Name: Katelyn Tarver
Occupation: Singer-songwriter, actress
Current release: Katelyn Tarver's new album Subject to Change has been announced for October 15th. While you're waiting for that, check out her her new single: “All Our Friends Are Splitting Up” is available from all major streaming services.
If you enjoyed this interview with Katelyn Tarver, visit her official website, where you can find more information and pre-order Subject to Change. You can also stay up to date on her activities on Instagram, Facebook, twitter, and Soundcloud.
Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?
My relationship to creativity is always evolving. Some days I own it and love being creative, and some days I feel like a pretentious asshole for even saying the phrase “my art”. It’s a wild ride.
Currently, I would say personal relationships, conversations with people, and my own self-examination is what inspires most of my music. I love having a little seed of a song idea and then watching it become a full grown song. It’s the best feeling in the world. I love my song children!
Is there a preparation phase for your process? Do you require your tools to be laid out in a particular way, for example, do you need to do 'research' or create 'early versions'?
It’s funny. For as much of a planner as I am, I don’t do much prep for my process other than just trying to pay closer attention to the world around me. Which a lot of times looks like paying attention to the things I’m ranting about, or a joke I made, or something that made me cry …
It’s all pointing back to a feeling that someone else is probably having too, and that’s what I want to write about.
Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?
I like to listen to other songwriters that are inspiring to me. Throw on one of my favorite songs or albums. Lorde’s Melodrama or Continuum by John Mayer … "Golden Hour" by Kacey Musgraves ... Those are some of my go-tos.
Hearing a good song makes me excited to go look at a blank page, instead of scared and overwhelmed. It helps remind me what I’m doing all this for in the first place. Also, yes I need to eat a meal and have a coffee or I am a shell of a human.
What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?
I try to come in with some type of launching point. It can range anywhere from a lyric I wrote to me just wanting to try and capture a feeling … the first line is a little difficult. A blank page is always daunting no matter how many songs I write. But that’s also what makes it exciting.
When do the lyrics enter the picture? Where do they come from? Do lyrics need to grow together with the music or can they emerge from a place of their own?
It depends. Lately they’ve been the genesis of all of my songs. But I’ve written plenty of songs where I just start with some chords and a melody and ask myself what emotion it feels like, and then I’ll find the lyrics to match it. And then sometimes it’s the opposite. I have some words and I have to figure out what music matches the lyrics best.
It’s always different, but I do feel like at the end of the day, I’m a lyrics girl, and if the words aren’t hitting, I don’t feel like it’s as authentic to me.
What makes lyrics good in your opinion? What are your own ambitions and challenges in this regard?
Well I think you can’t separate good lyrics from a good song as a whole. The melody has to be memorable, the vocal delivery has to be good, the production has to be right … it all ties together. A good melody can make or break a good lyric.
If you just read “I can’t make you love me if you don’t” it’s one thing … but when you hear Bonnie Raitt sing it in the chorus, it breaks you in two. And that’s because the melody is so emotional, and the lyrics are so simple.
That’s always what I’m after … saying something in the most simple way, and making sure the melody and the music help it pack the most punch.
Many writers have claimed that as soon as they enter into the process, certain aspects of the narrative are out of their hands. Do you like to keep strict control over the process or is there a sense of following things where they lead you?
I definitely have a tendency to get too surgical too early in the process. My collaborators make fun of me because they know at some point during the writing process I’m going to ask “wait, does any of this even make sense?!” and say we should probably scrap the whole idea. I just can’t help myself! And usually they talk me off the ledge and we end up finishing the song, and it’s great. But I definitely have that mid-session panic pretty much every time.
It’s a tough line to walk. I want to be free and “follow the muse” but I also want to not waste time and treat songwriting like a puzzle. But, there’s always a sense of magic at the end of the day when you walk away with a song you love. I’m genuinely like wait, how did we do that?
Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite. What marks the end of the process? How do you finish a work?
I always want to err on the side of simplicity, so I don’t spend too much time adding things once I have a general structure I’m happy with. I have a pretty small group of producers I work with at this point, so I trust their judgement and rely on them to help me finish and to know when a song is done.
It’s a hard feeling to articulate really, I just usually know when a song is done. And once I have that feeling, I don’t go backwards.
Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practise?
It always helps to give a song some space. Your ears get fried, your brain gets fried ... I try to give myself at least a few days to let a song lie and then come back to it.
I don’t really have a set formula, but I do find that space is always helpful. It helps you come back with fresh ears and usually the thing you were obsessing over isn’t as big of a deal as you thought it was.
Wow did not mean to make a metaphor for life, but here we are.
What's your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?
I think it’s extremely important. Production and a good mix and master can completely change a song.
We started writing my song “Shit Happens” on acoustic guitar.
It sort of started as a campfire, almost light hearted jokey song, and then my producer Justin started playing it on piano. All the sudden it felt more melancholy and emotional, and that led us to new lyrical territory. The feeling of the song totally changed in a great way. We may have gotten there on guitar, but I think hearing the chords on piano, in the specific voicings, took it to a whole different place and I’m so glad we did!
Another one of the songs on the album went the opposite direction. Started on piano and then we took it to guitar. It changed the whole feeling. I think it’s always good to experiment as much as possible while in the studio and writing to see what happens, because a song you’re not sure about might just need to be played in a different way on a different instrument.
After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?
Oh man. Ask me this question in a couple months after my album comes out! I can absolutely relate to this feeling. I think it’s one of the main reasons people *don’t* create something in the first place, because that emptiness can feel really lonely. You put so much of yourself into creating something, and then you just have to release it. So much hard work, energy, time, tears, expectations, hopes, dreams goes into the creation of something, and then you have to detach yourself from how it is received by others.
I don’t have this figured out yet, but I think what will always bring me back to creating again is the desire for connection with people and a deep love of music. And a constant need for attention and validation, but I’m in therapy for that!
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you personally feel as though writing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
Oooh, I love this question. I guess ultimately no, I don’t view it as inherently different. I feel for me, music allows me to process my feelings and thoughts about life in a way that nothing else can. It’s innate to me. It’s what I’ve always been drawn to.
But when I eat a really good meal, or drink a great cup of coffee, or walk into a beautiful home, I see all the ways creativity provides beauty to the world around me. It makes me so grateful for all the different ways we are gifted, and it challenges me to keep looking for ways that I can bring a sense of creativity into everything I do.