In Conversation: Katie Von Schleicher
Not every artist makes stylish music with a deeply personal touch, but Katie Von Schleicher offers a rare creative autonomy. Writing songs with an all-consuming authenticity, her ability to create absorbing drama and psychological depth are hard to come by in relation to contemporary standards.
The last couple of months have been up and down for the songwriter, the state of her Covid-19 affected New York with its persistent crowds meant she was scared to leave her home. But the quarantine forced her to rethink any routines and create new ones while preparing for the release of her striking and compelling new album.
The release of her beautiful dream-like ‘Consummation’ represents a key moment. Drenched in eccentric indie elegance, it’s an engrossing artistic statement from start to finish, tackling darker themes of importance with a complex urgency, and it signifies her most ambitious project to date.
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What’s it like to promote a release without having the option to include touring?
The live show part is what feels different because so much wouldn’t be in person. I haven’t done many in person interviews. But I feel sad because I wrote this record while touring my last one for a couple of years. I wanted to make it based on my set, on what I’d like to play live. How I could make this the show that I want it to be.
Did the build-up in anticipation of ‘Consummation’ make you excited or nervous?
I was scared last Friday, I didn’t know what would happen, I’m not a big musician and it’s not my first album. I felt elated that there were some really positive reviews. I’ve been pleased with it, it feels good. What I learnt about releasing an album is when something positive happens, it’s time to stop, take a breath, enjoy it. It was right to put it out now because there’s more space for all records.
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What made you engage in producing and engineering?
I’ve been toying around with the idea of collaborating with someone else, it’s this negotiation with myself about control. I decided to produce it myself, to do it digitally instead of to tape because that’s the new frontier for me as a budding engineer. I wanted to step it up in terms of my abilities, to be less afraid to make something that had a higher fidelity. I love low-fi stuff, I love fuzz, but also hide behind it, with my voice being clear, it’s scarier but better.
To what degree does its themes relate to your personal life?
The idea behind it minds my personal life, which can be tricky when it’s released. I was in a relationship that wasn’t great, it was complicated. I saw ‘Vertigo’ and had this experience of watching it. The length at which I was watching it didn’t feel like something that’s ended since but something that maybe opened up for me from that experience.
How did you incorporate the visual, cinematic components after seeing ‘Vertigo’?
I had the concept of it, the visual interpretation. I wanted to feel close to the things I was reading and enjoying. I kept that vague in terms of the guiding principle, within that world it was my goal. I watched all these movies, I read long articles. I was writing the record, experimenting with sounds for what would be something I had never done before.
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Your songs depict references from art, was that always an intention?
Colour and visuals have been important. When I was younger I wrote songs, I did it alone. I’d sneak away, there was an empty dance room where I would go and play piano in the dark. I’d write when my family wasn’t home, never around other people. There’s a continuation of that with finding whatever hallowed space to work in that feels private, it works with books and movies, creating a visual space. I want to feel like I’m inside something.
‘You Remind Me’ feels like I’m inside a world. Maybe it’s simply that films and books affect me emotionally. With books I found myself on this new kick where I was only tolerating things that super-resonated with me. Sometimes, I worry that’s not reaching out in terms of representation, reading about a bunch of women that are like me is the easiest thing in the world.
Clash heard echoes of Cocteau Twins, Elliott Smith, Kate Bush on ‘Consummation’, how does it sound to you?
Not listened to Cocteau Twins, although Ben (Ben Goldberg) my boss at work (Ba Da Bing!), listens to them.
Elliott Smith’s in my top five, he has this harmonic, melodic thing. Ben and I talked about doing prompts for songwriting. For the last song I demoed he said to write a song like ‘Hounds Of Love’. I’d have to re-do it if it’s released, it sounds so much like her. I used to listen to older music between eighteen and twenty, that’s when I heard most music for the first time. I was into Neil Young and The Beatles.
Do current bands influence you, has anyone caught your imagination?
I’m trying to stay current. The last U.S. Girls record influenced me. Her lyrics are excellent and this noir-ish sonic world’s fascinating. I got more into music that didn’t have lyrics. I was interested in this album called ‘A Little May Time Be’ by Anne Laplantine, I was into The Eureka Brass Band, their ‘Mississippi Records’. I haven’t found that I get super-deep on people’s lyrics. In fact, sometimes I’m confused about what lyrics should be, what I want from them.
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Even if your own lyrics are profound?
I used to write poetry. Now lyrics are an afterthought, but I’ve written things where they came first. I just signed up to take a creative writing course, I wanna challenge myself to make lyrics important again. I love poetry and books. When it comes to music, it’s what I want from lyrics, I know what I want in a book and in poetry. It’s like music’s a strange medium for language because you have to dumb it down, it has to sound good. You’re constantly wrangling with sound. I find that limiting.
How did you develop as a songwriter? Did you study music?
When I was younger, I had this process based around effort and reward. I felt connected with making music even if no one heard it. I went to college to learn how to write songs, which led to self-criticism. I spent time in my room scrutinising every single thing that I did, there were times I thought I should stop. I struggled to get back to this process I had in my teens.
I realised the only thing that matters is that I can keep doing it. With the process I try to keep it fluid, include new challenges that I approach with openness. The more of a beginner I’m in some respect, the less I can scrutinise myself.
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Your music is personal compared with some chart music. Is it scary to be open?
I understand why someone who’s successful making pop music would shy away from it, someone like Fiona Apple, who has that. If she suddenly decided to make something deeply personal, that’s terrifying.
For this album, it did scare me for the first time, the last didn’t nobody knew me, even in my community. Now there’s a responsibility to the person I was in a relationship with that the album has been about. There’s a responsibility to other people in my life. There’s the question of personal music, how do you leave room for other people to find what’s personal to them inside of it.
How essential is the personal trademark to music? Would you make an impersonal record?
I do wonder about the next record. I don’t think I’d ever move away from the personal bit, it’s hard because I have anxiety and depression. I go to therapy, I talk to my therapist about my records. I don’t know if I could be not-personal but I’d like to challenge myself to be less self-involved in some way on the next thing. Sometimes, it’s scary because everybody’s judgemental of everyone else, but trying to be accepting of that, is hard.
I read autofiction, which is super-personal. When I read a Rachel Cusk book I wonder how she can go home to her family. I’m probably more like Karl Ove Knausgård in my struggles, how does someone stay married to him? This thing of being an artist, sometimes they’re not nice people, not great family people. You get this feeling they just care about what they make out of everything. I do want a good life, I don’t want to be a jerk, it’s about striking that balance.
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Words: Susan Hansen
Photography: Shervin Lainez + Annie Del Hierro
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