Would it be weird to call Katie Harkin the Forrest Gump of amazing lady indie rock? Probably. But look up some of the coolest indie bands of the past 15 years – not coincidentally, most led by women – and you’ll see Katie Harkin. Sleater-Kinney? Check. Wild Beasts? Check. Sky Larkin? Check. Waxahatchee? I think you see where this is going. Living Body? Courtney Barnett? Flock of Dimes? Check, check and check.
After Sky Larkin, her own melodic, guitar-driven indie band she started at 18 with Nestor Matthews in 2005, she found her footing as a collaborator to some EQD favorites, by making musicians feel comfortable, providing inspiration when necessary, stepping back when appropriate, and always being sensitive to knowing which role to play, and when. Oh, and absolutely killing it on guitar, bass, keys and drums.
Just when I was wondering if we’d get to hear some of Katie’s own music again, she emailed me about her new solo project, Harkin, which was just about to release a single. I clicked on the link, excited but also totally perplexed. Katie was touring the world with Courtney Barnett…and she managed to write and record two amazing tracks? I tried to get over my feelings of severe inadequacy and enjoy “Mist on Glass” and “Independence Day.” Which, as it turned out, was not hard to do. Then I sent her a whole lot of questions, which she graciously answered during what I can only imagine was a three-minute break, because she is one busy lady.
Anna Blumenthal: You just came out with a new single under the name Harkin, “Mist on Glass”, b/w “Independence Day”. For starters – how on earth did you find the time to write and record two songs while on a seemingly never-ending world tour with Courtney Barnett?
Katie Harkin: It’s certainly a challenge to manage downtime and creative time. I love to nap.
AB: Is this Harkin single the start of a new solo career? Is there a full album on the horizon?
KH: There is! It’s coming together. I was very secretive when I started writing these songs. I didn’t want them to feel any outside pressure whatsoever. I’ve lived in the deadlines of release schedules previously, and this felt like a unique chance to incubate something secret and mine. But I’ve finally been convinced to share!
AB: Did you play everything on the new single?
KH: I was very lucky to have Stella Mozgawa [of Warpaint] and Jenn Wasner [Wye Oak, Flock of Dimes] contribute drums and bass respectively. They’re two of my favourite humans and musicians and they’d never met before but I knew it’d be an electric combination. We were all born in the same year and by the end of the day they were finishing each other’s jokes (they’re also both funnier than anyone I know), it was wonderful witchcraft really.
AB: Who are some of your biggest musical inspirations for your solo project?
KH: Whilst we were tracking Mist On Glass I was playing a lot of ESG and The Meters in the car on the way to the studio. The best bands!
AB: You’ve been touring with one of my absolute favorite musicians and songwriters, Courtney Barnett. How and when did you first hook up with her?
KH: We first met briefly when my girlfriend put on a show of hers on her first UK tour, then we properly hung out when Sleater-Kinney played Pitchfork and Corin and I stayed an extra day to watch her.
AB: What’s the creative process like when you play with Courtney? Is there any collaboration, or is she writing everything?
KH: I didn’t write with her, no, but it’s been very fun to jam with those guys on the songs in the set.
AB: Growing up, who were your biggest musical influences and who inspired you to start playing music? Was guitar your first instrument? When did you start playing bass, keys and drums?
KH: I struggled with the regurgitative nature of music education and gravitated towards art because creativity was more encouraged, I ended up saving up for my first guitar and taught myself. Which I think was great in the long run because I had to learn by ear from records I loved, but I wish there’d been a string changing YouTube tutorial for me then; I feel like figuring that out for the first time took me a coupla days, ha!
AB: Sky Larkin, your first band, was your band – you sang and co-wrote the songs- and since then you’ve joined a lot of existing bands as a touring member – Sleater-Kinney, Wild Beasts, Flock of Dimes and Courtney Barnett’s band, as well as recording with Waxahatchee. Do you prefer one over the other?
KH: I think any skill I have to offer other people is because I write songs, and wandering around in other people’s songs is endlessly inspiring. It’s a feedback loop I’ve really enjoyed being stuck in.
AB: What are the most important things to keep in mind or to work on or focus on when joining a band for a tour or a recording session? What skills do you have to hone to join an artist for a recording session or a tour?
KH: For me it’s kinda finding the introvert/extrovert balance really. For studio situations people need to feel comfortable enough to express what has previously been private, and for live shows people need to feel empowered enough to communicate that in real time to a real audience. Technical ability is just one part of aiding those processes, listen, collaborate, share, exalt, whatever feels appropriate is probably right!
AB: Are there any plans for more Sky Larkin shows or albums?
KH: No, but I’m grateful that a band Nestor and I started at 15 and 18 is still something people ask us about!
AB: What’s your current rig right now? Guitars, keyboards, amps, pedals?
KH: I just got a new thinline Telecaster that I’m really excited about and I’ve been digging deep with the Afterneath pedal.
AB: How into gear are you? Are you a gear nerd?
KH: I like sounds! I’ve moved around a lot since I left home and it’s meant I’ve never built a home studio or amassed huge amounts of gear myself but I’ve loved being a gear tourist. Turning up at a strange studio and making sounds that sound like me with whatever’s there is always fun. I think having a strong sense of your own taste is the most important thing to own.
AB: What’s the one piece of gear you couldn’t live without?
KH: Recently, my samplers. I’ve enjoyed writing songs on samplers because I’m easily distracted when screens are involved.
AB: What advice would you give to musicians looking to freelance and tour and record with various bands?
KH: Support your local music community and they’ll support you.
AB: What’s next for you?
KH: SXSW! Overjoyed that Marian and Lena from La Luz are gonna join me for my first full band shows, they’re a coupla shredders.
Catch Harkin at SXSW March 16, 2019 at the British Music Embassy @ Latitude 30, 3pm, and at Gold Sounds Festival in Leeds, UK May 12, 2019.
DEVICES MENTIONED IN THIS ARTICLE
Anna Blumenthal handles Sales and Artist Relations for EarthQuaker Devices. She lives in Brooklyn, NY, plays bass in Sit N Spin, DJs 60s soul and R&B at various Brooklyn bars, and has seen Cheap Trick over 30 times.