Interview: Kathleen Talks Debut EP, Quarantine & Floristry
Whether she’s calling on ancient trees for love advice (“Asking The Aspens”) or lamenting the slow death of Mother Nature (“The Longest Year”), Kathleen comes at pop differently. The newcomer, who worked as a florist before pursuing a career in music, blurs the line between songwriting and poetry. She paints pictures with words and precise phrasing, cradles them in unique sounds and employs a softness that is all but extinct in modern pop. Those characteristics are on full display on her just-released Kathleen I EP.
Earlier this week, I was lucky enough to ask the breakout star a few questions about quarantine and keeping creative in isolation. We also covered her debut EP, which will be followed by a second installment at some point this year, and the never-ending slog that is 2020. Other topics of conversation included high-profile collaborators, musical influences, the surprising metal world of floristry and her love of winter blooms. Listen to Kathleen I and get to know the rising singer/songwriter a little better in our Q&A below.
What do you miss most about pre-quarantine life?
Walking to a restaurant and eating alone, Echo Park Lake on Sundays, close quarters, my friends, spontaneity. Being able to go for an aimless drive that leads to another town and not want to go home yet, so you find the second cheapest room in the area and crash.
Have you been working on music during lockdown?
Oh, yes. I came back to my hometown in Colorado to be with family and the only way to retain any hope of sanity in that scenario is to keep incredibly busy. So, the first thing I did was clear out the basement, where I’ve since been building out a studio. It’s nice, there’s no pressure here. Plus, we’re super lucky to be able to have so much open space to roam. I’m trying to hike a new trail every day if I can. Mostly though, I’ve been filming and editing videos and visualizers for some of the songs on this EP. I used a lot of footage from those hikes.
Is there a common thread that runs through Kathleen I or does it showcase different facets of your artistry?
I like to think of it as a tapas platter — little tastes of influences and styles I’ve been exploring both in myself and in my work over the last few years. Some seasons I feel super high drama, the next I feel like being a lonely brooding poet, then I get tired of being sad and I want summer to burn my clothes off, so I write a song that feels like cold water.
“The Longest Year” is eerily appropriate for 2020. Where did that prescience come from?
It’s actually about four years old! It took me around two years to write it, I felt I had to be really careful with what I put into the song because of the weight of the topics. Some songs come out through impulse and instinct, but sometimes the thoughts have to percolate and be tested against different moods and events to see if they’re true or not, which just takes time. Except the chorus, that came out of a wit’s end like a big long sigh.
But yeah, there’s been a looming for a while. Even before Lady ‘Rona, it felt like every day was gaining more weight. More news of environmental destruction, more news of injustice and corruption. I guess that’s where the song came out of — that first cracking sound you hear right before the tree falls. I had no understanding what it meant to literally live a long year, though, until now.
You worked with Ariel Rechtshaid on “Asking The Aspens.” What was that like and how did you connect?
Ariel has been a hero of mine for a while, so it was a very literal dream come true to work with him! It took us a few years to get the songs to where they are now and, in that time, I grew miles. He’s a true creative in the fullest sense and a really good-hearted person. We spent a lot of time nerd-ing heavy on our favorite flowers and Kate Bush deep cuts.
“Seven Miles” is my favorite song on the EP. I love that it’s somehow the most accessible and discordant cut. What inspired it?
Hell yeah, I’m glad you use that word for it. It’s funny, it almost didn’t make the cut for being just that, discordant. It just felt like it stood out too much from the rest and I was a little scared of it at first for being so different. I wrote the bones of it with Noah Conrad during a time when I was rehearsing with him and a few of our other close musician/producer friends for a show I had coming up. So, we thought, fuck it let’s see if we can flesh out a little live version with this band just for kicks.
Luckily, two of the other musicians (Jonah Summerfield on drums and Ryan Linvill, who co-produced it with Noah) and I had extremely similar taste and influence in new wave music. They just really woke the song up into something I’ve always wanted to make. And because of that, it is soooo fun to play live — I can’t wait to tour with it when this is all over, it’s just so full of that infectious, shit-head summer energy because of how much fun we were having arranging it in Ryan’s sweaty garage in Van Nuys. I hope it can give people a little dose of summertime during these dark times — at least for 3 minutes and 29 seconds.
Is there an album on the way? If so, how far along are you?
There’s actually already a second EP all finished behind Kathleen I with another world of songs I’m stoked on. And yes! I have also started on a new pile of music and poems for what comes next after that.
How did you get started in music? When did you realize it could be a career?
I think I wrote my first song when I was seven. I never thought of it as writing or playing music, I don’t know — it was something else. More like uncovering something that was always there — like one of those pieces of rainbow scratch paper, where you scratch the black coating to unveil the color beneath it. It’s funny being back home now in the same room where I started. I’m doing the exact same stuff I did as a kid! Drawing, writing, filming, finding new music — only this time with big girl toys and I can drink whisky.
Who were your pivotal influences growing up and who do you listen to now?
All over the place. While I’ve been home, I’ve actually been looking through old CDs that I burned in middle school and high school. I just found one yesterday that had Phantom Of The Opera, Old Crow Medicine Show, Missy Elliott, Freezpop, MIA, Christina Aguilera, P.O.S., La Roux and a bunch of Swedish techno all on the same CD. The Killers were huge, Laura Marling, Regina Spektor, Neil Young, Santigold.
Recently, I’ve been listening to a lot of Minnie Ripperton and (Sandy) Alex G, Jon Hopkins, Teddy Wilson and Cher. Oh god, so much early Cher she makes these long days brighter.
What was the best part about being a florist? Do you have a fave flower?
Floristry is a pretty metal industry. Super labor intensive and you have to have really quick customer service skills — lotta scary stressed out brides and clients asking for the impossible. Plus, you’re dealing with really heavy and/or fragile and/or perishable goods in precarious settings. A few of the shops I worked at, I was the only florist who spoke English, so there was a lot of miming what the arrangements should look like, which was so fun. I love the people. Florists are insanely creative, full of stories and tend to be very grounded, hard workers.
I also really miss learning all the little tricks to keeping the flowers happy for longer. Like when you give poppies a fresh chop, it’s good to light the bottom of the stems on fire and sear them so they don’t “bleed out” and wilt immediately. Or how Hydrangeas drink through their faces, so you have to dunk their heads in water for 5-10 minutes before putting them in buckets. Or how Israeli Ruskus will stay green and lively for months without browning while Clematis blooms are shitty divas who die almost immediately. Each flower has its own very distinct personality and talent.
I always loved the winter and early spring flowers. They have to fight through snow and frost so they’re super tough and sophisticated. So, for that reason, I’d have to pick hellebores for today’s favorite flower.