Saturday, October 24, 2009

Interview: Kat Frankie - Knives Out

Wednesday, August 29, 2007 

Berlin has been the catalyst for many great historical happenings, and seen the rebirth of more musicians and artists than almost any other city. So it is that a wayward youth departs from Sydney and finds herself, and much more besides, in the German capital. Several years later, this girl returns to the shores of her homeland, guitar and swag of quality tunes in tow. Collected together on an album she entitles Pocketknife, the defiant and strident Miss Kat Frankie is soon in town to play these songs, and if her last visit in January was anything to go by, it will be a compelling, venue transforming show.

She begins our conversation by replying to comments made by Inpress's own Clem Bastow who last month described her latest single Serves You Right For Using Violence as "a little too tempestuous...when the song begins at the crescendo, where have you got left to go after that?". "That's the whole point of the song." says Frankie, "I totally agree with Clem. I think it is tempestuous, it is over the top, it's supposed to punch you in the face from the beginning." Though inspired from a story, Frankie explains that Berlin has a role too. "There is a lot of tension from living in Berlin. You've got lazy days and really intense music; everyone parties pretty hard at night. It's a contradictory town, there is a lot of concrete and hard architecture but then the parks are leafy and green and filled with people. You can't help taking in what's around you."

Though it's her voice which has recently been inspiring a lot of purple prose from reviewers, songwriting is what has garnered Frankie the most attention. Winning two songwriting awards, including a 2005 Jaxter Award for Young Australian Songwriter for her first ever song (The Wrong Side of Midnight, featured on Pocketknife) only reinforced what seems like an inherent skill. "Usually when I have a thread of an idea I make a space for it, then put myself in that space and work out what is the feeling of this moment and that's what I try and convey. A bunch of songs on the album work on the punch-you-in-the-face-from-the-first-moment concept, then other songs like Treading Water and Boy Wolf are super low key. Songs to me are more about a concept than a musical style. It's about creating a space. You're either mucking around with a guitar line or a lyrical idea, or you just say to yourself: 'I want to write a song that is so intense it's the most passionate four and a half minutes of your life'. For me it's not just writing angry or sensitive music all the time, it's more 'I have this idea about a song', how do I explore that? How do I express that in the best, most concise way possible?".

The way Frankie expresses these ideas has certainly won her a legion of fans in Germany. "It's so easy to play in Germany. You can get a show anywhere in the country and just hop on a train. It's not a drama to organise like going from Sydney to Melbourne. Also, I'm seeing a lot of younger people coming to my shows now. It used to be mainly people in their early 30s, but now 16 and 17 year olds are coming and they yelling back every lyric to me and filming me with their mobile phones; it's like another planet, you can't control them!" she laughs. This success is only partly through featuring in Uli Schuppel's well-received documentary BerlinSong (due to be shown here in coming months), but mainly through live performance and word of mouth.

Her Melbourne show is the only one on her Australian tour that features a whole band. "Simon [Ayton] has moved back to Melbourne, he produced the album and is a fantastic percussionist. He actually made a new microphone for recording Pocketknife. We had a couple of mics on my voice and this weird thing hanging from the ceiling which just made everything sound amazing. I don't know how he did it, but I can hear it in my teeth." This echoes the subject matter in a rare and effective way and the raw effectiveness of the production is something that really stands out. "I haven't heard anything for a while that is confronting in a way that isn't trying to be clever or crafty. I just want it to be super raw and not give a fuck about attempting to restrain myself. That's why it has this intense sound. The Punishing Kiss by Ute Lemper, that's an album that really socks you in the guts."

Surely this energy is powerful, but how do you stop it from seeming forced? "With the more passionate songs it can become difficult to perform those songs and to play them like it's the first time again and again, so I have to trick myself to recreate that moment again and again. Sometimes that can be difficult, but it's really important to me to perform these songs. Every time I play them they go through a process of renewal so in that respect they don't date." While this is a commendable gift, to do it in a genre where there are many other performers (girls with guitars are far from uncommon), to keep it so stripped back and generate a following in Europe clearly shows she can do this well.

In bringing her show to the Rob Roy, Frankie is keen to ensure that it is a venue that will let her interact with the audience. Given that it was once a strip bar, I assure her it is. "If I'm delivering songs that are passionate I want to be able to get in peoples faces and make them cry." she laughs. "Actually it's true, I'm quite proud if someone comes up to me after a gig and tells me they cried." Surprisingly then, her next album isn't going to be about child abuse, but her new flat. "It shudders," she explains. "Since the BerlinSong I've been writing more about architecture and travel, and away from angry white female." she jokes. "I have a new apartment and it shudders every now and then, like it has a chill, and you can't not be aware of your building. For me I become so aware of seeing these 120 year old buildings crumbling before my eyes that it's kind of affecting me at the moment." Well, she should be right at home at The Rob Roy then.

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