Analogue Music | Kate Davis

Kate Davis

By Matt Conner

Fish Bowl would have served as an appropriate album title even several years ago for Kate Davis.

While the striking music of Davis these days is a far cry from her classically trained jazz/pop background, the idea of being in the fish bowl, with eyes on her in ways she didn't necessarily want or ask for, was part and parcel of her journey at that stage. It's also something she's worked incredibly hard to get away from, to move beyond the earliest parts of her musical success in exchange for making art on her own terms—and the chance to curate her own voice in the process.

Coming on the heels of Trophy is her latest album, Fish Bowl. The 12 tracks are rich with thoughtful sonic flourishes and personal themes with each song comprising part of a narrative whole around a central fictional character, Fibo. It's Davis's own way of detaching from and wrestling with the demons that remain and the confusion that still fogs the picture from time to time—no matter how much more healthy she feels these days.

On the verge of her debut with ANTI-, we asked Davis about her journey to this point and the healing that comes through making music.

Analogue: I read this larger background story of you wanting to separate yourself from your classically-trained background and you had the chance to make Trophy. It feels like you accomplished that, but I wonder how much of that was still something that describes your story.

Kate Davis: Internally, it’s been hard for me to fully accept the scope of the story, because it feels like baggage, you know? Trophy was the big moment where I was publicly stepping out and saying, ‘Okay, I'm not, not doing this poppy jazz stuff anymore. That's not where my career is going or it's not where I feel most comfortable working and being.’

I felt like I have a lot of convincing to do, if that makes sense, putting out that first record, in the aftermath of everything that had happened with the “I’m All About That Bass” video and all the eyes that I had on the jazz part of my career. It felt like I had to really fight to get people to take that seriously. That might have also just been something that I was feeling internally, but people were very attached to what I had done. I felt that and I had a lot of responses from people, and there were a lot of fans that hung on from the older days, who expressed a lot of disappointment. That was not easy to hear.

But that's what happens when you when you change it up. You don't always keep the same fans, and the two musics are quite different. So it's always felt a little bit like a balancing act. I'm not sure that I'll ever feel like I've crossed over fully to the other side, because I do have such a public history, if that makes sense. I'm just moving forward with it.

"I think that I wanted to almost push out the memories and pretend like none of that had happened, you know?"

Analogue: Yeah I’m glad you said that because I wondered about your present relationship with it all——

Kate: Yeah, during the Trophy era, I had a lot of shame about where I had come from and what I had done because I was moving into this new space. The music was my own writing and it was a lot more personal. There was something about it that felt more unique and authentic and everything that had come before was a product of music school, a product of I don't know… mixing commercial music and jazz music and that's a whole other can of worms as far as how I felt doing that.

I think that I wanted to almost push out the memories and pretend like none of that had happened, you know? I think there was a lot of fronting that went on like, ‘Oh yeah, I'm a different girl. I'm a different artist and I'm doing something extremely different.’ I felt a push even physically to change, to be different to look at even, because there was there was so much weird negativity attached.

There was there was a lot of weird, uncomfortable sexualization that happened, if that's not too weird to say. Objectification and a lot of people said a lot of things to me on the internet after that video came out that had absolutely nothing to do with the music. And that that was a really painful, very difficult part of the whole process. I'd be lying if I said it wasn't one of the big things that also deterred me. It just made me want to run far, far away, but it was on the internet. So there was nowhere to run.

Analogue: Has Fish Bowl allowed you to move on in a way?

Kate: Yeah, that was your question. Well, you know, I’ve had some separation from it. It's been many, many years since it kind of exploded and I was in that time of my life. And there are a lot of really tragic things I was going through at the time that the viral video happens, like I lost my father. I was really struggling with alcohol abuse. There were just a lot of really sad things that kind of defined the time in a way almost more than the morality did. So just having the space away from it, I feel like I've been able to really process and go back and take a different look at the whole thing and have a lot more kindness for that girl.

I've done a lot more processing and I feel like I'm trying to now integrate the past with where I'm at moreso than push it away, which I think is a much healthier way to deal with it. But you know, a lot of that has to do with like facing pains square in the eyes and concerning parts of myself. It’s a psychological wonderland. But it has really evolved.

I think there was something really deep about making Fish Bowl. The relationship that I had to the writing voice was very different than on Trophy. And also, the art side felt very different because there was a lot I was working through that had to do with being a woman and my own sexuality and perception. I was trying to remove the male gaze and reinstate the female gaze or how I want to see myself instead of how to make myself small or submissive, in order to like appease a demographic, which I'm not sure if I was doing but there was just not a whole lot of freedom that accompanied that part of my career.

And so, Fish Bowl feels like a very different chapter and kind of foray into womanhood. It felt a little bit like I was more comfortable with myself and more comfortable acknowledging everything that had happened, and then responding to that, instead of trying to keep pushing things down, which I've been doing.

Analogue: Congratulations on all of that, really. It sounds so healthy. I know the new album has a narrative centered around a character you created. Did that allow you to process in this detached sort of way?

Kate: Yeah, absolutely. Yes, it totally was. I had all sorts of different chapters of healing, but I felt like I was going through a moment after the completion of the music… The music and the art were two different time periods in two different worlds, which I also think is kind of interesting in the conversation of the album. The album always had the sense of otherworldly-ness and was influenced by a lot of liminal themes—not on earth kind of stuff. I felt like I was getting in touch with this voice that felt a little bit less earthly, I guess, if that makes sense. It felt like I was able to connect to a part of myself that was a little less awkward and on the ground.

I developed a really intense writing practice, starting in 2020. Having all these tours and things being canceled after Trophy came out, it just occurred to me that I really hadn't taken the time to hone in on my songwriting style and process in the same way that I had put so much effort and energy into becoming good at other things in the past. So that whole process writing-wise really did take me to another world.

So then, once the music was recorded and everything felt like it was in its space, I feel like I took it even further back and was processing some of the things I was going through at the time, which were also quite painful but through the lens of this character. It was almost like having a friend in the whole process of dealing with my current situation.

I suffer a lot from leaving situations, like dissociating, not being in my body. And so it was, in some ways, a really helpful way to find another kind of voice to then tell this narrative that was obviously coming from a more whimsical and almost mythological place. It just helped me process more of what I was going through without having to have it be real.

Analogue: When you're able to kind of craft this character and and live through it in that way, does that allow you to do some different things musically, too?

Kate: Yeah, I think that like some of the ideas that I had were about these different phases and interacting with different people. I think it was a little bit out of order as far as like what influenced what, but there are kind of different parts of myself that I feel like are sprinkled in narrative order throughout the album.

So I guess Fibo, which is what I'm calling this character, goes through this cycle, this journey, which I had originally conceived as this big kind of circle with different markers on it that indicated different portions of the journey, it's kind of like Hero's Journey [Joseph Campbell] kind of model. She evolves at these different segments because of what she's encountered.

Fish Bowl cover art
Fish Bowl cover art

I feel like that is a part of the structure of the music, not so much within one song but each each song might breathe a little more into this aspect of the emotional experience for the character. And while this other song is on the opposite side, it’s still the same character, you know?

It's just more nuanced stuff that allows for the music to be operating in different worlds itself, outside of having to see a visual world where I'm saying, ‘Oh, no, she’s driving down an endless freeway somewhere in the middle of the desert, but it's never light outside, it's always dark. And we can see planets and there's a bunch of unreal stuff.’ But my hope is just trying to get different tones and emotions evoked from it.

So to answer your question, every single thing kind of has its own little world, whether it's the song or the visuals.

Analogue: How is your relationship with some of these songs going to change in a live setting?

Kate: Depends I think the configuration. I’ve really had an interesting time stripping them down. I wrote most of them on the guitar and I'm kind of a screwy guitar player, because I come from the bass. I don't have a lot of the muscle memory and shape literacy that most guitar players do, but because of that, I kind of play like myself, which I prefer.

I've spent a lot of time trying to reduce these songs or just try to find ways to bring the original demo guitar part into more of the sonic world that was created by the album, but just with one instrument. So a lot of it's kind of been getting back into the song emotionally and figuring out what it means.

Sometimes parts change. Groove isn't really the right word, but the way you feel music rhythmically, can make a change because that feels even more sad like in a stripped down way. I felt like I was very motivated by color. And so yeah, a lot of these have been reduced and recontextualized emotionally. I’m just trying to think about it from this emotional place as kind of a ham-fisted guitar player.

Analogue: Obviously the album comes out at the end of this month, but what else is happening for you that you’d like to share?

Kate: Yeah, well, I'm heading out to Europe in May to do some touring, which I'm very excited about. One of my last big things before 2020 was going on doing a full tour all over Europe and it was a life-changing experience for me. So I'm excited to go back out there.

I’m still working on a lot of the art that accompanies the album. I'm working with an artist out here in L.A. named Molly Dario. We’ve decided to make 30-second visual worlds for each song, so all of the singles have their 30-second video, obviously. But once everything is done and released, you're gonna be able to have these little pockets of visuals for each thing to help tell the story of this experience of this journey for the character. Every single one of them is different.

We're continuing to work on that and hoping to just travel and tour as much as I can. And of course, I'm also thinking about what's next and kind of where I feel myself called musically just because I’m very impatient. I can't seem to wait or just bask in the moment. I’m always thinking about how to keep moving.

VISIT: Kate Davis

Photo: Maciek Jasek