Katy Kirby Talks Touring, Religion, and Working 9-5

Words by Steve Melone

Photo Credit: Jackie Lee Young

In October 2021, I went to see Waxahatchee at Webster Hall, my first live show back in person. I was completely gripped by the opener, Katy Kirby. That was a feeling I missed. Connecting with an artist along with hundreds of other people in a dark room. After obsessing over her album, Cool Dry Place, for a few months, I spoke with her about her music and creative process. I caught Katy at the tail end of her winter tour with Illuminati Hotties and Fenne Lily. It was just before sound check:

How do you like the East Coast? You’re from Texas originally, right?

“I grew up in Texas largely, but I mostly live in Nashville currently. Still the South though, still definitely not the east coast. I’m a big fan, I like the east coast just fine. It’s been very pleasant the entire time we’ve been out here. It’s pretty warm out right now. It’s too nice… I want my bones to hurt. I feel a little cheated.”

How has this tour been going?

“It feels a little bit more familiar. The first tour we did with Waxahatchee was SO much bigger than any of us had ever done, and SO long. It was six weeks or something, so this tour feels a little homier. As in, we’re playing slightly smaller venues. But it’s been sweet! We just picked up two extra members so now we’re playing as a band. We haven’t had a ton of time to rehearse, so we’ve been kind of winging it a little bit. But it’s gone pretty well.”

Who are the new members?

“So Logan [Chung] and Alberto [Sewald] are the two people who produced Cool Dry Place and they’re always in all versions of my band. And Ally is also around our creative adventures, and we’ve known her for a long time. So, no one’s a hired gun for sure. Definitely family style.”

As this album unfolded, were there expectations that totally changed from the outset?

“It kind of felt like a process of learning. It was sort of the first project of that size that most of us had gotten into. For me, making Cool Dry Place, felt like as it progressed, we learned how to let chips fall where they did. Which is tricky, but not too hard once you get the hang of it, I guess.”

What songs changed the most when you went into record them?

“Probably ‘Traffic’, or ‘Portals’. ‘Traffic’ is still intimidating to me to do live. I don’t love doing it live because I always feel like I’m about to fuck it up. So, I rarely would play it at shows before we recorded it, because it just scared me. Then we recorded it, and there’s just so much going on. I don’t think I’d ever played ‘Portals’ with anything other than just a guitar and myself before we recorded it. And now when we play it, Berto, will sometimes bring a saw. Like a singing saw. Which sounds like it would be halloweenie, but it’s surprisingly tasteful.”

The closest thing I’ve experienced to a singing saw is a theremin. They’re both in that same category of oddly interesting instruments.

“Totally. It sounds weirdly a lot like a theremin, but it’s surprisingly easier to control. I heard. I don’t play theremins..”

Which should song on, “Cool Dry Place,” could have a theremin on it?

“I feel like there’s room for it on Juniper if anything!”

“Traffic,” has a lot going on compared to other songs, just on a technical level. How much of that was planned? Or was a lot of that found in the studio?

“The autotune in ‘Traffic’ was kind of baked in early on. I was making a demo of it with Logan, my guitar player and producer, and I had a wicked cold. I was working in a call center at the time, and my voice was pretty bad. We were trying to record that vocal, just to have as a demo version. I was so frustrated with how it sounded, because it’s a medium hard song for me to sing. So, I just had him throw autotune across the whole thing so I could ignore it. Then I got attached to hearing it that way, and it felt vaguely, thematically appropriate. There were attempts to talk me down from that, but I liked it a lot, so it stayed.”

What is your writing process like? Are you someone that needs a guitar when you write?

“Not traditionally. I don’t usually need to have an instrument in front of me. I read a lot of other songwriters talking about their process, and mine’s not super consistent for whatever reason. Honestly, it’s mostly like phone notes and eventually I’ll take a couple of lines that I think are the start of something then I’ll bring it to a guitar.”

You fill in more of the blanks with the guitar when you bring it there?

“Largely. To shorthand it a little bit, I generally like words first. I’m not necessarily like, ‘Oh, sick riff let me put some words over it,’ usually.”

In terms of a writing philosophy, there’s the open diary avenue a lot of artists take. Where do you land when it comes to that type of sharing, emotionally?

“I don’t think of myself as a particularly diaristic writer. I prefer to exercise my right to make things up that sound cool over expressing my actual, truest, deepest feelings. Not sure why exactly I lean that way.”

Kind of a weird question, but I always heard, John Fogerty, would keep a list of song titles and use that as a jumping off point. Is that something you’ve ever done?

“I’ve definitely done that. That sounds old school in a way I super respect. I wish I could do that, because I love reading about and listening to songs by songwriters. Like, Jimmy Webb, who wrote a lot of Glenn Campbell hits, is like, ‘9 to 5 and here are some methods!’  It does turn out these elegant universal songs sometimes. I really like thinking about this. I haven’t written a bunch of songs based on titles, but I do have an annoying habit of feeling very confident that, that’s a title for a song. For instance, ‘My Pussy Tastes Like Pepsi Cola,’ by Lana Del Rey. Definitely a title for a song! There’s no way that was just, ‘Oh I just stumbled into that lyric and was like, Ah!’ That’s the title!’ It’s like, yes! That’s clearly the title! I think about it a lot is what I’m saying.”

I know you were raised religiously, and you’ve said before that it helped you value communal ritual. How has that impacted your ability to create?

“I don’t know if I even think about it all that much except growing up in the church and knowing that communal rituals are a thing that people need. I guess I’m just a little more aware that that’s what’s going on a lot of the time. Needing that human need. It’s helpful to remember engaging with people and being a part of something is good for you even when it’s scary. I didn’t play a lot of team sports, but team sports are good for you, I guess.”

Do you know when your best ideas hit you?

“I have no idea. I don’t think I know they’re good until at least 48 hours later most of the time. I’ve just gotten into the habit of writing it all down. I do like deciding I’m just going to sit down to write. It’s hard to say that in a way that doesn’t feel protestant work ethic-y. Where I’m trying to justify my weird job by keeping regular hours. Does that make sense? Because it’s inherently a stupid job, and sometimes I feel tempted to have a lot of structure so that I’m sure I’m doing something.

How do you go about managing distractions?

“Setting aside blocks of time is helpful. I do like just turning off my phone and working on something for the pleasure of it. I’m getting better at doing that and not doing it for capitalism and such – Did you read that Jia Tolentino book, “Trick Mirror,”? Whenever she’s working, she’s super working, but whenever she’s not working, she’s super, not working. That’s been very helpful. I’m usually available by phone or email, but I’m also learning to be a little bit more comfortable with being mildly inaccessible for 72 hours or just trying to not care about how much I get done in a certain window of time. That’s usually helpful for mental health if nothing else. That’s also hella luxurious I recognize — Are we sound checking?”

How much time do you have?

“Maybe like five minutes?”

Okay, speed round! Who are some of your influences?

“This band called, You Won’t. As a teenager I fucking loved Andrew Bird. I love Alex G, so, so much. And I’ve been getting into this artist, Alabaster DePlume, who’s a saxophonist from England.”

There’s so much intricacy in your playing. What about guitar specific influences?

“Iron and Wine basically. Learned a bunch of those songs, then later Tallest Man on Earth. Basically learned a few of those songs early on, never really learned how to play with bass.”

Have any of your songs taken on new meanings that you were surprised to hear?

“I’ve been surprised at how many times I’ve felt the need to explain that, “Fireman,” is not about a literal fireman.”


Catch Katy Kirby on tour this fall, opening for Julia Jacklin!


TheWaster.com | Cool Dry Place