Katie Kim: “Who Knows What I’m Capable Of?”

Ahead of appearing at Cork Jazz this weekend with the Altered Hours, Katie Kim talks reverb, records and the future with Mike McGrath-Bryan.

An elusive sight on gigging bills, Waterford singer-songwriter Katie Kim carries perhaps more of a mystique for being so, weaving stark imagery and toll-taking catharsis around moody arrangements centred on Kim’s moody but quietly strong tones. Last year’s ‘Salt’ album has had time to settle after the usual whirl of activity around a launch, and after a long development period, she’s had time to consider the album. “Well, the record has been finished for a few years now. And some of the tracks, like for example ‘Day Is Coming’, were written a long time ago. Almost eight years ago. So I’ve had a lot of time with ‘Salt’. For me, a record is a body of work I live with for however long it takes me to finish, to the point where I can listen to it without picking and prodding at elements.

Until I’m happy with it. Then it’s released, and really at that point, I prefer to move on. Maybe that plays quite a bit into why I like to keep live shows to a minimum. I can’t imagine playing the same set list, or having to listen to myself night after night, year after year, I just don’t think I’d have it in me. But I suppose I’ve never tried either so… who knows what I’m capable of!”

The creative process behind the record was a sea-change for an experienced solo composer and performer, but the difference is palpable across ‘Salt’ from earlier work, opening Kim’s voice up to much broader sonic vistas. “I recorded ‘Salt’ in Guerrilla Studios, a studio run by John Murphy (Lankum/Jimmy Cake/September Girls/Woven Skull). Sonically, it was a partnership with him, where before I recorded mainly alone or at home. He’s been with Katie Kim since the beginning in some form or another, and he brought it to quite a dark place. I mean, we had to trim a lot off the endings of many songs where he went deeper and deeper into great big guttural soundscapes, because we wouldn’t be able to fit them on the vinyl otherwise. I recorded my vocals at home where I felt most comfortable, and would then take them to him, and we would record and mix everything else there. Sometimes throwing absolutely everything at it, to then strip it all back again in some cases. But recording it with him helped. He’s so easy to work with, and normally my albums aren’t a hugely collaborative process.”

The album was nominated for a Choice Prize, in a year when nine out of ten albums nominated were (nominally) independent releases. And while criticisms can be levied on music awards, incentivisation, etc., there’s no denying it placed Kim and ‘Salt’ on a wider stage, from RTÉ television and radio, to a short-lived push for the album’s CD press via Golden Discs. “Well, there’s a cash prize that I’m sure helps musicians a lot! That’s one element but I can’t get too philosophical about it, because I just think it’s nice for some musicians to have a light shone on them, if only for a moment. I can’t speak on anyone else’s behalf, but the nomination came, for me, at a time when it was nice to get the nod. I was feeling extremely low creatively after the album came out, and it helped alleviate that, secretly.”

Katie plays with the Altered Hours and Spacemen 3‘s Will Carruthers on Sunday at St. Luke’s in Cork, a venue she’s no stranger to. It’s a big night overall, and the buzz heading into it has been significant. “The venue is breathtaking. The sheer amount of reverb has to be heard to be believed, so I’m quite pleased to be back. Reverb is my closest pal, so St. Luke’s will be a highlight for me, and of course, I’m a huge Altered Hours fan, too. I became a bit drained from live shows I had been going to a few years ago, and an Altered Hours show I was at in Mayo just woke me the fuck up.

And ‘Laser Guided Melodies’ is an album I hold very dear to my heart, so meeting Will Carruthers will be something!” A Galway gig in the Roisín Dubh November 12th has also just been announced, via local collective FEAST. What’s the plan after? “Recording again. I don’t know yet what form the new songs will take, but I’m writing and figuring a few things out, so I’ll have to wait and see.”

Percolator: Brewing New Sounds

Brandishing a sound that resembles a Venn diagram of shoegaze, indie, Krautrock and post-punk, Percolator’s development has been slow and steady over the past number of years, with a series of singles and extended-players finding their way out as the band proceeded. This work has led to debut album SESTRA, releasing this month via Cork’s Penske Recordings, developed concurrently to the band’s output to date, says bassist/synth-slinger John “Spud” Murphy. “The EPs were made during production of the album. They were released kind of as examples of the what we were working on at the time and the sounds we were experimenting with. On the album, the production on each track is different so getting all of the tracks to flow together seamlessly took a lot of work and time.”

The album was recorded and mixed in Murphy’s Guerilla Sounds studio, in Dublin city centre, where unshackled by commercial pressure or label budget, the band could pursue their muses freely and for as long as necessary. “Doing all of the production ourselves was great, because we had complete control and could take as much time as we wanted to experiment and get unique sounds, rather than persuading another engineer to make it sound the way we wanted it. The only drawback to this is that it took us a long time to finish . It being our music, we were extra precious and slaved over every minute detail for years.”

SESTRA releases via a split arrangement with Penske Recordings and French label Permafrost. It’s made the process of releasing an album, and manufacturing the physical product a lot smoother, and lead to more live dates. “It was quite easy to organise. Penske would’ve been at the top of our list of Irish labels. When we gave Albert a listen he was into it straight away. We met Etienne from Permafrost on tour, and he heard the album and was into putting it out in France and organising a tour for us. Having a European label involved means we can cover more ground with the release and share production costs.”

Single Crab Supernova released a week or two back, with an interesting video to say the least premiering a few weeks in advance via Belfast music site The Thin Air. The visuals were the result of some improvisation with filmographer Thom McDermott. “We weren’t sure what we wanted, but an evening messing around with a camera and a projector with Thom yielded some weird results that suited the song, and had the psychedelic imagery that we’re into. It was all kind of on the spot experimentation. We weren’t sure what would work or not but it was nice to be able to try anything.”

The album’s artwork has been laid out by Irish independent music legend Paul G. Smyth, centred around the work of painter Gus Hughes. It’s the reflection of the music the band had sought over the course of its creation. “Hughes’ work is oil-based, with lots and lots of layers that really suits the music, pleasant but a bit odd, and the idea of getting to use the work of someone we know was very appealing. Paul looked after the layout, even down to choice of font. It helps to have an external opinion especially when we tend to be indecisive.”

Of course, Penske Recordings is the brainchild of one Albert Twomey, better known as the mercurial hassle-merchant of PLUGD Records, a Charleville man with an unfortunate love for Tottenham Hotspur. A central figure to Irish independent music, much less the local scene, Twomey’s in-store witticisms, putdowns and one-liners have their own Twitter fan page. The band are effusive when asked to discuss his involvement. “What a legend. Anyone that is even vaguely associated with the underground music scene is aware of Albert, and his Godfather like presence.

The outfit are playing Coughlan’s on April 28th, with Cork psychedelia/shoegaze/alternative youngsters The Sunshine Factory in support. Under the watchful eye of local music personalities like Alliance Promotions’ Gordon O’Keeffe, the band has come on in leaps and bounds since surfacing in 2015, with a tour support for psych legends The Telescopes under their belts. Percolator are relishing the chance to share the stage. “We’ve heard their Soundcloud stream, and are looking forward to seeing how it translates live. I’ve only been to Coughlan’s for a pint, and I really liked it. One of very many pubs in Cork that are nice to sit in. Have heard great things about the venue itself, and we’re really excited about the gig.”

Their upcoming brace of live shows sets them in good stead for further adventures down the line. “We’re doing a two-to-three week European tour in June to support the Permafrost release. We’re planning to do more shows here with a really good Irish band later in the summer. Outside of this we’ll be continuing pre production of our second album.”

Percolator play Coughlan’s on the 28th, with The Sunshine Factory in support. More information on tickets available via the venue’s social media.