‘We’ve got the mighty Southern Alps and the rugged Tasman Sea, hidden between the two is where you’ll find me.’ – aside from confirming that she remains fiercely proud to be labelled a West Coaster, that couplet from Katie Thompson’s newly released album, ‘Bittersweet’, seems a suitable metaphor for the accomplished and determined South Island country artist.
First coming to attention in 2009 with the release of her debut album, Katie released her second just two years later. That one was titled ‘Impossible’, and should reasonably have been followed a few years after with a third called ‘Nailed It!’, or similar – but life somehow got in the way! Marriage, moving to Christchurch, massive earthquakes, starting a family… those sort of things that life brings.
So it is that 2019 sees the release of Katie Thompson’s third album, ‘Bittersweet’, and a return to the spotlight for the sweet-voiced country music star.
“I think it had been five years since I had recorded anything, and, like any musician, you learn a lot with time! So this album is really just a collection of my adult life experiences, becoming a mother and growth and learning, that I’ve had over that period.
“I’ve definitely lived a life since I wrote the songs for ‘Impossible’. I was young and a pretty straight-laced human being when I recorded that album. Life has happened since, good and bad, and this new album reflects just that.”
Lyttelton country/folk production specialist Ben Edwards shared a vision for her music and the album was recorded at his Sitting Room studio, with the input of a typically adept team of local musicians. Ahead of the recording last October she had toured with drummer Ryan Fisherman and guitarist Rob Grover who both get co-production credits. Elmore Jones joined them on bass. The result is an unpretentious release that adeptly covers many aspects that draw listeners to classic country music; the instruments, the variety of tempos and moods, the honesty and life’s mixed emotions. Katie was happy to accept Edwards’ firm guiding hand.
“I love that sound he manages to capture, and I really liked the way he wanted to approach my music – he pretty much told me to calm down and strip it back! One of my favourite songs on the album, Rock & Roll, used to be a rip shit country song and now it’s all atmospheric and stripped back! I trusted Ben and it paid off, in my opinion,” she laughs
The album title encapsulates her ongoing journey of being a performer and a mother, alongside the many different kind of challenges that life’s journey has provided friends, family – and in the case of the album’s lead single, Alcohol And Pills, numerous fallen musical heroes.
Written by gravel-voiced Canadian country singer/songwriter Fred Eaglesmith and originally released in 1997, Alcohol And Pills is the only cover included on ‘Bittersweet’, making it a curious, risky even, choice for her first single release in several years. Katie says she’s loved the song for a long time, and Edwards endorsed it as a single choice.
‘Bittersweet’ includes songs that make a link between her own childhood experiences and those of her daughter, connections to the land and landscapes, the everyday challenges we all face, betrayal of trust and the more songwriter-specific stress of facing a locked-in studio booking.
“West Coast and Waiting have been around for ages and I’ve played them at lots of gigs. The title for Running Out Of Time gives a pretty clear indication of when I wrote that one! I was panic writing in October – and sometimes that it’s the only way to get things done.
“I think I’ve always known that I’m fortunate with my family, but then having a child myself I felt the need to provide that sort of environment for her. With that in mind, Precious Little Moments is all about my childhood. I co-wrote that with Liv McBride from Into The East – she’d just had her daughter and we were just talking late at night, over email, writing this song together for our little girls. Ben wanted to make that a big swirly ball of happiness which we managed to do!”
There is no song Bittersweet, though the term, chosen as a suitable encapsulation of the album’s origins and mood, features in Take Me Back. Titled It Ain’t Easy, the album’s closing track stemmed from a comment made in an inspirational TED Talk that resonated strongly.
“That was exactly how I felt about things at the time. Life might be simple, but it’s certainly not easy!”