Much like her music, Katie Von Schleicher is an open book. In sharing thoughts on her songwriting process, the Maryland native offers insight into the inner workings of her soul, a place that sparks of creativity but that also has a dark, melancholy side. She isn’t sure if sadness is a direct influence on her art, but admits to going there from time to time. It is an emotion that is audibly apparent when listening to her debut full-length album “Shitty Hits.”
We recently sat down with Von Schleicher to discuss her recent European tour, performing in Manchester two days after the bombing, and how therapy has made her a more confident musician.
TrunkSpace: You recently returned from a European tour, right?
Von Schleicher: Yeah. I was opening for Aldous Harding in Europe.
TrunkSpace: What was that experience like?
Von Schleicher: Oh my God… it was such a luxury. It was so nice. We had a tour manager. I’ve never had that before.
TrunkSpace: We saw you post a picture of him on Twitter. He seemed super psyched. (Laughter)
Von Schleicher: (Laughter) He’s so funny. It was interesting. My boyfriend is my bandmate so it was me and him and then Aldous and her boyfriend are bandmates, so it was two couples and a tour manager.
TrunkSpace: Oh, man. He must have felt like the super fifth wheel.
Von Schleicher: (Laughter) Yeah. He would FaceTime his wife, so it was all good.
But, I’ve never toured in Europe before so that was a pretty incredible experience.
TrunkSpace: Did you find a particular country or region to be more drawn to your music than others?
Von Schleicher: I’d say major cities. In London the show went really well. I’ve only been there to go to the Globe Theater and mess around in whatever their Times Square is, so it was nice. Now I have a label over there in Full Time Hobby, so it didn’t feel touristy, which was really nice. That show was at Omeara and it was a sold out show. The thing about Aldous Harding audiences is that they’re there to listen, at least that was my experience. Everyone was silent, so it was pretty amazing in London. Paris was also really nice. And I’d say Hamburg was another really good show and Berlin.
I don’t know what it is about German people, but they clap a really long time after the set is over. (Laughter)
TrunkSpace: Europe has been going through so much lately and yet the people there seem so strong and defiant against the idea of being scared.
Von Schleicher: I definitely got a sense of a different reality that people face in Europe. Whatever we’re saying, our country is not filled with insurgents. When I was in Calais and we were crossing over to England… we were on the highway and we hit a bit of traffic and all of a sudden these guys, like ten guys, just ran out into the middle of the highway and were pulling at the backs of trucks trying to get in and smuggle their way over. It was really strange. We weren’t listening to music or anything. It was just this weird silence of when something is happening but you don’t understand really what’s happening. And then I couldn’t really get that image out of my head the whole time. I don’t deal with, in a daily life, driving down the highway where I see people fighting for their lives.
And then we played Manchester two days after the bombing.
TrunkSpace: That must have been unnerving.
Von Schleicher: I felt really somber about the show. Not tense because of safety, but just a little bit on edge.
TrunkSpace: When you’re playing in that type of atmosphere, does it change the way you deliver your songs in a live setting?
Von Schleicher: That’s a good question. I think it did, but I don’t know if it was in the right way. I think I felt a little more hesitant almost. My songs can be pretty dark lyrically and there’s something that can also be self-indulgent to that. Or maybe you feel that it’s self-indulgent when there’s an actual tragedy in a town that you’re visiting. So my songs are pretty dark and my banter can be pretty irreverent and crass and jokey in between and I didn’t feel like that was the right tone I wanted to put forth. But that may have been the wrong impression that I had. I just felt hesitant.
TrunkSpace: The people of Europe seem to be strong in that they will not lock themselves inside. They are still going out. They are still living their lives.
Von Schleicher: Yeah, and they are serious music fans. It was a complete luxury to be able to go over there and tour, especially when you play New York shows and although New York audiences are filled with great audiences and great musicians, people keep it closer to the vest here.
TrunkSpace: Well, and New York must be difficult too just because there is so much competition, not only in terms of live music but entertainment in general.
Von Schleicher: Yeah. I definitely don’t feel like I’m one of New York’s main attractions. (Laughter)
I think there’s something really humbling about it though, which can either be soul-crushingly humbling or adorably humbling. Going somewhere, having a tour manager, staying in a hotel, having a green room… if you play enough shows in New York just being you at clubs and then you experience all of that, you’re like, “Wow, this is more than I even need.” So, maybe it’s good to get humbled to the scene here.
TrunkSpace: So when it comes to music as a whole, how important is it in your life in terms of needing to get it out of you?
Von Schleicher: That’s a question that I think I only doubt the answer to when I’m feeling depressed or worried about my future or whatever sort of existential feelings. I need it, but I’m not a tortured artist or anything though either. I’m trying to come to terms with the idea that I need it, but do I need to commodify it. Is that something I also need? If I get depressed for a few days, I won’t play music for whatever reason… I’ll feel extra self-critical or maybe I’m just lazy or I’m doing other stuff and I don’t play. And I do feel that it affects me, but I don’t wake up and just go, “MUSIC!” I’m very attuned to sound and silence is one of the best ones as well.
TrunkSpace: On those days that you’re not tapping into the creative aspects of music, do you still rely on it as a listener?
Von Schleicher: I keep having to remind myself to listen to music more. At work we listen to music constantly, so I am listening to a lot, but right now I’m kind of in need of some new music. I feel like I’ve hit a point where I’ve listened to my favorite albums a ton of times and obviously that ebb and flow occurs.
TrunkSpace: For a lot of people that’s seasonal. Summer becomes autumn and suddenly you want to tap into some of your favorite music.
Von Schleicher: Yeah. Everything for me is cyclical and seasonal. Writing happens in seasons. Editing or producing or whatever it is. I think the expectation with being an artist is that you’re irrepressible. Every day you’re T.S. Eliot and you go work on poetry from 10 AM to 7 PM or something. (Laughter) But I think a lot of it is more cyclical than that… the listening and the making of it. I think you need to take time off and absorb other things too.
TrunkSpace: So in terms of songwriting, when are you at your best? What mindset do you need to be in?
Von Schleicher: The simple one is just, feeling open. There’s an openness that I need to feel to feel creative and I go through phases of feeling not open. Sometimes I feel like I keep reading the same books or doing the same things on a loop. Right now I’m thinking about another album and I feel a lot more observant than I do when I’m not thinking about a new album. Or maybe I have to be observant to even think about doing it. And I’m just reading and walking around and looking at stuff and being like, “What’s my question?” That sounds really trite, but I get onto some kind of thematic idea that propels me to create it as a body of work… as an album… not just a group of songs.
TrunkSpace: A lot of times you hear songwriters say that happiness is a creative killer. Do you feel that applies to your music?
Von Schleicher: (Laughter) No. My songs are pretty sad though. Some people write when they’re only happy. I’m in Central Park right now and I’m between therapy appointments, which is my new life right now. I’ve decided to go to therapy and I’ve been curious about the idea of anti-depressants too. And I don’t know… I pick life over the idea of me being a brilliantly tortured artist. Whatever that means. I’m 30, so I’m a little bit older, and the desperation that I felt when I was like 22 to just get the songs out there and be a legend or whatever you think when you’re listening to a lot of Lou Reed… now I feel like I just want to be happy to be myself and be around people on a daily basis. So that’s more important. I don’t know if it helps the songwriting or hurts it.
TrunkSpace: So do you mean that some people may be hesitant to take anti-depressants because they’d be worried it would turn a switch off on their creative brain?
Von Schleicher: Possibly. Yeah. Everyone has a different philosophy, but I feel like songwriters and poets tend to have a lot of philosophies about their existence. I feel hesitant to take them. I’m totally on the fence. Not because it will mess up my songwriting, but just because then I’ll be dependent on a thing. I don’t know. It’s a tough call, but I feel like I’ll always have something I’m probably complaining about in case sadness really does influence the songwriting. (Laughter)
I will say that going to therapy made me a more confident person and I think being more confident makes you better to other people and more honest. But also, it makes you able to produce music, so it’s not just the songwriting but it’s also the confidence to make an album that has more moving parts and things beyond just the sad genesis of the songs.
“Shitty Hits” is due July 28 from Ba Da Bing Records.