There must be hundreds, maybe even thousands of interns working in record labels dreaming of going from making the tea to touring the world. For the former Ba Da Bing Records intern, Katie Von Schleicher, that dream became reality. While working at the label, Katie was invited by owner Ben Goldberg to make a demo tape, a project she took slightly more seriously than he’d expected – that demo tape would go on to become Katie’s debut release Bleaksploitation.
Now also signed to Full Time Hobby over this side of the pond, Katie is set to release the follow-up to that tape, her full-length debut album, Shitty Hits. With a sound that takes in everything from the expansive country soul perfected by Natalie Prass to the melancholic sway of Andy Shauf, Katie seems to have emerged a master of more styles than most people ever even try. Discussing the inspiration behind the record, Katie has suggested it’s a record not inspired by grand themes or great achievements, but about mediocrity, and the entirely human quality of being deeply flawed. The impressively full-bodied production belies the fact the whole thing was created on a tape machine in Katie’s childhood bedroom at her parents’ house in Maryland. Whilst Katie Von Schleicher’s career path is already a remarkable success story, with a record this good, it’s also one that seems like it’s only just getting started.
Ahead of Shitty Hits’ release next week, Katie was kind enough to answer our questions, discussing recording in her bedroom, why music is the only career for her, and how an amusement park fits into her future plans.
FTR: Who those who don’t know already, who is Katie Von Schleicher?
Haha, I feel like this question is to entice me to speak in a Dylan-esque third person way. It is fair to note that the name is a moniker. I’m a songwriter, producer, budding engineer, a crass yet literate human who tries to make things into music.
FTR: Your debut album, Shitty Hits, is out this month, what can you tell us about recording the album?
It was a challenge I gave myself, to make this maximal, warped record, to work in a larger format than I’ve ever done before. I worked with some friends and in large part alone to record, first with an engineer in Maryland where I’m from, finally by myself in my bedroom in Brooklyn, NY. It’s a very state-of-the-art bedroom. I sat on the wood floor and added guitars, synths, keyboards, vocals. I like to record vocals sort of hunched over in a ball, which is terrible for your diaphragm. Also in the dark.
FTR: The album’s coming out on Ba Da Bing Records, how did you go from intern to recording artist?
Ben, my boss, liked a few songs I’d done before working at Ba Da Bing, and he passed them on to a DJ at WFMU, this fantastic New Jersey-based station we love. He got my little songs on the radio, he included me on an “Intern Compilation” we released digitally. We were doing a bunch of cassette releases at the time, and he offered I make a little cassette. I took it very seriously, I made an “album,” as I called it, the mini-album Bleaksploitation. Doing my own press, I got it to a level neither of us expected in terms of coverage. So Ben said we could do an LP and CD, and we expanded it. Afterward, I don’t know, I set about making another record, this record. No one signed anyone, it just is, it happened very organically.
FTR: You’re now signed to Full Time Hobby here in the UK, do you think labels are still important to musicians? Did you consider self-releasing?
Labels are important to musicians, hugely so. They provide an extremely crucial element: distribution. It was unexpected for Full Time Hobby to want to put the album out. At Ba Da Bing, I have an interpersonal relationship with its owner, meaning he thinks I’m a nice person. Having this label in the UK that wanted to put it out, who didn’t know me, who were going solely off of the music, it made me feel very good. Validation. Artists want the help of someone knowledgeable who believes in them, I experience providing that as an artist liaison at Ba Da Bing (since I continue to work there), and I’ve experienced it as a musician with Full Time Hobby. Not to mention, when I got to London there was this home away from home in the form of the label. It’s welcoming, it’s a sense of belonging.
FTR: What are your earliest musical memories? Did you grow up in a musical household?
I was fortunate to grow up in two homes (my parents and my grandparents’) that had pianos. My grandparents left me their piano, which is on the album. I did not, other than that, grow up in a musical household. I remember singing, I remember loving this bedroom in the house after we’d painted it, it was empty and it had nice reverberation, so I’d go in there. My grandfather had cut an old sail boat in half and fashioned it into a bar in his basement, jutting out from the wall. I would dance and sing up there on the bar. But songwriting has been a solitary pursuit. There were rooms in my school where I could sneak off and write between classes, or during lunch. There was an hour before my mom got home after school where I was alone, I would write then. I did that for a long time before letting anyone hear it.
FTR: Why do you make music?
I can’t be sure. It’s funny, I don’t know how I got here! I entertained the idea of quitting so often when things got tough after college, when I couldn’t imagine how to pave a path in this industry. But it wouldn’t hold, I suppose I need to do it. Like I said, there was no musical household in place, no musicians in my family. I feel like an error. But I persist, I keep loving it.
FTR: Who are your biggest musical influences? What were you listening to when you wrote Shitty Hits?
I was listening to a ton of the old favorites. Brian Eno, David Bowie, Randy Newman, Carole King, Nina Simone, at least in terms of songwriting references. Production references are usually different for me, stranger. A lot of White Album to get in the mood to engineer things. I find that from a ‘songcraft’ perspective, I have drier, more classic references, ones that don’t let up. Springsteen’s Darkness On The Edge of Town was a new one that inspired me. I love taking an artist like Randy Newman or Nina Simone’s vast catalogue, and compiling lists of their most perfect songs, obsessing over their specifics.
FTR: What about influences outside of music? Do you have any other artistic outputs?
I love Cassavetes films. I like a ton of films, but he’s my favorite. I love reading, too. I write a little bit, I paint for fun, I take video of things on my camcorder, I do graphic design, usually album design.
FTR: The lyrics on this record seem to be very personal, is putting your private life across in songs something that comes naturally to you?
I think it does come naturally. But as much as the personal aspects of this record may seem like verbal diarrohea, haha, I very intentionally wanted to share more shameful aspects of my life, which wasn’t easy. I wanted to put life, my life, in more brutally honest light, one that we actually experience, not a poem at all. Minutiae, the un-pretty.
FTR: You recently toured the UK with Aldous Harding, how was the audience reaction? Do you enjoying playing live?
The audiences were fantastic and there’s very little I enjoy more than playing live. Aldous’ fans are there to listen and they were very good to us.
FTR: What are your aspirations for this record? Is music a viable career?
I don’t know if it’s a viable career, but it’s the one I want. There are so many levels, gradations of music career. I think that it will be hard fought if I do find a full-time position in music, but I’ve given up a certain level of comfort, money and stasis for this, for the love of it, the hope of it.
FTR: Your music and videos all seem to contrast the upbeat and the melancholy, is that a conscious decision?
It is. Humor and sadness go together well, or humor’s one way to process life’s absurdity.
FTR: Do you enjoy the non-musical aspects of being in the music industry? Making videos, photo shoots, interviews etc.
I do. Not sure what that says about me. I love a lot of things outside of music, and so to me I enjoy entangling this music I make with the ability to explain it. The verbal content in the music is one thing, a small distillate of what there is to say. This process has taught me that photographers are almost always intelligent, charismatic and informed. I’ve learned a lot of things just shooting the shit with someone while they photographed me in the past few months. Same with interviews, many of these people are just great conversationalists.
FTR: What’s next for Katie Von Schleicher?
Her? I’ll keep going, touring, I will carve out the next record, conceptually and musically, hopefully go to an amusement park sooner than later, find the best ride, go on it three or four consecutive times.
Shitty Hits is out July 28th via Ba Da Bing (US)/Full Time Hobby (UK). Click HERE for more information on Katie Von Schleicher.