My first thoughts upon getting off the phone with Katie Kate are, “Oh my god, I think I’m in love with a white rapper.” Seattle’s Katie Kate would seem to be the world’s most alluring amalgam of polarities. She has a degree in classical piano, yet is best known for spitting rhymes. She’s very existentially minded and likes to think about cultural mythology, but find herself regularly using the word, “dope.” But perhaps most significantly, she would appear the be the baddest bitch on any block, yet she seems to be most satisfied with her work when it’s able to speak to her least secure self.
Katie Kate and I recently got a chance to chat about herself, her approach to her craft, and her sophomore LP, Nation, which is out on August 5th. Katie is admirably straightforward and honest, but also quite proud, a combination that would certainly make the world an easier-to-live place, if only we could all assume it. When I ask her if there’s anything that’s especially important to know about her, she tells me, “I would just say, ‘I make all the beats myself. I do all of the songwriting’,” however, in the next breath she feels inclined to confess that her music isn’t merely her creation, that it’s very much her: “It’s a genuine expression of me as a person… and it’s really weird. If I’m speaking to my fans directly, I would just say, ‘Thank you for accepting that.’” In addition to her specific fans, Katie seems quite thankful for her current home of Seattle (She’s actually from the East Coast) and for the opportunities it can afford for an artist like herself: “I came from upstate New York, based on its reputation as a music Mecca of sorts. They have a history of support for things that sound weird and things that sound different. There’s a tradition of that.”
… I may seem to be pushing the idea of Katie Kate being a white rapper, but that’s only because… well, I have a long-documented history of not respecting white rappers, so my affinity for her is a bit ironic… but hopefully in a “cute” way. But Katie is much more than a rapper and whose overall aesthetic I think belongs more in the realm of the darkest and most abrasive kind of pop music, resting heavily on the postmodernity of being, sonically, primarily synthetic. And there are definitely some profound transgressions from the popular to be found in Katie’s work, despite being as delectable as it is. She’s a bit like the little sister of Nic Endo and Tying Tiffany. And on her second album, Katie really pushes to be all of her most radical selves. When I ask her about Nation and how it compares to her debut, 2011’s Flatland, she tells me that not only was the process different, but that in her head, she was also in a different place – in a good and scary way.
“Well, my first record was written over a long period of time – when I was getting my degree – and it was recorded in my closet, by me. This was a much more concentrated effort. And I allowed myself to be vulnerable, which is difficult. I mean, when you listen to the record, it appears to be one thing on the surface, but there are some really vulnerable spots. It was four months of an intensive experience. It was really intense, but hopefully really accessible, too.”
Considering the progressiveness of Nation, I’m a bit surprised to hear that the initial inspiration for the album was actually a nature documentary… But, considering Katie’s relatively heady understanding of the human experience, it all actually adds up quite well: “For this particular album I was watching that Ken Burns national park documentary and that got me started on this path of American mysticism and dark naturalism. Being from the East Coast, everything out here is a little bit bigger. The other things that inspire me a lot are science and magic.” And while this all would seem fairly “heady” to the average listener, Katie explains that it’s something that feels completely natural to her: “I remember when I put out my first album and people were like, ‘This is weird,’ and I’m like, ‘Is it?’ This is totally normal to me. It was all about the idea to go deep inside myself and undertake that landscape.”
And while the music found on Nation itself is more than enough to engage the in-the-know alien outsider or high-minded consumer of pop culture, its packaging cements the idea that the album is something meant to be a thoroughly engaging, multi-media experience. The CD is wrapped in a 60-page, 8”x6” black book, comprised of original artwork by Gregory Smith, lyrics, and nearly forty pages of hyper-intimate, hand-written journal scribblings, documenting the intellectual inner-workings of the artist (Don’t worry, for those happy to accept contemporary culture’s norms, it does come with a download code.) It’s likely the coolest album packaging since fellow-Seattle-dwellers Pearl Jam… you know, back when they were still good. And while Katie doesn’t claim be to such a Luddite as myself, unable to listen to digital music, she does admit that, like myself, CDs are her preferred method for consuming music.
“I wanted to have some interesting kind of packaging and people were like, ‘Put it on vinyl,’ which is cool, but I don’t even listen to vinyl, so it’s like I couldn’t listen to my own record. So I thought about how do people consume music and how do I consume music. I listen to CDs, but a lot of people listen to digital music, so there should be a download component. But when I was younger I remember listening to CDs and looking at the booklet while I was listening to it and that was just such a great part of the experience, so I thought there should be a visual element to accompany it.”
When I ask Katie Kate about the future and what she’s most excited for, she displays yet another one of her delightfully endearing polarities, both that of an artist eager to get her work out into the world… and a “starving artist” who would be more than happy to indulge in the perks of sponsor-driven consumer culture: “I’m excited to see the record come out because it’s been a long time coming, but I’m not gonna lie, I’m excited about free stuff [laughs]. If anyone wants to sponsor me, that would be amazing… Crate & Barrel, if you could give me a couch or something or Joanne Fabric, if you could sponsor me, that would be dope.”
*My apologies to Ms. Katie Kate, if she’s not a fan of the auteur responsible for the title of this article, but that particular refrain from Mr. Black Francis just fit too fucking perfectly to resist.