No Expectations 056: Blue Raspberry
A Taste Profile interview with songwriter Katy Kirby. Her excellent new album ‘Blue Raspberry’ is out 1/26 via ANTI-.
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Thanks for being here. Next week, there won’t be a new No Expectations hitting your inbox. I have to focus on my freelance workload over the next several days and don’t want to rush any future entry here just for the sake of publishing on a weekly schedule. This newsletter is still my favorite thing to do but I know that if I end up having to post something I’m not 100% proud of due to time constraints, it’ll lose some of its luster. I apologize for the delay but it’s better this way. This is purely a quality control move and I promise the next few editions of No Expectations, which include the most ambitious Discography Deep Dive yet, will make up for it.
If you’re reading this on the day it was published and live in Chicago, you should brave the cold for the Squirrel Flower, Greg Freeman, and Tenci show at Lincoln Hall on Friday. It’s going to be a blast. The gig is part of Tomorrow Never Knows Fest, which is a multi-venue music festival this city hosts in the middle of January. Some of the best gigs of my life have been because of TNK (to name one: Meat Wave, NE-HI, and PUP at Schubas in 2015). It’s a perfect opportunity to get out of the house and see some under-the-radar artists. At the show calendar below, you can check out several more TNK shows hitting beloved venues like Gman Tavern, Sleeping Village, Lincoln Hall, and Schubas.
This week, No Expectations is bringing back the Taste Profile interview series for a lively and fun chat with NYC songwriter and Friend of the Substack Katy Kirby. This post was written and scheduled before the devastating news of Pitchfork folding into GQ: solidarity with the talented laid-off staff and the writers and editors left to pick up the pieces with fewer resources.
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Taste Profile: Katy Kirby
Every once in a while, you’ll hear a new artist whose music is so finely tuned to your tastes that it stops you in your tracks. This happened to me in 2020 when I first heard Katy Kirby’s “Cool Dry Place.” It’s a beautiful track full of lovingly rendered hooks that slowly unfold into a snarling, guitar jam. It’s emotionally cathartic and goosebump-inducing indie rock that felt impossibly up my alley. The rest of the album was even better: each song felt like I’ve always loved it without ever being derivative or too familiar. I absolutely rinsed Cool Dry Place in 2021 and still associate the LP with the thrill of seeing friends in person again and the possibility that comes from making it through a tough year.
In 2021, I couldn’t shut up about the album and profiled the then Texas-based Kirby for VICE. During our chat, we found out we came from similar backgrounds, grew up around evangelical Christians, and now have pretty complicated feelings about religion, and we both discovered similar records at similar particularly formative periods in our lives. To date, it’s one of my favorite interviews I’ve done. Over the years since, it’s been an absolute joy to see her play in Chicago either headlining or opening up for acts like Julia Jacklin and Andy Shauf. She rules and I’m happy to report that her follow-up to her alltimer debut Blue Raspberry is excellent.
Blue Raspberry is the result of a personal upheaval and significant emotional growth. Where the tunes on Kirby’s debut originated when she was a college student in Nashville, the songs here tackle her life in New York City and as a press release states, serve as an “exegesis of Kirby's first queer relationship” that “traces the crescendo and collapse of new love.” While it maintains the stark vulnerability and striking intimacy of Cool Dry Place, the songs here are more confident and searching.
In the studio, she reunites with her bandmates and producers Logan Chung and Alberto Sewald who imbue Blue Raspberry with lush and inviting warmth. It feels like the most smartly rendered amalgamation of where indie rock and folk have tread over the last decade (think Andy Shauf, Lomelda, Alex G) and an enticing hint at where those genres are going. Everything Kirby has released so far from it like the lead single “Cubic Zirconia,” the Christian Lee Hutson-cowrite “Party of the Century,” and “Table” stand among her best tunes yet but my favorites are tucked within the tracklist and have yet to be released. Lock it in: this is a future alltimer.
In anticipation of its 1/26 street date (via her new label ANTI-), I called Kirby up to talk about three formative things in her life and the three things she’s really into now. Read on below for her Taste Profile interview.
Formative Album: Coldplay, Viva La Vida, Prospekt’s March/Life in Technicolor II EPs
No Expectations: I listened to Viva la Vida a ton in high school. Why did you end up picking not just Viva la Vida but the Prospekt's March EP?
Katy Kirby: There’s the Prospekt's March EP but the year after that they released another EP Life in Technicolor II which is just an instrumental track and then this silly little single of them singing around a piano called "The Gold Rush.” I loved Viva La Vida and everything that came with it. It seems like a more structured than usual Coldplay album. It feels like they had a better plan for that record. As a teen, it was exciting to hear the songs that didn't make it on the record, which made me think about making albums in a new way. I was like, "Oh, yeah, sometimes you just fuck around and it doesn't have to wind up on the record." But some songs on the EPs are weirder and cooler like "Glass of Water." The chorus of that is in 7/4. It's this funky meter that makes it weird but it still hits hard. All of the songs on that EP have something un-radio-friendly that makes them musically interesting.
Was Viva La Vida the record that got you into Coldplay or did you hear “Clocks” or one of the singles and got on board earlier?
I always hated “Clocks” honestly. I never liked that song in my life. Viva La Vida was the first one I heard. My friend’s mom had it in her car.
Viva La Vida was probably the CD most likely to be in your friend's mom’s car in 2008. I should talk though: I had it in the Honda Civic I drove throughout high school.
Having something in your CD player is a type of relationship with a record that is completely inimitable. Kids today will never understand having a fucking Tallest Man on Earth record in your CD player, and that's all you have on you so that’s what you're listening to. From just having that in your car, you will become more familiar with that album than The Tallest Man on Earth is. And that's fascinating.
It’s so true. It’s so funny by just being a teen and only affording a handful of CDs, the stuff you own becomes more important to you than it might be in the artist’s catalog. Because I had Modest Mouse’s We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank in the Civic in 2007, that’s my sentimental favorite Modest Mouse LP even though most of their fans think it’s one of their worst.
Right? I've long been a defender of Neon Bible by Arcade Fire for the same reason. Now, I'm not because it's really embarrassing at this particular moment in time but I know what you mean.
What other CDs were on regular rotation in your first car?
There were some mix CDs that friends made me in high school that had really good stuff on them. In college in Nashville, I had the same car and it was really hard to make my iPod work on it. So I went to my college library to the completely abandoned CD section and I checked out a bunch of albums that people had been telling me to listen to like Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Fiona Apple's The Idler Wheel, and Vampire Weekend's Modern Vampires of the City. I also checked out the Gotye album which is better than you'd expect. I listened to all of those over and over. The summers between my semesters in college, I was in Austin, Texas and I went to Waterloo Records and picked up Andy Shauf’s The Party and Whitney’s Light Upon the Lake. I think I just pulled some things from the staff recommendation section because I trusted the people who worked there. Those were all in regular rotation.
Formative Movie: Amadeus
Growing up, I remember when the movies my family owned were all VHS tapes but then when DVDs became a thing, Amadeus was one of the first DVDs my family owned. I haven't seen this movie since I was maybe in high school, but I remember thinking it ruled.
It does rule but I had a similar experience where I watched it in middle school because my mom picked up a copy of it on VHS at a thrift store because she was into classical music. I watched it and I was obsessed with it. It was my comfort movie. I would just watch it when I was bummed out.
Then I didn't see it for years but a bunch of friends of mine, the Frost Children, and some other buds got together recently for a movie night. We all drank red wine and I brought an Austrian treat, those little wafer things to stay on theme with Mozart. We watched the whole thing and I realized that this still is so good. To watch it with a bunch of friends who were also reacting to this movie in the exact same way that I did when I was in middle school was so validating. It holds up. And who makes movies about that depth of like, professional jealousy? Such a GOATed movie.
I loved how it focused so much on Salieri’s jealousy. It wasn’t just about Mozart’s talent.
You feel for the guy because that would fucking suck to be peers with Mozart.
It’s funny because the guy who played Mozart I recognized from Animal House.
Yeah, he was a frat guy! He’s also kind of a goof in Amadeus.
They really played up the little freak aspect in this movie, which I think is historically accurate. Mozart was a little freak. His wife was so hot in that movie too.
Formative Show: Empire of the Sun at Austin City Limits 2011
You’re from Texas and you’ve played ACL recently. Talk to me about your history with this festival. Was 2011 the first year you attended?
That was my first time going into the festival. I was super psyched. My parents let me go. I was 15. I got to go with this couple that went to our church named David and Gail Norris who were slightly older than my parents actually but listened to a lot of music. Gail Norris was the person who first informed me that the White Stripes broke up. I have a very vivid memory of this. They have been to ACL every year since its founding and I think still go. So I went to ACL that weekend, and I remember being really excited to see Empire of the Sun because I thought it was weird that they were playing. Arcade Fire also played that year and so did Coldplay, along with bands like Young the Giant. They were all good shows. It did rain and I did see Dallas Green from the City and Colour almost die from electrocution. He got too close to a mic and it shocked him. It was really raining so when the shock happened he staggered back. I thought he could’ve died but thankfully he didn’t.
Wow, what a memory. Thank god he made it.
I know! Empire of the Sun was one of the last shows I saw that weekend. I think my sibling was with me and they were maybe 13. I remember thinking, "Wow, we're teens at a music festival and this is so fucking cool." We went to see Empire of the Sun and no one was there also for whatever reason. I think a headliner was playing somewhere else. It was a really good show but there were so many dumb shenanigans in their set. At the end of the gig, the lead singer just pretended to die. He pretended to have a heart attack or a stroke or some sort of event and then collapsed on stage. Then these two people in black T-shirts come out of the wings to check on him. The band is still playing so it's obvious it's part of the show so he came back to life and played the hit again. It was so deranged. That was the craziest thing I had ever seen in my life. It was so bad but it also worked.
When you said this was the show you were going to pick, I looked up a couple of videos from it on YouTube and it looked ridiculous. They have all these silly outfits.
It looks so stupid. They don't need to do that because they're making objectively excellent pop music. Other acts that have followed after them where it's just good pop music like Jungle or Tame Impala or whoever doesn't do any of that shit. They're just like, “We're just some guys: You're gonna dance to this music because it's good.” But those motherfuckers thought, "We need hats. We need really big hats."
How was this formative for you?
Well, it’s because I did like it. At the time, I was so indie folk-pilled because it's 2011 and I'm 15 years old. I didn't realize how much stupidity and gaudiness could be a beautiful and animating force while also still being ridiculous and kind of laughable. I don't know. It just really really shook up my world.
Recent Songs: Hovvdy, “Portrait,” “Bubba,” and “Jean”
These are great. Hovvdy are also fellow Texans. What’s your relationship with this band?
I don't really have a super rich history with Hovvdy. They've just always been around and I've met them a few times. I know their wives. Their wives are really nice gals who I follow on Instagram. I've always liked Hovvdy’s music but for some reason, these last three songs really make my brain explode in a way that usually only the most sugary pop music does. I also think that there's something very strangely the 1975-coded about a couple of those songs. I do like the 1975 quite honestly.
I've listened to these songs enough that I'm like, “Something is going on. Someone done got possessed by Matty Healy.” There are all of these melodic lines that are uncannily like the palette that band uses. But mostly, they're just really good songs. And also, they sound so interesting. There's a lot of ear candy in them and there are really fun melodies but the recording is a little bit shabby or fuzzy on purpose. I was texting Bennett Littlejohn, who played bass on it and helped record it with Andrew Sarlo. He told me these songs were mostly voice memos, which is insane.
Recent Idea: Internal Family Systems
I was very close to becoming a psychotherapist after college so I have a very basic familiarity with this already. That said, there was a part of me that wanted to joke, “I saw Internal Family Systems open for Meat Wave at the Empty Bottle in 2015.” What made you pick this?
That’s a really great band name. It's basically a therapy school of thought. It's just sort of formalizing ways that people have been talking about things in psychology for a few centuries. But Richard Schwartz, who's the guy who came up with it, systematized it. So instead of assuming that your brain, or your internal world operates as one unified entity or personality, it's a bunch of different personalities that make up the whole. Everyone's kind of got a little bit of everything in them. We contain literal multitudes and each of those multitudes is a different little guy. While it sounds like you're describing everyone as really profoundly mentally ill, when you think about it for a second it kind of makes sense. It's really helpful.
Where did you first hear about it?
I think it was in The Body Keeps The Score, which my mom and I read. My girlfriend also knew about it and sent me a meditation by a guy who practices it. Being close to someone who is aware of the language of IFS makes you use that language a little bit too, because you're talking about the same thing. You're talking about feelings because you're lesbian and dating and stuff. I just bought the book a few weeks ago. It's cool.
What did you learn about yourself by reading this book?
More than anything, it felt like an intuitive way to think about my internal little world. Also, there's a foreword by Alanis Morissette. She’s apparently a big IFS gal. I’ve also seen her play at Austin City Limits before.
But yeah, I've always been a person who talks out loud to myself and argues with myself. I also grew up super Christian so praying inside my head and listening for the voice of God was a part of my life. So the concept that there are multiple entities inside my head is not a crazy one to me at all. The idea of internal dialogue from two separate entities feels pretty normal to me. IFS felt helpful and interesting. I thought, "I can use that."
Recent Entertainment: TV shows that believe in the inherent goodness of the characters in it
I think I know what you mean by this but I bet we’re thinking of different series that do this. Can you explain and say what shows come to mind?
It's just a vibe thing. I used to watch a lot of murder mysteries, especially British stuff. A British murder mystery is not the same as an American one: It's less dark usually. But yeah, I would watch television, ostensibly, to relax. I love television and I think that it's actually one of the coolest mediums because the stories can last years. You can do things in that context that you can't do in any other storytelling medium.
So take a show like The Americans. I fucking love The Americans. And it's great. Is it relaxing? No. Does it believe in the inherent goodness of people? Almost definitely not. That show is very dark and very complex.
Yeah, that show could get brutal.
Because I only watch one TV show at a time, and I can't flip back and forth. I've decided that I've watched enough dark television for a while. I love dark shows but I've started watching not dark shows recently like Schitts Creek. My mom said I'd like it and so did my friend Lane. They were right. It's uplifting as hell and that's nice. Bob's Burgers, which is a cartoon for adults, is a goodhearted show too. New Girl and The Office are examples too.
One that comes to mind for me is Joe Pera Talks With You
Oh my God, totally. I love shows that even when their characters are like being selfish little weirdos, will ultimately bring it back to say that people are worthwhile. That is so much harder to do than just making dark TV that's gritty and a bummer.
It’s so hard to do without being cloying. That’s why Ted Lasso got a lot of pushback but I’d argue it did a better job than some of its critics thought.
It doesn't even have to be like a sweet and inherently sweet show to sort of believe in the goodness of people. Bob's Burgers is not that sweet of a show. It's stupid and a cartoon for adults but there’s heart there.
I agree with you. I’ve been more of a movie guy lately but what you’re talking about is more likely where I’ll go with TV.
As someone who's only gonna watch one TV show at a time and is probably just gonna have it on ambiently more often than I'd like to admit, it's way better to be marinating in something that is vaguely happy. I should not binge-watch The Sopranos if left to my own devices, which I have done and will probably do again. Bad idea.
Blue Raspberry is out 1/26 via ANTI-. Preorder it here.
What I listened to:
The No Expectations 056 Playlist: Spotify // Apple Music
Katy Kirby, “Table”
Sam Evian, “Wild Days”
Odetta Hartman, “Goldilocks”
Helado Negro, “Best For You And Me”
PACKS (ft. tormentatropica), “Missy”
Daniel Romano, “Field of Ruins”
Dana Gavanski, “How To Feel Uncomfortable”
The Bakery Rat, “Drive It”
Desiree Cannon, “Radio Heat”
Lily Seabird, “Cavity”
Friko, “Where We’ve Been”
Adrianne Lenker, “Sadness As A Gift”
Marika Hackman, Big Sigh
When I’m recommending an album on No Expectations, I realize that not everything is going to fit squarely into a newsletter reader’s tastes. I write about albums because I like them and I know that not everything is going to be a hit with subscribers: some people signed up just for indie rock, others like my country recommendations, and a few are here because I covered Chicago hip-hop extensively throughout my career. No matter your personal genre preferences, Marika Hackman’s new album Big Sigh is so tasteful and impressive that I believe anyone who listens to music with an unwavering curiosity will come out rewarded from it. While the U.K. songwriter has explored folk, electronic, and Britpop on her previous LPs, Big Sigh is a masterclass in timeless, stripped-down, and brooding pop songwriting. It’s an album that finds its thrills in classic melodies, deceptively dense arrangements, and patient atmospherics. There’s a bit of Radiohead, Dido, and Sharon Van Etten all meditatively wrapped in mesmerizing electronic compositions.
What I watched:
Scrapper (Paramount+ with Showtime)
In the Taste Profile interview above, Katy Kirby mentioned that right now she’s into “TV shows that believe in the inherent goodness of the characters in it.” Scrapper is a movie that believes in the inherent goodness of its characters, even when they’re acting horribly. The movie, which is the debut feature from U.K. director Charlotte Regan, follows a precocious and resilient 12-year-old girl (played by first-time actress Lola Campbell) who is grieving the death of her mom. She lives alone: she fools social workers by using voice recordings of fake caretakers and pays the rent by stealing bicycles. When her estranged father (who is played by Triangle of Sadness star Harris Dickinson) appears, her world is turned upside down. It’s a heavy comedy filmed with inventive humor and heart from Regan, a new voice who will soon be a comedic powerhouse in popular cinema.
What I read:
Scammy AI-Generated Book Rewrites Are Flooding Amazon (by Kate Knibbs, WIRED)
Sleazy book summaries have been a long-running problem on Amazon. In 2019, The Wall Street Journal found that many used deliberately confusing cover art and text, irking writers including entrepreneur Tim Ferriss. “We, along with some of the publishers, have been trying to get these taken down for some time now,” says Authors Guild CEO Mary Rasenberger. The rise of generative AI has supercharged the spammy summary industry. “It is the first market we expected to see inundated by AI,” Rasenberger says. She says these schemes fit the strengths of large language models, which are passable at producing summaries of work they’re fed, and can do it fast. The fruits of this rapid-fire generation are now common in searches for popular nonfiction titles on Amazon.
AI-generated summaries sold as ebooks have been “dramatically increasing in number, says publishing industry expert Jane Friedman—who was herself the target of a different AI-generated book scheme. That’s despite Amazon in September limiting authors to uploading a maximum of three books to its store each day. “It's common right now for a nonfiction author to celebrate the launch of their book, then within a few days discover one of these summaries for sale.”
Someone Used AI To Rewrite My Book. It’s So Much Worse Than I Could Have Imagined (By Matt Singer, Screen Crush)
I wrote a book last year about Siskel & Ebert. Sure enough, when you search my name and my book’s title on Amazon, the first result is my work, Opposable Thumbs: How Siskel & Ebert Changed Movies Forever. The second non-sponsored result is something called SUMMARY AND ANALYSIS OF Matt Singer’s Book OPPOSABLE THUMBS: How Siskel & Ebert Changed Movies Forever by an author named Shirley Miller.
Miller’s creation, whose cover image is clearly designed to evoke the beautiful photograph of Siskel and Ebert that adorns my own book, is available in either a paperback for $11.99, or on Kindle for $6.99. If you subscribe to Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited service, you can read her “book” for free.
Infuriated and, as always, deeply masochistic, I decided I need to read Ms. Miller’s version of my work. I expected to find a bland, homogenized description of Siskel and Ebert’s relationship and their television show — akin to a subpar version of the CliffsNotes I sometimes bought in high school when I was struggling through a particularly impenetrable old novel. But Shirley Miller’s book was so much worse than that — and really to call it a book at all is an insult not only to my book but to literally every legitimate publication written by an actual person in the entire history of human civilization.
The Weekly Chicago Show Calendar
Thursday, Jan. 18: Rust Ring, Strawberry Boy, Bottom Bunk at GMan Tavern. Tickets.
Thursday, Jan. 18: Torres, My Brightest Diamond, Aisha Burns at Lincoln Hall. Tickets.
Thursday, Jan. 18: Buggin, Big Laugh, Ennervate, and more at Schubas. Tickets.
Friday, Jan. 19: Squirrel Flower, Greg Freeman, Tenci at Lincoln Hall. Tickets.
Friday, Jan. 19: Corker, Spread Joy, Body Shop at Empty Bottle. Tickets.
Friday, Jan. 19: Fuerza Bruta, The Slads, and more at Gman Tavern. Tickets.
Friday, Jan. 19: Mick Jenkins, TOBi at House of Blues. Tickets.
Friday, Jan. 19: L’Rain, Trinity Star Ultra, Lipsticism at Schubas. Tickets.
Friday, Jan. 19: Alice Longyu Gao, Fraxiom, DJ Alex Leeds at Sleeping Village. Tickets.
Saturday, Jan. 20: NOISE FOR NOW Benefit (Divino Niño, Macie Stewart, Melkbelly, Resavoir (DJ), Is This Whit) at Empty Bottle. Sold out.
Saturday, Jan. 20: Avantist, Woonds at Epiphany Center for the Arts. Tickets.
Saturday, Jan. 20: Wishy, Sports Boyfriend at Gman Tavern. Tickets.
Saturday, Jan. 20: Nabihah Iqbal, Rahill, Girl K at Lincoln Hall. Tickets.
Saturday, Jan. 20: Lowertown, Soft and Dumb, Ruth in the Bardo at Schubas. Tickets.
Saturday, Jan. 20: Asha Imuno, theMIND, SoloSam at Sleeping Village. Tickets.
Saturday, Jan. 20: Rachel Baiman, Lillie Mae at SPACE. Tickets.
Sunday, Jan. 21: Mali Velasquez, Sluice, Minor Moon at Schubas. Tickets.
Tuesday, Jan. 23: Kevin Drew, Zoon at SPACE. Tickets.
Wednesday, Jan. 24: Adelaide, Alga at Sleeping Village. Free.
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