Brooklyn-based songwriter Katie Von Schleicher discusses the various inspirations behind her brilliant new album ‘Consummation.’
“Can love that destroys be love at all?” This main question provided the creative core of Brooklyn-based songwriter Katie Von Schleicher’s sophomore album, Consummation. It’s a release that will leave you pondering about each and every layer for days after listening.
Von Schleicher’s album manages to dig deep into listeners’ brains by exploring a plethora of various themes and allusions. On an average first listen from a newcomer, the references and ideas might go unnoticed. However, these audiences can and definitely should return for a second, third, or even hundredth listen — with something new to uncover (or discover within yourself, honestly) each time.
After the release of her previous album, 2017’s Shitty Hits, Von Schleicher’s creative catalyzation for a follow-up came in the form of a Hitchcock film. Specifically, watching Vertigo a decade later, but through an incredibly different lens. The plot, in a quick surface-level summary (and spoiler alert for those who haven’t seen it), ends with both a man’s acrophobia being taken advantage of to cover a man’s murder plot against his wife. On a deeper level, this film has some dark themes portrayed from abuse to plain manipulation of multiple parties. Von Schleicher, after watching through both a new set of eyes and lens perspective, constructed Consummation from parts of the film, personal experience, and a few talented authors.
Most notably, pieces by Carmen Maria Machado and Rebecca Solnit played a primary part as well. The record’s title was even slightly derived from a Solnit quote describing a toxic romantic pursuit as “consummation,” managing to be another easter egg tying album themes together.
However, the best display of the messages Von Schleicher wants to convey arrive in the songs themselves. Lines like “You do to you what you’ve done to me” off the eerie-but-hypnotic “Brutality” or “Set it aside, I believed in you” opening the second verse of “Gross,” illuminate both her own emotions and ones in listeners through relating to lines of a relationship’s not-so-pretty past.
Simply put, Von Schleicher’s Consummation is a record whose relatability spreads further than a listener’s age and identity — because toxic and unhealthy power balances within relationships are a lot more common than discussed.
On the other hand, even with the darker themes nestled into the album’s lyrics, the sonics of it seem to shift constantly. Be it a new vocal technique or even a production shift between songs, especially “Caged Sleep” to “Messenger,” it manages to be ever-evolving. Yet, despite the changes and new surprises, Von Schleicher’s heart and talent as a singer-songwriter always manage to remain at the forefront of Consummation.
Read all about the album’s backstory in Atwood Magazine’s exclusive interview with Katie Von Schleicher below.
Listen: ‘Consummation’ – Katie Von Schleicher
A CONVERSATION WITH KATIE VON SCHLEICHER
Atwood Magazine: How are you doing? How’s Brooklyn?
Katie Von Schleicher: I’m pretty okay. It’s good. It’s like, it’s, I think it’s a fun place to be, but it’s also annoying because it’s difficult to go outside and I don’t feel super confident about taking a lot of walks, but I probably should be doing more of it. There’s that weird week in March when it all started snowballing pretty fast. Yeah, some people were like, “No, I’m still going to bars” and some people were like “I’m leaving town.”
Have you picked up any new activities or forms of self-care lately?
Katie Von Schleicher: I haven’t done anything useful to be honest with you. My friends dropped off their plants because they left town so I have like 25 plants right now. I did learn how to use a reel-to-reel tape machine and I guess that’s pretty cool. I got a bass. So I learned, I guess I have been doing some stuff. And lately I’ve been playing Nintendo Switch.
Animal Crossing or a different game?
Katie Von Schleicher: I only have Mario Kart, just play online with my friends who are also in New York.
I mean, it helps feel more connected, I guess, even though we can't really be person to person right now.
Katie Von Schleicher: Yeah, it’s weird I get like giddiness from online interaction. That makes no sense like playing Mario Kart.
I saw you played an online festival of sorts. How has the transition been doing live shows versus virtual?
Katie Von Schleicher: It’s weird because the last time I put out a record, I didn’t have a booking agent or anything, and this time I did. I tried to play by the rules or whatever and not play shows leading up. So I haven’t played shows in so long and I was excited to do it. Live? I don’t know. The streaming is not the same. It was cool the first few times I did it. There’s a point where I had like three to turn in in a week, and I just felt that I felt like these are stupid. I want them to be good. It’s just hard to think of. I don’t know if you’ve watched some of the ones from late-night television.
Katie Von Schleicher: I’ve watched a couple of skits of SNL. They’re actually almost humanizing. It’s like schadenfreude washing them. They’re terrible, they’re kind of terrible. People are at home and they have no production value to hide behind. I admire that people are doing it, but it’s kind of a dark time for creating live content I feel.
Yeah, I feel like a lot of their skits revolved around just Zoom chats. And, if I have to experience another Zoom chat... I'm just over the whole online thing?
Katie Von Schleicher: Yeah. It was kind of exciting at first. I don’t know if you felt that way, like the first few weeks, kind of like “Ooh, Zoom chats.” Yeah, now it’s tiring.
Have you watched anybody's live streams? I know some places are doing even like Minecraft or weird video game streams?
Katie Von Schleicher: I should actually check out more live streams and less of the like major ones that get posted. Let me think. I know I’ve seen some cool things. One was honestly just my friend, who makes instrumental music, did a live-stream that was amazing just on Instagram. I’ve seen some kind of ambient live streams and stuff like that. I haven’t seen a lot of songwriter ones that are that exciting, but maybe it’s just my case right now.
Watch: “Caged Sheep” – Katie Von Schleicher
You mentioned you have a bass and some tape machines now. Have you been writing or playing new music while you’re at home?
Katie Von Schleicher: It’s been tough for writing. I think I made one new song in this whole time. I’ve done some recording of stuff that was new that I hadn’t recorded before. Whether or not that’s accurate, I’m telling myself that when the album is out and I can stop focusing on that kind of stuff, that I’ll dive into writing and recording if I can.
For Consummation itself, did you have a typical songwriting process for it? Or was it more free-flowing?
Katie Von Schleicher: I usually write over a long period of time. The whole time between albums, I’m writing periodically. I guess it was kind of typical. There are a lot of lesser demos and then there were, you know, probably 20 that made it to a higher stage demoing and then cut it down to 13 for the record. I became more scared at some point in this process. I’ve always been scared that I would not be able to write any more songs or something. And I stopped having that fear and then I could kind of mess around and like try different techniques of working to make things happen, and I enjoyed that part of it.
Did that fear kind of fade away naturally or was there something that purposely made that change?
Katie Von Schleicher: Well, I guess there were a few factors of just… Maybe it was the fact that I was touring and doing stuff. I was feeling more self-actualized than I had ever felt because I was touring and releasing and actually doing this thing that I feel like I’ve spent a long time trying to make happen. Maybe it was partially that and just not being afraid that it will go, “Stop,” which is funny because it kind of just has right now.
There was that and then I was, my friend, his band is called youbet. We’ve played together, but he has a song a week group on Bandcamp, and a bunch of us contribute to that. I was kind of contributing songs and doing exercises for fun for that. Some of them would turn out to be tracks I was really excited about. It just felt it was kind of a process of being less precious about it that maybe made it feel less scary.
Was there a track on your album that was the hardest to write or produce?
Katie Von Schleicher: Yeah, differing levels of it, I guess, because some of them were just hard because I liked the demo. And I got stuck in liking the demo. Probably the first song on the record was the hardest, because it’s kind of idiosyncratic as far as arrangement goes and it’s got like a whole lot going on. It was hard to make sense of everything.
Do you have a favorite lyric overall from the album, or one that personally stands out? I mean, I have my own ones that I know of, but...
Katie Von Schleicher: Would you tell me yours? I never talk about lyrics.
It was 'Can you help me just as well as you helped yourself?'
Katie Von Schleicher: I like that one. A lot of the lyrics that I write are just those things that I say when I’m writing the songs, you know? That one, I wrote when I was in Kingston, New York, and we were playing at BSP Kingston. I was writing it in the van, while everybody was in the venue. It was part, you know, it was the lyric and it came out when I was writing the song.
When that happens, it feels like it’s really tied together, that all of the things are aligning. I don’t fancy myself to be a poet at all, and I try to just get everything to feel aligned. I think if I had to pick a favorite lyric… I really like this line in the song “Nowhere” because I sat down and I struggled to write it, about being where I’m from in Maryland, and this kind of strip mall area.
A lot of it is just imagery stuff like that. I feel like sometimes I don’t think about it, about the lyrics. And then, in the process of releasing it, and having to write up the lyrics I have thought about them more and I stand behind them, at least.
So, you mentioned a little bit about the demos. Do you do anything with them later on, or do they just kind of fade away into a musical void of such?
Katie Von Schleicher: I’m a huge fan of demos, and sometimes I just like people’s demos better. It’s probably kind of universal at this point. I’ll probably put them out on a Bandcamp day or something, just because they’re, they’re like, kind of charmingly fucked up.
Have you bought anything on any of the Bandcamp days?
Katie Von Schleicher: Yeah, I should really get my shit together, and buy and have a list this time. I keep finding myself asking everyone what they got and then like wanting to buy stuff the next day. I bought my friend’s record that came out on this small tape label. There’s a lot more that I’d like to pick up, so I’m gonna make a note. There’s this ambient musician Sarah Davachi who’s great and she’s putting out a book of writing on music and other things. I think that’ll be around for the next Bandcamp day hopefully too.
Watch: “Brutality” – Katie Von Schleicher
Building from that and speaking of books, I know that you were inspired by authors like Machado and Solnit. Also, that played a part in connecting experiences into the album. Has literature influenced you previously on past records or just for Consummation?
Katie Von Schleicher: Yeah, it’s always influenced it. I mean, with every record, I want to do that. It feels larger on this record because books were coping mechanisms and an echo chamber that I wanted to create. Exclusively reading women, and I was reading stuff that really pertained to me personally, and kind of not going super far outside of that box that I felt like existing in.
Partially, maybe, it was a bit you know self-indulgent of a time. I don’t know. I felt like I spent so much time in college or whatever, which I didn’t go to like a normal school or study English, but I spent most of my time skipping class to read books. I felt like I had read every dude who had written a book in the 20th century.
At some point, I kind of intentionally changed and wanted to listen to newer music and read newer books, and this kind of came out of that. It just felt like things were hitting me harder than they normally did in kind of an emotional place when I was making this. It did feel like the books I was reading gave me some kind of courage to do what I felt like doing.
I made a note of it, but the repetition on “Power” of “when you say it’s in my head” felt very reminiscent of In The Dream House by Machado, but I’m not as familiar with Her Body and Other Parties.
Katie Von Schleicher: Yeah, so Her Body and Other Parties was the book that was out when I was working on the record. This December when… because the record is kind of about abusive aspects of relationships, so after I finished the record that same month In The Dream House came out and I read it all in one week. I had like a solid cry when I finished it. I mean that book is incredible. All of her writing is incredible, but that book is, it’s kind of its own thing.
Is there anything new you’re reading or listening to?
Katie Von Schleicher: I got Rebecca Solnit’s new memoir, but I guess that’s not super fresh, I read. Ben Lerner’s book The Topeka School. I’m kind of on the lookout for a new tack of reading. I guess I’ve been listening to, like, kind of ambient music. Oh, there’s this one Japanese songwriter that I just got into that I’m like freaking out about her. She’s just insanely good.
How did you come across her music or more ambient sounds?
Katie Von Schleicher: My friend Julian showed me her stuff. I don’t know what he was doing. I think he was looking through anime soundtracks trying to find this exact keyword. He had this idea of what he wanted from a Japanese writer and researching. Some songs on the record with me, we record the basics together for this record and the last record.
Have you listened at all to the new Fiona Apple record?
Katie Von Schleicher: I dug pretty deep into the Fiona Apple record during the week that it came out and then I found that I haven’t gone back. That’s not to say that I won’t. I think it was pretty incredible and I know some people were like, “This is annoying,” because it got a ten and now it’s laden, but I don’t feel that way. It is pretty incredible. It felt kind of extra-musical, like outside of music in a way, because it’s so rhythmic and verbal and because her voice is just this totally powerful thing by itself. There are musician aspects that are inspiring.
You mentioned a little bit earlier about being from Maryland originally. Are there any artists you looked up to growing up that made you want to pursue music?
Katie Von Schleicher: There was no music scene around me. I wasn’t in bands. I wanted to write songs when I was little because I really liked Céline Dion, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, and I wanted to write like the songs they sang. A lot of my heroes when I was a kid were just pop divas with huge voices.
What made you shift over eventually to a singer-songwriter style compared to pop?
Katie Von Schleicher: I don’t know. I love Liz Phair’s record Exile In Guyville. Some people have said she was trying to kind of make pop music, but it was warped by her own sensibilities in a way. There are some really strange things about her writing. I think, maybe it’s partially my limitations, but when I set about writing songs even as a teenager, there was something a little off about them. Then, when I went to college, I tried to ingest as much music as I could, so that I could figure out what everyone else was influenced by.
Kind of switching gears for the ''Wheel'' music video, what was the process of putting that together? Did you take submissions from people you knew or were you reaching out to them directly?
Katie Von Schleicher: It was a collaboration between me and V, who directed it. I mean, she did all of the work which is pretty fresh for me for music videos. She really took the lead and it was cool, but it was her idea. So, built by the limitations of the quarantine, she brought probably 60% of the contributors into it as well. She wanted to have filmmakers and people, just like a wide swath of artists, femme-identifying people and I had a bunch of my friends contribute as well.
So it’s just like, not all of us knew each other, we all are sort of vaguely in similar circles. It was really cool, just to see all the artists who were down to do it. It was her idea to have the spinning and ways of bringing it together visually as well.
Had you worked with V in the past?
Katie Von Schleicher: No. She used to live in Brooklyn, and I’ve known about her work for a while. She did music videos for people here. She also then did the Big Thief “Mythological Beauty” music video. When I set out to start working on videos for this record, I wanted to work with her, but I found out she lived in LA. Then, when all of this happened. I was like, “Oh, actually, now I can work with someone who’s not near me.”
Watch: “Wheel” – Katie Von Schleicher
The spinning in the video, you know, I had also read in the really strim sent over that a lot of it was based off Vertigo. So I was wondering: Had you written any of the record before watching the movie, or was it all constructed after experiencing the darkness of the film?
Katie Von Schleicher: It was all afterward. Although, so many of the inspirations feel really close and intense. I wrote it all afterwards because if nothing else, watching it again, I felt dead set on the color tonalities for the record. I wanted it to exist in blues and greens. I watched it with a very specific lens of what I was thinking about constantly at the time. I just had a very different read on than I’ve had on it, maybe ten years before when I had seen it.
I felt like out of all the songs, “Strangest Thing” was, I guess the most representative of the themes, but that might just be me. I was wondering for that song specifically were the backing choir vocals your own or a separate vocalist?
Katie Von Schleicher: Oh yeah, that was me. That song was kind of accidental. I had written it and felt I had no idea of what use it would be. When I recorded it even, I didn’t think, “Oh, this would be on my record.” Because of that, I just sang with a very different voice than I would normally use. Same for the backing vocals. I used to sing, like, classical music, so I guess it’s kind of that version of both singing.
What made you decide to switch it up?
Katie Von Schleicher: I only did it because I thought that I was just messing around by myself. I didn’t think I would end up releasing it, which is funny. It’s a question of what you think your identity or persona is and what things fit under that umbrella. Maybe it ties to how artists feel often when they’re sequencing their record are like, “Oh, all these songs are too different from one another. What if they don’t make sense together?”
Then, people from the outside are usually like, “Actually, all your music sounds like you, so you shouldn’t worry about that.” Now that I’ve decided to put it in there, it’s made me question what the boundaries of somebody’s sound or what mine are. And if it’s okay to kind of sound different from yourself.
What emotions come from putting a new record out for you?
Katie Von Schleicher: Well, there are some positive ones. It’s a weird perspective, because when I finish a record, I feel like I did something. By the time it comes out, which is many months later and after everything’s in production, I almost feel a distance from it because I haven’t maybe listened to it in a while. It’s good to remember that no one has really heard it until the release day.
Sometimes, I’ve felt in the past, “Oh, on the release day, I’m free of this record and it’s old,” but it’s actually the day it exists for other people. Maybe it’s nice to hand it over and not be as personally buzzing in my head. Emotionally, I feel the need to move on to the next thing so that I have something gestating.
📸 © Annie Del Hierro
:: Stream Katie Von Schleicher ::