Last week, singer/songwriter Katie Herzig released her fifth studio album, The Waking Sleep. On this record, the Grammy Award-nominated chanteuse abandoned her signature melancholy acoustic-driven sound in favor of matured and complex dark electronica layered with contemporary folk pop. The result? A near flawless compilation of music guaranteed to secure a prominent spot on the year-end list of anyone who gives it a listen.
I caught up with Katie about everything from her creative process, to what it feels like to be featured on so many film and television soundtracks, to plans about her current headlining tour.
AN: First of all, congratulations on The Waking Sleep. I have to say, it’s honestly one of the most gorgeous and remarkable records I’ve heard in a very long time. One of the things I love about it is that while it’s a new sound for you, it still remains true to the stripped down and raw feel of your previous albums. What triggered this desire to experiment in the studio?
KH: Wow, thank you very much! I think I’ve always felt the pull to experiment and layer in the studio, perhaps I just have new tools at my fingertips and new influences to help guide me.
I really love the way you layered in organic instruments with digitally programmed sounds. It created such a unique and refreshing final product. Is it safe to say that this is the direction you intend to continue making your music in?
I think so, yeah. I actually have been layering programmed stuff with organic stuff previous to this album, but not as boldly as this, and the further I go along, the more programming tools I seem to acquire. But you know, I wouldn’t rule anything out for where I’m headed in the future. But currently I am all about the marriage of these two things. I also should mention that my co-producer Cason Cooley is just as in love with combining the organic and synthetic sounds so we really went there together.
Tell me a little bit about your creative process. I can imagine that when mixing mediums like this, it’s significantly different than just writing a song on the ukulele and jotting down lyrics.
Yeah, for this record there are only a few songs I wrote start to finish on a guitar or something. I was building tracks and writing these songs as I built them. It was so much fun creating this way and it was really inspiring to write lyrics to these musical landscapes I’d created to write them in. But I promised myself that I’d still need to have these songs stand on their own without all the production around them, luckily they do. But the production is such a huge part of what I have come to love about them.
On The Waking Sleep, it wasn’t just the music that seemed to mature; your lyrical content did as well. The album feels less dominated by themes of relationships than your previous releases and instead seems to also focus on larger, global issues. What sparked this change in your songwriting?
You are correct. I think that’s just because the larger global issues were more present in my mind when I was writing this record. To feel real legitimate concern about certain things going on in the world is a very weighty thing and I think a lot of people are feeling that these days. So it was very therapeutic to write about it… and also very challenging… harder than writing songs about love.
What is the most obscure thing that’s ever inspired you to write a song?
Hmmm good question. V for Vendetta. Not that obscure of a film, but I saw that movie and went right home and wrote a song. It’s still one of my favorites but I’ve never released it.
If you had to perform one of your songs every day for the rest of your life, which one would it be?
“Wish You Well.”
Whether it was in the Sex and The City movie or on TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy, many of your songs have been showcased on various soundtracks. Is it strange for you then to hear your music applied to these fictional narratives that are so removed from your songwriting process?
Yes, it is a very odd feeling. For the most part when a song is paired with something that feels really fitting it is very magical actually. Music can be such a powerful thing behind a good story or scene. So it really is the ultimate when they work well together.
Back in the ‘90s, Madonna released I’m Breathless, an album of original songs that also served as the soundtrack to the film Dick Tracy. As someone whose music has been so heavily featured in film and television, would you ever consider doing something similar and recording an entire album to be the backdrop of a singular movie or show? If so, are there any specific filmmakers, writers, directors, actors, etc. that you would want to work with?
I would love to do this, yes. Sophia Coppola comes to mind, Peter Hedges, Ang Lee… so many really. I admire composers like Mark Mothersbaugh and Gustavo Santaolalla. I think if I did all the music I’d rather not sing every song, but create musical pieces and themes that run throughout… kind of like Trent Reznor did with music for The Social Network. Maybe sing some of them. It’d be really hard work but really rewarding I think.
In support of The Waking Sleep, you’re currently embarking on a headlining tour. How has the experience of playing these new songs live compared to the acoustic feel of performing your older material?
It’s crazy, it honestly feels like the new stuff is a whole new band, so it’s a challenge to weave them together. But a great challenge that I’m up for. I can’t wait to get out there and play these songs every night and start to figure out the best way to present them live. We’ve played a handful of shows already performing the new stuff, but we’re still pretty think-y about it. It’ll settle in and we’ll create some really great moments I think. These songs really lend themselves to having a show with lots of dynamics and exciting moments, mixed with really sparse beautiful delicate moments. I love both. Couldn’t imagine a show without both.
Are there any surprises fans can expect from this tour?
If someone has seen me before with my acoustic trio they will be more surprised than if they’ve already seen me with a full on band. There will be a lot going on onstage. Vibes, horns, toms, samples, lots of switching of instruments…
As someone who travels as much as you do, what do you find to be the first three things you HAVE to do whenever you return home after a tour?
Make a home-cooked meal. Laundry. Lots of yoga.
And speaking of touring, what’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened to you on your tour bus?
I got left behind once. It was the second bus tour I did with Ten Out of Tenn. It was the beginning of tour and I had just gotten back to the US from Germany so I was waking up super early in the mornings. One morning I got up really early and went to get coffee and the tour manager thought we were all still asleep on the bus so he had the bus take off early for Atlanta… when I got back to the bus they were already in the next town, 4 hours away. I had to hop in a taxi, rent a car and take a train to make it to the show.
Tell me a little bit more about Ten Out of Tenn. This is a touring troupe that takes 10 singer/songwriters from Nashville and puts them all on one stage to perform their music, both separately and together. What is it about the Nashville music scene that you think creates such different and talented musicians?
I think that music towns draw a lot of really talented people to them. When those people stick around and play out enough, you start to learn who the really talented ones are that people are talking about. With Nashville it’s become this really thriving scene of artists who aren’t country musicians. Ten Out of Tenn showcases that community, and takes it on the road. It really is a very supportive and collaborative community. Since Nashville is such a big co-writing town I think that feeds the collaboration.
What has been the most rewarding part of being involved with Ten out of Tenn? It seems like a very collaborative and inspiring environment to be part of.
It is. I am currently on maybe my 5th TOT tour. It becomes harder and harder to get solo artists schedules to line up for a couple weeks at a time, so it feels like a little miracle each night. Having so many talented solo artists on the same stage. It’s beautiful to see people who are used to carrying their own shows, supporting each other and being each other’s band. The most rewarding thing personally is just the life-long friendships I’ve made out of the experiences.
Thanks very much for your time, Katie. And kudos again on The Waking Sleep.
My pleasure, thank so much for digging the record and asking good questions!
Alex Nagorski is a contributor to MuuMuse.
The Waking Sleep was released on September 20. (iTunes)