When I first heard Katie Anne Mitchell‘s double CD I immediately knew I found something different. I don’t mean something that is wild and outrageous, or extremely difficult in structure, or produced in a incredible modern way… or or or. I mean different for what it is.
Basically it is Folk songs and a spoken dark, gothic story interwoven. You’ll get a song, then a chapter from the story, then another song … next chapter and so on.
Deeper and deeper you sink into the world of “The Many Lives of Mockingbird“.
And that is the way I think this double CD should be listened to .. sit down listen to the whole release and drift away into the world of Mockingbird.
Another aspect that raised my interst in Katie Anne Mitchell’s work was this statement I found on the cover:”…I’ll say that making an album is a community process and to that end, I’d like to acknowledge the family, friends, romantic foibles, and successes, and chance encounters that inspired the words and stories of this album and gave me the encouragement and foundation to see the vision come to life.”
So it’s not the *impressive 4th release of this upcomming songbird that will mesmerise us with strong commercial songwriting and a line up of musicians that played with this or that known superstar etc etc* .. no, it’s community driven music/story culture.
All this was so different from the usual info/release I get for my radioshows that I decided to make an interview, which I don’t do often these days. After a airline strike made our in studio conversation impossible, I thought lets make a written interview – here it is. (And many thanks to Tribe4mian for having us here!)
Lord Litter (LL): On your album you have a paragraph about the aspect *Community*. In my opinion a community is the hard core of a certain kind of *different* art. People come together and artists get inspired by people (not by products) and thus find a truely unique way of expressing themselves. What is your sentiment about the aspect *Community*?
Katie Anne Mitchell (Katie): Well said! I think community has been essential to my birth and growth as an artist. I came to music and the folk community through a company I’ve worked for over the past five years, a subscription-based streaming service called The Standing ‘O’ Project which is affiliated with a nationally syndicated radio program Art of the Song. Through listening and conducting interviews, dealing directly with fans and artists on a daily basis, and attending festivals and conferences I became intimately familiar with the folk community and fell in love with the individuals in the community—their challenges, what they stood for, how deeply they cared for each other and how open they were in sharing their lives without the sugar coating. It was something I had never seen before or knew existed. I was awestruck, and it felt impossible that I wouldn’t do everything I could to be a part of this group of people now that I knew it existed. Really, I fell in love with the music because I fell in love with the people. I think, not always, but often that art is created by individuals who are a part of a larger community that they strongly identify with and they internalize those feelings and observations and experiences of that community and are therefore able to discover, reveal, and ultimately create something that is greater than just themselves.
(LL): Your album is one of the rare releases that I simply can’t present with one song or / and one chapter of the story – it’s more like a world one has to visit for a while to understand .. any thoughts on that?
Katie: I love stories. I love epic stories. I love series of novels that go on for 10 books, TV series that last 13 seasons, radio shows that continue each week for 20 years. I love sitting down with someone who has lived a full, long life and wants to tell me all the details they want to in that moment. I recently visited Europe and one of my favorite museums I visited was the Van Gogh museum. Although I like and appreciate his art, my main takeaway was that I was so thankful for the opportunity to walk around and get to know this one person intimately for a couple hours, instead of being overwhelmed by a myriad of different artists that I couldn’t possibly get familiar with in such a short amount of time.
My point with sharing this information is that I believe our ADD culture leaves little room for intimacy and I wanted to do my small part to address that malady by creating a world that people could sink into and a character people could become really familiar with. It is so important to slow down and take the time to do that. Also, for me, I also wanted to become intimate with Mockingbird, to see who she was and what made her come to life. Although the album has personal touches, Mockingbird is not my story and it was as much of a discovery in writing as it was a telling.
(LL): I could define your release as *Folk* but the pictures such a description arises all seem wrong – what was your inspiration to create such a work?
Katie: Folk really is where it started, but folk encompasses a broad range. I think it started with the fact that the artists who I was really drawn into were the artists who gave me a slice-of-life picture before or after the song they sang. The accompanying story was just as much a part of the song as the song itself to me and I wanted to emphasize that in my work as well as remind people that the essence of folk music is storytelling.
(LL): Your songs sound very *open* – not really following the verse/bridge/chorus etc structure. Sometimes it almost can be described as *free form*. How did that come about? Influences?
Katie: As much as I’d like to say that this was a conscious artistic choice, I think this was really bred as much out of a lack of formal songwriting training and my impatience with highly structured things as it was out of my love for free form poetry and strangeness. Honestly, it was a fortunate happenstance. If I have to call it anything, I refer to my style as “sung poetry”. As far as influences, I’m a lover of the bardic tradition, the poetry of Charles Bukowski (bastard that he was), the writing of Neil Gaiman, and the musical stylings of folkies like Sam Baker, Grant Peeples, Terry Hendrix, and Beth Hart to name a very few.
(LL): The story of the Mockingbird is a very dark/gothic one – are you interested in these forms of expression? In my case I’m a true maniac for *Old school* gothic – Edgar Allen Poe, Frankenstein, Bela Lugosi …
Katie: Oh yes! I love that you love that—well put too. For me, I have a morbid fascination with morbidity. I had a very vivid and dark dream life, especially as a child, and it led to some measure of obsession with the occult….but the occult with poetry and significance to the human condition. I’m not a fan of horror just for the sake of violence, or evil just for evil’s sake. I like some humanity in my monsters, which is why I’m drawn to old school gothic which is, in many ways, quite layered in their commentary on men and monsters alike.
(LL): What made you call your main character Mockingbird – any meaning behind?
Katie: I started working on the Mockingbird song first. Originally, it was a political song personifying truth in this character of a mockingbird bound to other people’s voices and perceptions but longing to have her own voice. It also reflected my own struggles with sharing my thoughts and emotions and not giving away my voice in relationships in my life.
However, the character Mockingbird itself came to life in a strange way. A couple days into working on the song, I created a mock Ouija board with a friend of mine (I’m sure after a couple glasses of wine) and I asked something about what was going to be important in my music and it spelled out ‘Mockingbird’. My friend didn’t know about that song at the time. Whether real magic or perceived, that is the moment though I knew that Mockingbird was a person and not just a song. She was born in that moment. Indeed, like the song, her journey is in larger part about uncovering her own identity, truth, and voice even when she is part of a larger community. Community and individualism are not mutually exclusive, and I believe both must be developed to reveal the depth to our humanity.
(LL): “The Many Lives of Mockingbird” is comprised of songs and stories woven together like a web, spun from a fine silk thread – describes one reviewer – how did that come about? Much more conventional would be to have one CD with songs and one CD with the story – which would probably lead to more airplay/promotion, did you care/think about this aspect?
Katie: Oh boy, yes, I did not make the smartest move for commercial airplay. I gave this a little bit of consideration before creating it, but not much. Once I got it stuck in my mind that this was how it was supposed to be created, it was set. It didn’t feel like a choice any longer. I’m of the belief that sometimes stories choose us and tell us how they want to be brought to life and sometimes it isn’t our place to contradict that. So, I decided to serve the story instead of my career. I stand by that decision.
(LL): You are also an actress – how does that fit into the picture? How does this influence your world as musician – what kind of characters do you play as an actress?
Katie: I started as an actress so I think that my pieces are by nature theatrical and my writing trends toward the cinematic. However, the beauty of performing live is that I can be the imperfect, over-the-top persona that I can’t be on camera, which I love. I haven’t been focusing so much on the acting side of things but when I do it, I suppose my preferred role is tragic, deranged, heartfelt and, if I’m lucky, all three. However, I will say LA being what it is, there’s not a lot of range of small roles for folks only pursuing it some of the time. Mostly, I go for what my agent sends me. I think that was the beautiful thing of doing the storytelling/song combo is I was able to play a character that I wanted to play.
(LL): The cover of your release breathes Art Nouveau and 60s Counter Culture. Was that intended and who is the artist?
Katie: The artist is a gal named Eliza Lutz who, by design of engineer/producer Dave Badstubner, I chose as the album artist. He brought one of her pictures into the studio as ‘inspiration’ while we were recording and I immediately gravitated to it. When I brought her onto the project, I told her I loved what she did and to just have free range to see what she came up with. I sent her the lyrics and she woke up one day with this image in her head a few weeks later and it pretty much came out first draft in completion. I would love to take credit for it but I can’t at all, this pretty much just landed directly in her head and onto the paper. She also designed all the inserts and had the idea for the format. It was all her. She’s a genius….and a brilliant musician as well. I’m so grateful to her. If you want to check her out, she’s HERE
(LL): You are closely cooperating with Rebekah LeAnn Wiggins, somehow I have the impression she is all around in your work – like a shadow she’s everywhere – she creates the depth – a second level .. you also have a live duo. Who is she?
Katie: Rebekah (or Bekah to her friends and family) is a close friend who I met through the film community in Albuquerque when we both lived there. We actually weren’t close until coming to LA and bonded over some depression we were going through after the move. We both used to take frequent drives between LA and New Mexico and carpooled on one of them and just started singing together and something clicked. I had started performing out a few months prior and been doing the storytelling/song format from the get-go, but when she came on it brought a wonderful, fuller dimension to the performance. We had actually considered doing the album as a duo album, but she had more of a focus in the film world and the story, concept and most of the songs were written by me so it ended up being my solo album with her heavily featured and, of course, debuting her beautiful song Self-Made on the album. Our duo’s on a bit of a hiatus at the moment—she’s a brilliant actor/writer/director and has been swamped with those pursuits this fall. If you’re interested, you can keep updated HERE
(LL): All in all your release is impossible to *quick check* … it just really works when you sit down, have a glass of wine, dim the lights and if possible listen to the whole work. It’s the absolute *counter culture* to the quick check, click click click, next next next *culture* we suffer from today. Did you get any specific reaction concerning all this.
Katie: I definitely had people who encouraged me to do an EP or just do songs, but it didn’t feel right to me. I think I have an anarchist living in me….wrapped in the package of the girl-next-door look. I don’t like the single-song consumption culture. I think it’s cheapening our potential of intimacy between artist and fan. I think artists should make the art that moves us in a direction they want to see, not cater to what is. Artists should drive change. I see little point in contributing to the tapestry of what already is. There are people who can do that and do it much better than me, I want to add something that says something different than what’s being said at the moment. Although not everyone got what I was doing or why I was doing it, the people who got it *really* got it and I’m grateful for that.
(LL): From your website: “As one fan describes on watching her perform at Folk Alliance International that watching her is like watching the musical “Theatre of the Absurd”. I like this very much! Somehow it proves that everybody seems to have a quite unique description of what you do – what do you think what you do?
Katie: I love that quote! It’s one of my all-time favorite things someone has said about my music. I think I am, quite simply, a storyteller. I love writing and performing, I love being strange and off-kilter, and being all the colors I can be, and some that I can only be on stage or in my writing. At my best moments in it, I really feel more than myself. I believe that art is a collective build-upon thing and when you put it out in the world it becomes larger than you once others put their insights, and hopes, and fears on it, it becomes all of our work instead of just my work. So what do I do? I do what all storytellers do. I give people a place to start.
(LL): 13 questions seem perfect to present an unusual/unique artist .. so question number 13 is: What’s next?
Katie: I’m in the beginning stages of working on an EP called “The Songs of the Nearly Forgotten” compiling songs and spoken word pieces about individuals who are overlooked in society. If the last album was the novel, this is akin to a collection of short stories. Some of these pieces are stories from family history, some are dealing with overarching everyday struggles, but all are about finding place and purpose in a life that may be seen as unextraordinary to some.
There are many stories about remarkable people and I, as much as the next person, am inspired by these stories. However, I believe our humanity is, at times, best represented in the folks who lead lives that aren’t widely recorded or remembered. Those small, intimate moments and struggles that are forgotten by the rest of the world build who we are…and I suppose that if those are the moments that build individuals then it might also be those moments that build a community, a society, a species. Some of my very favorite moments in this life are those that will not be remembered by anyone other than me and the people I shared them with. And, hell, if that isn’t something remarkable.
Katie Anne Mitchell
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