‘For Brinsley’ is the latest single from Swimming Bell (Katie Schottland) taken from the upcoming album ‘Wild Sight’. It is inspired by a song called ‘Don’t Lose Your Grip on Love’ by English pub rock band, Brinsley Schwartz, a song Schottland had been listening a lot while touring through California last year, writing her own song to the refrain.
For an artist you'll often see described as 'experimental', there's a lot about Katie Schottland's music that sounds familiar, but it's the sort of familiarity you experience when hearing a song so simple, so instant, that you cannot imagine not having heard it before, rather than a familiarity produced from lack of originality.
Katie herself responds to the 'experimental' tag, telling me "I think the experimental label may have come from the way I play my live show. I tend to use a lot of pedals and do vocal and guitar loops. Those things aren't revolutionary for sure, but I guess it's a little left of center from straight acoustic folk music. I do think my writing and arrangements are traditional though, but I'm a sucker for layers and harmonies." Aren't we all!? And if you, like me, love the dreamy landscapes that layered harmonies produce, then you'll love this album. Reminiscent in many ways of the classic folk sound of Judee Sill. but with modern production values that place a high priority on creating atmosphere, courtesy of Producer, Oli Deakin (Lowpines).
The comparison to Judee Sill is most apparent on tracks like 'Good Time, Man' and 'We'd Find', both of which boast delicate melodies, awash with ethereal vocals, producing a dreamlike state. Katie's influences are many, however, and she's not overly familiar with Judee's back catalogue. " It's quite a compliment based on what I've heard! I'm not too familiar with a lot of her music, but what I've heard is great! As for influences, definitely for this album I'd say Beck's 'Sea Change', Pink Floyd's 'Dark Side of the Moon', Wand's 'Plum', Tomo Nakayama's 'Fog on the Lens', everything Fiona Apple, Houndstooth, and my super talented friends!"
The album's lead single, '1988' is as good a window into the record as a whole as it's possible to find, boasting a catchy hook, textured vocals and an other-worldly atmosphere. It builds too, like a subtler sister to Youth Lagoon's 'Montana'. It's inspiration was unusual, as Katie recalls. "1988 is based on a strong memory I have from when I was a little girl and I fell off my bike, but it's about a lot of things to me really. It's about my mom and feeling so grateful for her love. It's about her love for her mom with whom she was very close to. It's about my own feelings of inadequacy, of feeling like everyone is moving on and forward and I'm still in the same place. It's about feeling like the human race isn't progressing in a positive way."
There is variety on the record, too. Several tracks, like 'Cold, Clear Moon' and 'Left Hand Path' are treated with a lighter touch, Katie's beautifully tonal voice allowed some room to breathe.
There's also hints of other genres, particularly on the penultimate track, 'Loved Like You', which has a distinctively country feel to it, with a lamenting lap steel guitar prominent, but develops into a rockier sound. It's almost as if the traditional American gives way to the cosmopolitan New Yorker. It made we wonder how Katie identifies herself? "I've lived in Brooklyn for almost 8 years and it's the longest I've lived anywhere since I was 16. You'd think that I'd feel like a New Yorker, but I don't think I do! I'm from Philly and still feel more like a Philadelphian than anything else. New York is unique because there are so many transplants here that I think we all feel a little bit like we just visiting for a while. But then you wake up and it's been 8 years! It's a strange vortex/never never land here in New York. It's been great creatively, but I think I'm ready for bit of a quieter environment. I started playing music in New York so I'll always have a special place in my heart for it and for all the wonderful people I've met here. They're all truly magical."
For me, 'Wild Sight' is truly magical. A completely immersive album that works best when listened to as a whole. The last time I got so excited about a debut from a solo female artist was Hannah Cohen's 'Child Bride'. Sadly, for me, that proved to be a high watermark for the Bella Union artist. If this album is to represent the pinnacle of Katie Schottland's achievement in music, then it's already a great legacy. I'm hoping, and expecting though, that we've yet to hear the best of Swimming Bell.