Katie Von Schleicher is set to release her new album, Consummation, this Friday — May 22nd — via Ba Da Bing.
Its lead single “Caged Sleep” is a jagged, upbeat Krautrock track. It was also one of the last tracks written for the album. The album itself was, in part, inspired by an alternate interpretation of the Alfred Hitchcock classic, Vertigo. In 2018, Von Schleicher re-watched the film and was struck by its largely unanalyzed subtext of abuse. She knew immediately that this hidden narrative, which spoke to her personal experience, would be the basis of her next album.
In advance of its release, Von Schliecher offered to do a track-by-track, in her own words, of the inspiration for the album for the readers of American Songwriter.
You Remind Me
I always decide early on what an album’s opener should be, and this sets the tone for all that follows. The song itself is speaking to another, it’s this calm dictation of anger, but the arrangement and recording express the rest. It feels airy and alien to me, untethered, the sum of the sometimes disparate sounds you’ll find on the rest of the record.
I began recording this album in Maryland like I did with my last, Shitty Hits. My band mates and I had finished making another album there that I’d produced, youbet’s Compare & Despair. They left me alone at the house with no car for a week while they returned to Brooklyn. The idea was that I’d start Consummation alone. I ended up watching a ton of A24 movies and reading the Longreads “Best of 2018” in its entirety. Two days before they came back I started “You Remind Me,” building it up out of scraps. It’s probably the only recording I’ve made that felt influenced by Radiohead, no idea if that shows.
This song gets down to business in my opinion. If “You Remind Me” is a question, “Wheel” feels like the assurance there’s an answer in store. Originally I wrote this as a ballad and that was a bad move. It’s got this bedrock beat and it’s comforting – in the context of my previous releases I think it’s a departure. I’m particularly fond of the ring modulated guitar lines during the “la la la” section.
I used to do everything alone, working song by song. Now I collaborate with people but we’ve kept it similar, in that each track is made separately as if it were going to stand alone. This is the third song if you’re counting, and each has had a different drummer so far. There are four on the album, but we all know each other well, and we all play other instruments. It makes me happy to hear us all as one thing.
I’ve loved this song since the demo phase, but no one else did until we made this recording. It was January in Maryland, and I played it for my band mates. I’d had the demo kicking around for about 18 months and because I’d been considering cutting it, I felt more free. It’s funny how that works – from the time I had a demo of Wheel, the song had expectations of being the single. But when you don’t have plans it’s liberating. My band mates and I had no rules, no set way to record it. Julian, who co-produced this track, went about making the drums and percussion loops. We opted to use a clavinet as the main keyboard sound. If I’d thought too hard about it, I don’t know if I’d decide “needs clavinet!” I love this app I demo in that only works for iPhone, so Julian encouraged me to just record the acoustic guitar through my iPhone. I’m not sure how we decided to have an ambient section smack in the middle of the song, but I do know there’s a toaster going off in the middle of it. I was making mozzarella sticks.
To me this song is about being a teenager, that kind of huge existential loneliness that’s still warm and fuzzy and full of potential. It reminds me of being lonely in Maryland, hearing a fog horn at night, feeling surrounded by trees.
I had an initial mix of the record by the time I started writing this song. It felt like unfinished business. There were a bunch of tracks that I’d written from the ground up on this album – my first time doing that – by working with drum machines. This song filled a gap I felt.
We did the drums at Julian’s studio Honey Jar in Dumbo late at night. My friend who’d helped me make my first release Bleaksploitation came to my house to do guitar, and my Wilder Maker bandmate Nick Jost who’s also in Baroness played bass. I say his name in the song, since it’s about a dream he was in. We recorded vocals in another middle of the night session at Figure 8 Recording in Brooklyn.
Like “Nowhere,” I didn’t feel precious about this song. I’d been set to tour in Purple Mountains all fall. When that fell through, this song was something I could focus on in its wake and I imagine it helped me cope. I wasn’t ready to stop working on the record, I guess.
I went to stay with my sister at her house in California and brought a few things – a Yamaha Reface CP keyboard, a Korg Minilogue synth, an electric guitar, a Shure SM58. I made “Messenger” there late at night, and ended up keeping the vocals I did on the 58.
I started writing songs when I was little because I wanted to be Mariah Carey or Whitney Houston. When I got older I pulled myself away from singing that felt in any way soulful, and this song, though I’m sure it’s subtle to anyone listening, is letting myself dip just slightly back into that territory. And the phaser guitar chugging on the last chorus, that’s purely pornographic, haha. I’m proud of it, perhaps I’ll do it some more.
I was playing a show as a member of the band youbet at Trans-Pecos in Ridgewood, and it was a full moon that night. I got to the venue early and I was laying on the picnic tables out back with my headphones on, listening to Prince. Anyway, I was inspired by a lot of things about Prince on this song though I am truly aware it sounds nothing like him.
I have no idea what to make of this song if I’m being honest. Like “Messenger,” it was a solitary endeavor that I felt a little shame about because it’s out of my wheelhouse genre-wise. But here we are.
If we were all listening to vinyl right now, we’d note that this begins side two of the album. Through writing this track by track I’m having some realizations! A lot of the songs were easy to make, or liberating to make. I made “Strangest Thing” in my apartment as a pure exercise and had no intention of placing it on a record. I let myself croon like I’ve always dreamed of doing since listening to records with my grandparents as a child. Adam, usually the guitarist and bassist, reminded himself how to play clarinet for the occasion.
Can You Help?
This, believe it or not, is a companion song to “Strangest Thing.” I was adamant they go side by side. I wrote the chorus in the van outside of BSP Kingston before we played a show. Adam and I decided we’d like to record a song one day at the apartment here in New York, and I excused myself to the kitchen for fifteen minutes to write the rest. The line “can you help me just as well as you helped yourself?” is maybe one of the most universal things I’ve spat out.
Like “Nowhere,” Julian co-produced this one with me. His drumming is so special, and it’s his part that really makes the chorus for me. He’s also a master of atmosphere, putting the laughs and strange keyboard moments in the verse. I added the harp shimmers while visiting my parents in Florida, which is a decidedly strange place to work on such a dark song.
This record has hefty undertones. I decided on the color scheme for everything (blue, green) and the themes before I started writing it. I felt isolated, I had some anger, and I decided to express it differently – to sing in a whisper, to let the anger speak through that smaller, dangerous voice. “Brutality” is the thematic centerpiece for me, or perhaps the most glaring statement of what I was thinking of. I was going to call the record Climbing Mountains with Assholes, thinking of the heights expressed in The Myth of Sisyphus and the films Vertigo, 45 Years and Force Majeure. That explains the chorus lyrics: “sure climbing is fun, I’m having fun” and “wow, falling is fun, falling is fun.” Sarcasm implied.
Adam co-wrote this with me and we made it in Maryland. We recorded with me on drums and him on guitar at the same time. It’s rare for me to do more than one part at once, but I love this song because it’s playful and we didn’t pore over it. I just pulled the demo out of my voice memos and we thought, what the hell?
I wrote the chorus of this song standing over the bathroom sink in a motel in England on tour. It’s my favorite song on the album and I had really high expectations for it. I tried forever to write it, it was a struggle, as it often is when you have a chorus you love and nothing else. I finished it in California at the same time as “Messenger.”
To go all COVID on you for just a moment, it’s the song I’m saddest to not play live right now.
If this song was influenced by another band, that band was Broadcast. I’ll never stop listening to them.
I wrote this song for my friend, after he passed. I’ve lost friends to suicide, and the more it happens, the more I obsess on how to help prevent it, whether or not that’s in my feeble control. It’s incomprehensible, the feeling we’re left with afterward. The second time I dealt with this particular kind of grief I was stricken by how similar each step of the process felt – the disbelief, the obsessing on how you were just about to see one another, this uncanny tendency to live in a fantasy world, where I daydream preventions. Anything to alter an outcome where someone felt so incredibly alone. I try to understand, I certainly empathize. Anyway, this is just an outpouring of grief and love for a person I miss and think about all the time. The ending, where it sounds like tiny fireworks are exploding, the lyrics are all that wishful, fantasy thought.
The last song is the first I wrote for this album, and it sounds the most like my last record. Whereas Shitty Hits ended with a song that may have nodded in the direction of this coming album, Consummation ends in what feels like a middle ground. It’s maybe a confident move. I didn’t want to go out with a slow burning song, or feel the need to hint at the next place I might go musically.
I really separate the process by working on one song at a time, and one could worry that’d create a disconnect. But I believe in albums still, despite the world changing and the way we listen changing with it. I wanted to end this with something terrestrial and grounded, it just felt right.