Friday, December 12, 2008

The Evolution of Katy Mae

Interview by Michele Zipp

Katy Mae, now a four-piece still from Brooklyn, is a band that knows how to evolve. Sure they haven’t gone from being called the Southern Strokes to sounding like an arena rock band like Kings of Leon (though I do like their new sound), but Katy Mae has found a way to make music with twangy guitars and stomp-your-feet sounds without feeling stale or expected. It’s great songwriting from four guys (Phil Doucet, Mark Levy, Hans Gutknecht and Brad Hill) with musical backgrounds and tastes that range from Motorhead to Hank Williams. But most will label them alt-country.

Alt-country has never been comfortable with its name. It’s a genre that I don’t even think Ryan Adams likes to be lumped into. So what do we call it? It’s all still rock and roll to me. I talked with Phil, singer and guitarist of Katy Mae, to find out how they found their winning sound.

Michele Zipp: You added a fourth member. How has that changed the band?
Phil Doucet: I always though having an additional guitarist would expand our sound and open up a range of musicality that three people cannot do live. The fact that Hans can sing as well is a bonus because I have always been a fan of harmonies. Adding this new element has already altered our sound -- initially just in the fullness of the band, but also the way we approach new songs. It’s still something I'm getting used to, but in a good way. We’re all happy with the sound of the band.

MZ: What prompted you to want to record an EP?
PD: The origin of our new EP, You May Already Be A Winner (Maggadee), was mainly to be a demo to listen how we sounded as a four piece. After we did the initial tracks, we realized that it sounded better than we expected, so our label agreed to release it. I think it serves as a bridge between where we've been and where we're going. For me, the title track and "Falls Down" are strong indicators of what is possible with Hans in the band. The fantastic lead work he does on "Winner" and the harmonizing on "Falls Down" wouldn't have been possible before.

MZ: How was the new EP received?
PD: So far the reviews of the new EP have been very good. It’s always a ratio thing -- a few bad reviews, but more good ones. I try to keep reviews in check -- they are opinions, so what does it mean if someone raves about you or if someone kills you? What is worth more? Naturally, you want the reviews to be all good, so I am glad the majority has been very favorable. Those people seem to get what we're doing and that makes me happy to know that some folks want to hear music that's not wrapped up in a haircut.

MZ: Is there a song that you think takes the band in a new direction because of the new addition?
PD: The songs on the new EP were written before Hans joined the band, some are older than last years full length, The Sweetheart Deal, and some were written after. One problem with Katy Mae is that there is never a shortage of songs, and selecting the ones to record is often difficult. So what happens is the ones that we don't record have the option to survive rehearsals and live shows and possibly make the next cut. We are in the process of writing new songs for a full length, which I am very excited about. As usual I'm sure most will be brand new, but there may be some older tunes that we never recorded. We are in the process of demoing and rehearsing now.

MZ: What bands have you opened for in the past year?
PD: After a national tour last year, we continued on to do a showcase at SXSW and for the most part we've been pretty busy playing and practicing. We've had the good fortune of playing some great places and opening for some great bands -- Mother Hips, The Drams, The Bottle Rockets, Jesse Malin, Heartless Bastards, Back Door Slam, and a bunch of others, too.

MZ: You're a dad now. How has that changed your music?
PD: About six weeks after my daughter was born I was thrown into the busiest period of the band; a six week tour, then home, followed by another week on the road, so it is more difficult, but it hasn't slowed me down. As far as writing, the only thing that's changed is the frequency of my "sit down in front of the TV and just play guitar until something sounds good" time. I'm at home with my child during the day so I have sneak in moments of inspiration…before my daughter eats my guitar.

MZ: Stanley, the band you were in before Katy Mae, was kind of similar to At The Drive In and that all ended just before ATDI got big. Do you think Stanley would still be around today if all that didn't happen with Profile records?
PD: That band, Mark (the drummer) and I played in, ran it's course. Things happened with the label that didn't help matters, but I think it all happened for a reason. The first Katy Mae songs were actually recorded before the end of Stanley. There is a problem with the music world, people want to figure you out and keep you inside that box forever. Toward the end of Stanley, we were writing some different types of songs and you could just tell that most people wouldn't give it a chance. I am very proud of what we did with Stanley, and I got to see this country many times over because of the band, but I think what I'm writing now was inevitable. I know that I don't have a protractor and a demographic chart of popular musical styles, so I guess what I write is just inside me...for better or worse.

MZ: Are you going out on tour?
PD: We will be doing some short tours -- Southeast, Midwest, and hopefully down to SXSW again. Touring is a little harder than it used to be -- the climate of music is different. The ascendancy of the iTunes world makes it tougher for working bands trying to build a fan base, a real live one, to get venues to give you a shot. But I think playing live is still the best way to hear a band, so we keep plugging away.

MZ: What bands are you listening to right now?
PD: I always listen to a pretty wide range of music -- Midlake, Centro-matic, Black Mountain, Band of Horses, and Fleet Foxes are some good ones. Some older essentials -- Hank Williams, Buck Owens’ Greatest Hits Vol. 1 and 2, Sweetheart of the Rodeo by the Byrds, anything by the Beatles (remastered catalog coming soon) Rolling Stones (from Beggars Banquet to Exile...essential), remastered Creedence sound amazing, as does the Replacements catalog…I'm gonna stop or I'll never shut up.

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