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Following remix work for Björk and Zola Jesus, productions for serpentwithfeet, and her debut album on Tri-Angle, American experimental musician and producer Katie Gately moves to Houndstooth for her sophomore album Loom, dedicated to her mother, who passed away in 2018. “My mother’s voice is in this record, her picture’s in the sleeve notes. This record is for her” says Katie.
Katie’s mother was diagnosed with an extremely rare form of cancer shortly after seeing Katie perform for the first time, and Loom was made during her mother’s illness. To solidify the enormity of a loss like this, Gately has added the seismic rumble and aural grit of real earthquake recordings in her productions – alongside her signature adventurous sound design and earwormy melodies – to signify how grief like this is like the shifting of the earth. “I felt like my world was being shaken,” says Katie. “I was losing the person who created me, and it seemed an appropriate time to sample earthquakes.”
Where her debut album Color, (2016) deployed fractured rhythms, fierce licks, bold samples and her signature paintbox pop hooks, Loom reveals crepuscular textures. Her voice is more forward in the mix, often densely layered in choral laments above a coarse foundation of hard and brittle sound design, the latter of which is rooted in her film school training. As well as earthquake sounds, Loom includes more samples, chosen for their associative power, peacocks screaming, pill bottles shaking, a coffin closing, wolves howling, a shovel digging, a paper shredder, stone grinding and heavily processed audio from her parent’s wedding.
At the time of her mother’s diagnosis, Katie was near completion of an entirely different album, but says that very quickly she realized she “didn’t have the bandwidth to make that record anymore.” She returned from LA to her family home in Brooklyn and started again, completely rebuilding the album around the track ‘Bracer’, which was her mother’s favourite. She made it while she couldn’t sleep, and the result is a record she says is powered more by heart than mind, with sucker-punch richness and keening vocals that are unflinching. “The process is blurry to me now,” she says. “I don’t know if I’d recommend it, but I didn’t have time to worry about perfecting things, I was just working when everyone was asleep – it was the only time I had.”
Her lyrics are rooted in the events she was experiencing, but describe personifications and abstracted feelings. ‘Flow’ is written from the perspective of her mother; in ‘Allay’ she speaks as the cancer; in ‘Tower’ she inhabits the medicine that confronts the cancer. “They’re darker in tone,” she explains, “but I see beauty in that.”
‘Waltz’ and ‘Bracer’ are tracks she describes as being like a brother and sister: “They’re about the same thing, about being disoriented and wanting to check out with a substance – I used whisky.” ‘Waltz’ spins in on itself, whereas ‘Bracer’ reaches for a series of climaxes that drop out before they can peak.
The three interludes, ‘Ritual’, ‘Rite’ and ‘Rest’ are a triptych that carve out light and space to breathe – sometimes synthesizing sounds like exhalations – between the density of other tracks. They are spliced sections of one longer track, with ‘Rest’ closing the album. “When my mother passed I ate doughnuts and slept for a month,” she says. “The pressures from the music industry just fell away – release schedules and the like just didn’t matter any more. But a callous had to be formed, so after that I finished the record, and it was done by the beginning of 2019.”
Katie has also released 12”s and a cassette on a number of notable underground labels – Public Information and Blue Tapes, as well as the critically acclaimed FatCat Split Series. This summer Katie was part of the recent Mary Anne Hobbs curated ‘Queens of the Underground’ Festival in Manchester alongside Houndstooth musician Aisha Devi. She is currently living in LA and teaching at CalArts.