Interview: Kate Earl
Tue, 01 Sep 2009 09:10:35
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Kate Earl wants to appeal to all of your senses with her music.
You can hear each and every emotion in the Alaska native's inflection and instrumentation, and it's easy to see the stories in her vivid lyrics. However, most importantly, you'll feel Kate in each soulful passage of her new self-titled album [Universal Republic]. She's got a lot to say, and none of it's easily forgotten. Dreamy, catchy and folky, Kate has made one of the most poignant pop records of the year, and it's a journey from the first chord until the last breath.
It's easy to get close to Kate's music while listening to her music, but she took us even deeper into her songs. Sitting down with ARTISTdirect.com for this exclusive interview, Kate broke down her creative process, writing lyrics and madness inherent in love…
What initially inspired you to move from Alaska to Los Angeles?
Well, there was a boy…[Laughs] I actually went to college in Santa Barbara. I thought that would be a nice landing pad for getting over to L.A. because I needed a transition point. I knew L.A. would be a really drastic change from what I was used to, but I thought California would generally be a good place for me because of the weather. New York has too much concrete. The guy that I was seeing at the time was ultimately the deciding factor in my move though [Laughs].
Do you feel like these songs all tell different stories?
Oh yeah, I'm definitely a storyteller. I want to bring people on a ride or a journey. It needs to be visual. We have all of these senses, and I feel obligated to access all of them through my storytelling. I try to create textures and visuals with the sound to make up for the fact that it's only a sound.
The record becomes a sensory journey.
Yes! Also the words of what I'm telling are a part of it. Everything was chosen because I thought it caused a reaction or it evoked an emotion. Even the arrangements are very closely involved with what the voices are. How songs are stacked and the leading tone are proven to get a reaction. They can cause a reaction in you're body depending on what you hear. I haven't studied that phenomenon intensely. I just dabbled in it a little bit in my college's theory class. I feel it when it happens, and all of the best writers use it. Whatever my instincts are led me to be really conscious of that.
What's the story behind "Melody"?
"Melody" was a breakup song. I was on this crazy journey. I was stuck in a catch-22 with my other label. They wanted me to make a new record, and I wanted to go in another direction. They were supportive, but they didn't quite understand what I meant. I said, "I want to go down to the south and I want to find Gnarls Barkley." They were like, "What? You made a folk record the first time. What does that have to do with you?" I just had to go and make it. I was on a plane, and I'd just broken up with this guy I'd been with for two years. I ended up in the South and I came to that producer Ben Allen. He engineered Gnarls Barkley and produced Cee-Lo's solo work. He asked me, "What's your songwriting process?" I said, "I just live in music. It's my head all the time; it's around me. Whatever comes to me I just talk to. It's conversation." He said, "You should expand on that." I read him what I had for "Melody," and I was like, "I still don't know what to put here. What should I say that's inside my head? How else should I describe what I'm humming?" He said, "Keep it how it is, it's great!" I was trying to figure out the chorus and I realized the chorus really was the melody. I do find myself in the "Melody," so to speak. The track wrote itself in a way.
What's up with "Nobody?" That's another standout track…
I'm really proud of that song. I think Joni Mitchell was one of the craftiest writers ever. She could lay out her heartbreak in a song and be really fair in the way she puts things across. By being fair, she'd take responsibility for her part. She'd show that she wasn't a victim but a participant as well. You would sense her conflict and her tension without her ever pointing a finger. I really appreciate that. I think it's a very womanly thing to do. She's like, "I'm not simply going to say that guys are dogs…"[Laughs] Everybody has a hand in his or her own reality. When I took on "Nobody," I wanted to bring in blues and jazz. I wanted to have a vamp, and I love the sensuality that's in women of soul—performers like Mama Thornton. I wanted to inject that in "Nobody," but not do a throwback, so the blues was as classic as it got for me. I started out the song with that kind of thump in mind as well as the writing of Joni Mitchell. I stirred them together, and I got this song. "Nobody" is about the madness of love—yet you really miss going mad and being involved in it. I wrote it with my editor, and I allowed him to give his take. I wanted a balanced perspective between the sexes in the writing. I think it all married really well.