“Lately, I’ve really been into Leonard Cohen, and I think most of my latest writing has been influenced by him, as well as my first songwriting crush, Tom Waits,” says honey-voiced blues singer Katarina Pejak. A bit of a far cry from the gruff, choking-on-glass, whiskey-soaked intoning of Cohen or Waits, Pejak’s velvety vocals are more akin to Norah Jones and Joss Stone. It’s not the texture though that she is echoing, but the phrasing. Poetic and lyrical, she carries a similar diction and a flair for the melancholic.
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Her new single “Weeping Wind” is contemplative and pensive. While Waits and Cohen sound like they’re singing to their shot of Jack Daniels, Pejak croons to a glass of plum wine… or pinot grigio. Winsome and meditative, “Weeping Wind” carries a poetry all its own. “I look everywhere and get lost in my mind / Between all the silence and empty good-byes,” she sings, accompanied only by her meandering keyboard. Contemplative and buzzy, it’s intoxicating and alluring… but also lonely and aches for connection.
“After a whole year of touring Europe with Ruf Records Blues Caravan [a blues tour made up of her labelmates], I paid a visit to Nashville, TN where I lived until 2018,” she reminisces. Pondering her lack of an anchored life that sometimes eludes a touring musician, this idea began the origin of the track about detachment and isolation. She adds, “This song was written on that trip, as a reflection on the perpetual state of distance and longing that you get when you live a nomadic lifestyle and find love and friendship in many places.”
A nomad of sorts (she grew up in Serbia, went to college at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, and moved to Nashville before picking up her roots again to go on tour), Pejak’s wayfaring life docked her back in Belgrade, Serbia when COVID-19 hit. With little to do due to the pandemic, she went to work on her new EP Outside Looking In from which “Weeping Wind” is taken. “Over the summer, due to the lockdown, I got into home-recording thanks to the fact that I’ve been living with a sound engineer,” she laughs about her providence. “What began as just making some demos became a four-song project that I decided to share with the world because of the intimate atmosphere and a personal vibe that all these four tracks have. They also represent my musical personality in a new light, kind of like a ‘B side’ to the piano-driven blues/country writing I have been doing for my previous albums.”
Offering her the freedom to explore, she spent time with the writing process and just let it flow. “It’s important for me to have some time and space to be alone with my thoughts. That’s when experiences and impressions really sink in,” she says of writing Outside Looking In. “I tend to write these short ideas down and use them in my writing sessions. I feel like I do the best writing when I am really moved and feel strongly about the core idea of the song, and in these situations, it’s usually not a struggle to find the right musical vibe.” Exploring a more expansive direction, the vibe she settled on was a deeper and more introspective one instead of the role models who influenced her past music like “Nina Simone, Joni Mitchell, Bessie Smith, Norah Jones, Bonnie Raitt”
“I was inspired by Nick Drake, Tim Buckley and so many amazing innovative musicians who I know and love in Nashville,” she confesses. “I like the close-miking and the minimalism of those artists, but also the cross-over vibe.”
Circling back to the existentialism that drew her to Cohen and Waits’ music in the first place, she hopes this slight musical left turn steers her fans to come along for the ride. “I just want people to bask in the romanticism and the melancholy,” she concludes, content to show the audience a different side of her music. “If there is anything you long for or feel sad about, embrace the sadness and move on, because it’s all a part of the glory of existence.”