Katy Kirby on Religion, Touring, Texas, and Happy Accidents

Katy Kirby on Religion, Touring, Texas, and Happy Accidents

Katy Kirby's Cool Dry Place was on regular rotation last year, a great indie album with sneakily sharp songwriting. I got on the phone with Katy a few weeks before SXSW, so obviously we're a little temporally out of place publishing-wise here, but I don't think it'll be too distracting. You be the judge.

‎‎Tell me about how touring has been going.

It's been going really good! We started out with Fenne Lily and Illuminati Hotties on the first leg, and now we've joined forces with Sun June. We're making our way around the East Coast and then back down to Texas for SXSW. We're gonna stay with my mom, I think. Right now I'm chilling in the continental breakfast area.

What's the breakfast like?

Honestly? So good. I'm kind of impressed. Usually it's terrible, but I'm eating these scrambled eggs, and they're so decent.


I know! You never eat the scrambled eggs. It's always a mistake. But in this case, it's kind of working.

What a nice surprise. Will this be your first time going to SXSW?

Nuh-uh. I grew up near Austin, so I was adjacent to it in high school. I remember being like, "Wow! So cool!" We went officially in 2019, and we were supposed to go again in 2020, but we didn't, obviously. I'm pretty excited to go back.

I'm always interested to hear what Texans' perspective of SXSW is.

Growing up, it felt like if I got to be downtown during SXSW at all, it was very exciting—a sense of possibility. A part of me still really looks forward to it in that way. There's so much to see, and so many different types of bands that, even as hard as I try to be exploratory in my listening, I may not get exposed to. So that's always very exciting, to hear different things.

Now that I'm a little bit older, it does just feel like a lot of traffic happening. [Laughs] But I think it'll be good! I dunno. It freaks me out a little bit to imagine thousands of people coming in from everywhere and all being drunk for a weekend and leaving—just from a COVID standpoint. But, you know...

Not much we can do about that at this point. Tell me about your experience touring during COVID.

We'd never been on a proper tour before COVID happened, but we went out with Waxahatchee in the fall. We were very careful, and so were they. It was heartbreaking to not really have the ability to see people while we were passing through town, but we got a lot more sleep.

It was another layer of things to worry about on tour, both from a logistical standpoint and in terms of having something to attach stress to. But it wasn't horrible, I guess. I don't know any better. We managed not to get COVID for five weeks while traveling constantly, so that's something, at least.


Touring can be really hard in general. Are there any routines you have in place to manage how grueling it can be?

Self-care stuff on the road is so hard. The only thing that I've found noticeably helpful is not talking to each other in the van—in a nice way. [Laughs] Whenever that feels good, everyone should just stop talking. Not talking is so good for you. Who knew! Also, being asleep as much as possible is what I find helpful, which is also very hard.

Logan, my guitar player, is sitting right next to me, and we are not talking. He's reading a novel. He's not even listening. He's bewildered that I'm talking to him at all. [Laughs]

I talk a lot in general, so one of the things my wife and I have gotten used to over the last 13 years of being together is her telling me, "OK, it's time for you not to talk for about an hour."

That is so functional, and adorable.

It helps! You grew up in Texas but you live in Nashville now, right?


Tell me about growing up in Texas.

It was...good? I spent most of it home-schooled, and in high school I started going to a private Christian school—which probably could have been a lot more toxic, scary, and bewildering, but for me at least, was not terribly damaging ultimately. Anyone I know who I grew up with who was queer or gender nonconforming, now or then, had a much worse time with it, obviously. It was a reasonably hardcore religious background, minus any overt colorful cult stuff, of course. But not an unloving community at large, I guess, just pretty serious about it all.

But I like Texas, honestly. It's pretty chill. I've been trying to get people I know to move to Houston with me, as a joke, but no one wants to do it because it's so fucking humid there. It's a really big place, and I forget that. We drove through with a bunch of Europeans in the car a couple of weeks ago—from the border near Arizona to Dallas, so it was nine hours. It's a weird place, and driving across it with a bunch of British people highlighted that.

Tell me about your relationship with faith at this point. Is it something that you've carried with you?

It's in the background. God will probably always live in my—no, I'm not gonna say that, never mind. [Laughs] The other day, I made a joke to my friend that I kind of don't believe in evolution. Not because I don't believe in evolution—I definitely do. But I wasn't taught it as a child—in fact, the exact opposite—so sometimes when people are talking about that part of science, there's a voice in the back of my head that says, "Hmm, I don't know about that. That just doesn't make any sense to me."

It's a hilarious leftover reflex. It's kind of hard to get that stuff out of your head, in conclusion—but not impossible, and the stuff that's left over is pretty manageable, so it's chill.

What's living in Nashville been like?

It's been super peaceful. I don't really want to live there, to be honest, but it made the most sense to stay put there in between last fall's touring and right now, so I stayed there last fall and this winter. I worked at a vegan restaurant, chilled out, dated someone, had a chill time. It's fine. I've lived there for, like, nine years now, so it feels like a hometown.

Where would you want to live?

I spent a lot of time in New York this past summer, and I have a lot of friends there, so I'd like to go back there, I think. No one else in my band wants to live in L.A., so New York seems like my only option. My guitar player's laughing at me, because he also lives in New York and he hates L.A. [Background voices] He says he doesn't hate L.A. You kind of hate L.A., though.

I live in New York, and I definitely understand the impulse to dislike L.A.

It's easy to dislike, as a personality—but, also, it's rad.


I really liked the record you put out last year. I'm curious to hear about what it took to put it together.

It was long, and we didn't know what we were doing, and we still don't, obviously. Logan and I started demoing those songs in late 2018, I think—he's nodding "Yes." By the end of 2019, I think we'd had everything tracked. It was all of these songs that I'd written over a five-year span, and I was also learning how to make a record for the first time with basically no money at all.

Through that process, we met people and figured out how to make a record, and I'll always think of that record that way. I still like it, but it definitely feels special that way. You only don't know what you're doing once or twice, and it's interesting to hear what that turns into.

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What were some of your earliest attempts at songwriting?

I didn't properly write a song until I was 16. My mom would write little songs in a devotional way, in her journal, and that was normal to me as a five-year-old—which is unusual, probably. To be that young and have the idea that writing songs is just a thing that people do sometimes. That seems kind of weird, ultimately. I'd tinker around with stuff at that time, but it wasn't until I was older that I was like, "OK, this makes sense, it's good and I like it." And then I kept writing songs—which is crazy, because I guess that means I've been doing this for ten years now. Huh.

How did it feel to share your music with other people after writing privately?

It was super vulnerable—but it also wasn't. My mom normalized it for me enough that it didn't feel insane to be doing that, and I did play a couple of songs once or twice at a coffee shop in high school—which was scary, but also I wasn't that scared for some reason. I went to college, and I was a songwriting major, which I didn't keep up with.

But I was meeting a bunch of kids who were just like me and considered themselves budding songwriters. That was super intimidating, and there was a year and a half where I was like, "I dunno if I'm gonna do that." I didn't know whether I wanted it bad enough. But I managed to work up the courage to show people songs, and people were nice about it. That was encouragement enough to keep going.

I really love your song "Traffic!," which I hear a little bit of Vampire Weekend in some of the vocal manipulation.

There's hella manipulation. I do fuckin' love Vampire Weekend, obviously. The reason why there's Auto-Tune on that track specifically is that, in late 2018 when Logan and I were demoing it, I had this cold and I'd been working in a call center where my voice was tired all the time. I recorded a scratch vocal on the demo and asked him to throw pitch correction over the entire thing, because it was a little pitchy and I didn't like how it sounded, so I wanted to ignore it and focus on the rest of the song.

So we put Auto-Tune on it, and I kind of liked it, and the demo stayed that way for a long time. When it came time to re-record it, I fought for it to stay like that, because it felt totally appropriate. I was attached to it by then.

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Jamie Larson