As Katie Sullivan bows out as Katie Kim, she reflects upon her journey to date and what the future might hold.
“I had very strong imagery around the record, when I listened back to Mona I envisioned slime,” Katie Kim explains. She’s describing the striking visual representation for the first single from her fifth – and final under her moniker – record, Hour of the Ox. In the music video for Mona, Katie is doused in different colours of slime; her face covered by a deluge of vibrantly hued goop. “I didn’t want anything else,” she continues. “The slime was a mixture of powders we had to mix with warm water, it was actually quite pleasant! It was funny because we filmed it in Guerrilla Studios and Percolator were mixing in the other room and I would walk past to get some fresh air covered in slime every hour or so. They were fairly unfazed by the whole thing.”
Unfazed perhaps because of the longstanding creative partnership and friendship Katie (born Katie Sullivan) has shared with members of Percolator across various interesting projects over her career. One such triumph came in January 2021 when Katie teamed up with Percolator’s drummer Ellie Meyler and Lankum’s Radie Peat for a streamed performance entitled Nollaig na mBan with multi-disciplinary artist Vicky Langan as creative director. The trio, in perfect harmony with one another throughout the haunting set, performed a considered mixture of traditional songs, covers and some original material from Katie Kim’s catalogue.
The event (still available to watch online) remains utterly mesmerising and memorable due to the magic sparking between Peat, Meyler and Katie as they play music together and for the creative ingenuity and sincerity emanating from everyone involved. That extended to the integral figures in the background. Notably, John “Spud” Murphy, who worked the mixing desk for the Nollaig na mBan stream. A revered musician and producer, Spud’s profile continues to grow with his hand in several acclaimed acts such as Lankum, Ye Vagabonds, black midi, caroline and, of course, Katie Kim.
“The way I usually [make an album] is that I write, record and collect songs over a few years until it feels right to gather the right ones and turn them into a fully formed record. The process wasn’t different at all really [for Hour of the Ox], I brought demos to Spud and we began dissecting them, dressing them up, tearing them back up and generally shaping the whole thing,” she explains. Entangled in the essence of Hour of the Ox’s nine song-long tracklist are lyrically and structurally complex compositions that provoke deep introspection not only within the listener but from the artist. “Suddenly don’t like me / Suddenly don’t like yourself like you did before,” she intones on Golden Circles in the final suite of songs, one of the many fine examples of the album successfully articulating the challenging nature of self-reflection. Musically too, the listener becomes enveloped in the rich array of textures, a trait that has always set her apart from her contemporaries. Across the album’s duration, the instrumentation, elevated by a lush string arrangements – a central component to much of Hour of the Ox’s world-building – further demonstrates her deft artistry by juxtaposing light and dark notes as well as creating simultaneously claustrophobic and spacious settings within the song.
Expanding upon her working relationship with Spud, Katie describes their dynamic and how it translates into creating tremendously immersive recordings. “He listens,” she starts, “to the music and to the artist. He has excellent taste in music, also; his record collection is full of unknown gems and he’s introduced me to some of my favourite artists and songs. I’ve known Spud for so long now that I can’t even remember meeting him for the first time! He’s played in all kinds of iterations of my band and I’m just so comfortable with him. And he has great ideas and a gift for taking things to the next level sonically.”
Hour of the Ox is not only a document of great ideas, it’s a testament to Katie Kim always willing to bring her musical sensibilities into new realms. A lot has happened in the years since Katie’s third LP, Salt, a record that provided an introduction for many to her music. Aside from the arrival of another studio album (2020’s Charles / VVII), Katie packed in a lot of experiences – personally and professionally – that fed into her latest offering during that intervening period. “There was a house move, a tedious Visa application process, a break-up, a move to New York, a pandemic, relocating to the countryside alone in Waterford, a move to Dublin, and the opening of a tiny wine shop. I think if the circumstances were different, Hour of the Ox would have probably come out two years ago, but it didn’t feel right releasing it during all of that. To be honest, I really benefited from the break both mentally and physically. I fell in love with music again. I got to sit and stare into space for hours. It was glorious and I miss it dearly.”
The love Katie felt creating this body of work is abundantly clear. The arrangements are as atmospheric and inventive as ever. And while hers is an idiosyncratic sound, her vocal timbre has a spectral quality not unlike Beth Gibbons or a similar eeriness to Tirzah’s soundscapes can be detected. This is not only an album made by an exceptionally talented artist, it’s one made by a music fan. A cinematic air permeates the majority of the arrangements, it’s no surprise then that Katie was listening to a number of soundtracks during the recording of Hour of the Ox. Amongst them, Jonny Greenwood’s You Were Never Really Here and Mica Levi’s excellent compositional work for Under The Skin and Jackie. Elsewhere, Katie notes an impressively diverse range of influences from Scott Walker to Brian Eno and Wendy Carlos to Kim Gordon.
Furthermore, the period preceding Hour of the Ox was an extremely fertile period of collaboration. Salt Interventions brought Katie together with Crash Ensemble to present new interpretations of the songs from her 2016 Choice Prize nominated album. Elsewhere, she contributed to releases from a range of artists including Mike Scott and The Waterboys and David Kitt as well as composing for film. Such musical dexterity would suggest an attraction to this style of working. “Honestly, I always thought I shied away from collaborations or associated it with pure anxiety! But then I look back and realise I’ve actually done it quite a lot, without being aware of it. That might say something about the collaborations I’ve been involved with in that it feels comfortable and natural with these particular people for any creative anxiety attacks to stay away. I find that working with different people definitely forces you into the ring. I’ve probably ended up going places musically, I wouldn’t have gone writing alone.”
With Hour of the Ox heralding an end to the Katie Kim moniker, I’m curious about the decision to close that chapter and what the future holds for her. “I’d like to challenge myself and do something new or different. Somehow, I feel starting fresh would help me to do that. Who knows though? That won’t be obvious until that happens and I want to release another record. It’s only a name really and not even mine at that. It’s been with me for over 15 years and I associate it with old memories, old ideas now.” New ideas and memories may come sooner than Katie expected. “As I’ve been getting ready to launch Hour of the Ox, I’ve been playing around with new sonic elements. I’m finding it difficult to look back, I want to plough forward! So, I’ve inadvertently started writing the new record, so it’ll be exciting to play new music for people after so long.”
Words: Zara Hedderman
Photo: Thom McDermott
Hour of the Ox is out on Friday September 9, via Katie Kim.
Katie Kim plays The Button Factory on Saturday September 10, €19.49.