In 2004, Katie Herzig set out on her own after fronting her college band Newcomers Home for more than a few years. With Watch Them Fall, she began the journey toward finding her own voice as a solo artist. Each subsequent musical step she’s taken has actually been an artistic leap. On 2007’s Weightless, the acoustic foundation was still in place, but more intriguing production elements began to take up residence within the mix. But even with the stylistic stretching, the intimacy of Herzig’s songwriting remained intact.
The musical explorations continued with Apple Tree in 2008, as did the lyrical emotionality. To be sure, songs of searching abound in Herzig’s catalog, but another signature trend also kept pace – whimsy. The same playfulness evidenced in tunes like “Jack and Jill” and “Sweeter Than This” from Weightless found its footing on Apple Tree, particularly in “Forevermore.”
The following year, Herzig offered an acoustic rendering of her live experience with Live in Studio: Acoustic Trio. She also released a smattering of singles — “Hey Na Na,” “Two Hearts Are Better Than One,” and “Beautiful Inside” — that showcased her lighter side in fine fashion. Every issuance marked another forward motion in her artistic evolution.
Now, with The Waking Sleep, Herzig has catapulted herself down that line. It’s a big, bold, beautiful production chock full of all manner of instruments and a healthy dose of electronic programming along the way. (There might even be a kitchen sink in there somewhere!) Because of its layered complexity, the album’s title is more than apt — musical paradoxes overflow. In “Wasting Time,” a captivating, Gustavo Santaolalla-inspired acoustic riff is pushed aside by a driving beat. Even the gloriously sparse “Closer I Get” meanders its way toward a soaring string-laden finale. It’s truly a remarkable piece of work from an artist who refuses to not challenge herself and her listeners.
Katie Herzig: The unique thing about this record is that I had only a couple songs headed into it that were maybe going on the record. So I pretty much wrote and recorded the record hand-in-hand, over the course of a year. The only master plan I had was to get back to writing songs that are from my guts. I have spent lots of time in the last several years writing and recording music for film and TV stuff that was more experimental and not very personal. So when it was time to write for my record, the way I learned to create music for film/TV spilled over into how I was making my solo music; but it was a more personal version of stuff that wasn’t written for something, but just my own outlet and enjoyment. Ultimately, you’re just doing the very best you can with the ideas that come to you at the time… while consciously and subconsciously being influenced by music you love.
NT: Stylistically, The Waking Sleep puts you more on par with pop/rock bands like Radiohead and Death Cab for Cutie rather than folk/rock artists like Indigo Girls or Brandi Carlile. Are you ready for the kind of commercial breakthrough this record could very well achieve?
KH: Stylistically, it definitely is a leap, but I have never fully fit into the folk thing either because of my love for production and layering. But the difference is I didn’t sit down and write these songs on an acoustic guitar for the most part. I just started writing the songs by building the tracks I’d write them in. I wrote on piano, I wrote on bass, ukulele, I wrote to different samples and loops… As a result, this record does feel more likened to the band realm you speak of. As far as being ready for a commercial breakthrough — bring it on — I’m flattered you’d think it’s worthy of such a thing.
NT: Like Apple Tree, you co-produced The Waking Sleep with the fantastically talented Cason Cooley. What do each of you bring to the process?
KH: For this project, I usually brought tracks that I’d started at my home studio that included lyrics, melody, and just a general bed of sound for it to sit in. He is so good at recognizing the things that are working and has the patience and the enthusiasm to really dig into a track and make cohesive sense of all my quickly executed ideas that I just needed to get out. But we actually co-wrote a few songs on this record and that was new for us. I loved it. It was unplanned and very natural. For example, on “Way to the Future,” he had a sample of a drum loop he thought I’d like so he played it for me. I immediately started playing a sampled string part to it that was very basic. Then he took over and made the string part sound like it could be in a “Where’s the Beef?” commercial and then we both started pounding out lyric and melody ideas, all of which I tended to simplify — only allowing it if it made my insides feel good, which usually involved simple major chords. Stuff like that. Making records with Cason is such a joy.
NT: With so much electronic programming and big string parts involved, how do you adapt an album like this for your live show which is very often an acoustic trio?
KH: Good question! We recently did a tiny tour where we tried out five new songs with a full band. It was so much fun. This record keeps us all on our toes and playing multiple instruments. We can pull off an acoustic trio version of all these songs and I could even pull off solo versions, but they really come to life with the full band because these songs were written hand-in-hand with the production. So it feels just as important. How do we pull that off? We mix organic instruments and percussion with samples from a couple keyboards. On a few songs, we play to a track — something I’ve never done. I saw Vampire Weekend pull off playing to tracks so tastefully and it made me wanna try it. I admit it is and will be a big challenge, but it’s a deeply gratifying one when we pull it off. Someday I’d love to play these songs with an orchestra.
NT: Your song “Middle” (from Weightless) provides an interesting lens through which to view your songwriting because your tunes sway between hauntingly heartbreaking and impossibly uplifting. If you had to split yourself down the middle, which part would you keep?
KH: If I literally had to decide one over the other and couldn’t keep both, I’d probably choose hauntingly heartbreaking because those are usually the songs that are the most therapeutic for me and often times other people. But thank God I get to do those and the uplifting ones, otherwise there would be a gaping hole in what I do. We need balance. We need outlets for good times and sad times. Salty and sweet. And we need them in the same meal, sometimes in the same bite. At least I do.
This article originally appeared on NoiseTrade.com.