic and

Unger traveled from New Jersey (Unger lives in Toms River)

west to Kansas, Iowa, Texas, and Colorado to play gigs,

and they plan to do the same this year.

Believe it or not, performing is still tough for both

women. "We are both naturally shy. We had the worst stage

fright before we had a lot of experience," Krajacic says.

"Even now it’s tough. But it’s go to work now and do your

job and try to enjoy it the best we can."

Folk by Association, Sunday, January 21, Orpha’s Coffee

Shop, Skillman, and Sunday, January 28, 3 p.m., John &

Peter’s, 96 South Main Street, New Hope.

www.johnandpeters.com or 215-862-5981.

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