Katy Kirby‘s debut album, 2021’s Cool Dry Place, was full of clever turns of phrase, tender melodies, and hummable choruses that made it feel both genuine and instantly inviting. But what stuck with you long after its 30-minute runtime was the way it treasured human connection in different forms; Kirby’s natural tendency to home in and pick apart the little details made her songs feel special and effortlessly intertwined, even if they were written over long stretches of time. On Blue Raspberry, her sophomore effort and first for ANTI-, Kirby is even more intentional in fleshing out and untangling the similarities and contradictions between her songs and the people in them. Revolving around the development and dissolution of her first queer relationship, it takes inspiration from albums like Andy Shauf’s The Party and Lomelda’s Hannah, huddling moments of intimacy that are beautiful, yes, but also strangely playful, ominous, and crystallizing. Through them, Kirby uses sneakily poetic language and lush sonics to find beauty in the artificial and the ephemeral, even when it comes to something as vital as how we relate to one another. “‘Cause baby you’re a time-bound entity, event, like me,” she sings, “And we’re the party of the century.” The more you look, the less Blue Raspberry feels like a collection of fragments and more like a full landscape, one you can’t help but keep coming back to and filling in.
Following our Artist Spotlight feature, we caught up with Katy Kirby to talk about every song on her new album, which is out today. Read our track-by-track breakdown and listen to the album below.
1. Redemption Arc
I like how the song opens the album by setting the scene of you kind of improvising on the piano, fresh from heartbreak, raising a glass to someone who’s “doing the work now.” Was that part of the vision?
Quite frankly, it’s a very angry song that’s about the relationship that was right before my first queer relationship that sucked a lot. It’s recorded on the piano that it was written on in Alberto Sewald’s house; he produced it, and I was living in a spare room of his for very little rent for a few months after we got back from the first tour we did for Cool Dry Place. It’s a really nice upright piano that felt like it had a lot of character, so I wrote a few songs on this album on that piano where I started them, and that was one of the first ones that I finished.
The orchestral arrangements throughout the album are beautiful, and I’m curious if it was challenging to figure out how to integrate them on a song that’s more bitter and downcast, especially since it opens the record.
True. I mean, I feel like Andy Schauf has provided the world a really great template for using clarinets in an extremely sad way [laughs]. I also didn’t arrange any of those parts, I didn’t have very much to do with it. It was Logan Chung and Rowen Merrill who did arrangements that really made it feel a little bit playful, but also sad and bitter.
The vulnerability of the song comes into contrast with the scientific nature of phrases like “terra incognita” and “diminutive contrition,” which is funny and playful, but I wonder if you went back and forth about leaning into that kind of language.
I wasn’t thinking about that tension all that much. I was, kind of – I didn’t want to be too cute with it, and I went back and forth on the terra incognita line, honestly, because I was like, “Is that just annoying, to go and slip into Latin suddenly in the middle of the song?” But it felt so right to me, and it felt so satisfying to sing while I was angry in that way. When I think about the circumstances in that song, it feels appropriately angry and, and bitter – derisive works with the playfulness for me. And I do think if the person I wrote that song about ever heard it, they would hate hearing it, and that was kind of my intention for that song, that they really wouldn’t want to listen to it, and hopefully not listen to the rest of the album if I can help it. But who’s to say? Either way, it’s gonna suck.
Even if you’re not paying close attention to the lyrics, necessarily, the line “Cancer has entered the chat” definitely jumps out at you. What can you tell me about writing it?
The recording is actually just a demo that we originally sent to ANTI-. It was just so good and we never could do it better than that, so we kept it. Those first two songs are the only ones that are about the relationship I had right before my first queer relationship, so I was kind of getting it out of my system at the top of the album. And again, hoping that if this unnamed dude decides to get a perverse curiosity and listen to it, he won’t enjoy it. I was not in a super good place while I was writing those songs, obviously, but part of what I did is, sort of like a defense mechanism so that I could feel like I could write songs at all, was I put traps in the songs – as in, I quoted some very difficult conversations we had that probably wouldn’t leap out to most people. “Cancer has entered the chat” is one of them, that is a thing that I said verbatim. I thought it sounded nice as a lyric, but it was also a little booby trap in there that I just wanted to put at the top of the album for whatever reason – vengeance, technically. But apart from vengeance, I do like that line, and that song does feel really cathartic to sing still. I’m really pleased at how it came together; it was written on that same piano at Alberto’s house that I wrote a bunch of other stuff on.
It’s also a short song, and it almost feels like you don’t want to exploit the tension in it too much, so you’re setting it up to end just after that line about reaching for the dial to turn it off.
Yeah, absolutely, I wish that song was longer sometimes because I do really like it, but it does feel really good for it to draw you in and then end as quickly as possible after that. Yeah, that’s a weird one.
3. Cubic Zirconia
You’ve said that you were trying to write this song for nearly four years, and the title weaves into several other songs. Was cubic zirconia, this lab-grown diamond that’s supposed to look like a natural one, always the jumping-off point, or was it something that came later and locked it into focus?
It was the second thing, it came along later. I think there’s versions of this song that date back to 2020 or 2019, but a lot of it was in the second verse. I had been writing things that felt like they were set in a kind of sad beach town in the southeast of the United States. I grew up going there, and there’s always this dingy, sad glamour – there’s something very wistful about those places to me. I was writing a bunch of notes that were lyrics of a love song set there in my head, and I think “Cubic zirconia/ Baby, no one can tell/ When they’re up against your throat/ You know they shine just as well,” I first started singing that in like 2021, and it made a lot more sense after that. I think I finished it, and then I began my first queer relationship, so it was presaging that in a way. I just liked all those images and had a lot of fun writing it, so I sort of didn’t want to finish writing it. But I did have to eventually.
Did writing this ode to artificiality force you to consider how that applies to preconceptions around music and what’s seen as authentic?
Totally. The people who we worked on this and record and I, we don’t have a lot of skills – except for Lane, she knows how to do these things – like, there’s not a lot of MIDI on this record, musical elements, that people might be tempted to call plastic or artificial. There’s not a lot of that on there, just because that’s not the palette we’re familiar with. But it did make me think about what kind of music I’ve found beautiful and moving, and a lot of things that I find beautiful and moving are generally not acoustic guitar-oriented songs. I did want there to be a little bit of a contrast in the subject matter of songs like ‘Cubic Zirconia’ or ‘Blue Raspberry’, and I didn’t want to shy away from MIDI instruments or anything like that, but I did want them to sound sort of traditional, in a sense, to contrast with the ode to artificiality bit of it. I wanted them to obviously sound like love songs. The only place that pops up really is on ‘Blue Raspberry’, where there’s a shadow of my voice that’s me but pitched down, but for the most part, we played it straight on the rest of the album.
‘Cubic Zirconia’ was almost the title track, but it’s a much harder word to remember, so I was convinced that Blue Raspberry is probably a better idea, which I think is correct.
4. Hand to Hand
‘Hand to Hand’ is the most ominous–sounding song on the album, and for good reason, given the subject matter. That one definitely reminded me of how Andy Shauf does a similar thing with the eeriness of some of his songs.
For a variety of reasons, I was feeling deeply cynical about marriage, particularly, and committed romantic relationships in general. A variety of things that happened with couples that I knew around me – also, I had broken up with someone – that made me feel like, “This is a terrible idea that no one should do.” Especially heterosexuality or heteronormative relationships – the history of heterosexuality has so much violence in it, right? If a woman gets murdered, it’s always her husband or boyfriend; it’s statistically most likely that that’s who murdered her. It just has such a dark legacy that is not the whole story, I recognize, but it’s like, “Wow, gee!” I was feeling awfully annoyed at that, so I wrote that song from a place of profound cynicism, and it turned out kind of spooky.
It’s interesting as a follow-up to ‘Cubic Zirconia’, too, going from a celebration of artificiality to this cynicism about what seems like the dark, shallow nature of certain relationships.
Yeah, that’s so true.
You said you’d also gone through a breakup, but in this song, you’re more like an outside observer, watching several relationships break down. Was that synchronicity part of what freaked you out about it?
Yeah. Also, I was home for a lot of the pandemic and was watching my parents’ marriage fall under a lot of strain and kind of start to crumble in a way that was really weird. I’m an adult and I understand how relationships work a little bit and I can gauge what’s happening between them accurately because I’m just watching it happen, but I’m just living at home. It’s really surreal to see that happen as an adult. I had just gotten out of a relationship that was good, but it just felt hard at the end. And a couple of people that I knew that are very wonderful and sweet people, whom I believe in deeply as a couple, also decided to get married, and I was like, “Do you wanna do that, though? But also, I believe in you. But also, that’s so stupid. And then tax reaso–” Anyway, it was a weird time.
5. Wait Listen
Compared to the more distant perspective of ‘Hand to Hand’, the intimacy here feels crushing and conversational, and unlike a song like ‘Redemption Arc’, you really feel the presence of the other person in the room.
That one’s about my first encounter with the person I was gonna be in my first queer relationship with while I was sort of involved with someone else – we were not exclusive, we had talked about this. But he felt this really profound sense of possessiveness that really alarmed me. It’s just telling that story, and I remember apologizing for hooking up with this person, even though that didn’t really make sense at the time; I was just kind of trying to calm him down. I guess that song is me unapologizing for that, because I did not do anything I said I wouldn’t do, so… It was a weird moment where both of those relationships vaguely intersected for a second.
6. Drop Dead
I imagine this came together after ‘Cubic Zirconia’, where you’re sort of taking what you’ve learned and putting it into practice yourself, and it sounds so wonderfully playful. Did it feel like that making it?
It did, it felt really fun, and it only took a day or two to finish. I was listening to the song ‘Guilty’ by Barry Gibb and Barbara Streisand, which is such a silly little song and so delightfully empty of meaning, but I really liked it [laughs]. I was like, I should try to write something like that today,” and so I did. I got to use a lot of lines that I thought were fun. Like, “un-outlineable bermuda triangles,” there’s no other context where I think I can get away with that line, but it kinda worked there. It really was from the same universe as ‘Cubic Zirconia’ or ‘Salt Crystal’, but it’s just a little bit more fun and less serious.
Lyrically, it also gets more absurd as it goes along, to the point where you end up inventing words.
Yeah. Also, I got to use the word “hyaluronic acids,” which is something I’ve been wanting to sing in a song for so long. Although I’m being told I mispronounce it a little bit, but it’s fine.
One of the many scientific terms you manage fit in there.
It’s for the girlies, honestly. It’s for the skin care enthusiasts out there listening who are like, “Oh yeah, I know what that is.”
Can you reflect a bit on this idea of a body as a territory that comes up throughout the album – as something to be mapped out or claimed, surrounded by fences?
There’s a literary tradition referring to women and land or territory with similar language. “Virgin territory” is a pretty obvious one. There’s other language like that, especially if it’s about colonizing a new land, like America, for example; that’s what “terra incognita” is from. This sounds kind of corny, but thinking about what it means to claim someone, and whether that is possessiveness or whether that’s just allegiance or loyalty – aand I guess it was, because I had felt very possessed by someone right before that in a not cool or fun way. I didn’t really realize it, but all of that language about dominion and claiming territory and the ways that intersects with how men talk about women was just on my mind, generally. It was also something that I’d heard that dude talk about before, so it felt especially ironic. I was like, “Okay, cool, interesting.” Some people should not be English majors.
But there’s also a tenderness in the way you twist that language, in a way.
Yeah, totally, like mapping the body, or tending land. There are different relationships you can have with land as well that are not possessive, but it feels like the ways of relating to land are the ways of relating to another body – there’s some interesting similarities there in both the good and bad ways. Wendell Berry would know what to say about this, maybe.
7. Party of the Century
You wanted this to sound like an Ed Sheeran song.
I mean, I think it sounds the most like an Ed Sheeran song of all the songs on the record. Which isn’t saying much, but it felt almost too sentimental to me. I almost was not sure I wanted it on the record because it was sort of aggressively sweet. So I wanted to lean into it and just let it be a little bit sentimental and lightweight. It was a song about a romantic partner at first, but it felt like it turned into this song about other kinds of attachment, too, especially friendship, and how fragile and ephemeral all of those attachments seem at times – about treasuring them. And then Logan had a bunch of our friends singing along on the last chorus. I said, “Well, it already sounds like an Ed Sheeran song, so that’s fine.” It was really cute.
I like that you said “aggressively sweet,” given some of the references in the song, like war and storms. You wrote it with Christian Lee Hutson over FaceTime, using lyrics you each had in your notes. Was it a challenge to try and string them together in a way that made sense, or did you lead into the parts that didn’t?
It was, and I did lean into the parts that didn’t make sense at first, and then I edited it down. I wasn’t really worried about it making sense because it was just kind of an exercise, and then it suddenly did have a narrative to it of some kind. I also got to use a lot of things that have just been hanging out in my notes app for a really long time, and that always feels good.
Lyrically and musically, this reminds me of ‘Hand to Hand’, but this time you’re kind of at the center of the the storm. As dark and haunting as it sounds, knowing you’re in the middle of the end makes you want to savour each final moment as you’re letting go, and I love how this manifests in your vocal performance. You’re not rushing through any line.
That’s exactly right. I finished writing it maybe a couple of weeks after we had broken up. And I’d started writing parts of it when we had first started dating on that same piano in Alberto’s house, so it felt really bizarre and cathartic to sing that song in a recording studio. It’s basically one take. There might be a couple of overdubs, but it’s one vocal take, and it’s a band take that was happening at the same time, because we had a cello player in that day. It was tough to record, but it felt really true as well. Our relationship had ended because she fell in love with someone else, so it felt like a hard song, but it didn’t feel angry or bitter at all. It did feel like closure of some kind to finish writing that in a weird way.
Were you wary of the instrumentation sounding too abrasive or angry, given the true sentiment of the song?
A little bit, but partially it just felt so cool. I was like, “We gotta leave the cello in.” I probably should have worried about that a little bit more. It’s not a super peaceful song, I’m definitely sad. I’m not angry, but you know, I have been left for someone else, so it’s a little bit angsty just in general. That’s probably fair.
9. Salt Crystal
This is kind of a reprise of ‘Cubic Zirconia’.
It is exactly that. It was literally called ‘Cubic Zirconia 2’. And then I was told to stop calling it that because it’s confusing, but yeah, it’s a companion to ‘Cubic Zirconia’.
Maybe it’s that beautiful line, “the salt left crystal of your sunburned skin,” but to me the song sounds the most like the album cover.
It does to me, too. It does kind of feel like the emotional center of the album, where it’s not as angry, and it’s not really so joyful or fun that it’s silly – it feels lightweight to me, but not frivolous in the way that, like, ‘Drop Dead’ feels. The line that goes “Why wouldn’t that be enough?” seems like it’s explained or explored more in that song than others. It does feel really essential to all of the other beachy songs in terms of reflecting on them from a slightly more serious place. It’s sort of the smart, older sibling to ‘Cubic Zirconia’.
Without outright explaining it, how and when did you feel the meaning of that line came full circle?
I always thought it was such a mysterious line because I remember saying it to my roommate once, and she was like, “That is so incredibly sad.” And I was like, “No, it’s not. It’s not supposed to be incredibly sad.” And then I thought about it, and I was like, “Oh, yeah, it really could be.” It seems like it’s reflective of where you are a little bit. Because you can either read it as, like, “Why isn’t what I’m experiencing right now, relationally, enough for me?” You know, where you’re in a relationship and something is off and you’re like, “Why isn’t this working? What is this other mysterious thing that I need, or think I need?”
I did mean it in the optimistic way, especially in light of – it seems like we’re having better relationships now than generally before in history, and we are able to love each other more and more powerfully than we have. I think especially queer relationships have some of those privileges, with having maybe a little less baggage than heterosexual couples might just floating around in our subconscious. It just seems like, even when my first queer relationship wasn’t easy and did end in heartbreak – again, she fell in love with someone else, which does not feel good – it was still so beautiful and so transformative, and still such a richer experience of seeing and being seen by another person than I think any of my ancestors probably had, respectfully to them, on average.
I know that it’s hard being queer and young, and I’ve only been queer consciously for a little bit, but it seems like even when it’s really hard, there is something very beautiful going on and very worthwhile. And also, how easy it is to be queer now, in America at least, comparatively – I know it’s not easy for everyone, and there’s still a lot of things that have to be addressed, but it’s better than it used to be, for sure, and that has allowed us the freedom to maybe find each other in new ways that other people maybe hope for their whole lives. It just felt like the best expression of general gratefulness for whatever I was experiencing that I could come up with at the time.
Even relationships aren’t easier, or set up to last longer, necessarily, they can be more fulfilling and meaningful. It does feel like there’s a different kind of awareness and communication around them.
Have you ever watched Madmen?
It’s on my watch list.
It’s a fine show. It’s like everyone in the ‘60s, right, and the thing that strikes me about that show is all of their problems could be solved with an Instagram infographic about, like, communication [laughs]. It’s really frustrating, because literally if just one person said what they were feeling, this entire problem would not exist. It’s really not that hard. But they didn’t know! And our grandparents didn’t know, so God bless them. I mean, I’m not like a huge fan of Instagram infographics about relationships, but even that could have made a difference. People just didn’t know things.
And they just stayed with each other.
For economic reasons, primarily.
10. Blue Raspberry
I wanted to talk about the vocal layering and pitch shifting, which reminded me of something we touched upon last time when talking about ‘Traffic!’, but in a different context. What was it like mapping out the vocals here?
It was really hard because we wanted it to be present, but not super overwhelming. Kind of like the AutoTune in ‘Traffic!’ comes in and out, we wanted it to have a very subtle touch in when it surfaced. That’s definitely a thing that Alberto and Logan spent probably 5 or 6 hours on collectively that I was just not there for, but they did a great job. As soon as I started writing that song, I had thought about shifting either to maybe make it a duet or be able to sing it like with sort of a masculine voice, just to try that on. Part of that was coming from, there’s a song by Alex G called ‘Bright Boy’ where he’s doing a duet with himself, but one of them is his own voice pitched up, I’m pretty sure. Especially because it was such a long, sweet, ballad-y song, I thought it would make those words hit a little differently if there was that eerie undertone. And also, ‘Blue Raspberry’, with the artificiality, it felt appropriate to have a little bit of an obvious thing that does not belong. So that was kind of always built in there, and I’m glad it stayed.
I read that this is the oldest song on the record, the kind of songwriting exercise that actually led to personal discovery. What were the different stages that it went through, or that you went through along with it?
When I started writing it, it was right before I had the moment where I realized, “I’m probably queer.” I worked on it for a really long time, again, because I didn’t feel like I was in any rush and it was really fun to work on. I think I must have felt finished with it about a year later, and maybe a year from that was when I actually started my first queer relationship. But I finished writing the song along with becoming more comfortable calling myself queer, or feeling confident that that’s what I am. It was really weird that I was writing the song as part of the process of writing the song, and I was like, “Why are women lovable and hot?” And then I made myself gay on accident [laughs]. It is the oldest song, though.
I love that line, “I don’t care if whatever you are is found in nature/ You hold the patent for that flavor.” It kind of sums up a lot of what we’ve been talking about thematically.
I’m so glad you feel that way. My girlfriend was telling me she liked that line the other night.
Why did you want this to be both the lead single and the closing track?
I kind of think of ‘Cubic Zirconia’ as the lead single, technically. I wanted ‘Cubic Zirconia’ to come out while it was still warm and it wasn’t freezing cold cause because it felt like a summery song. But ‘Table’ was so fun to play live, I knew we had to put it on the record. That wasn’t really part of the plan, but it was a nice and short song so it wound up being a single. I wrote it really quickly. I wrote it at the Hideout in Chicago, partially, which is where I wrote ‘Traffic!’, actually. Which I did not know – I knew I was in a bar in Chicago when I wrote ‘Traffic!’, but I didn’t remember the name of it, and then I went back there and we played a show, and I was like, “I’ve been here, whoa! [laughs] I made something here!” There’s a piano backstage that Logan was playing on and I was just singing along, and it kind of came out. That’s spooky. I love albums that have a little epilogue track at the end, like the credits are rolling and you’re like, “OK, bye, thanks for coming everybody! Get home safe!”
Is there anything that we didn’t talk about that you’d like to share?
You mentioned how a lot of these lyrics overlap with each other, and for the record, I did go back and forth on whether that was a good idea or bad idea. But it just kept happening, so I liked it. I decided at one point to put all of the lyrics up on a corkboard and put pins and string like a serial killer on how they all connect, so they do all kind of connect to each other at some point, if I’m remembering correctly. None of them doesn’t connect to another one which connects to another one, so I always thought that was kind of cool. But it might just be cool because I put it on a serial killer map board and did it myself. But the serial killer map board does exist, if anyone cares [laughs].
Is that an approach you feel like you’d like to keep exploring on future records?
Actually, that probably will definitely inform how I approach writing an album in the future. Either I’ll want to do that again or I’ll want to never do it again, but I’ll probably want to do it again. It’s really fun to make them all overlap a little bit. Ezra Koening has done this a few times where he has that one line, “I don’t wanna live like this, but I don’t wanna die.” Which, he’s clearly just like, “That’s a sick line, and I’m going to use it again because it’s still sick, and I wrote it so it’s not plagiarism.” It’s just self-reference or intertextuality. In that way, it’s smart, so good for him. Good for us all.
You hold the patent for that flavor.
You hold the patent, Ezra!
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.