Katelyn Tarver has a new song out next week but I was lucky enough to get the chance to chat with her about her last release, ‘Nicer’, a song that reflects on the people pleasing tendencies that we all have sometimes and which has become almost an epidemic of non-confrontation leading us to bottle up all that angst. The first line of the song was inspired by her mum telling Katelyn off for honking at a car which had driven across her in traffic.
Katelyn says: “She was visiting me in LA and I guess didn’t think the guy who cut me off deserved a honk. “Gosh, Katelyn! You used to be nicer!”. It made me laugh, but it also weirdly stuck with me for years afterward. I think because it hit on a part of me that I was trying to get to know. The part of me that isn’t such a people pleaser who isn’t afraid to speak her mind a little more. To all the former rule followers and recovering people pleasers, may this song help us get out there and be a dick sometimes if we need to”
The brilliant video sums up this dichotomy in a very visual way with a split screen approach that works perfectly. Directed by Fiori it perfectly complements the new song that unfolds visually as it develops lyrically.
On the new album, Katelyn has aimed at capturing painful truth in a pop production that is the perfect foil for her soul baring lyricism and her radiant voice. The album will bring together strains of pop, folk, country and indie-rock to document a period of her life when things were constantly changing, constantly evolving.
“I think a lot of us go through that phase in life where you ask yourself, “is this it?” It can be so isolating and so hard to talk about, especially with social media and all the pressure to always have your shit together. Life is unpredictable. For all the stories of triumph and resilience, there are just as many stories of failure and getting lost. The addict relapses. The happy couple gets divorced. The ones you’ve put on a pedestal lets you down. Finding the love of your life doesn’t solve your problems. You know the expression; the only way out is through? These songs are making my way through. Giving myself permission to not have the answers. Letting myself feel all. The pain, the joy, the confusion, the bittersweet in-between…I learned that uncertainty can be an open door. And that change is a constant invitation I want to learn to accept.”
This is our chat; I hope it encourages you to check out this wonderful artist:
EP: I love the new song, ‘Nicer’, I think the video for the song is such a cool concept. Was it your idea, the concept, the dual screen idea?
KT: Well, I worked with this director, who is just up and coming. Her name is Fiori. And she actually came up with that concept and I loved it and we just quickly got to work.
I mean, we came up with the concept and then filmed it almost the next day. So it was a really quick turnaround. But yeah, we had a lot of fun. Just coming up with ways we could, you know, time the two sides to work together; one side being in reverse, one side being in forward, we’ve had fun with the symbolism of that in regards to how it fits with the song and how it kind of looks at your past self. Yeah, it was really it was a really fun video to get to do and I’m really excited for how it turned out.
EP: It came out really. Well, I guess from any director’s point of view you’re acting background is a massive blessing as obviously not every singer brings that to the party.
KT: Yeah. I guess not.
EP: With the song, do you think you used to be nicer?
KT: I mean, honestly, a lot of a lot of the time, I feel like I’m still too nice but I didn’t think so.
Yeah, I mean, I think a lot of it can be, I don’t know, attributed to probably just getting older in general. I think we all lose a little bit of our, what’s a way to put it, care less. We don’t think it’s a good thing. I think for me in particular it’s being raised in the South and kind of being raised in a certain context. It can almost feel like the takeaway is, you know, the biggest thing in life is to be polite and to be accommodating and to be agreeable. That doesn’t really mesh well with creating art a lot of the time and writing about your life and wanting to challenge ideas. I think that’s what made me start taking a look at that instinct within myself to people please and make sure everyone around me is comfortable instead of, you know, saying what I really feel in a moment or saying what I really think about something because there’s all that fear of what people think and wanting to fit in; all that stuff that that we do. I think I’ve just started to try and shed that stuff a little bit more, you know, to live a more, I guess, authentic life if that doesn’t sound too unbearable.
EP: Do you think that the moving away from being ‘nice’, for want of a better description, has made you more honest, more relatable as a singer? Because, I guess everyone has had situations in their life when they’re maybe not as nice as they should be, or times when they wish they could have been nicer. Something that comes through for me in the other songs that I’ve listened to, the recent stuff, is that the lyrics in them are really quite honest. Do you think that’s a by-product of not being so accommodating?
KT: I do. I do think that. Yeah. I think, you know, in my head being nice equates to, in the context of the song, just kind of caring too much about what other people think and I think by, not being as nice, or not caring as much has made me a little more willing to be, like you said, more honest, bolder in my lyrics. Just kind of admitting things that I think we all deal with and I think it can be scary to put stuff out there like that. I think I just got to this point in my life where it was like if I’m not gonna be honest and say stuff that I really think, what’s the point?
EP: With the album coming out, is that a theme for the album? Does it relate to an episode in your life that you feel you need to be more honest about?
KT: Yeah, for sure. I’ve been writing songs, acting and, kind of, in this industry for a while and you know can get to the point where you’re just sort of moving forward on autopilot and then I think having to slow down with the pandemic and not having any distractions and not having anything to busy my mind with, made me take a look at a lot of stuff that, you know, I was maybe putting off until a later date. And so, yeah, I think it is just about a time in my life, where I decided to try and face a lot of things and realise that this process will probably be ongoing throughout my whole life with uncertainty, questions and change and all of that that we all experience. I think I definitely went through my own kind of journey with that and I think that’s what a lot of these songs mean; I wrote most of them during the last year so I think that’s where a lot of these songs are coming from. It’s just sort of honest, a little bit scared, a little bit sad, but ultimately just kind of an acceptance of life and where I’m at and what my life is. Just kind of trying to, I don’t know, be present. I guess that is where a lot of these songs came from.
EP: It’s been it’s been a really recurrent theme, when I’ve chatted to artists recently, that the lockdown period has been a period where songwriters especially have become a little bit more introspective and have had that time to kind of look inside a little. It’s amazing how much more of the song writing feels very honest coming out of the other side of a pandemic. Hopefully. In that way, do you think that the lockdown has been a good process for you because it’s allowed you that time to maybe develop as a songwriter.
KT: I mean, I guess I’d have to say, yeah, I think it’s easy as artists, especially with social media, to have that kind of hovering feeling of like, “am I?” You know, if you compare yourself to everyone else’s story. It’s like there’s this easy way to constantly look and be, oh, this person’s doing that, or that person’s doing this. Am I falling behind? Where am I on the timeline of my life and my career? And I’ve, you know, at least for me, always had this fear that I was lagging or falling behind, and I think it was always the goal to sort of snap out of that and realise that’s not what it’s about. It’s about the music. It’s about the song writing. It’s about, you know, the art you’re making and not necessarily the outcome of what that brings to you. I think that’s a really challenging perspective to have in general, but I think having everything screech to a halt as far as no one’s going on tour, no one’s progressing in the way that feels like you’re really falling behind, sort of levelled the playing field and, in a small way, felt like we were all kind of facing the same thing. I think it was a good reminder of, hey, what are you doing this for in the first place? Is it just to look cool on Instagram or is it to actually make something that feels like it moves people and inspires people and relates to and connects people. I don’t know. I’ve noticed too, with my songwriter artist friends, that it was a time that was like a really good hard exercise. Do you really want to put in the time and the effort it takes to make music? Even if it means not reaching these certain markers, it’s still worth it, you know? And I think that’s a good question to ask yourself, and I think the pandemic just kind of forced us to do that.
EP: I think because everyone became time-rich, but simultaneously cash-poor because of the amount of things they could do. It kind of forced a lot of song writers, as you say, to realise that it’s difficult, it’s tough. This has been a really difficult period and it’s the guys that’ve hung in there were the ones that I really think of as honest song writers. It’s been a good thing for the music consumer because the music that’s coming out now really does feel much more honest, more authentic.
KT: Yeah, and I agree
EP: I think, also, because a lot of people that, maybe, wouldn’t have normally gone through mental difficulties in their normal day-to-day life may have gone through much more challenging periods with the lockdown. It makes the music subject more relatable, doesn’t it because we’ve all been in that same sort of position. It’s always been tough for artists, suddenly it was tough for everyone.
EP: Your music for me brings together quite a few genres. The music I’ve listened to has got all sorts of stuff in there but with the kind of honesty in the lyrics it feels that there’s a lot of country in there, country music. Do you think that’s partly to do with where you grew up? I saw that one of your collaborators is Justin Gamella, who has worked with Lennon Stella before. Do you feel country influence in your music or is that something that, coming from the South, you want to get away from?
KT: I don’t know. I mean, I think the older I get the more I sort of connect with where I’m from and how I grew up and the place I come from. In the South, country music is big there but I grew up loving pop and country but since I moved to LA I’ve been pursuing a career in pop music. I think, when I was younger, I was maybe a little more quick to try and shed the country label or whatever, but I think the older I get the more I kind of connect to that style of music, that style of writing, because it is more storytelling. It is more, you know, sit down with your guitar and make it just about that and I think with the album that was a big part of it for me. I wanted the production to reflect the lyric and I wanted it to support the song rather than the other way around. I think that’s something that is big in country music and that genre is about making sure the lyrics and everything really add up and tell the story in the right way. I think that was definitely something I wanted to challenge myself with when writing these songs; I want the song writing to be the focus and the lyrics and, yeah, the story I’m telling and so I think it’s probably just like ingrained in me in some way because I did grow up there and it can’t help but influence, you know, probably a lot of my instincts.
EP: I guess it’s almost part of your DNA if you come from that part of The States.
KT: Yeah, I guess so, like I, I hope so. I think, yeah, I just tried to embrace a lot of my instincts. I just tried to embrace rather than, you know, push away from them. I think with this album that’s probably where the honesty is coming. I’m not gonna try and be something I’m not, I’m not gonna try and fit into this box, into this thing or that. I’m just gonna follow where my inspiration and my instincts are taking me and I think that’s why, to me, this album feels and this music feels like my most honest song writing. I think it’s pretty special to have it be kind of my first album and in a way it almost feels like a restart for me. In a lot of ways, it almost feels like I’m putting music out for the first time sometimes; I feel like I really tapped into something that I’m excited about.
EP: The stuff that I have heard is fantastic and it helps that the lines between the genres have been blurred. Country music is moving more towards pop and pop is moving closer to Country music; those lines have been blurred a little.
KT: Yeah, I think so.
EP: So I think, you know, from that point of view it lends itself very much to what you’re doing at the moment. So what sort of artists inspired you? Has that changed? You know, going forward, you said you were very much a pop artist so who inspired you with your musical development.
KT: It’s tough. I mean, I feel like in the past, growing up, I would listen to a bunch of different stuff but I’ve always been a big fan of John Mayer and I think that was a big influence on me in deciding to kind of lean more into my singer-songwriter roots. I grew up in the era of N’Sync, Backstreet Boys and Britney; these huge pop stars. So, I naturally found that very alluring and that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to be on the stage with pyrotechnics and big choreography, but I think I have just kind of, like I said, embraced what I actually feel at the core of me. I sort of leaned into that singer songwriter world and I think I’ve pulled from that early influence of seeing an artist like John Mayer who was able to release album after album sort of just doing what he does. And so, that’s been a big inspiration to me. I mean lately, I’ve just been listening to a lot of singer songwriters like Sasha Sloan and Madi Diaz, Lennon Stella… I loved her album, JP Saxe, Julia Michaels, just this sort of singer-songwriter pop. Honest, introspective, emotional song writing. I’ve just been really drawn to it and I think that’s what inspired me the past few years and definitely a lot of what I’ve been gravitating towards in my own music.
EP: Well it sounds great, are there any plans to bring the music to the UK?
KT: Yeah, sure. I mean, I’m dying to get over there. I think especially now I’m like get me anywhere but I’ve spent some time in London and I really am dying to come back to the UK. So, let’s make it happen.
EP: That’d be great, I can’t wait for the album as well. Finally, one question which is completely off piste. I’ve been watching the HBO TV show ‘Ballers’, I know I’m very late to the party with that but I’ve realised you’re in Season 4 of that hit show with The Rock and co.
It must have been a lot of fun working on that show. I’m only on Season 2 but I’m loving it!
KT: It was really fun. Yeah, it was such a cool experience. I’d, you know, done kind of more kid teen focus shows and then I got that part. So it was really fun to get to do something which was a little more of an adult show and a comedy; my character had a lot of insane, fun outfits, and just getting to work with that calibre of actors. I worked with The Rock, which was crazy, and Rob Corddry and then someone from the UK, Russell Brand, he’s also in season four and so I got to spend a little time with him. He is amazing. I mean, it was just so much fun. He would come into the scene every time with a different improvised line and it would just make me laugh every time and I was, like, this is such a fun set to be on, so, yeah, I felt really lucky to be a part of it. But yeah, get ready for my outfits. That’s all I’m saying.
EP: I’m loving the show; I expected it to be funny but I never expected it to be quite so moving.
KT: Yeah. I know, I agree. I know. I liked it too.
EP So the Rock didn’t inspire you all by singing ‘You’re Welcome’ on set?
KT: (laughing) I know, I know, I mean, he should have. It was definitely a little nerve-racking but I think the more I was on, like week after week, we all became a little more comfortable with each other. You know, The Rock is very nice, but he’s definitely a big presence (laughing)
EP: Well, Katelyn, it’s been an absolute pleasure speaking with you. I wish you lots of luck with the music. I’ve loved everything I’ve listened to and I can’t wait for the album or Season 4 of ‘Ballers’ (laughing). I can’t wait to see you in the UK.
KT: And thanks, I can’t wait to be there!