Singer/songwriter Katy Kirby is True 'Blue'

  • by Gregg Shapiro
  • Tuesday March 5, 2024
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Katy Kirby at a recent AudioTree online concert
Katy Kirby at a recent AudioTree online concert

It's only March, but there's no doubt that the album "Blue Raspberry" (Anti-) by out singer/songwriter Katy Kirby will have a place on my best of 2024 list. Texas-native Kirby, now based in Brooklyn, is a distinctive young songwriter, and she performs her songs with a confidence that belies her age.

"Blue Raspberry" has been on repeated spins since it arrived, and I've been enthusiastically recommending other songs to friends and family, for their artistry and irresistible sound. In our interview, Kirby discussed her musical inspirations.

Katy Kirby's album, 'Blue Raspberry'  

Gregg Shapiro: In the Thank Yous for "Blue Raspberry," you mention "the archives of Arthur Russell at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts." What are your influences regarding the late gay songwriter Russell?
Katy Kirby: I have been a fan of his songwriting for years. I found out through a friend of a friend that the New York Public Library had received his archives recently and had started opening them to the public. My guitar player and producer Logan (Chung) did the bureaucratic research to figure out how to get in there.
Those librarians were so helpful. They were like, "Yeah, touch all these pieces of paper with your hands." They have some of Arthur Russell's pencils! They want people to see it. It was so exciting. We got to hear a bunch of demo tapes and stuff from sessions. If I'm just basing it off his scribbled notes, he was just as wacky of a guy as one might think. It made me feel very seen.

He had such a broad spectrum of musical talent. There's his electronic and dance music stuff, but then there's all this stuff that's folky and country-influenced.
He had such range, and I love the type of folk music that he was doing. It was so fascinating and it's good.

Are there other musical influences and inspirations you'd like to mention?
I like the way that Angel Olsen records always sound pretty sweeping, even when they're quiet. We've been listening to a lot of Sam Cooke recently before we started to make the record. And songs that were very obviously love songs from that era.

Regarding your songwriting process; the songs "Cubic Zirconia," "Part of the Century," and "Table," were co-written by you and members of your band who perform them with you on the "Blue Raspberry" album. Are these compositions the kind that were created in the studio or were they written beforehand?
It's kind of both. My band is such a part of how the songs end up sounding that it seemed only reasonable to credit them with writing some of them. I believe I wrote all the lyrics myself. For some of those that were written later, I realized that sometimes I don't feel like I'm done with a song until I bring it to Logan and Alberto (Sewald) and Austin (Hoke) and Lane (Rodges). It depends, but they are such an enormous part of the process of what those songs turn into, that it's certainly not just me.

Your Anti- label mate Christian Lee Hutson, who has worked with Phoebe Bridgers, is also credited as a co-writer on "Party of the Century." How did you come to collaborate with him?
We became friends on the Internet and then we hung out in real life. We wrote that (song) over FaceTime just for fun a couple of years ago, I guess. We threw a bunch of things at the wall and then weren't really sure if we had made anything good or not. Then I whittled it down a little bit, and as it turned out there was kind of a little bit of a story in that song. So, that was nice.

I picked up on some recurring themes in the songs. For example, cubic zirconia in the song of the same name, as well as "Alexandria" and "Salt Crystal"; salt crystal in the song of the same name and the title track, and "Fences" in the song of the same name, as well as "Wait Listen."
The way that those songs were coming to me at the time, they all felt connected, or they were part of sort of the same thought. Some of those images were interesting enough to me that I wanted to use them twice. Once I did, I liked how it put the songs in dialogue with each other. I would like that if another songwriter did that. I think Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend has a couple of songs where he says, "I don't want to live like this, but I don't want to die." I always thought was super fun to think about. I liked it as a listener, so I thought I would try to get away with it myself, I guess.

Katy Kirby with her cat (Instagram)  

I know from your bio that you come from an evangelical Christian background, which made me think of queer singer/songwriter Becca Mancari who had a similar upbringing. I'm also aware that there are other queer performers who had a related experience. How did your family react to your coming out?
It was interesting. I really didn't have a coming out experience per se with them. I was 26 when I started dating a girl for the first time. It was someone that they had known for a while. She was someone I went to college with. I didn't really feel like I made an announcement. We just started seeing each other. Then I told my mom, I told my dad, and I told my siblings. They were all like, "Okay!" I don't know if I ever said it out loud, like "I'm gay." I just said, "I'm dating."

You're very lucky.
I am so absurdly lucky that I almost don't feel entitled to say that I came out. It barely counts because they were parents were like standard evangelicals at some point, and they didn't love gay stuff. But they never said anything cruel or were super-intense about that. Especially now, they've mellowed into their older age. There was literally zero drama or clutching of pearls attached to any of it. It was pretty good. I got off so easy.

Anti- Records has a long history of queer acts on its roster including The Drums, Bob Mould, and Ezra Furman. How does it feel to be in such company?
Honestly, being on Anti- Records was at the top of my internal bucket list of goals. It felt really weird after signing with them because I didn't think I would achieve that goal as early in my career. I had no other goal to work towards. I felt adrift because I really have loved that label so much and respected how they've been. I was completely unmoored by signing with them. It was great.

At the recent Grammy awards, queer women, including boygenius, Miley Cyrus, Tracy Chapman, Victoria Monét, Billie Eilish, Janelle Monáe, and Brandy Clark, to name a few, were represented among the winners and nominees. As an out artist, what does that kind of representation mean to you?
The thing that I thought about the Grammys the most recently is how precious it is. There are these pictures of boygenius with their Grammys that I saw, and Julien Baker obviously has just been weeping. Not like celebrity, "I won a Grammy!" happy weeping, but she looks like she's actively crying. It's so cute!

It makes me feel a little more confident that the songs on "Blue Raspberry" can enter the category of love songs without necessarily having the queer label indelibly attached to it. I think it's important that they're queer love songs, but also, they get to expand a little bit out of that world as well. It's not such a niche category.

Love is love. It's a universal language, and all that kind of stuff.
Right, it's not like it's exotic or some weird angle. They're just love songs.

What are you most looking forward to about the concert tour on which you are embarking?
We've played a couple of shows on this tour, so far, and it's been very fun. I've really been enjoying playing some of the songs on this record that I was scared to perform live, like "Redemption Arc" or "Hand to Hand," or some of the slower, weirder ones. Those have been challenging, but fun. A couple of people have been singing along to those in some of those crowds, which is shocking, but nice.

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