Episode 2: Katy the Kyng
Theme Music: Moonrise by Podington Bear
Before we get into this week’s conversation, I just want to give our listeners a heads up that this episode carries an explicit rating due to language and adult content. So if you’re used to listening to podcasts around the kids, or in public spaces, maybe consider saving this one for your solo cross country road trip or private bubble bath ritual. Now, onto the show.
Hello and welcome to episode two of the INPUT/OUTPUT podcast. I’m your host, Magdalena Abrego, and this week, I’m in conversation with avant-jazz royalty.
Earlier this summer, I asked the INPUT/OUTPUT magazine readers to nominate artists that they wanted to see featured on this podcast series, and although the online nomination form is now closed, I want to take a moment to say that nominations are always welcome. Email me at email@example.com, or DM me on Facebook or Instagram at inputoutputmag. I want to hear from you! Who should I be listening to? What do you think of the podcast? Hit me up. Send me your stuff. Let’s be friends. You get the idea. Okay, back to the focus of today’s episode.
Katy the Kyng, or Katie Battistoni, as she’s referred to offstage, was nominated more than any other artist. And after a preliminary dig through her social media pages, it quickly became clear that I had stumbled upon a kindred spirit, which in 2019, the age of internet-borne isolation, felt nothing short of revelatory, and I really mean that. I hinted to this briefly in episode one, but it bears repeating. I would say that the vast majority of my relationships with other musicians are unfortunately superficial. It’s a lot of people liking my posts, but averting their eyes when we run into each other on the street. It’s commenting heart emojis on my new headshot, but never following up on the offer to hang out offscreen. My problem isn’t unique, not to me, or to this industry. Plus, I’m the first to admit that I am guilty of the exact behavior I’m complaining about. We’re on the threshold of a new decade and these social gripes, well…I guess this is just par for the course. But, like my fellow members of the millennial brood, I too require the occasional genuine connection to another human being. Which is why it felt so special to finally find myself sitting across from Katie at her kitchen table, mapping the parallel experiences that brought us together on a warm September afternoon, sipping black coffee at a brownstone in Brooklyn. Every anecdote I shared that was met with a “Me Too”-like response from her, felt like the tiny bedroom shredders inside both of our souls were high fiving, which is to say discussing the toxic masculinity that riddles the world of guitar culture with Katie felt something like the conversational equivalent to two guitarists soloing with their backs against each other, only less sweaty and homoerotic.
Music: Christmas Everyday by Katy the Kyng
M: I wanted to tell you a little bit about how I found out about your music.
M: I was opening up the podcast to nominations. I asked the magazine readers to submit names of musicians that they wanted to hear on the podcast. And nominations were trickling in for sure, but I wanted- I posted a “This is the last day to nominate” video and we got like three dozen nominations and you made up like a third of the nominations.
K: Oh my god!
M: And I thought to myself, I was like, either somehow every single person that knows Katie was just like, “We need to do this,” or Katie was just like, “I’m just going to nominate myself 12 times.”
K: Oh my god. That’s so funny. I’ll never tell you my secret.
M: But I was like, regardless of which one of those it was, I need to listen up and so I-
K: That’s so funny. I wish I had done that, that would be such a power move. That’s hilarious.
M: You know, it really would be, and I would have responded to it. In any case, I was really happy, because I checked out your music and it was really fascinating and just like…your world, I feel like, is really fascinating. Because you’re not just a musician. You’re a poet and a YouTuber, which we definitely have to talk about at some point.
K: Oh god.
M: But yeah, tell me about yourself.
K: This is a dreaded question. Before I went to- I went to jazz school at age 18 to study jazz guitar, which I think you did too?
M: Yeah, yeah.
K: Before that, I was like obsessed with Jimi Hendrix and I was like, yeah I’m like a guitarist and that’s like my identity and everything. But then I got to school and I was meeting all these people who were like literally only interested in studying- I don’t mean to say this about the people I went to school with, but, just wanted to be jazz musicians in this traditional sense and study all this stuff. I became pretty depressed at first, and rebelled- knew I didn’t want to just do that, and to get out of that feeling of being compared to all these jazz greats and my peers who were also trying to sound like these jazz greats. It was extremely repellent to me. I didn’t realize it, but I just like…started making my own…like everyday I would just write my own music. One summer, I was like really depressed, like in between freshman and sophomore year or something, and I just started writing music everyday basically.
K: And that was like- Then I felt like I was getting my identity back, then, you know? Because of the morass of school was- and I was like the only, basically the only woman. There were only two women out of like sixty five people.
M: In the jazz department?
M: Where was this?
K: University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
M: Oh, whoa.
K: Class of 2011. I think I was the first woman ever in their jazz guitar program, so-
M: What? That’s wild.
K: Yeah, it’s crazy. And then, like four years later, there was another woman and now she’s like one of my really good friends.
M: Oh, crazy.
K: But, anyway, I was just like in this sea of identity confusion and…so that’s when I started making my own art world, I guess, and kind of- I would start submitting some of these things for school projects. Like write very out tunes about like blow jobs or something, and be like, “This is my song based on the changes to-” it was like based on the changes to “All The Things You Are,” or something. And I was the only one who did the assignment and it was like about blow jobs. And I was like, I should get the A, because I did the assignment, and people were like, “Okay?”
M: Whoa, yeah. This is so crazy. I feel like you and I have a really similar story, so far. So, I went to jazz school, and at the point that I entered, I had also come from this rock world. I was one of the many who was inspired by Jimi Hendrix. And yeah, I mean there’s a really deep modern jazz world at Berklee-
K: Oh, you went to Berklee?
M: Modern jazz in a…kind of a conventional sense, I should say. But there’s some pressure around that, I guess, and I didn’t take to that very well. But, I had never written my own music.
K: Yeah, I hadn’t.
M: But the spring of my first year at college was when the Boston Marathon Bombing happened-
M: And everything was cancelled. Like, finals were cancelled, you know, class didn’t happen for a long time, ‘cause it happened basically at our campus. So, at that point, my private instructor at the time, Amanda Monaco, was like, “You know what? Just write something, and we’ll call that your final,” or something. And I had never written anything ever, but I wrote this solo guitar piece and I brought it in and I played it for her, and she was like, “Whoa, this really reminds me of Marc Ribot,” and I was like, “Who’s that?”
K: Oh my god.
M: And I didn’t know-
K: You’re such a baller. That’s a crazy thing to happen.
M: And I didn’t know who he was, or anyone from that entire universe of playing. Before that, I was very much into like Jim Hall, and Pat Metheny, and Grant Greene, that sort of foundational stuff.
M: And then, I heard Marc Ribot, and players like that, and I was like, “Oh my god, this is the music that I wanted to make, but didn’t know existed,” and then I just completely shifted-
K: That is exactly what happened with me with Marc Ribot.
M: Yeah, and then I just completely shifted focuses. And sort of- it was interesting. So yeah, I completely feel you on everything you just described, and I also started to bring in weird stuff as school assignments, and people were just kind of like, “Why can’t you just play acoustic guitar and sing? Like, that’s what you’re supposed to be doing.”
K: Oh my god, that’s the most Berklee thing I’ve ever heard. I can’t handle that at all.
M: Someone literally said that to me in a critique after I played a piece.
K: Oh my god, yes, I would love to tear that person apart.
M: I mean…. So when you started writing music, what did that music sound like?
K: It kind of was like acoustic guitar and singing, but with very bizarre turnarounds, I guess. I don’t know. Some of them were just like straight up singer-songwriter type material. I remember once I had written a bunch of these things and I was like…finally people were like, “Oh you’re writing cool stuff.” And I was opening for my friend’s jazz band or something at some house party and I overheard my friend describing my music and he was like, “It’s like, you know, cute songs with funny lyrics.” And I was like, “Oh shit, I have to stop writing this style, because that sucks. I do not want that description.”
M: You’re like, “Not what I was going for.”
K: Yeah, um…and then, I wrote- I kept writing song forms and stuff, but I would write standards for class, you know, like in the style of that. I wrote a classical piece for like three guitars and three strings. I wrote a bunch of stuff for my senior year. I still think I write songs a lot, but I don’t know if I would say they’re like- differentiate between songs and compositions, really. But yeah, a lot of my early stuff was kind of like more Bob Dylan-y, I guess.
K: Just like, wordy word play stuff. And then I would add strange little sections of instrumental stuff that didn’t really make any sense, but it was more like noise sections, but written out, I guess.
M: Okay, cool. Nice. Is that kind of how you would describe the music that you’re making now?
K: That was always- like in school when I would get hyped up about stuff and just talk about what I wanted to do, it would be like songs that have unlimited openness for intervals of improvisation, or interludes, or no human voice talking. ‘Cause sometimes I’m listening to one of my favorite artists, like Joanna Newsom or something, and then I’m just like, “So much voice! Oh my god!” If only there was a little bit of something else sometimes. So I kind of want it to be like that, but then with Marc Ribot interludes, you know, or a song that’s beautiful and its own thing, but like there’s skronk that could go on for like 10 minutes, or it could just be like two seconds, or something, or- but it’s hopefully based on the rest of the song and then can get you to another song, or something.
M: So when did you adopt your performer name, Katy the Kyng?
K: Katy the Kyng. I joined this online songwriting group like five years ago. My friends from school all moved to LA and were writing a song a day every January and July, and I just had to choose a username. And I remember listening to everyone’s songs and they were super LA and super produced and really good, and I was like, “Shit, I have to just claim my- I just have to stake a claim in this group,” so I was like, “I’m the king.” And I wrote, “Katy the Kyng,” just to like try to intimidate people. And then I was like, “Non-patrilineal, non-patrilineal,” ‘cause people are like- sometimes- recently, I played a show and someone was like, “Patriarchy,” when I was like, “I’m Katy the Kyng,” and I was like “Pfft, okay.” I was like, “Okay…that’s the whole point!” That’s why I’m calling myself king! Duh!
M: Yeah, no, that’s really funny. I wonder- yeah, I guess that was something I wanted to ask you about which is the role of humor in what you do. ‘Cause it’s funny. Like, I saw this YouTube video of your performance of “I Got 69 Problems, But a Dick Ain’t One,” which is so great-
K: Oh yeah, that classic tune.
M: You know that- uh, yeah. I mean it’s super funny, but I also think that it’s, I don’t know…maybe this is just my own bias from going to jazz school, but it’s an un-funny crowd. They don’t respond well, so I’m just wondering what your experiences have been with that, like how- ‘cause there’s the risk of things not reading for an audience, so tell me about that.
K: That can really affect what I’m doing. If I arrive to the show and I’ve never been to the venue- recently, this happened to me a few times and I’m like, okay, I have to be more selective with when I’m going to be vulnerable enough to share this performance, kind of? But, I’ll show up at a venue and then I realize that no one’s gonna like what I’m about to do. And then, I…hopefully am getting better at doing it 110 anyway, especially if you think they won’t-
K: ‘Cause then if you do it all the way then it might read better. I’ve definitely played some things where i thought I just did my thing and someone was like, “That’s the weirdest thing I’ve seen in a long time,” or they’re just like, “You’re like funny or weird or whatever.” I definitely think that at the beginning, in the jazz school thing, like that place that I was playing was during jazz school…and it was about one of the people in that room, so- I was just always- I was always kind of using all my classmates that I would sometimes fall in love with or whatever as my muses and then I would- I don’t know, I think the humor was definitely like a defense against jazz school and I just started trying to make everyone laugh all the time. Or, do something that would make me laugh, myself, so I could have my own world of humor to guard me from judgement of sorts. I think it is very valuable and it was really important to me to make my own sense of humor really- just like really put it all out of there, and a lot of my videos- I need a hint of something that is just like me, or my humor, in it to feel like it’s my- it belongs to me, kind of. That might’ve been what I was doing, trying to assert myself. And it was cool if I could make people laugh, but I mean there were a lot of disconnects between me and a lot of the people at school. Like, I didn’t really always dig their stuff, but I always went and heard so many of those shows. And then, by the end they were affectionate of my shit, even if they weren’t really getting it or whatever. I was like, that’s cool, you know. Or more they’re just kind of like, “Okay…yeah, cool, Katy’s got her own thing.” Like a parent. “Love what you’re- you do that.”
M: “You know, I’m happy if you’re happy.”
K: Right, and I was like, “Thank you. I will continue doing this.”
Break Music: Ellipsis by Podington Bear
To learn more about Katie Battistoni, purchase her music, or to stay updated on her live performances, visit katythekyng.net. That’s Katy, with a y, and kyng, with a y. In the opening of this episode we featured an excerpt of Katy’s holiday classic, Christmas Everyday from the Little Kid Blues EP available now at katythekyng.bandcamp.com. Again, that’s Katy, with a y, and kyng, with a y. Keep listening to hear another excerpt of Katy’s music later in this episode. We’ll be playing a preview of an unreleased track in which Katy plays duo with Marc Ribot. The next episode of the In Conversation podcast will be released in two weeks, but in the meantime, you can hear more from Katie in a bonus episode we are releasing on our Patreon page. Subscribe now at patreon.com/inputoutputmag to access the episode when it drops next week. Plus, when you become a subscriber you automatically unlock exclusive articles from the first issue of INPUT/OUTPUT Magazine. All of this, for the price of a cup of coffee. Now, back to my conversation with Katy the Kyng.
M: So I’ve- Yeah, I’ve spent some time with your YouTube channel and you do have a really distinct sense of humor that’s really great and it seems to be very you. And it makes me think- a lot of people in conversation with me will just like bring up, like, “How do we get more people to listen to experimental music? How do we broaden our audiences?” And I think it comes down to accessibility, just like anything else. But those entry points that we offer look so different from artist to artist, and humor is really interesting entry point that you employ that I haven’t really seen in other artists. So when did the YouTube video thing start to be a part of your work?
K: It’s actually really funny ‘cause it’s the opposite of the original intention. I remember- my uncle’s a musician and he would always be like, older generation, and he’d be like, “I see all these YouTube videos of these hacks doing all this and they have like a million views, you know, just ‘cause they’re playing ‘Highway to Hell’ or something in a tank top.” He was like, “You should just play guitar the way you do and put a video up and stuff.” This was probably a few years ago. And I was like, “Cool cool cool cool cool cool.” And then one day, I was like, “Fine.” And I put up “Parker’s Mood,” or something, like a Charlie Parker solo or something, and it was just like a straight ahead video, you know, no twists or turns. And then I started- oh yeah, I think the first one where I used humor was, I was in a bad mood or something and I was like, mad about guitar, as usual, and like why people do certain things with it and what the point of it is, so- but I always had to play- I was starting to play in this ‘80s rock and roll casino cover band as my job.
M: Oh my gosh.
K: And that was my job for two years, playing AC/DC and Prince and Guns n Roses in casinos in the South. It was crazy.
M: Oh my gosh. I’m just going to bookmark that thought. Please go on, but we’re coming back to that.
K: Yes, yes. So, I was just like, fuck it, I’m going to make a video of me playing the “Whole Lotta Love” solo, but I’m going to be like, *in young girl-like voice* “Hiiii,” and wear a pink dress and all pink background and really saturated. And then I was like *sarcastically giggles* and then just played it and I just named it “Jimmy Page in Flowerz” with a z or something.
M: Oh my gosh.
K: Then I just started getting more and more humor- just that kind of thing on my YouTube channel. And then, this is where it comes back to the original thing, because there’s this one commenter who’s like, “Okay, I enjoy all your blues and jazz tutorials. Very nice. Great playing. Why don’t you go back to that?” or something and I was just like, yes, this is the original intention of the YouTube channel, but now it is grown far beyond the control of the tutorial and I was like, “You’re in the wrong section of YouTube.”
M: Yeah, they- I don’t know, I think they’re great ‘cause they all exist in the same universe for me. And yeah, and I get that universe, I think, because I also have simmered in the frustration of existing in guitar culture as me.
K: Very well put, very well put.
M: Yeah, whoa, like…I don’t know if I should admit this, but I spend a sizable amount of time just scrolling through Instagram dude-shredder videos, ‘cause I hate them, but I kind of love watching it anyway.
K: Wow, I never-
M: It’s weirdly affirming to me, I’m just like, yes-
K: Yes there is no point, yes there is no point.
M: But yeah, wait so, we have to talk about the casino thing. So I just went to the casino for the first time a few days ago.
K: Oh my god! Atlantic city or?
M: No, well, okay so I live in Cambridge, which is just north of Boston.
K: Oh, Foxwoods?
M: No, I’m familiar with Foxwoods, but here’s the thing: a new casino just opened up in Everett, Massachusetts, which is right by Cambridge, and it’s really bizarre. It’s not a place where you would expect a casino, and it just kind of sprouted out of nowhere and yeah, just decided to go and see what it was like.
K: Hit the casino solo?
M: No, thankfully I went with someone, and we both hadn’t been to casinos.
M: And we found the whole thing to be really over stimulating.
K: Oh yeah, it’s like a dull overstimulating- it’s just kind of dimly lit and smoky and gross and like you feel un-alive, but also too much happening.
M: Yeah, well the weird thing about this one was no one was smoking and no one was drinking.
K: That’s really sad actually.
M: It was really bizarre. I was like, is there a rule about this that I just don’t know about? And it was just really bright and really loud and we bet 2 dollars and we won 19 cents and we felt good about that and went home. We played the Playboy bunny slot machine.
K: Ha! That’s a good one, that’s a good one.
M: So how did you get into casino gigging?
K: I mean, I have always been around- my grandparents lived in Las Vegas and we went there for Christmas every year for twenty years, so I’ve been around a lot of casinos, but this was just some- I literally did a drunk Craigslist thing, ‘cause I was like, “Oh man, I work at a grocery store. I shouldn’t- I’m brilliant, what am I doing?” And I was just like- and I just made this Craigslist post, and I was like, “Guitarist for hire. Likes Marc Ribot,” or something. And it was like, “Hit me up if avail,” or some bullshit. And then like someone answered and it was this long chain of like- I met with this drummer who then introduced me to this smooth jazz band called Dizzy Lizard that I was in for a month. We played to an empty YMCA under a moose head every week. And then the bassist from there was in this casino band, and was like, “The guitarist just went to rehab,” or something classic, “So would you like to join the ‘80s band?” And I was like, sweet! And I had been almost accepted- I had spent so much time applying to poetry MFAs and I was one spot away from one that I really wanted to go to, but I didn’t get in. So, I had spent all this time not practicing guitar, like months. So, it really kicked my ass, and I was like, “Damn, can I even do this?” And then…but, I killed the “Jessie’s Girl” solo in the audition.
M: Oh my god. Oh my god.
K: And, he was like, “Wow a lot of good guitarists can’t, don’t get that accurate.” And I’m like, “Yeah, I got it, you know.” Then, I spent a lot of time learning the… “Sweet Child O Mine,” anyway, yeah so that’s how it started and it was a very strange time in my life. It was like a huge adventure. It was like weekends spent driving to Louisiana and Mississippi from Austin, I lived in Austin, in this van with people who I loved like family, but not chosen, it was just kind of like a family situation, ‘cause we were all…we all became- we loved each other because of this thing, but then, we got into some crazy adventures. It was just like free for alls on the weekends in these casinos.
K: And I would- it was a way for me to not be depressed about it. I mean, I got so good at guitar during that time. I would play three hours a night, and they made me play solos on everything, like on the fuckin’ “Cha Cha Slide.” They would bust out all of these dance numbers from today and then the ‘80s stuff depending on how young the crowd was or whatever. I was just playing so many solos, like Prince solos and stuff, really hard stuff. But yeah, then some nights I would be like, no no no no I have to stop doing this soon. Then, during the week I would make a lot of those YouTube videos and stuff, because that was when I had free time and I had to get back to my own world again, ‘cause the casino thing was so not my world. And I would write a lot, like in the hotel lobbies and stuff, in the casino lobbies. I would just like write about whatever, just to claim back…I wrote a lot during that time actually, like words and made a lot of videos. ‘Cause I felt like- yeah, to claim back my creative self. Even though I was playing guitar a lot, it didn’t feel creative, it felt kind of soulless a lot of the time.
M: Yeah, it sounds like you were trying to keep one foot in your world-
M: And one foot in this strange GB underbelly, or something.
K: It was totally Guitar Center.
M: I felt like that when I’ve done pit gigs, extended pit gigs, where you’re doing like six or seven shows a week.
M: And you’re just playing the same rock show over and over again, and it’s like- you’re playing guitar a lot so it feels good-
K: Yeah, totally.
M: But, it’s kind of weird. How long were you doing that gig?
K: Like two years.
M: Wow. So what finally stole you away from that?
K: Well, the band broke up due to scandal, that I was not involved in. It was definitely straight up scandal that involved drama and physical separation.
M: Oh my god, wow. That feels fitting for an ‘80s rock band that did the casino circuit.
K: Dude. Everything you would think of with ‘80s happened in that band, okay?
Break Music: Ellipsis by Podington Bear
After this short break, we get the Behind the Music of Katy’s upcoming album, Selfies of You, including the origin story of her friendship with Marc Ribot. That and more in just a minute.
Ad Music: Platformer by Podington Bear
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Now, back to my conversation with Katy the Kyng.
K: Then, that’s when I came to this workshop with Marc Ribot in New York for one weekend in the Catskills.
M: Wild. Wait, what was the workshop?
K: It was called Alternative Guitar Summit, or something.
K: I hated it so much. I just went to meet Marc Ribot and it worked ‘cause now we’re friends.
M: That’s amazing.
K: But I was like, fuck this. I don’t like any time when there’s like fifty guitar players in one place.
M: You’re kidding? You don’t love that?
K: It’s the worst. People are like, “This is so fun! Let’s do it again! Let’s jam!” And I was like, “No no no no no.” I was just like, “Shit no.” Especially if it’s supposed to be alternative, ‘cause it’s like but everyone’s alternative now. Like there’s the shredder guys and stuff, but then there’s like- almost everyone I went to school with is trying to make experimental stuff, but it’s like- it’s even more terrible to be in jazz school in this place where everyone’s trying to do something different but they’re all doing the same different thing or something. And I was just like, “Oh god, no I can’t do this.” I had some moments out in the nature. I was just like looking at a rock or the river, like, “God, what am I doing?” But that’s when I was staying in this apartment and somehow it just magically opened up to me that there was a room while I was staying here very temporarily. And I was like, I don’t have a job or a boyfriend in Austin and I wanted to move to New York so…yeah after that casino band I moved here, basically.
M: Whoa, so you went to this weekend workshop with fifty other guitar players. Was Ribot the only one teaching or was it a bunch of people?
K: No, it was with Miles Okazaki and Steve Cardenas, and…somebody else I don’t remember.
M: Wow, that’s quite the lineup.
K: Yeah, it was cute, it was sweet. They did it this year, and I was like, I’m never going back, but it was with Julian Lage and stuff. And it’s like, that’s not really alternative? I mean I guess, it’s just like whatever.
M: I mean, yeah…
K: It doesn’t matter, it’s cool. It was very funny to see Miles and Marc play together because…whatever, ‘cause they’re so different and…but- the teaching- Marc isn’t a teacher. I love that. Because it’s like, to me it’s inspirational that I don’t have to teach. I can somehow hodge podge together a life without teaching. But his lessons were just like, “So this is what I used to play with Zorn,” and he’d like pop a balloon or something, and then make a photocopy of the score for it and give it out. And everyone was like, “Yeah!” It was so funny.
M: That’s really funny. So you moved to New York. Did you know people in the city at that point?
K: Yeah, I knew two of these people in this apartment. It’s so lovely because I’ve known them- they were at Michigan. One was a dancer and one was in jazz school, so like, there’s a bassist from jazz school who lives here and then…so- it’s really kind of depressing and like fucked up, but it feels like everyone who went to jazz school anywhere is in this giant web now. Like, Austin was kind of like this little oasis, but I didn’t know anyone. Like, I just made my own little punk life there. And then here it was back to like, “Oh, the music school world.”
K: I just think it’s depressing because it’s like, great, so like all these successful people went to fucking music school? And that’s why they all know each other. It’s so like *makes grossed-out noise*
M: Yeah, no, it’s something that I struggle with a lot with curating the artists for INPUT/OUTPUT, because I don’t want it to just be like a review of music school graduates.
K: Yeah. No Downbeat Magazine part two!
M: Yeah. And that’s hard. And thankfully, that’s happened in this second iteration of INPUT/OUTPUT. We have accessed people that didn’t go to music school, which is great. But, I think it’s a really important point of privilege to recognize. ‘Cause I know what you mean. It is kind of like music school part two.
K: Yeah, yeah. Which- I got here and was like, cool, so now I’m back on the scene. Like, when I was in Austin, I felt like, wow I really just play this punk bar and work at a casino band. And, it felt cool, but I also felt like the kind of thing where it’s like…wow, my sister’s getting a PhD or something, or it’s kind of like I am fallen off onto this little like…life that I made, but now I’m like I’m gonna make a record and do all this stuff, you know? When I got here, I was like- I don’t know, but it feels weird kind of. Very scene-y.
M: It is very scene-y, and like, there’s…there are the pros, or the positives to that, for sure, like it’s amazing to be a part of a community-
K: So many amazing musicians. It’s overwhelming.
M: It’s amazing.
K: And so crazy, yeah.
M: But do you think there’s also this pressure to then stake your corner of it?
K: Definitely. I think it’s kind of good for me, even though I’m very begrudgingly accepting this, because for a while, I thought it was my role to represent women guitar players, you know? Like, oh I’m the only one that people know, or something, like in certain places. So I was like, great I have to always just be really good and that’s it. And I used to, you know, wear dresses and stuff, and I still do, but it’s like I can’t do anything that will give any weakness. For a while I stopped wearing anything girly and was like, okay- I would wear like fuckin’ suspenders and glasses and no make up and go and be like, okay now I’m gonna shed. Like, always had to be really good and serious and like, okay I’m just a serious guitar player. Otherwise I would feel insecure. But, here there’s so- I’m definitely not the representative for women guitarists here because there are a million amazing women guitarists of all kinds here. I do think New York is an invitation to truly be yourself, because that’s the only thing you can do better than anyone. And I always hated that idea, but I think it’s like, okay make your own world really yours and that’s the reason people will come to see you here because there’s like a million other people who can play guitar really well and it doesn’t really matter if you do that. The only thing that matters is if you really make something. So I’m like, okay it’s really the invitation for me now to make some- just keep doing what I always wanted to do, which includes shredding but not feeling like I have to represent “Women Can Shred.”
M: Right, right, totally.
K: It’s like a bullshit thing that I thought I had to do. I still think I have to do it sometimes. But I think I have to prove that there’s many kinds of- now it’s like, okay now there’s like a million women shredders so now we all have to be really singular. Now we get to just be ourselves and not just be like- make sure we don’t fuck up, you know?
M: Yeah. No, yeah, I mean I feel you on that, but I wonder- it kind of comes with a different kind of pressure, what you’re describing. ‘Cause I feel like we’ve survived the first kind of pressure of shredding.
K: Yes, definitely.
M: Now we can enter a room and feel like, yes I have this. But then, there is the pressure to be a singular force. And it’s difficult because I think that having reference points is this thing that people want you to have. Listeners, or general audiences or whatever, like to be like, “Oh, she sounds like Mary Halvorson.”
K: Oh god, I don’t think that’ll ever happen to me, which is kind of sad. It would be awesome if someone said that.
M: But there’s sort of like- they want to recognize something they can point to that has been successful.
K: And it always just happens to be a woman that you sound like. It’s like, yeah okay right sure.
M: Yeah, definitely. But at the same time, do you feel, now that you’re in New York and there are all of these really incredible women guitar players, that you feel like a need to actively distance yourself from their sonic palette? Or is that not a concern really?
K: Yeah…I feel like I am. I don’t know, I don’t…I wish I sounded more like a lot of amazing women guitarists and guitarists, but I don’t think- and I try to learn their stuff so I can be like, okay I know all these different things, but…I don’t know, I don’t know if I…I don’t listen to that- I don’t know, I don’t think I sound like them, or anyone, but I don’t know if I sound like a distinct thing. I always feel like I’m just doing my best, so I don’t know if that sounds like anything.
M: No, yeah, that’s how I feel. I feel like…stuck with myself.
M: Not in a bad way. That sounds negative, but I don’t mean it that way. I’m just sort like, yeah this is what I’ve got.
K: Right, it’s cool. You’re like, alright, it’s fine, I guess this is what we’re workin’ with.
M: I’m just sort of like, if people are going to compare me to somebody, fine. Like, I can’t-
K: What are some of the ones you’ve gotten? I’m very curious.
M: Oh god. I mean, I feel like the Mary Halvorson thing comes up.
K: Oh, that’s awesome.
M: And I think it’s because…Mary’s great, but I think it’s just because she’s the person people know and so people feel comfortable being like, yes this is who/whatever you sound like.
K: Right, she’s famous.
M: And I started playing a hollow body guitar, and I started playing a Guild hollow body guitar, and I went through this whole like…
M: Miniature existential crisis, like…should I be playing a Guild right now when Mary’s out playing a Guild?
K: Nice. Whatever, fuck it.
M: But I was like, wait no, I just like how this guitar sounds and I just want to explore this world for a minute and if people are gonna bring that up then so be it. Mary is one of the nicest people that I know, so I just try not to engage with that thinking.
M: So yeah, I guess going back to our conversation about being in New York now and being among all these incredible musicians and sort of finding your place within that scene- you have a new album coming out, right? Tell me about that. It has the greatest title. I think that your upcoming album title should be a standard. It’s like the 21st century standard title.
K: Whoa, shit. I should re-write that song and make it a jazz standard. What if all the songs are called “Selfies Of You” and they’re all just different styles?
M: Like, “Selfies of You”… *laughs*
K: Yeah, thank you. I wasn’t sure if that title- I was like this is a good, accessible title, but confusing. You know, it’s like a breakup album. I don’t know. It’s based on looking at your phone and there’s a bunch of these selfies of someone. I thought I was gonna make- I moved to New York. I spent four years in Austin fucking around and working at a grocery store and like…acting like I was in the movie Slacker and then being in this casino band on the weekends, you know? Which was lovely, but I kept saying I wanted to make a record, then ass soon as I moved here, for some reason it was just like, oh, this is where I’m gonna record it. I booked a date and I was like, okay, this is like- it just made- suddenly I knew what I was gonna do. But…it’s so random, ‘cause I actually thought I was gonna make a solo guitar record. Like, I was listening to Loren Connors and Bill Orcutt and all these solo people and Fred Frith and all these people and I was just like, I’m just gonna put down my stamp of what my solo guitar thing is. And I had been writing a bunch of meandering guitar pieces with poetry read by the Terminal computer guy, you know if you do “say”? ‘Cause I didn’t want my roommates to hear me talking or singing so I just made him do all my work. So I’d put in, “I miss your thighs,” and he’d be like, “Miss. Your. Thighs,” and it would be like *sings melody* or something. Which, I think that album is maybe better than the one that I made. The one where it’s just the sad boy computer jams.
M: Oh my gosh.
K: So, I was like, okay I’m gonna record all of these by myself and it’ll be a cool little piece, you know? I wanted it to sound like Saints, that album by Marc Ribot. Just like that clear, pretty solo guitar thing. But then, it’s so funny, Marc is such a part of my- Marc was having lunch with me one day and he was like, “So you’re about to record this album?” And I was like, “Yeah.” And I had sent him some of my rock tracks, like my hits. And he was like, “You have to record the hits. You need a drummer.” And he was like, “You should play with Ches Smith.”
M: Do you need a drummer? ‘Cause I know Ches Smith.
K: Right. He was like, “I’ll just email him and he’ll just play with you.” And that literally is what happened.
M: That is so crazy.
K: And he was like, “Okay, Ches Smith’s gonna play with you.” And I was like, “Okay, cool.” So, we played in a room together for six hours and then-
M: Was it just you and Ches?
M: Oh wow. What was that like? You had never met.
K: Oh my god, I was so nervous. I wrote a tweed suit. I was like, “I’m serious.” I wore glasses and a tweed suit.
M: Wow, it sounds like you were showing up for a job interview in the early ‘60s or something.
K: I was like, this is the most formal thing I have. Everything else I had was like a frilly dress, which normally I would think was a punk move, but I was too nervous to make a punk move. So I wore the suit. And I was like…it was really like you know…he’s just really professional and awesome. But then, my favorite part, which he’ll probably- you know, whatever, he’s not even going to listen to this, but my favorite part was when-
M: I’m going to send this to him when we’re done.
K: Great, great. I had him do these arpeggios in this little *sings melody* kiddie lullaby song on vibes. And he could not get them and he was like- then he started being warmer, he was just like, “Ah, damnit, wait no no I got it,” and started making jokes and I was like, okay cool cool cool cool. When people make mistakes, they suddenly start being more convivial, or whatever it is. It was funny.
M: Yeah, it’s like a moment of being humanized.
K: Yeah and then it was like, open…it was really nice. We played some twelve minute jams and then- anyway, so…me and- this is the “behind the music” apparently- and then me and the engineer just cut everything up and I sang over it and redid the vocals and stuff.
M: So the session with Ches was all being recorded?
M: Cool, cool.
K: Totally. It was the first time I met him or played with anyone in New York. I like hadn’t played with anyone in New York.
M: Wow, I love- you really jump into the deep end-
K: I do.
M: And I really respect that.
K: It’s crazy, I know. I was like okay, now you’re going to go play with just whoever- all the other people who live in New York City, like every other musician in New York. He was like, “That was fun.” And I was like, “Yeah, uh-huh, uh-huh, cool, cool, cool, cool.” I sent him my videos before and they were just like ridic- like a snail going back and forth and me just singing “I love you” over a drum beat. I was like, “This is what I’m gonna do.” And he was like, “This makes sense. This makes sense.” I was like, “Yeah…okay.” He’s totally like, what’s gonna happen? But then…it’s weird it kind of half sounds like a live jazz record, but then we produced the shit out of it. Then me and Michael Coleman, this engineer, just like kind of made it sound like pop production in certain ways. I added all these synth basses everywhere. There’s only synth bass, there’s no bass on the album. And there’s a couple…yeah, it’s just me adding all these vocals. There’s a couple Marc Ribot solos in it actually.
M: Nice. Like, laid down by Marc?
K: Laid down by Marc. And then, my greatest hope is that someone mixes up one of my solos for a Marc Ribot solo. Like, “Who’s playing guitar on this? I don’t know.” And then they check discogs and they’re like, “Oh, it was Katy. Cool!” Like, no. But, I still think it’s a traditional pop- I would call it a pop album, but there’s one song that’s five minutes of Ches playing a sample and I rap over it. But I would still say it’s a…I don’t know. I’m having trouble describing it. When people ask, I’m like, there’s some pop bangers or punk bangers and some experimental guitar pieces, the ones I thought I was going to record in the first place, you know?
M: Cool. Nice. So is it just the three of you on the record, or…?
K: Yeah, and then Jason Berger, this drummer, played on one song that I added later. Yeah, but that’s- and Michael Coleman, the engineer basically produced it with me and did some beatboxing.
M: Oh my gosh, well I’m very, very excited to hear this. I think the way that you’ve described it is really intriguing.
M: Yeah, yeah. Wow, that’s super exciting.
K: Yeah, I’m looking to… I guess- I don’t know how people do this thing anymore, like it’s all recorded. I have no idea how people put things out, but I want to put out a video for my first single called “Shithole” within the next few months.
M: I feel like you have to put out a video. I mean, the videos…they’re great. You gotta keep ‘em going.
K: I was like, I always use old ideas, but I’m not gonna say it, ‘cause I’m gonna make the video-
K: But, I had this idea for a video when I was really mad at a Walgreens once and I’m probably gonna do that for the “Shithole” video, but…
Music: Unreleased Duo Recording featuring Marc Ribot and Katy the Kyng
M: So, circling back for a minute to the nomination process, a bunch of readers submitted questions for guests.
K: Oh, cute.
M: And someone submitted a question for you which was the best question out of all of them and I’ve adopted it to be the question that I ask all the guests on the show.
K: Oh my god.
M: ‘Cause I’m like, this is the best question.
K: I want to know who this was.
M: I don’t know who submitted it. Once this podcast is released, I’ll definitely try to figure out who that was.
K: I’m sure they’ll come out and tell me, whoever it was. I’m sure they’ll be like, “Oh, Katy, I was the person who did this,” or something. They’ll claim it.
M: It’s a great question. It’s an impossibly difficult question and I want to reward this person with some INPUT/OUTPUT swag or something.
M: The question is: who would you want to write the forward to your autobiography?
K: Oh god. Okay, uh…okay. I feel like I should have this answer already. Ottessa Moshfegh
M: Oh yeah?
K: Do you know her?
K: She’s like my favorite writer. She’s…she’s just the funniest writer alive. She wrote My Year of Rest and Relaxation, which is like this- I don’t know, is that right? ‘Cause I’m gonna write about music and stuff, but she’s a writer so…um…should I chose a musician? Yeah, I would…I don’t know if she listens to music though.
M: I love hearing everyone’s thought process around this question, ‘cause it’s like what makes someone suitable to introduce the story of your self?
K: Right, right.
M: And uh…yeah, I mean, that person came to you pretty quickly, so I feel like you should go with your gut on this one.
K: Yeah, sure. Yeah, she should write it. We’ll be friends in the future and she’ll totally be qualified to write it. Yeah, I’ll just put that thought into the universe.
M: That sounds great. Have you met her?
K: No, no.
M: Okay, well hopefully this podcast will make it through the airwaves to her.
K: I’m sure she’ll just be googling me one day and find this.
M: You know, fingers crossed. Cool, well I’ll check out her writing.
K: Yeah, her short story “Bettering Myself” is absolutely hilarious, so good.
M: Okay, cool. Well, this has been awesome. Thank you for chatting with me. It’s been great getting to know you.
K: Yeah, same.
M: I feel like we’ve had some really interesting parallel experiences, which is always reassuring.
K: Totally. If you had came in and were like, “Oh, like I loved jazz school, it was the best,” then I would be like, “Shit.”
M: You don’t love institutional jazz education?
K: I’d be like, “I am not telling her the one about the blowjobs, it’s fine.”
Theme Music: Moonrise by Podington Bear
INPUT/OUTPUT: In Conversation is written, recorded, and produced by me, Magdalena Abrego. All interviews have been edited for length and clarity. My co-producer is Eliana Grossman. Audio editing by Resonate Recordings. Music by Podington Bear. In Conversation is a production of INPUT/OUTPUT, a platform dedicated to supporting women and non-binary individuals working in creative music communities in the United States. To learn more about I/O, visit inputoutputmag.com or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at inputoutputmag. If you’re looking for ways to support I/O, consider rating and reviewing us on iTunes or suggesting our show to a friend. It really helps us spread the word and keep this show running. Thank you for listening.