PREMIERE: Get Lost in the Bedroom with Katie Dey
Watch a debut video from the newest Orchid Tapes signee. Noisey talked to the elusive Australian songwriter about the unexpected success of her debut album.
Nothing quite seems to stay put in the video for "unkillable" by elusive Austalian songwriter Katie Dey. It's about as logical as slamming a keyboard and expecting a perfect sentence. An axe-wielding man is sucked a into tree stump before mutating into a parasol-like pine, which in the next instant is a flock of birds. Bunnies are reshaped as white orbs of energy and levitate into the sky like an old Power Rangers episode.
But the metamorphic imagery in Katie's debut video single makes a lot of sense given the unpredictable style of her bedroom-bred psych-pop. After only recently transforming herself from Bandcamp unknown to the newest Orchid Tapes' signee, the entire first pressing of Katie Dey's album asdfasdf sold out the day it was released. This shouldn't come as a surprise, though. asdfasdf pulls on those same lo-fi heart strings of now-labelmates Alex G and Elvis Depressedly.
Noisey caught up with Katie Dey to discuss the unexpected success of asdfasdf and going from Internet obscurity to securing a spot on the label of her dreams.
Noisey: You just released your first record, asdfasdf, on Orchid Tapes. How did this come about?
Katie Dey: I'd been a fan of the band Elvis Depressedly for a few years and Mat Cothran ended up checking out my blog because I guess my Tumblr likes were too incessant to ignore. That's how I imagine it anyway. He ended up liking one of my songs that I posted on my blog which led to us emailing back and forth. I sent him some other demos I'd been working on which he said some really nice things about so I put them on Bandcamp. Mat then ended up showing my stuff to Warren from Orchid Tapes and he was interested in doing a release with me and a couple months later some tapes were born!
I've loved everything Orchid Tapes have put out. I've strictly been a fan until now, watching from a far away place as all these wonderful musicians kept putting out amazing music. I'd been an obsessive fan of Alex G since 2012, which eventually led me to discover R.L. Kelly and Coma Cinema and Elvis Depressedly, which led to Ricky Eat Acid and Foxes in Fiction and Spencer Radcliffe and eventually I just consumed everything I could find. Their stuff is really special.
Why the title asdfasdf?
In one way it's because it doesn't mean anything and I didn't want to give it a title that would impose any meaning onto the songs that wasn't there. When I put these songs together they never really had any kind of unifying theme linking them, they're sort of disjointed in a jarring way, so when I put them up on bandcamp I realized there was no title that really made sense to me so I just hit those first four keys in the home row on my keyboard. I gave no deep thought to it because I assumed nobody would listen to it, then some stuff happened and people did end up listening to it so I ended up reflecting on the name and it sort of fits in an abstract way.
I never really mashed the keyboard when I titled the album, I realized I sort of half-consciously chose "asdfasdf" at the time specifically because they're a symbol that's recognizable as a representation of mashing the keyboard—you know? Nobody truly mashes a keyboard and happens to hit "asdfasdf" like that with no thought put in, you end up hitting like "hgdndgu" or "ijjasif". It's a sort of chaos that's immediately perceived as something that fits together, they seem arbitrarily connected but end up conveying a distinct feeling or idea nonetheless. It's also something you title a text document of delirious thoughts at two in the morning and leave on your desktop and forget about for a year, which is a cool thing that I sometimes do.
How did you first start making music? What was the first instrument you learned to play?
When I was around 10 or 11 my uncle gave us an old half-broken Wurlitzer organ, which I started messing around with and ended up getting alright at for a 10 or 11 year old, which led to my mum eventually investing in getting me a really nice full length Casio keyboard with weighted keys that I still have to this day.
At some point I started writing down chord progressions and stuff in old homework books when I got tired of learning Aerosmith and Silverchair songs or whatever and using the record function on the keyboard to layer melodies over the top. My brother took up guitar and we would play songs together and jealousy led me to get a guitar at 13 or 14 to try and be better than him. Jealousy is definitely my biggest motivator for making music.
Considering a release from Orchid Tapes, one familiar with that label may be inclined to lump your music into the "bedroom pop" category. You recorded on a computer in your home, but your music sounds like it comes from nowhere in specific. In your imagination, what space does this music inhabit?
I try very hard in my music to have each song inhabit its own space, spaces that might only exist in sound but are real places nonetheless. Like if you imagine yourself in a forest, you see trees and lizards and dirt and stuff, but if you take away the visual element it still exists as a forest and you can still feel and hear and smell things, then if you take away everything but the sound element it still exists, it's still a forest, you know? I guess you can have a sound recording of a forest and not be in a forest but you can also have like a photo of a forest. Maybe the analogy doesn't hold up, I haven't thought it through. But I'm trying to say the songs exist in spaces that are themselves. Either that or like a shooting star or a volcano.
Are these songs intended for a live audience?
I haven't really figured out how to play these songs live yet because they're so editing-based. I think it's possible but I haven't figured out the logistics, and it's just not really what I'm focusing on right now. I like to stay home and make music like I were a painter or something. Playing live can be great but sometimes playing live just for the sake of it can feel like you're just replicating some watered-down, hard to control facsimile of your art every week for a few bucks. It always feels like the music is suffering in some way. It also relies so heavily on other people that I find myself feeling out of control and crazy.
I played in punk bands for a while and the gigging and practicing element was sort of horrible and stressful for me and that ended up taking a toll. I probably need to just stop thinking about it and embrace the spontaneity of it all, it needs to be treated as a totally separate thing from recording. So many people do such a great job of it.
Who would be in your ideal band?
My ideal band would be like the band Sufjan Stevens had when he was touring Age of Adz, just loads of people doing loads of stuff with crazy props and costumes and dancers. Or just Grimes. I'm not even there, it's just her playing my songs. That would be ideal.
Your lyrics are hard to pin down; they're obscured. You once said, "music should strive to utilize its medium to the fullest extent, to take hold of the things that make it special and stretch them to their limits." But in the same response, you also said, "I don't know shit about music." So how are you "stretching" the medium?
I don't think it does, but I am at least trying very hard to. I'm just trying not to be complacent with it. Those songs are the sound of me pushing on the edge of what I know pop music to sound like and how i know it to work, but also they are still very much pop music and are very structured and regular at their core. I tend to focus on the sonic and textural element of music rather than the composition element because I'm not trained at all. There's so much to learn and it's super daunting, and also I'm sure there are people out there who would tell me that the sonic and compositional elements should be treated as one and the same, which is probably the right way to look at it.
There are much more capable people out there who are truly pushing hard on this stuff and I admire and strive to be like that, it seems like something you need to devote your entire waking life to in order to get anywhere. I'm still and always will be trying to figure music out, it's an endless thing as deep as the universe, it makes me crazy when I try and think about all the dimensions of it.
Stream asdfasdf in full below and buy the album here from Orchid Tapes.
Benjamin Baumbach is also slamming his keyboard for the perfect sentence. Follow him on Twitter.