Kate Finn, the artist better known as Katie, is a rapper, producer, singer/songwriter and classically-trained pianist, but she is not a morning person. When I call her at her Seattle home at 10 am, she comes across perfectly composed and affable amid the wrangling of her three-month old kitten, although she admits to being a little groggy.
"I have very vivid dreams and I remember them," Kate tells me. "Full-length movie-like dreams. I don't have them all the time but I was during the period I made Nation."
Nation, out August 5, follows Kate's surprise 2011 debut, Flatlands, a captivatingly stark showcase of a young artist's approach to storytelling and bedroom production. It that was both a calling card for her to play festivals like Sasquatch and Bumbershoot as well as an eye-opener to a world of contemporary, stylish alt-pop beyond the hype of lesser artists.
"I recorded the first album in my closet," says Katie Kate, "This new record is more of a concerted effort."
Working with a producer (Charlie Smith) for the first time—an experience Kate calls "interesting"—resulted in a more polished album from start to finish. Nation is both conceptually focused and musically innovative, offering a fresh perspective on the beats/synth/song method and on an American identity that permeate the album's lyrics, though the latter wasn't entirely intentional.
"Certain themes kept developing and erupting," she explains. "I didn't expect the American theme to be a thing, but it is. I was watching Ken Burns' The National Parks on Netflix and they told some story about the Grand Canyon and Teddy Roosevelt and how he had to basically trick congress into protecting it because they didn't know what was good for them."
While songs like "Canyon" and "Buffalo" connect with ideas of the American West, tracks like "The Visions" and "Fur & Gowns" are aural manifestations of Kate's literal dreams. "I was on a riverboat casino and it was sinking," she says of the dream that inspired the latter. "It was all that 70s faded glamor, but people were having the time of their lives while this boat was sinking. It was at a time when I felt pretty out of control of the people in my life. People were bringing themselves to destruction and there wasn't a lot I could do about it. Ask my therapist. She knows all about it."
Kate's therapy sessions aren't just dream psychology though. She says she wrangled with deciding how to proceed in her career after stumbling into some success with her first album while still finishing college.
"I struggled with the idea of what people want from me," Kate admits "It was killing me because there's no way to create if you're just trying to figure out what people want. I've never been that kind of a person. I eventually had to be like, 'fuck what people want, what do I want?'"
"There's that part of me that is so insecure and I have moments where I feel like I'm going to die because I'm so overwhelmed," she continues. "The reason I'm able to say fuck it is because I have this part of me that's so worried, I have to counterbalance it."
With a second album in hand and tour dates ahead (she plays Seattle's Capitol Hill Block Party this coming weekend), Kate's next challenge might be finding where she fits in the musical landscape after resisting pressure to "be like Iggy Azalea."
"I hired people to figure that out for me," she says. "A lot of what I've heard about this new record is that it's very weird, but it doesn't seem weird to me. It came from my brain and I think it's perfectly normal."
Pre-order the album here.