Central And Remote: Katie Kim
“You really don’t know if it’s day or night when you’re in there and that was more than perfect for me. Every now and then, you’ll hear the trains approaching and rolling above your head and it’s one of the most beautiful sounds.”
Words: Mark Carry, Photographs: Terry Magson
One of Ireland’s finest and most intriguing songwriters, Dublin-based and Waterford-born Katie Kim has two albums to date, beginning with the 2008 debut solo album “Twelve” and 2012’s seminal masterwork, the double album “Cover&Flood”. Also available is “The Feast”, a collection of ten previously unreleased remixes of songs from “Cover&Flood” while the “VALUTS” series compiles various unreleased songs. The highly anticipated third studio album ‘Salt’ will be released on the 14th October 2016 (500-limited heavy weight vinyl can be pre-ordered here). “Salt” was recorded in a self-built recording and artist space in Dublin called Guerrilla Studios which has become an integral part of the Independent Irish music scene. Since Cover and Flood Katie has toured the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium playing mostly sold out venues.
Katie Kim has supported the likes of Low and Slint to date and her influences stem from the realms of experimental, folk, post-rock, shoegaze, ambient and outsider folk. Kim’s distinctive sound is characterized by her fragile vocals, breath-taking lyricism and a constant striving for both purity and simplicity in her truly unique and utterly beguiling recorded output (akin to Grouper’s Liz Harris or early period Cat Power) casting a deeply profound spell on the listener in turn.
Delving into Katie Sullivan’s cherished songbook, the listener is catapulted deep inside a realm of raw emotion and blissful transcendence. The home recordings captured on debut full-length ‘Twelve’ shared the glittering spark of Cat Power’s deeply-affecting songbook (particularly ‘Moon Pix’ or ‘You Are Free’) where a lo-fi warmth and wonderful minimalism floats beneath the Irish songstress’s deeply-affecting voice. ‘Oak Tree’, the album’s towering penultimate track is a sparse folk blues ballad that could just as easily be one of Chan Marshall’s eerie folk tales.
The sonic envelope is pushed much further on the 2012 follow-up ‘Cover&Flood’, revealing soaring soundscapes and immaculate instrumentation. The introspective, slow-burning songs (twenty tracks across this defining double-record) and utterly hypnotic quality almost immediately felt like songs you’ve known all your life. The timeless nature of ‘Cover&Flood’ is exactly the reason why the soon-to-be-released follow-up ‘Salt’ comes with such feverish excitement and genuine anticipation. It is clear from the album teaser, ‘Salt’ sees the revered musician explore deeper into the ethereal dimension, for which she has long ago established.
‘SALT’ will be released on 14th October 2016 (500-limited heavy weight vinyl) can be pre-ordered HERE.
Interview with Katie Kim.
Huge anticipation surrounds your forthcoming full-length release of ‘Salt’, which reflects again just how special and wholly unique your sacred songbook is to so many people. I would love for you to discuss the making of the new record? In terms of the recording and sonic terrain explored on ‘Salt’, the songs go deeper and further than ever before and creates a most captivating experience in turn. Please shed some light on your priorities/objectives you had in mind for the new record? I can also imagine the simple factor of time (being on your side) – and allowing the songs to slowly evolve and blossom – also helped shape these new songs into glittering life?
Katie Kim: Before this year I was always writing or playing. At home mostly and then bringing new half formed songs to live shows and playing them for a while before I got bored and moved on to the next one. So I nearly always have all these little “things” hanging around sometimes getting played, sometimes not, sometimes I record them at home, sometimes not. So the ones that stayed with me, I made part of SALT. Sonically it was a partnership with John Murphy. He brought it to quite a dark place. I mean we had to trim a lot off the endings of many songs where he went deeper and deeper into great big guttural soundscapes because we wouldn’t be able to fit them on the vinyl otherwise. So we had to meet a happy medium. Regarding time though, it was never an issue. Well I suppose actually it is, because I can’t spend too much time on anything or it loses life. It degrades for me.
The recording space is vital to the (resultant) sound of an album. On previous releases such as the seminal ‘Cover&Flood’, I fell in love with that DIY aesthetic/home recording warmth that permeates throughout those sparse recordings. ‘Salt’ sees you recording in a self-built recording and artist space in Dublin. What were your first impressions of the space itself and what do you feel led you to choose Guerilla Studios as the recording space for the latest album? I would love to gain an insight into the studio itself and what were the equipment and actual set-up utilized for sculpting these new tracks?
KK: Well we all (meaning John, myself, Ian Chestnut and Elly from Percolator) were looking for a rehearsal space /potential recording studio for John, in Dublin and a project didn’t scare us. In fact, it was preferable. So a big one fell through and we came across the three arches on the North Strand road. Under a railway track. It was an old garage. Patrick Kelleher’s rehearsal space was next door. It was reasonable, so we took it and started the work. I can’t claim much of the hard graft mind! But I painted and cleaned and scrubbed to help until it was what it is presently.
So we had a place to play, John had a place to record, so organically SALT had to be created there. I’ve never felt so comfortable recording than I did there. John has a mix of beautiful vintage tape machines and a big old wooden analogue mixing desk along with some digital equipment, but the main feeling is one of quietude. You really don’t know if it’s day or night when you’re in there and that was more than perfect for me. Every now and then, you’ll hear the trains approaching and rolling above your head and it’s one of the most beautiful sounds.
The single ‘Foreign Fleas’ – released last year – gave a lovely taster in many ways of the new sonic explorations you’ve been gravitating towards. For example, the masterful production and beautifully sculpted layers of drone-infused sound conjures up the sound of Portishead or Grouper’s Liz Harris. Can you talk me through the production stage itself and indeed the collaborative process between you and John Murphy. I can imagine it must be very rewarding to witness how the bare bones of a song is transformed as a result of the subsequent happenings undertaken by the various music-making stages?
KK: It was very relaxed. John is part of my band, so I never felt like I couldn’t say anything if I was uncomfortable with the way things were progressing. I’m the first to admit I can be extremely particular. I know this has sometimes been problematic in the past when working with people in other areas but with John, we really understand each other, so it was fun and I learned from him and for him he was interested in the vocal production element so we bounced well off each other. It was a really fluid organic process.
I fondly recall your live show in Cobh at the Sirius Arts Centre last year. The hypnotic effect created by your looped harmonies unleashes an ocean of raw emotion, which belongs in its own realm of utter transcendence. This magic and sheer beauty is etched across the canvas of ‘Salt’, where an intimacy is forever captured. Can you talk me through the layering process and particularly for your voice? I also love the minimal nature of the music formed but just how much is obtained from a minimal framework. I imagine there are some challenges posed by adding layers and knowing when you have enough, so to speak?
KK: The looping began because I felt quite bare when I initially started playing live. When I recorded I would go down wormholes for hours adding layers upon layers of vocals and I missed that when I played in public. So I bought the pedal and it became an extension of the live show which I really had fun with. It’s the looping that people would really grab onto at shows and still do, but I’d hate for it to become a gimmick. So I’m trying not to rely too much on it these days, getting ready for the upcoming shows. It’s a little trickier now that I play quite a bit more piano, but I still like to use it for sonic reasons here and there. Knowing when enough is enough is purely due to technical reasons. After a certain point the sound starts to distort and although I don’t mind that, it doesn’t translate well in venues. Otherwise I could lose the run of myself. It would probably be horribly self-indulgent!
Collaboration is an important part to your music, Katie. I would love to gain an insight into the collaboration between you and Crash Ensemble for instance, who will be arranging your new songs for a special show? The new perspectives a collaborative partner must bring to your own music must always feel quite revelatory and as a listener, gives new insight into a musician’s music. I also love the many other collaborations you have been part of, not least the beautiful ‘Some Blue Morning’ – and subsequent European tour – by Adrian Crowley.
KK: I’m so excited for The Crash show. Sean Clancy is spearheading the arranging and he’s an absolute master. It’s good to collaborate when it’s right. Sometimes it doesn’t always fit. Even though all the numbers look right on paper, the solution isn’t always the right one. It’s happened a few time in the past, so it’s great when something works. Like Some Blue Morning. I think that’s such a beautiful album. When Adrian sent the songs over for me to hear and play around with, I didn’t have to spend any time sitting with them. I felt like I’d known them already, for a long time.
What were your earliest musical memories, Katie? I wonder how soon did you realize the importance music would have in your life? I love how each record of yours represents a special document – and distinct moment in time -yet each one very much belongs to one distinct realm of endless possibilities. Who were the musical voices that guided you on your own musical path?
KK: It’s been fairly well documented by me that The Carpenters, Mariah Carey and Queen were my childhood! But kneaded into all that I remember my sisters having the “Twin Peaks” soundtrack and Julee Cruise’s voice was the most mysteriously beautiful thing I had ever heard up to that point. Most young girls sing with the hairbrush in the mirror and I was no different, but I remember buying a little notebook when I was very young. Maybe 8 or 9 to write songs in. I had no instrument at that time but I would just make up melodies to go along with them, so that may indicate a deeper interest in songwriting.
Lastly, I’d love to know what records, films, books that have made a big impact on you, Katie?
KK: So many. The most formative time for me was around 14. I got my first guitar, me and my friends started smoking and drinking and discovering people like Harmony Korine and Larry Clarke. “Kids” was a mind blower when I first watched it. We were all deathly silent watching that movie together in my first boyfriends house. Watching that for the first time as a teenager in Waterford was eye opening. I loved documentaries. I watched Instrument repeatedly. There’s a beautiful Low documentary that follows them around on tour [“Low In Europe”, Plexifilm, 2004] that I had but was taken at a party and I could never find it again. Don’t Look Back and The Year That Punk Broke, Jean Michel Basquiat The Radiant Child. I wore tapes and CD’s out. Cocteau Twins Treasure, Radiohead’s Amnesiac, Elliott Smith Either Or, Low I could live In Hope, Cat Power – Everything. Stina Nordenstam – Everything. Sibylle Baier Colour Green, Beck One Foot In The Grave, Sonic Youth Evol, John Jacob Niles, John Lennon, Sebadoh, and I can’t forget Nine Inch Nails Downward Spiral. I listened to that record for 5 straight years.
Books – The Ass Saw the Angel by Nick Cave (this was a big one for me and inspired more than one track on Cover & Flood) In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan, Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison, and more recently The First Bad Man by Miranda July is weirdly wonderful.
Movies have probably inspired me musically more than anything else. I loved and still do love a well compiled soundtrack, whether it be an original score or otherwise. Big ones for me would be Gummo, Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks, Kids, The Doom Generation, The Tree of Life soundtrack is heart-breaking.
‘SALT’ will be released on 14th October 2016 (500-limited heavy weight vinyl) can be pre-ordered HERE.
Katie Kim performs with Crash Ensemble at the Engage Arts Festival, Bandon, Cork on Friday 30th September at The Court House, Bandon (TIX & INFO HERE).
Fractured Air & Plugd Records present XYLOURIS WHITE (Greece’s George Xylouris plus Dirty Three’s Jim White) with very special guest KATIE KIM at the TDC, Triskel Arts Centre, Cork on Friday 28 October (TIX & INFO HERE).