Chatting hymns with Katie Kim

Jayna Rohslau interviews the Dublin singer-songwriter on her key influences and musical takeaways

There’s a liquid smooth sensibility to Katie Kim’s work. It is evident in the flow of her songs. Without break, one song ends and the next begins. It’s also apparent in the visuals accompanying her song Mona, as gaping faces are obscured and coated by layers of glistening saliva, slime, and fluid. Most of all, it is within the music itself. “I was the light / I was the storm.” Her words, echoing throughout the cavernous space, positively drip like beads of frozen water. The Project Arts Centre is silent save for this sensation akin to melting, as we await the next word. Perhaps if we try hard enough we can capture the droplets in our ears.

“Through the dissonant synths and bass lines, Kim’s voice remains crystal-clear in its cinematic intensity.”

Through the dissonant synths and bass lines, Kim’s voice remains crystal-clear in its cinematic intensity. You only have to close your eyes while listening to standout track Feeding on the Metals, to be transported to a dark and nostalgic city. On the other hand, why close one’s eyes when the accompanying visuals suburban houses, a running young woman, a young boy forecast the songs so well. “It’s nice to have a visual element,” Kim (real name: Sullivan) says when we speak over the phone. She continues, “sometimes it doesn’t necessarily rely on a verse chorus kind of structure so it’s nice to have a visual element so that people have something else to take it in with.”

Ominous yet catchy. Intense yet deliberate. Contradictions permeate the body of Kim’s latest album like ripples in a pool of still water. Even as the young boy in the background offers a crooked smile, Kim’s haunted vocals gives one the impression that his smile is due to ignorance, and it is only a matter of time before his idyllic life gives way to the horror movie at its core. She notes: “I watch a lot of movies, so everything seeps in somewhat. Especially soundtracks… I love it when the movie maker and the composer seem to have a meeting of the minds.”

When asked for specifics, it doesn’t take much to get Kim’s currents of knowledge flowing. She names Harmony Korine, David Lynch and John Carpenter as her “all-time favorite” directors that helped inform her latest album, Hour of the Ox, released last September. When I acknowledge my familiarity with Korine’s Kids, she shows that her undercurrents run deeper, pronouncing “Gummo and Julian Donkey Boy” her primary influences from Korine.

Regarding the soundtrack composition, Kim cites Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here, Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin and pronounces herself a “huge fan” of Mica Levy, specifically the Jackie soundtrack. In terms of the former: “I took the string element from the Under the Skin soundtrack where there were a lot of bending strings. They sound like [it’s] raining, and I got into the bending of strings.”

Take the album then, for a watchlist. Although Kim notes that “it wasn’t one composer” or director that influenced the album, these fiercely experimental insights permeate the album like a thin fog inevitably seeping through cracks. Like Lynch, Kim utilizes strings and synths to create a strange, atmospheric effect where the unexpected has inexplicably already occurred. Small-town life is also washed out in Korine’s Gummo and literally massacred throughout Carpenter’s oeuvre, which gives the impression that the instability of place also made its distinct impression on Kim. It should come as no surprise. After all, the process of writing, recording and producing Hour of the Ox took Kim seven years and not one, but two, transcontinental moves. Ready for a change, she lived in New York for six months before returning to Irish shores due to Covid. 

“It was a long process because there was a pandemic,” Kim acknowledges, and I envision her wincing. Despite the upstream battle to record and release the album, Kim has been fortunate in having a talented collaborator, John Murphy ‘Spud’, who helps her row in tumultuous tides. “I am really comfortable with him,” Kim says of her process with Spud, “he and I have a really good working relationship where I only have to say very minimal things to him and I can leave for a short while and come back and listen. He puts his own stamp [on the music] and it’s really easy to say if I like it or if I don’t like it. And nobody gets offended.”

“Kim also characterises her songwriting and revision as similarly organic, emphasising that an album ‘takes on a life of its own.'”

Kim also characterises her songwriting and revision as similarly organic, emphasising that an album “takes on a life of its own.” She states that “It goes through stages. I normally write the tracks at home and bring them in to John, and we pick the strongest songs and we start forming an album… I throw everything at them [the songs] and we go back and strip them [the effects] away, overdub, overdub, overdub, and you end up using only one thing you started with.” The song Mona is an example of Kim’s nonlinear approach as the first sign that Hour of the Ox would emerge. As rain sinks into the earth before evaporating, it started life as a “tiny little waltzy piano song” (for those curious, it is uploaded to BandCamp) before evolving into the “dirty synthy kind of song,” of its present incarnation. This nonlinear approach may also be reflected in the album’s title; The Hour of the Ox may have fled, but it repeats every 12 years.

“She stops and pauses to let her words soak through, ‘either way I don’t want to bore people.’”

Of course, beyond the cinematic, Kim has other influences; in particular she “was listening to a lot of” Scott Walker’s Tilt and Kim Gordon’s No Home. “I think that’s just amazing” she says and names Earthquake as her favourite from the album. Still, she maintains that she “really do[es] think it’s subconscious and also influenced by the world around me.” Finishing our conversation, I ask Kim if she has any takeaways she wants listeners to come away with. “I hope it affects somebody” she says, expressing that she doesn’t care if the reaction to her work is “not nice” and “even unsettling” like the video for Mona. “People were disgusted by the video because it was full of slime, and people were saying horrified things, good things.” She stops and pauses to let her words soak through, “either way I don’t want to bore people.”

Jayna Rohslau

Jayna Rohslau is the Arts and Culture Editor and is currently in her Senior Fresh year studying English in the Dual BA