Katie Alice Greer embraces duality whenever she can. With the release of her debut solo album, Barbarism (out now via FourFour Records), the former Priests vocalist sets her sweet-sounding voice against a backdrop of jarring noise, from gunshots to distorted samples. Created during the pandemic, Greer used both the thrill and the horrifying nature of being alone as a springboard to follow all of her strangest impulses.
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In an interview with AP, Greer delves into the cathartic creation of Barbarism, leaning away from dance music and following the weird sounds in her head.
You’ve released some music on your own before, but how do you think you’ve grown since your last solo release?
Well, I think in the past, when I was releasing stuff under just my initials, it was a lot of my musical impulses and creative ideas that just didn’t fit in my main project at the time, which was my band. This release was the first time I was making a concerted effort to make this my main project, if that makes sense. So it probably shifted the sensibilities of what I was putting into it. I think that the circumstances under which I was making this music also changed a lot. Just writing and recording it at home in a different state during the pandemic.
And how would you say the process of making this album was different from those you made when you were in Priests?
It’s just so opposite. I kept joking with people during the process of making this album that now that I had moved out across the country and then the pandemic hit, and it felt so different after being in a band so long. When you’re constantly on tour, you don’t really have a lot of your own space. I think in a collaborative, creative project, you can feel that way, too. Everything becomes about the shared project together, and I think there were times where maybe I lost touch with just my own sense of boundaries, both what I was capable of and what I needed to be making my own work about.
So when I was making this record, I found myself constantly being like, “Wow, I’m all alone” and sometimes saying it in an excited way. Like, “Wow, so much space to really dig into all my weird impulses and just follow whatever feels interesting to me musically in the moment”. Then at other times, it was like, “Oh, my God, this is horrifying. If I get stuck on a song or if I’m feeling like I have writer’s block, there’s nobody else I’m working with to bounce ideas off of to get some creative element of the project unstuck.”
Do you think the negative elements might’ve been helpful in that you had to push yourself through those moments of creative stagnation?
Totally. I have a friend who produces a lot of records for a living, and he’s always said he feels like he works with people the best when they have recorded themselves a lot of times, and they really have a strong sense of how they like to sound, how they don’t like to sound and where another person becomes helpful to them. I feel like that must be really true now because I know what my problem areas are. I know where I really like to collaborate with somebody else and bring their sensibility in. And it’s probably because I spent a long time on this record, and I definitely didn’t abandon ship in periods when it seemed too difficult to finish. I just followed it all the way through, and I feel like I learned so much in the process.
So how would you describe your sound, and how do you think it’s changed over time?
God, I’ve always been so bad at describing my own work. I should really get better at this. I just don’t really think in terms of genre when I’m writing stuff, which I know probably sounds so pretentious and insufferable, but I always feel like genre is the way that music is marketed once it’s finished or organized in a record collection. It just doesn’t make sense to my brain when I’m writing it. I guess if I was describing it to somebody who knew nothing about what I was doing, I would say it’s a little bit electronic with sound collage elements, a little bit rock ‘n’ roll or pop. I feel like releases I’ve done in the past have been, maybe in my mind, coming more from dance music references, whereas I feel like this record, I wasn’t really drawing on those sensibilities quite as much.
[Photo by Kathryn Vetter Miller]
So what draws you toward making music that blends so many disparate elements?
I think what draws me to make music the way I do, for better or worse, is that a lot of times when I sit down to write something, whenever it sounds like something that already exists, I just feel like a poser. I just feel like I’m copying somebody else, and I want to get out of that mindset because to me part of making music is also conversational. We are drawn to music that reminds us or sounds a little bit like other things. If you’re making something that just sounds like nothing anyone’s ever heard before, in a lot of ways, it’s almost totally unrelatable for people, you know? But at least for this album, I wasn’t really thinking about stuff like that. I was really just like, “What are the weird sounds in my head? And how can I translate them out of me?”
How are you feeling after releasing it?
Having said all that, I do feel really good. I was nervous that it would make me feel just really exposed and vulnerable. But I guess because I wasn’t thinking about any sort of reception to the record at all, and I think I was considering the possibility that people would just be like, “Good for you, but this is just not really my thing. I don’t really want to listen to it.” I just really appreciated the response in general. It’s felt really nice and validating, when you make something that’s so personal for you and anybody at all listens to it, even if they don’t like it or love it. That’s fine with me. Writing this record was a really cathartic process, and I have a feeling the stuff I’m making soon will probably just sound really different because we all get tired of whatever it is we’re working on and want to do something new later on.
Yeah, you voiced a lot of frustrations on the album. Do you think since you’ve gotten those out, the next project is going to be pretty different?
Yeah, I think so. I’ve been watching this docuseries on HBO about Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, and it’s so fascinating. On one of the episodes I was watching last night, Joanne Woodward said that she felt like when you have a situation in your life that you can’t do anything about — I think she was speaking about it in regards to playing characters with terminal illnesses — sometimes it’s really therapeutic to make art work. And that just really struck me. Maybe that’s what all of us are doing in some ways. When there’s nothing else you can do about certain aspects of reality, you’re just doing what you want to exercise and maybe feel your way through it and process your feelings about it through what you’re making. I think I was able to do that about a lot of stuff with this record.
How do you think your work in visual mediums impacts your creative approach to making music?
I think coming from a punk DIY background, many times doing a lot of different stuff has just been a matter of practicality, and also I pretty much try to do everything that seems fun to me. So, I don’t know if it really informs my creative process necessarily, but it probably does sound-wise because I feel like once you’re working in a different medium, you can’t help but think about that medium. Later, once I started directing videos, I think when I would sit back down to write songs, I would get more visual ideas in my mind of how the music was sounding. That’s also probably partially because I don’t read music, so it’s easier for me to see images and to try to make sounds for them and to think about music notes.