Exclusive Interview With Singer Song Writer Katie Dill
I still remember the day when Katie Dill came on my musical radar. I was in front of a record store on Main Street in Newark, Delaware. I’m being serious when I say the street is named “Main Street,” it’s not some generic reference to Main Street America.
For those who know, Newark, Delaware is home to the University of Delaware. For decades now it’s been rated in the top 10 party towns in the United States. Every one from the Rolling Stones, to De La Soul would breeze into town for a quick money grab between their Washington D.C. and Philadelphia gigs.
So I’m standing in front of this record store sometime between 2013 and 2015. I can never nail down a direct date for any memory after the 90’s because something about the whole 20 thing just throws me off. I had just dropped off 5 of my own CD’s on consignment. At that particular record store I was selling about 5 CD’s a day consistently for about 3 months now. When you added in the other 2 on the street, the gas stations, and my hand to hand sales, I was really kind of feeling myself, and making a name.
Anyway, I see this dude I recognized as being in a band and he has a box of maybe 50 Cd’s. I say “Hey what’s up my G.” He responds with something like “Hey what’s up dude.” So I say “What you got there?” He replies “Aw man.. just dropping off some more CD’s on consignment.”
At this point my curiosity is running wild. Who is the group moving units by the boxes? It turns out that group was, Diego Paulo. I was immediately enthralled by the infectious voice of the lead singer, and the unique blend of instrumentation the band presented so seamlessly.
Over the years, I ended up at many Katie Dill shows, as she wowed audiences with her new project Mean Lady (shout out to Sam), as well as her solo efforts. When she sung at the big homie Cutty Cut’s moms funeral (R.I.P.) that’s when she was truly solidified with me. Get to know the genius of the incomparable Katie Dill.
Yaheard: How and when did you become inspired to make music?
As a kid I would walk around singing little songs all the time and I would write poems for my family. I took piano lessons from age 5-10, cello from 4th to 8th grade, and learned guitar at 15 along with ukulele and then later banjo. I’ve been writing songs on those instruments as I went. It’s something I’ve always done, I guess.
Tell us a little about the town you grew up in?
I grew up in Newark, Delaware, which as you know is a small town, pretty quaint. A campus town housing the University of Delaware, featuring lots of beautiful forests and creeks and farmland as well. It’s nestled on the east coast with easy travel to Philly, New York City, Baltimore and D.C. making it a great place for musicians to have a home base. Little mini-tours were always possible and the music scene in Newark has always been a very exciting one. There have always been lots of young bands and really lively shows, whether you like rock and roll, hip hop, punk, ska, reggae, folk music, pop music, EDM and dance music. You can also participate in bluegrass pickin’ parties with the older generation, as well as jazz jams. Historically many of the musicians that toured the east coast would stop in Delaware on their way up and down I95, so we are blessed with lots of culture. It’s a great place to grow up playing and being exposed to music.
As a multi-instrumentalist is it something that came naturally or from hours of practice?
Before I took piano lessons I was already playing it by ear a little. It’s a great instrument for that because all the notes are right there just waiting to be banged on. I have a musician for a father so he would give me tips here and there which probably gave me an edge. Guitar was a very different animal, but similarly I was figuring some things out on my own before I knew what I was doing. I’m the type of person who likes to play music on anything lying around and I will find a way to make a song out of a tissue box guitar if the rubber bands make a couple clear notes. But actually getting to a place of skill on any instrument takes as much practice as it takes to become a really good juggler. It’s muscle memory. I always say music is a sport. Your fingers, your hands, your wrists. All these muscles are being trained to react quickly before your mind gets in the way. I think people don’t treat it like a sport you are doing with your body, but they should. I am also a juggler and the way I practice piano and juggling is exactly the same. Repeat something slowly until your muscles have memorized it, then you can speed it up.
How did your band Mean Lady come together, and why did you split?
Sam and I actually played a live outdoor show this summer and recorded some music so I wouldn’t say we’ve split, but we do live on opposite coasts so we don’t function as a unit the way we did in college when we hung out all the time. We met in high school and jammed, Sam had his upright bass which I thought was super cool (‘cause it was). In college I was asked to join a band called Diego Paulo and Sam was the bassist, so I said hell yes! Sounds like fun. And it was a very fun time in my life, traveling around with a five piece Bossanova band that turned into a psychedelic rock band pretty quickly. Then Sam and I had this song we started singing while we walked around (Mean Lady, Mean Lady, why do you have to be such a..) and he got the idea to make a hip hop beat for it. We made a couple more songs like that and decided to play a show at a house party in a basement, which was quite a classic scene in Newark’s college town night life. People seemed to enjoy it a lot, so we thought we would be a band and do more of that. It was just the most fun to actually get to perform something resembling hip-hop and watch people dance to that because that’s always the music I loved dancing to the most.
Each one of your songs stands alone as a work of art. Are your albums a collection of individual pieces, or a common theme?
Thank you! Well I try not to over-contemplate a collection because then I think it would never get done. So I just trust that subconsciously the theme will be there because of whatever time of my life I’m going through at that moment. I have always focused on songs. Each song is important to me in its own special way. They are all built a little differently but I like them to all be compelling to me. Melody is my friend and I only like music that has a melody that grips me and makes me feel enough emotion to get stuck in my head. Words are not as important but what they do add is a way for people to remember the melody. It’s hard to sing something with no words. So the words come second, but I am pretty specific I about what I like there too. Crummy or boring lyrics can really ruin something, or words that emphasize the wrong syllables can totally throw off a melody. My lyrics aren’t perfect, they’re kinda silly sometimes, maybe even cutesy. I try to write as honestly as I can so that it feels a little vulnerable. My friend Jess said once that my songs feel like they’re telling secrets. I really like that representation, it helps me to keep forcing myself to be vulnerable, not shy away from what is on my mind, say things that are very specific, and tell a secret in every song.
Your new album Spent Hen is Brilliant. What inspired the music? What are some of your favorites from the album and why?
Well, thank you so much! Some of the songs are older and these are the versions of them I feel might be their final form. Other songs I wrote specifically for this album, and very recently. Banjo String is a favorite of mine, the first track. It was a beat I made that was sitting in my phone, I have a ton of those unfinished beats. I wrote and recorded the lyrics really quickly once I got the first two lines: “You can play me like a fiddle, pluck me like a banjo string.” I was sitting on the ground looking at my banjo. Banjos are so beautiful. I wanted this record to have a fall feeling, down home, authentic country as well as hip hop and pop and rock and folk. I love folk music the best. So this song felt like a marriage of styles. After the first line I thought “you can tell me like a riddle, wear me like a ring”. I love the line wear me like a ring. I feel like rings and riddles are classic images. I love classic things that can be interpreted in many ways. So then it was a fun word-play game to find the rest of the lyrics. And at the end when I listened back it started to seem like the song was about something that I didn’t really foresee. I like that. My other favorite song would be Lifetime, the penultimate song on the album. I wrote and recorded it the day before I put the album out. I was tracking banjo in the back seat of the car, it was supposed to be another version of Baby in My Mind, the third song. But after the banjo track was done these other melodies and lyrics started coming through so I just made it it’s own song. It came in pretty quickly. Sometimes songwriting feels more like song-catching. Since this song is the most recent it reflects me right now in this moment, instrumentation-wise as well. That’s the one I will probably sound most like in my next album.
If you were stranded on an Island with a record player and 5 albums, what albums are you bringing?
Great question! I’d bring Revolver by the Beatles, Paranoid Cocoon by Cotton Jones, Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys, Bubblin’ Over by Dolly Parton, This Is Desmond Dekkar by Desmond Dekkar. I wish I could bring more than five to this frikkin’ island.
When do you know it’s time to record or release a new album?
When I have a backlog of recordings and I’m afraid my phone could overheat and I could lose them! That’s happened to me before. I lost so much music, it was devastating. So that’s in my head for sure. I feel that I moved away from albums for years and years and just released songs, but I don’t want to do that anymore. I think people deserve a collection, like a little gift with a ribbon tied around it.
As an East Coast transplant to the West coast, what are some of the things you miss, and what are some of the things you don’t miss?
I miss the fall, I got to see it this year tho, thank god. I miss the nature. Nature here is beautiful too, in different ways. I miss my family. I miss bagels. I miss pizza. I miss Wawa. No one out west knows what “baggin’ up” means, as in “he had me baggin’ up in history class”. So I miss that.
How did you get into comedy, and what are some of your ventures in that realm?
I started doing comedy on the bus in kindergarten, the jokes were very different at that age. Pretty simple stuff with weird voices. I always liked making my brothers laugh, try to get Sean to spit milk out of his nose. In college I got onto the improv team at University of Delaware called the Rubber Chickens. When I moved up to NYC I performed at Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, and I performed at their theatre in Los Angeles as well. I also was on house teams at Second City West Coast and Improv Olympic West in Los Angeles. I studied clown with Phil Burgers aka Dr. Brown who is a winner of the Edinburgh Comedy Festival which is I believe one of the biggest awards in the world you can win for comedy. He was a great teacher and after two of those classes I stopped doing improv and started performing solo. I do characters and I’ve done three one-woman shows each an hour long. They were directed by Ron Lynch who is a bit of a legend in my opinion, he’s been in the game of stand-up for a long time, acts on Bob’s Burgers, Comedy Bang Bang, Dr. Katz (I loved that show as a kid). I really enjoyed working with him and making him giggle at my silly ideas as we watched them play out. I love being around very talented people and absorbing their wisdom and advice and taking their notes. It’s such a joy to bounce ideas around with other comedians and feel the fun of making something new.
As an artist with a social awareness, is there anything you would like to address in regards to the current political climate in America?
Thank god Trump lost, I can’t even begin to tell you how happy I am about that. Right now we are dealing with huge problems stemming from racism and police brutality, as we have been throughout the entire history of this country. Having an overt white supremacist in the White House was the first thing we needed to get rid of. His authoritarian regime is a blight on the history of this nation and of the world. But the problems still exist, racial inequality, socioeconomic inequality, people are homeless and starving, people can’t afford to go to the hospital, people can’t afford their rent on the starvation wages they are paid in minimum wage jobs. There needs to be rent relief during this pandemic, there needs to be more government assistance so every small business in America isn’t forced to close. Pure, cold-hearted capitalism starts to break down when you have a pandemic and people start realizing we are all one hospital bill away from being homeless. It could happen to anyone and once people start to accept that reality, maybe they’ll begin to make it a priority to take care of the citizens of this country instead of letting them starve and die on the streets with wild abandon. Things like healthcare and housing are human rights, food, shelter, medicine. If we deny these things to our citizens we will all be living in a worse and worse place as time goes on. And once it’s us going through hard times, we start to feel what others have been feeling, those people on the street we avert our eyes from and try not to think about. Those people are us. Oh yeah, and climate change. We need to stop letting industry pollute our planet to the point of no return. These companies aren’t going to police themselves. It’s not in their economic interest. Capitalism!
Lastly, where can people find you, and what’s next after Spent Hen?
You can find my music at www.katiedill.bandcamp.com , you can also find me on Spotify and instagram @katiedillgrams. I will be releasing another album before long, I have a lot of “almost finished” things. So look out for new music and hopefully comedy as well. Love you guys! And thank you for supporting the arts, it’s very wonderful of you!
Preview and Purchase Katie Dill Spent Hen