Singer/songwriter Katelyn Tarver dives into her intentional, vulnerable, and beautiful sophomore album ‘Quitter,’ unlearning habits, and accepting the good with the bad.
Stream: ‘Quitter’ – Katelyn Tarver
I feel like the process of growing up and going through life is unlearning so much stuff and trying to peel back layers that you didn’t even know were there.
The best albums, songs, and art take universal concepts and simplify them in a way that almost seems obvious.
So much so that you wonder how this big concept has not been put into these words before. When an artist is able to do this – it creates a timeless piece of work.
Through careful lyricism and sonically crafted production, Katelyn Tarver has managed to do this with her brand new sophomore album, Quitter – not only in its namesake, which sets the table perfectly for what’s to come in the following ten tracks, but also with the introspective “What Makes a Life Good” and “Ignorance is Bliss,” followed by the visually vulnerable “Japanese Cafe” and aptly-titled “Cinematic.”
I used to understand,
I used to have a plan
I used to make you proud,
I used to take a stand
It used to take a lot to get me out of line
But now, I hate the thought of thinking I’m right
Chasin’ certainty was killin’ me
It’s kinda nice to be a quitter
Givin’ up on who I thought that I had to be
Honestly, I’m not even bitter
Looking back, I only lost what I didn’t need
– “Quitter,” Katelyn Tarver
Intimate, deliberate, and painstakingly crafted, Quitter‘s eleven songs take listeners on a journey deep into Tarver’s humanity as she unpacks herself and her world, one moment at a time.
Tarver covers big questions of the future while reflecting on the past, all while trying to figure out what we’re all trying to figure out; how it all makes sense. “One Without the Other” ties the album with a bow, answering some of the big questions that had been asked, while allowing grace and acceptance for the ones that come next.
Atwood Magazine sat down with Katelyn Tarver to discuss the creation of Quitter. Dive into the album in our interview below! Quitter is out now via Nettwerk Music Group.
“Quitter” is really a moment of surrender, of being done with living for other people. I really want to live the life I want to live and be the person I want to be.
A CONVERSATION WITH KATELYN TARVER
Atwood Magazine: Katelyn, thanks for your time today! Quitter is fantastic. What was making this album like for you, and how did it differ from Subject to Change and projects of the past?
Katelyn Tarver: This was the first time I really felt like I was following something up. So many people had so many kind words to say about Subject to Change, which was so exciting for me. But as I started to kind of get into, OK, what’s next? There’s that inevitable fear of, oh God, what if people don’t like it as much?
It was really challenging and pushing on that part of me that’s so affected by the approval of other people. I had all these hopes and dreams and fears around it, which came with a lot of pressure. So, making this album was really me working through a lot of those feelings. And then as I was writing I realized how deep those feelings were in me from my childhood. I just had this moment of like why am I putting so much pressure on myself? Why am I being so hard on myself? This is music – it’s supposed to be my art and my expression.
It really was tough for me at times making this album and I think you can hear that in a couple of the songs. There’s a lot of angst and questioning and really wrestling with personal demons in a way. But I do feel like it helped me work through a lot of it.
I’m so happy with the finished product. The songs really represent the process for me. There are some that have more of a hindsight perspective, but a lot of them feel very much like sitting in the feeling and just kind of taking you there with me. It was much more finding my way in the dark this time around. The album really shows that, and the hope is that if other people are going through it too, they will connect with it.
That's so interesting. So it's kind of like you, as you were writing it, you were figuring out why you were feeling the way you were feeling.
Katelyn Tarver: Yeah, I feel like I’ve heard artists and writers say “writing this helped me figure out what I was thinking and feeling.” That really was the case for me this time around. I was pulling way more from my inner self and trying to get to a more authentic place. It was kind of like I was wrestling something down.
That makes so much sense. I love it.
Katelyn Tarver: Yeah, thank you.
Diving into the songs. I have to start with the song “Quitter.” I love this song, it’s a perfect track one - it sets the scene so well. Also, I feel like the best songs do what this song does - which is after you listen you’re like huh, how has this never been put into a song before? The whole concept of “Quitter” is so big and universal but you simplified it in this beautiful way. So yeah, I really would love to hear about the songwriting aspect of this one.
Katelyn Tarver: Yeah. Thank you so much. I think honestly in one week I wrote “Parallel Universe,” “Cinematic” and “Quitter.” I was kind of on this tear of really releasing some of that pressure I was talking about. You know, why am I so worried about what everyone is thinking about me? I feel like the process of growing up and going through life is unlearning so much stuff and trying to peel back layers that you didn’t even know were there.
“Quitter” is really about that for me. I’ve kind of always had this chip on my shoulder of feeling like everyone is trying to put me into a box – I don’t even really know when it started, but it’s there. So “Quitter” is really a moment of surrender, of being done with living for other people. I really want to live the life I want to live and be the person I want to be. That sounds very refrigerator magnet-ey, but I don’t know, I think everyone experiences it in their own way.
Absolutely, and it’s so hard to get to that realization.
Katelyn Tarver: It is, it is. And for me it was just a lot of shedding of beliefs I had when I was younger. Being in this industry from such a young age and feeling like I had to perform for people to be liked and to be accepted. I always felt the need to make sure everyone in my life was ok with me – my friends, my family, my family’s friends, my grandparents who aren’t even alive anymore, my friend who I haven’t talked to in 15 years from middle school. It was just like, oh my God, I can’t, it’s ultimately an unsustainable way of living. You can’t make everyone happy, you can’t be everything for everyone.
It’s always going to be a big thing for me that I’m trying to overcome, but writing that song was really cathartic. It helped me tap into that side of myself. It’s one of the more vulnerable songs, I mean, all of them are vulnerable, but I think that one to me is really kind of claiming my place and being like, I’m not doing that anymore. It’s been an internal shift – I’m trying to live more in line with how I feel and think. That’s how the song came to be and it felt like a big moment and a nice way to encapsulate this moment in time for me. This album helped me find that place within myself.
It’s so true how you have to unlearn things as you get older, which segways nicely into the next song I want to ask about. I’ve loved “What Makes A Life Good” since it came out last year. The harmonies are so beautiful. It’s my favorite bridge of the album. It’s so true that as you get older you start to ask yourself those questions and it can be strange because the people around you might have different answers. Tell me about making this one.
Katelyn Tarver: That was the first song that I wrote for the album and I didn’t know it at the time. Subject to Change had just come out and I’d had such an exciting year, but I was still at this place in my life where I felt a little stuck. It’s kind of that age old thing where there’s no magic wand to make everything perfect.
I’m obsessed with going down the right path, being in control and making sure I don’t make a mistake. It’s all the anxiety that surrounds being afraid the wrong path will derail your life. I think this can hit at various stages, but there was something about getting into my early thirties. It’s such an interesting time because it couldn’t look more different for different people. When you look at your friend group, it’s so vastly different. Some people are just getting married, some have been married for 10 years, some have a baby, some have three kids, some are single and are living in Paris, some are like at a job they hate, some are pivoting – there’s just so many different ways to do things. I was observing everything around me.
Also, with social media there’s always something being thrown at us. You sort of have to be careful. I noticed that I was taking in so much advice and stories of what other people were doing and I just had to stop and ask myself what I needed to do for myself. I think that’s the right question to ask of all the questions – what makes my life good? I think ultimately that’s what you have to go with. You’re only going to find the answer to that within yourself. If you can get in touch with that then you’re living a good life for you, it doesn’t matter if it looks like someone else or checks a certain box. At the time I was struggling to feel settled in my own life and really looking outside of myself for answers and clarity. I wrote that song from that place of feeling a little lost.
I love that. It seems like you found the answers!
Katelyn Tarver: I’m trying! Album 3. [laughs]
So, “Japanese Cafe” + “Cinematic.” I wanted to ask about these two together because they’re such great storytelling songs. I love songs that make you feel like you’re in them and both of these really do that. “Parallel Universe” does it too. Tell me about writing these two and how they may differ from writing a song of a broader topic like “Ignorance is Bliss.”
Katelyn Tarver: Yeah. I definitely tried to inject a little more imagery in the lyrics of those. Sometimes I get stuck in asking those broader questions.
Which is great, but also “Japanese Cafe” is so specific – the coolest song.
Katelyn Tarver: Yeah. Thank you! Japanese Cafe is a mix of reflections on my teenage years and right now. It’s touching on moments when you feel insecure and you’re just like, oh my gosh, do I matter without any of my accolades? The question in the chorus is just so sad.
If you do something in life that people notice you for you’re like, ok, I got to keep doing that because that thumbs up feels really good. I got this insecurity somewhere along the way of wondering if I’ve only gotten to where I am by some stroke of luck. I had this hangup of not having talent and somehow making it to where I am by getting lucky at every turn, which I know is ridiculous. Part of it is from being in this industry for so long and starting so young in such formative years.
I actually did perform at a maid cafe in Japan, which was insane. [laughs] And yeah, all these little things that I’ve just picked up along the way that I didn’t know were really burrowing their way into my psyche. It was kind of like, ok, this is what I bring to the table and if I don’t bring that to the table, I’m done.
It’s so interesting, because to me and I think a lot of people - I know you as a songwriter, first and foremost. Your lyrics are so vulnerable and being able to make music like this definitely does not come at a stroke of luck.
Katelyn Tarver: Thank you. I definitely went through a phase where I wondered if people knew me as a songwriter. Songwriting is very intimidating. I put myself out there and it’s scary which makes it easy for me to give into that fear of feeling like a fraud and just a child actor. I get overwhelmed by that. So, I loved writing that song. We somehow got so many little nuggets of ideas in there that usually just rattle around my brain. That one’s really special to me.
And then “Cinematic.” I wanted to write a song about being sentimental and living in little pockets of memories.
What I love in life is hanging out, laughing and having fun. When I look back on life and the moments that I’m happiest, it’s always in those small little moments. It’s that question of what do you really love most about life? It’s always being with the people I love and experiencing little micro moments. That song showed more of my sappy side, kind of like “Friend like You.” I wanted to have these moments on the album too – I’m not always sort of living in this heavy, weighed down big questions, place.
I wanted to write a song about being sentimental and living in little pockets of memories.
Definitely. They are so great. So, I have to ask about “Revisionist History.” I love this one so much, especially the guitar at the beginning. I feel like from a production standpoint this one stands out sonically as a little different than the rest.
Katelyn Tarver: Yeah, I really wanted to have a sonic moment like that. I wanted the album to have a little bit of a darker thing. There’s so much acoustic and reflective, introspective moments on the album. This one feels darker, grittier, a little more menacing.
It’s your reputation moment.
Katelyn Tarver: It’s a little bit of a reputation moment. It’s a song about feeling like you’re misrepresented and there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s trying to make peace with it but also being like, hey, yeah, no, you’re wrong.
That will be a fun one to do live too.
Katelyn Tarver: Yeah, I know. I’m excited. I haven’t sung that one live yet. I love how it builds. Chad (Chad Copelin, producer of Quitter) really killed it on the production. It’s a nice moment on the album. It’s a flavor of something else.
Finally, “One Without The Other” which is my favorite song on the album right now. I love the piano and the lyrics. It’s perfect. Tell me about writing this one and when you did, did you know it was going to be the last track? It’s such a good end to the album.
Katelyn Tarver: I knew it was going to be the final track. There are a lot of songs on the album that are really heavy. They dive into those big life questions, what does it all mean and all that stuff that I love to talk and write about. But I also had these songs that helped me really work through a lot. So when I sat down to write “One Without the Other” I wanted a song that could somehow wrap the other songs up. It came to this point of, everything you’ve been through has gotten you here and can you really accept that? Maybe I would have done some things differently, sure, but also that’s just not how life works. You’re never gonna be able to rewrite the past. You’re never gonna be able to go back and look at your 15 year old self and be like, you know, don’t wear the French Maid outfit.Through writing these songs and being really critical of myself – I got to a point where I did start to be kinder to myself.
I was doing the best I could with what I knew at the time. That’s why I’ve loved sharing my past. I’ve learned to love how crazy it was and I love who I was and how it got me to be where I am now. This song was me wanting to reflect that shift within myself that recognized I couldn’t have me today without the me of the past. I can take all the weird things in my life and accept them now. Where “Quitter” is the thesis statement of the album – I’m living for me now – “One Without the Other” is the song that wraps up everything in a nice way. All these questions and the uncertainty – it’s all part of it and is taking you to who you’re meant to be along the way. You can’t have the good stuff without the bad stuff. I felt so happy after I wrote that song. I wanted to end it on an uplifting note to send people back out into the world. I was just like, yeah, that’s it.
It really does wrap everything up perfectly.
Stream: “One Without the Other” – Katelyn Tarver
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an album by Katelyn Tarver