By: Samantha Eddy
Twenty-five-year-old singer-songwriter Katy Kirby is one of indie-rock’s newest rising artists, with only one debut LP, Cool Dry Place on her discography record so far. From a restricted evangelical Christian childhood to a transition into indie-rock, Kirby is learning more about what she wants to do with her music and is making her mark as an artist in this genre. “I try not to think of myself as a person who just writes songs to emotionally process things, but I do think what you’re hearing is me figuring out if I still had a relationship with God. For most of my life, I genuinely did have a relationship with Jesus and really hardcore believed some of this stuff. It was a bit more than just a culture that I had been raised in,” Kirby states in an interview, revealing the meaning behind ‘Secret Language’ of Cool Dry Place.
Growing up in the small town of Spicewood, Texas, and being homeschooled in a strict Christian home setting, Kirby was mainly focused on her faith and her love for reading and music. “I wasn’t too restricted by my parents in pop culture, but I don’t think I saw an R-rated movie until I was in my late teens. I wasn’t even allowed to read Harry Potter or watch the Disney Channel, [though] honestly I kind of respect that decision: It may have melted my brain a little bit.” Drawn to music from a young age, Kirby began singing and writing her own songs. “My dad was always such a nerd about barbershop quartets, so one of my earliest and most treasured memories is him teaching me how to harmonize. He made me plug my ears and sing a note while he sang the melody. I felt power emanating from me at five years old when I figured it out.”
As Kirby grew older, her parents put her in a private religious high school, which enabled her to discover more of the world surrounding the one in which she was raised. She began discovering new music genres and attempted to expand her interests. “My friend’s mom was cool and would play the White Stripes, the Strokes, or Sufjan Stevens’ ‘Age of Adz’ while driving us to school, so I’d instantly go home and buy it with an iTunes gift card.” Considering her background and what she was now being exposed to, Kirby says in an interview with Vice, “I do envy people who grew up with the Beach Boys and listening to their parents’ cool record collection. I have no classic rock or pop foundation at all. Some fragment of pop music feels like it’s missing.” “My parents are unbelievably innocent of most music that was going on while they were young…I wasn’t really exposed to classic rock, nor jazz or anything like that. It was mostly worship music that’s particular to evangelical America in the 90s and early 2000s. It was the music primarily of this one sect of the evangelical church called the Vineyard…,” says Kirby in another interview.
It was at this point in her life when Kirby began to question the conservative attitudes of the students in her school. “Some of the crazy things people said in classes didn’t really sit right with me…My brain had only processed the world through these experiences of loving Jesus. It was a shock how much it takes to really not believe in something and not experience shame over it.” Kirby used her confusion as fuel for her songwriting in her later teens, stating, “Me thinking about music as a thing to do definitely intersects with me losing my faith, and I was writing my way out of a lot of that confusion.”
After being required to take piano lessons for over 10 years as a child, Kirby switched to guitar in her late teens, where she began experimenting with songwriting even more and attempting to write away her confusion regarding her faith. Following high school graduation, Kirby attended Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee and later earned an English degree. She spent the following years further developing her guitar skills and writing songs that she simply liked and could vibe with. “I played without a band for so long, I kinda had to figure out some tricks to break things up or to make things feel like they had momentum, or that there was a bit of a percussive edge to things,” Kirby states after forming a band soon after.
While her band has had many variations over the years, Kirby has worked with people who come from various music backgrounds, which has helped her find more of what she likes to write. “As I’ve gotten a bit older, and less inclined to make things feel like folk songs, structure has definitely gotten less important to me.” Kirby’s album Cool Dry Place demonstrates the perfect transition into her indie-rock genre, as it shows how she veers away from religion and folk music, finding more of a love for solid, beautiful songs. “It sounds better to pose statements as questions,” she says is one of the things she incorporated into this album.
Cool Dry Place sort of tells the story of Kirby figuring out who she is, what she truly believes in, and what kind of music she really enjoys, which has been identified as indie-rock, of course. Kirby set herself free when putting together each song of this album, being sure to experiment, but still find herself. “I had to let go of wanting to seem impressive and sonically sophisticated, but also swing for the fences in a writerly way and do things that I hadn’t quite tried before. I allowed myself to be completely fictional and to almost like consciously avoid the sort of “confessional” category that women with pretty voices and guitars wind up in against their wishes.” Kirby closes in on what her musical and self-discovery journey has been like with, “It’s just really the weirdest, and one of the darkest experiences that I’ve had, trying to rewire my brain to not have a loving God that’s ever-present in it. My relationship with that part of Christianity was very comforting and grounding in some ways, but it also was something I really need – even though it took more effort than I could have ever imagined – to step away from.”
Be sure to check out Cool Dry Place here!