Hey Kat. Can you give us some insight into the writing process of La Rosa, La Calavera?
Well, I think that it started with me listening to all the musical doodles I had put on tape over the previous two years. There were things that really stuck out in that pile of mostly crap that I thought should go on the record. So I spent time with about 5 of those songs and really poured over the lyric sheets and tried to figure out what the right lyrics were, then I ultimately had to learn those songs (as in most cases they were stream of consciousness bits I’d just thrown onto tape) and continue to feel them through, re-write verses, add a musical interlude, bla bla bla. I think this was definitely a picture of me really trying to nut through the songs and develop meaning vocally, musically, and lyrically. Usually, or rather, often, the songwriting process had been a picture of me doing the stream of consciousness things and then never touching it again. This time I spent more time on some of the songs. Some of them were s.o.c. and then never touched again, but that was only the case when I really felt that the songs were done. Sleeping Winter Fool was s.o.c. and so was When Answers Don’t Come but I spent at least a solid year working on the lyrics for The Night Is A Veil. Anyways… It’s boring, I’ll stop talking about it.
As a treat to fans, you released 3 demo cdr’s before the release of La Rosa in exchange for monetary or inspirational support. What sort of things did you receive in support of your musical inspiration? Did anything in particular stick out or inspire anything in or for a particular song?
People were really amazing. I got money, books, poetry, art, and short stories (written by the people who sent them). There was an obvious benefit to the receiving money. I got to take off time from finding various temp jobs and really spend time on the record, not to mention take the time off needed to record the darn thing. People were very generous and I’m pretty sure every cent of it was spent on living while I was recording or paying the month’s bills. It was perfect. That’s the way the whole year worked actually. God just totally providing where money was concerned. Down to the cent. Anyways… the books I received were obviously also invaluable. I have a very strong belief that you MUST read in order to write. It’s imperative, especially in doing social commentary work.
One song in particular: Those Expensive Eyes, was written in direct conjunction with someone sending me an autobiographical short story. I sat down to some coffee to read it and when I was done I was totally amazed by the humanity of the story, what had been learned through it, and the writers boldness and bravery in letting me read it. I was so amazed that I wrote him that day and asked him to pray that God would use what I read to inspire something and that it would be appropriate to what needed to be said. Two days later that song was born (which I consider to be a minor miracle). It was a romantic story so I was able to interject some of my own life into it and vuala. That one was also very s.o.c. It was done and I didn’t even realize how much it was based on my own life until I had been performing it every night on tour for a month or so. I still am learning about meanings in those lyrics. That is definitely my favorite song on the record.
What was it like working with Lenz, Dooley, Swift, and Thompson? That’s an incredible “Cast of Characters”, if I say so myself!
Yeah, they’re all amazing guys. I don’t know. I think for the most part I could just trust in their amazingness and let them do what they wanted on the record. I wasn’t ever really worried about how the songs were going to turn out for the most part.
At what point in your life did you know that music was what you wanted to create?
At the beginning. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to sing. I just didn’t think it was possible until I was 19 or so. I had been told over and over again that it was an impossibility and I believed it. But the dream to sing and song write and do them as a living stayed in my heart and just wouldn’t let go. So I prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed and then all the sudden… it was possible. I mean, I’d had a sense of calling on my life in that area for ever… I really believe that I was praying things that were God’s will already but over the years I spent praying He did a few things in me: He gave me a singing voice, He developed my character, He gave me an ear for melody and guitar (I don’t know any music theory), He developed my character more, He gave me a heart for the music industry, He developed my character, He is giving me a realization that I shouldn’t pursue music: I should pursue Him and He will pursue music on my behalf, and we’ll see what comes next.
Can you give us some insight into your writing philosophy? What makes a song work and how do you approach writing them?
You know that’s probably the hardest question. Every song is so different. I guess the biggest thing for me is that I long to persue meaning (maybe sometimes to a fault) in songs. I want them to have an impact on people’s lives. Otherwise, what’s the point. When a song is done, I know, when it’s being born, I know, and I usually am aware of it’s purpose. I do however, and I think this is the most important thing, pray over the writing process. When I’m aware that a song is being written I’m in a mode of prayer that it will say what it’s supposed to and that someone will be touched by it. With “One More Second Chance” I wasn’t even going to finish that song. It was too personal and I felt sooo exposed even just singing it to myself. I couldn’t get the bridge right and so I was going to drop it and move on. But I remember very clearly feeling specifically on night like I needed to finish the song, that people “needed to hear it” and so I picked up the guitar… I started the song and when I finished it, the bridge had been written. It just came out of my mouth. Another minor miracle I think. And I have had people come up to me, even on hearing it the first time and tell me they cried or almost cried when they heard it. I can’t conjur that stuff up. That’s just God ministering to people’s lives.
You have toured quite a bit lately. Do you have any interesting tour stories to share with your fans? What was it like on the road with History (invades)?
Hmm… interesting touring stories… not really. God’s been using touring lately to point out some of my own character flaws… that’s not very interesting. The tour with History (Invades) was great. For those of you who don’t know, I wasn’t on the road with the band but two of their members were acting as my backup and one member of Atari Champ. They’re all very amazing boys and incredible musicians. I am really blessed to have spent so much time with them. I am also looking forward to what’s in store for all their futures. No one really knows this but a few people but Mike Morris from Atari Champ is actually quite the little unknown songwriter and a great guitar player. He and I think a lot alike where guitar in concerned actually.
“Sleeping Winter Fool” is such a beautiful song. Would you please talk about the development of this song and its meaning for you in particular?
I wrote this song after I saw Pedro the Lion live, for the first time. That performance, and a question that I asked and he answered, totally changed my life. They just caused me to see more of God and his grace. All of a sudden I knew the boundless freedom I had in Christ and who I was as an artist. That was a lesson that rheeled in my mind for at least a year.
The song was born more out of various frustrations I think than anything else. It was written totally on the fly… but I knew places that my mind pulled out inspiration. A big one was that I had just realized that music had become a huge idol in my life and that me caring so much about it was like in Ezekiel when he says that the church had been prostituting themselves to idols and high places and that it was like they had been joyfully bathing in their own blood. The next big one was that I kept having friends whom I knew were really struggling in their lives and didn’t care that they were falling away from God in the meantime. I was trying to keep them accountable and they just wouldn’t have it. So I was ultimately having to watch them destroy a great deal of their future in the process. I think bound in there was a fear that I was doing that very thing to myself and I had no idea how to be made free.
How did you come up with the title La Rosa, La Calavera?
This is very weird but the title came from a purse that my friend Sarah Enid (the girl that has done all the artwork and most of the photography for various records) gave me. The actual name comes from 2 cards in a Mexican Bingo game. I became mildly obsessed with Mexican folk art at this time and so it was just all germinating in my head. – Between tours I was sitting in a cubicle, waiting for the phone dialers to call some poor unsuspecting soul (I was telemarketing at the time) and my mind was wondering to what the album was going to be called. Well, two of my favorite cards in the Dec of La Loteria (the Mexican Bingo) were La Rosa, and La Calavera (the rose, and the skull). Ideas of themes of life and death filled my head and in conjunction with the songs I already knew were going onto the record it just made sense. I would make a record about life and death and various aspects of it. Most of the songs have aspects of both in them actually. Themes of life through death.
What are you listening to right now?
Almost Here by Unbelievable Truth (I have listened to that record at least once a month for the past 7 years) – Joshua Tree by U2 – Love and Affection by All Things Bright And Beautiful – OK Computer by Radiohead – Up by REM – Mutations by Beck – and Martinis and Bikinis by Sam Philips.
What are you reading and are there any authors that inspire your music?
I just finished Franny & Zooey by JD Salinger and Things Fall Apart By Chinua Achebe and am now working on Case For Faith by Lee Strobel.
My favorite books and the ones that I think inspire me the most are Cash by Johnny Cash, Girlfriend in a Coma by Douglas Coupland, The Collected Works of Weldon Kees by Weldon Kees (Poetry – and actually has probably inspired my writing style more than anyone else), Homegirls and Handgrinades by Sonia Sanchez (poetry), With New Eyes by Margaret Becker, Franny & Zooey by JD Salinger. Till We Have Faces by CS Lewis, The Great Divorce by CS Lewis. There are lots of others but they’re just not coming to mind right now.