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CoG Interviewed Katie Eastburn at the Wonder Ballroom, Portland, OR April 2007

Jon Miller, drummer of Swallows/COG Guest DJ Coordinator, has a knack for making mix CDs. When we first met he won my friendship by showing off his impressive music collection and introduced me to one of my top 5 favorite singers in the indie world, Katie Eastburn of the Young People.

I immediately fell in love with her clear, alto croon which guided the experimental art pop instrumentation of the Young People through catchy melodies. I decided this band was pure genius and decided to make it a priority to tell everyone how much I loved them. One of these people just happened to see a flier advertising a low-key solo performance by Katie Eastburn in Brooklyn and went to check it out. After the show, my loyal music loving friend approached Katie Eastburn to have her autograph a limited edition solo demo and sent it to me along with her contact information stating that she would be coming through Portland on her first solo tour. I was incredibly excited to receive new music and thought I would contact Ms. Eastburn for a chat. She agreed and I marked my calender and I did my research learning that besides being an incredible vocal talent she has a passion for dance, is a coordinator for New York City's viBe Theater Experience and a head music coach for the viBeSongMakers. The day of the show was a beautiful day; one of the first days of sun in months. Naturally, we decided to enjoy the weather on a staircase behind the Wonder Ballroom and discuss life on the road and her numerous projects and accomplishments.

CoG: How have the shows been going on your tour?

Katie: Fabulous. The two bands I'm traveling with [Xiu Xiu and Sunset Rubdown] are wonderful to watch and wonderful to hang out with. The crowds have been great and it has been going really well.

CoG: Have you done solo tours before?

Katie: This is my first time out as a solo artist. The only other solo music performance I have done was in the winter in New York. I had a residency at Monkeytown which is near my house. I was going there for night caps and at a certain point I asked the owner if he had anything going on Monday nights. He was like "no". I was like "Can I bring my piano over and play on Monday nights?" He was thrilled and it was great. It was basically like a lab and gave me an opportunity to work out the whole solo performance thing which was a challenge I gave myself to do because Young People has been bi-coastal for a few years. It was good for what it was but once we finished our big tours last spring I just really wanted to pick up and play without it being a big huge "to-do". I had that solo fix with dance but thinking about playing solo musically was really terrifying. That made me want it to be a challenge I would do.

CoG: Why do you think playing alone would scare you?

Katie: As a musician I have always performed with the wall of sound that is Young People. It was just the challenge of making the arrangements that I could do on my own, stand alone and be full enough from what I can do with just my four limbs.

Live at the Wonder Ballroom, Portland, OR, 4-20-07. Filmed by Em Brownlowe.

CoG: What is your set up when you play solo?

Katie: I have a digital piano, 88 keys, and a kick drum for my left
foot and for the sustain pedal foot I have a piece of wood that my
sweetheart made for me that has a doll-rod sticking out of it that I put a
tambourine on that I can click with my heel. Totally like Mary Poppins. So there are like four things going on at once in my brain and singing on top.

CoG: You mentioned you've been bi-coastal with Jarrett of Young People. How does the collaboration work in terms of songwriting?

Katie: It was only possible for us to work that way because we did spend
three years living in LA and New York and playing several times a week
together. Having that experience under our belt and being familiar with
each other and our tendencies. So when we ended up in different cities and kept writing. I would just demo on my little hand held tape recorder and he would demo stuff on Garage Band and send it to each other. If he sent me 8 ideas I may respond to 3 of them and then I would add stuff and send it back and vice versa. After several months of that we were able to demo an
album's worth of material on Garage Band and piece it together. Then we got together in LA to record it.

Katie Eastburn recording All At Once with Rod Cervera

CoG: How did the final recording process of All At Once go?

Katie: It was awesome. It was just the two of us, with our engineer Rod Cervera. And Chris Cohen [The Curtains, Deerhoof] played drums on one song. We joked around saying we could have done the whole thing absentee also because I would go in and lay down a piano and then he would go in and lay down whatever he would add and then I would go back and add something else. So there was little we actually played together simultaneously in the studio. It was very much a layering process. I guess that's because that's how it was written.

CoG: Describe your musical upbringing and artists that made a big impact on you growing up.

Katie: I grew up in Nashville and Hawaii mostly...and Colorado. I grew up very steeped in Methodist Church music and country music and my dad was really into classic rock like Led Zepplin. When I learned to drive I started singing in the car a lot to Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Roy Orbison, Bjork, Cat Power, Lucinda Williams and Gillian Welsh and anyone who was a good melody writer and someone in my range. I would just drive around and sing and I think that's how I learned to sing just by doing that. Then I was in choir in school.

CoG: Did you have any formal voice training?

Katie: Choir was the only formal voice training. I was a soprano and an alto so I learned different ways. Then I was in piano lessons when I was little and then I played the flute in junior high. Then I sort of stopped the music thing and turned to dancing. I've been dancing my whole life but really focused on it in high school and college. I didn't start writing music until I was out of college and living in San Francisco.

CoG: What is the first song you wrote?

Katie: The first song I was wrote the song "Stay Sweet" which is on the first Young People record. I was in a postmodern dance workshop in San Francisco and we had to pair up with someone, get on the floor, hold their head in our lap and sing them a lullaby. I wrote that song there. After that dance workshop it just sort of validated all the little melodies that were going around in my brain.

Young People, www.toopure.com

CoG: How did you hook up with Young People?

Katie: I met Jeff Rosenburg in San Francisco when i was putting together my first solo dance performance. I knew what I wanted the soundtrack to be in my head. He validated the idea, helped me record it and made it real and encouraged me to keep writing. When I was in Berlin I wrote a handful of songs. When I relocated to LA, he and I met Jarrett. Those were the original tunes that became Young People songs.

CoG: Tell me about the dancing aspect of your creative life.

Katie: It really started to be a productive thing when I moved to LA. The first week I was there I met Jarrett and his room mate, Jane Paik, and within three days Jane and I were performing a dance piece together. We were totally on the same page. Then a third person, Lindsey Beamish, started to make dance with us and Leg & Pants Dance Theatre was born. We had a really great trio where we shared choreography duties and we started making 30 minute shows that we would then tour like a rock show. We did bills with Deerhoof, Xiu Xiu, the Gossip and all the west coast bands that were coming up at the same time. We'd open the show and it was all multimedia and we'd use films and slides and we wrote a lot of the music we'd use...costume changes...we brought our own lights. We would sort of just show up at the club and tape of the floor and throw down a show.

CoG: Did that sort of evolve into Starter Set, the dance video you released on Kill Rock Stars?

Katie: In 2004, Slim Moon approached me and asked if I wanted to made a dance DVD. It was his idea out of the blue and I was like "Yes!" There were a whole handful of musicians and choreographers that I put together. Then I ended up recording a song for it, choreographed a chapter and danced in a different chapter. It was this fairly crossed pollinated thing that came together on a DVD in January 2006. Then we went on tour with Deerhoof to celebrate.

CoG: Is there a similarity to the creative process of choreography and music?

Katie: Yeah, totally. I usually end up in a room that has a piano and floor space. If I sit down at a piano and write music I start to want to move around and vice versa. If I have an assignment to move around I'll start wanting to make music. They're very intertwined.

CoG: Besides musical and dance influences what inspires you to create?

Katie: I really like movie musicals and soap operas.

CoG: What are some of your favorites?

Katie: I love The Young and the Restless. I've been really obsessed with The Gold Diggers of 1933. There's a song in my set that I stole from that movie. Chorus Line with Michael Douglas is my all time favorite song and dance. I also have a DVD of the Judy Garland show. She had a weekly show on CBS where she was the host and she would sing and do big production numbers and she would have musical guests each week. It's really incredible and was a big influence on me for the dance DVD and a lot of performance I've been doing ever since I've watched it. The costumes and presentation are really awesome and of course I'm a huge Judy Garland fan vocally.

CoG: If you could only listen to three artists to listen to for the rest of your life who would you take?

(((Moments of silence with birds chirping in the background)))

Katie: Wow! I'm not good at lists of favorites. I would take Judy Garland, Neil Young and I'll have to keep thinking of the third one.

CoG: What type of music do you like to dance to?

Katie: I really like dancing to Top 40 Hip Hop and R&B. Then I really like to dance to noise music.

CoG: Who were your female role models growing up?

Katie: My mom, my grandma, my aunts. We have a big, tight family with strong women.

CoG: Did you do a lot of performing growing up?

Katie: Yeah. Dance recitals, music recitals. I started doing theater in junior high and all the way through college too.

CoG: Do you identify yourself a feminist? Does this have a relative role in your music or choreography?

Katie: Yes! The other major thing I do is that I am a teaching artist in New York City for an organization called the viBe Theater Experience.

CoG: What is the viBe Theater Experience?

Katie: It's a performing arts company for girls, exclusively. We audition and recruit girls from high schools all over the city. It started out as a play writing program and I would go in to coach choreography and they would have a song writing day for the plays. We just kept getting incredible singers and songwriters in the plays and in the play it would always just sort of be A Capela in the midst of whatever dramatic stories were going on. After a couple of years, my friend Dana Edell, who runs it, and I decided to make a songwriting program. It's called the viBe SongMakers and it has evolved into a 6 month program where beginning to end the girls take piano lessons, music theory and I had teaching artists from the music community I'm familiar with come in to teach guitar, bass, drums, drum machine programming. The girls write a record and it is very collaborative and write duets, trios and individual songs too. The adult musicians are there to be their backing musicians if they write something they can't play. They write an album, we spend a weekend in a professional recording studio and then we get the record manufactured and play a handful of shows in clubs around New York City. Dana, the executive director, is in a PhD program at NYU and she's writing about viBe. I think ultimately the goal is be able to write a lot about it and have it be something that people can do elsewhere.

CoG: What are some of the names of the groups that come out of this program?

Katie: The first one the girls named themselves Hot Fire. The second one called themselves 6figures. The most recent group is called W.A.N.T.E.D. which stands for We Are Naturally Talented and Expressively Divine.

CoG: Is there a place online people can learn about the Vibe Songmakers?

Katie: Yes! myspace.com/vibesongmakers and www.vibetheater.org has a description of programs including solo performance, poetry and dance. You can order the Cds through the website. The albums are incredible. It's music by teenage girls from New York City so it's just the hottest
awesome pop music. It's really cool.

CoG: What makes the New York creative scene different from other cities you've lived in or passed through on tour?

Katie: That is a multi-faceted answer. I needed to leave LA because I couldn't live in the desert anymore. I really missed the seasons. I spent a summer in New York and my friend Dana had started viBe and I worked with viBe and fell in love with a boy and the city. And fell in love with not driving and fell in love with the heat and the rain and the thunderstorms and the muck and how you could walk every where. I decided to move.

It was a really hard move because it did take me a couple of years to make really close friends because I did have such a tight creative community in Los Angeles. I really held onto it for awhile. I would fly back and keep working with Jane, Lindsey and Jarrett. I believe those are life long relationships that will continue and we will keep trying to muster up the strength to travel to work together. What I have found is that it is really similar between New York and LA. I think it just came down to a lifestyle thing for me. I just didn't want to live in the desert and drive everywhere.

There is an equally exciting music scene in both cities…and dance as well. It's happening in both places. I actually haven't found a dance class in New York that I like and my favorite dance teacher lives in LA. On the other hand, I have a bunch of musical collaborators in New York that I love. Like the women I work with in viBe are amazing and are genius musicians and are all really committed to the project with the girls. viBe keeps me there because I think it's really unique.

CoG: Why is viBe so important for young girls who are interested in songwriting to have access to?

Katie: It is a space just for them to say what they want to say and be heard. A lot of times, the biggest part of my job is to give them time and space. And tools. It's all there, the songs are there. The main thing I try to get across to them is to own your time. That is what I think is really crucial as a woman or growing up into a woman you're just pulled in so many directions. Maybe men are too. I guess they are in different directions. Whatever they end up doing I tell them to own their time. This is your time. This is the only time you have. It's up to you how you're going to spend it. Whether you're a banker or if you do become an artist or work at a coffee shop for the rest of your life just be sure that you can recognize the time you do have for yourself. I want them to be able to feel that beautiful creative space. I think it's a safe space and a really important and healthy space. It keeps you sane, in my opinion. Once you find it you can find it wherever you are.


You can learn more about the lovely Katie Eastburn and her impressive projects online:


By emBROWNLOWe + Church of Girl
13 July 2007