Listening to Katie Dey's music for the first time can be bewildering. Her songs play out like pop music run through the fever dream of a neural network: All the shapes are familiar, but swirled out of their usual contexts into thrilling psychedelic mosaics. Based in Melbourne, Dey caught the ears of New York-based label Orchid Tapes with her 2015 release asdfasdf, a short record replete with songs that managed to be both euphoric and jarring. The full-length album Flood Network followed in 2016; now, after putting out the collaborative record Some New Form of Life with Devi McCallion of Black Dresses last year, Dey's releasing her first new solo album in three years, Solipsisters.
If both asdfasdf and Flood Network folded somatic joy into waves of chaos and anxiety, Solipsisters opens up space for joy to float placidly and on its own terms. It's an album about making peace with the body, when the body seems to be constantly contradicting the self living inside it — about seeking safety and companionship in a world hell-bent on forcing its more vulnerable denizens into isolation. It's also the most brazenly beautiful music Dey has put to tape, generous in its melodies and arresting in its dynamic, homespun production.
Over Skype from her home in Australia, Dey spoke with The FADER about challenging herself creatively, making collaborative music, and the bizarre, upsetting conundrum of having to live in a body on earth.
It's been three years since your last album. How long ago did you start working on Solipsisters?
Some of the songs were written a long time ago -- "stuck" was written in 2011, I think. I started recording it in 2016. There were lots of long gaps scattered over the last three years where I was totally unable to do any work. A lot of these lyrics were written so long ago that I feel totally detached from them, which might be good. It's hard to feel proud of the songs I've started and actually work on them instead of writing new stuff. It's so hard for me to work consistently. Opening the projects — double clicking on that file — that's the hardest part.
How do you know when a project is finished?
When I'm exhausted and I literally just can't do it anymore.
You've sung with distinctive vocal effects in the past. Do you use similar processing techniques on Solipsisters?
It's definitely evolved. It's the same plug-ins and pitch-shifting stuff. I feel like I've learned to work with it a bit more. I don't feel a whole lot of attachment to my own voice. Originally, it was a way of relieving dysphoria and making my own music more palatable for me to listen to so that it didn't upset me — like putting an Instagram filter on your face. I wasn't trying to make some kind of statement, and it wasn't an artistic decision — it was really just for my own well-being. I'm not destroying my voice as heavily as I used to. That might be something to do with dysphoria lessening, or maybe wanting to be a little bit more understood. I guess I'm feeling a little less ashamed of my lyrics. I never used to think that I was all that good at them. I tried to make it so that they weren't the focal point.
For this album, I'm including a lyric sheet, which I've never done before. As I get older, I'm more desperate to actually communicate effectively with people. In the past, I always tried to be like, "There's these feelings I feel that I literally just can't put into words, and I'm going to try to make them into songs." I'd communicate sublingually through these weird sounds that I make — but that wasn't working out, so I figured I'd try to be more legible.
A lot of Solipsisters grapples with the relationship between the self and the body. Did making the album and airing out these themes help you approach some kind of resolution?
It was definitely about working through that — trying to be clearer about what the argument was between my self and body. I don't think I'll ever reach any kind of resolution, but it definitely was a working through of that conflict. Originally, the album was supposed to be this dialogue between soul and body, or between different parts of myself: my heart and my brain. It ended up not making any sense, so I abandoned that, but a lot of the lyrics still are about this conversation. There's not many references to other human beings. There's a lot of "you" and "me" and "we", but it's really all just about me, because I was so totally alone while I was writing these songs. You end up talking to yourself a lot if you're isolated. The last line on the album is "Moving closer to a place for us to live." I don't think I have found anywhere to live. I'm still just moving.
Did collaborating with Devi on Some New Form of Life affect the way you approach your solo music?
Yes, huge amounts — especially just being friends with Devi and hanging out with her. Trying to get on her level artistically was a huge challenge for me. A lot of my vocals on that album are totally unaffected, and I'd never done that before. It definitely brought me out of my shell a lot and let me feel a lot less ashamed of what I looked like — what my voice sounded like. I had never posted photos of myself before I met her. It was a really long, transformative process. I wanted to be more open in my own music, and a bit closer to reality. — to make this unreal, dreamy music, trying to convey what it's like in my head and what feelings feel like. Devi's music is so unaffected, but it's still so trippy. It's really close to reality.
Do you feel that making and releasing music is a way of participating in community?
I treat it as sort of a beacon. If other people want to be like, "Hey, this resonates with me," then that's ideal. All my friends have found me through music — Devi found me through Flood Network. Being so isolated, my sense of community is probably different to most people's sense of community. Being on the internet primarily and not doing a lot of going outside due to a whole bunch of factors, like mental illness and disability and stuff, feels really desperate sometimes — just foisting yourself upon this stream, not wanting to be lonely.
I think not wanting to be lonely is probably a big motivation behind most music.
Definitely — especially if your only way to be a person is singing weird songs. If that's the only thing you know how to do, I think the internet is one of the only options for you.
What were you listening to while you were working on this album?
A lot of Kate Bush. Probably Mitski, probably Prince. I was playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which was actually really influential in a weird way. Just the feeling of space on Breath of the Wild — I wanted to make music that made me feel like that. There's not a ton of space on my album, but in some subconscious way I'm sure it's in there.
A lot of Breath of the Wild is about trying to make a home among ruins and chaos and horror.
People struggling and trying to find ways to live. I wanted to leave a little space for the listener to be themselves within the album and be able to think within it. Flood Network was filled up with stuff. There's not a lot of space for you to think in that album. It's pretty full-on. With Breath of the Wild, I felt like a huge part of the experience of that game is just reflection. And intentionally so. It’s not boring. It allows you space to have your own thoughts.
Solipsisters is out 5/31 via Run For Cover.