By: Kerry Gallagher//
You may have heard her music on MTV’s The Real World, but there’s more to singer-songwriter Lindsay Katt than meets the eye. Recently, we sat down with Lindsay to talk about her music, inspiration and all about her film The Avant-Gardener.
Your music has been featured on a lot of big shows like MTV’s The Real World and ABC’s Castle. What is it like to see your music adding to these stories?
Even now, after so many years working professionally in Music and Film, it still feels like magic. When someone invites me to participate in their work, it still feels like an invitation to play in the sandbox of someone else’s vision and design with them. I make a practice of never taking the wonder and joy of that experience for granted. When someone honors my work by including it as part of the landscape of their own Art/Film/Show, I am reminded of how wonderful it is to be allowed to participate in the larger Art continuum that reaches beyond the scope of the work I typically do on my own. What an incredible privilege.
When did you first realize making music was something you could do seriously as your career?
When I was 19, I made the decision to actively pursue a career in music. I was reminded by my Father that “You miss 100% of the shots that you don’t take” and was already working 3 jobs to pay for college. So, I decided that if I was going to work that hard, that it made sense to put that work into something that I deeply cared about, and that also exploded my spirit with light and joy.
What is your approach when it comes to creating your music?
I try not to boss my songs around too much. I try to listen and trust my gut, as I follow the trail of breadcrumbs to where ever they take me. I try to be honest, thoughtful, human, and wholehearted when I’m writing, which I hope is a reflection of how I choose to engage with others out in the world as well. The only exception to this is when I am writing a song “for” someone, or something else, with the hopes of achieving some specific outcome. AKA I am writing a pitch Ad for a commercial Jingle. Then I REALLY boss the material around…a lot. That approach to writing feels less like listening for the muse, and more like “MacGyver-ing an assortment of moving parts” and problem-solving a song, which is its own particular kind of fun. Sometimes you get to do both, which is where some of the really special magic lies.
I really enjoyed your 2013 EP Happy Fits of Rage. Each track sounds unique and tells its own story. What was your goal when putting this project together?
Yes! Each song had a very personal story, and the grouping still felt familiar. Like meeting different family members from the same family. “Not a Mistake” being the most personal to me, as it was written as a reaction to a family tragedy. An extended member of my family had committed suicide because they were gay, by lighting themselves on fire, and posted something on Facebook in the sentiment of “I’m gonna burn in hell anyway, and I may as well start now”.
As a Queer person, this story impacted my heart deeply, and that song was definitely my attempt to talk to all the hearts out there, who have ever been lead to believe the story, that the truth of who they are, is ever a “Mistake” …and wrap them in a warm blanket of love. And then you have a song like “Two Part Game” …which I wrote as a divorce present for a dear college friend of mine. (Where the joke of the song was, how in hard times, all the advice I tried to give, kept coming out as these old worn cliches, no matter how hard I tried.)
Have there been any albums or artists in particular that have shaped you to be the artist you are now?
SO MANY! I feel like the ones that really stick out our a mashup of the greats, classics, and occasional oddball. Joan Armatrading, and everything shes ever made/written. Joni Mitchell, and Everything She’s ever made/written. David Bowie, and Everything he’s ever made/written. Ray Charles, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Tracy Chapman. Other major players include Shawn Colvin, Micheal Jackson, Fleetwood Mac (I can’t help it, I was literally named after Lindsay Buckingham, my Sisters name is Rhiannon, I never had a prayer). The Killers, The Knife, and Fiona Apple, OutKast.
You’ve spent the past three years working on your film The Avant-Gardener. Could you tell us about that entire process? How did the idea come to life and what were some of the biggest struggles that came along with it?
The idea came to me while working on a commercial pitch. I thought about soundtracks to movies…and wondered why I had never seen a FilmTrack to a Record before. (This was all pre-Beyonce’s “visual albums” and recent similar releases.) I was reaching back to the eras of music that I had loved, and cut my teeth on since childhood. Music from my parents generation, coming up in the 60’s – 70’s, inspiration from Artists that weren’t afraid to play with, and alter form and medium while producing their work. Visual experiments like those from Floyd or the Beatles, made me wonder why I hadn’t seen a narrative film like this yet.
I reached out to my then guitar player, now Producer and partner in music crime and in the Film, to see what he thought, and he committed to working on the music with me. Then I called my dear friend Heather (Who on to direct, co-write and act in Episode one of the film, and whose creative input has been invaluable) and she reminded me that no one is in control of our own destiny except us. Like most Naive fools, I threw myself, wholeheartedly, into the hardest parts of this process, while having ZERO ideas, or even close to an idea of how much work it was actually going to be. I realized very quickly, however, just how much of a village it would take to bring this art beast dream to fully realized life…which turned out to be a small Art Army.
I also became aware of how uncomfortable it made some people, the lengths at which I was involved personally in different parts of the filmmaking process. I really wore a lot of hats on and off set, which while creating its own series of challenges (AKA, how challenging it can be to Direct while your mouth is covered with sticky tape) it also allowed me to be the consistent guiding force behind the collaborations taking place. However, taking on roles like producer, wardrobe design/construction, art direction, and Set design, felt important to the work…and they have become some of the best experiences of my life. I spent years collaborating, designing, and fretting, over the foundation, tone, and experience of this work.
I also physically built or painted over 80 percent of all the paintings, props, and set dressing etc seen throughout. It was all or nothing, there was no middle. Collaborating with Talent like Actor/Director Heather Matarazzo (The Princess Diaries, and Welcome to the Dollhouse), Carl Byrd (Director for GAP/MACY’s), Jeremiah Kipp (Director of “Slap Face” ), John Carrafa (Tony-winning Choreographer from Broadway shows like “Urine Town” and “Into The Woods”), and incredibly talented visual Artists like Micheal Hofftka, (Paintings featured both in the MoMa and the MET) donating paintings to the work, as well as acting in Episode 1. The commitment, creativity, and passion from every person who collaborated, or got involved, just added a new flavor or sparkle to the whole piece, it was incredible to watch and experience. In many ways, I extremely grateful for my own lack of knowledge at the start, because it allowed me to be vulnerable, raw, and mindful of the Art, in a way that I think can get clutter my work with worry, protocol, and “knowing the right answer”
I feel grateful for all of my “First times” in life, especially as an Art maker, and making a film was certainly no exception. The things that really challenged me and tested my patience, ended up being the things I would have ever expected, and couldn’t have known to be afraid of anyway. For example, how long the process can actually take. There were many times when someone needed something from me, and in response I made my hands into a triangle and said “Look, it can be Good, Fast, or Cheap…you can always have two in any combination, but never all 3 at the same time” and that became our theme song…so the process took a while, and we practiced as much patience as we could).
Halfway through filming one of our lead Actors, Tom, (who studied at Julliard, and had been working for us on a student work visa) Lost his work visa after graduation…and didn’t get it back.) That setback was the most catastrophic and had the most consequences for the project. Because it meant Removing Tom the Actor, without compromising the integrity of the character he played. The Positive side, however, even with all of the challenges we faced, was indisputable. For every Month that dragged by, magic was incubating elsewhere, and getting ready to meet our little band of merry Art makers in the future, when it was ripe. That nearly year of downtime, allowed me to find, and hire Daniel Madoff our incredible Editor (Winner of “Best Editor” at the Indie Film Gathering) and Producer (He produced the 4 episodes that I directed…Which are the last in the film, and were extremely challenging and elaborate ascetically to execute.)
Every challenge and road bump, however, eventually became a decision or action, that led directly the product of our careful consideration and work. I am grateful for these challenges, delays, and “Mistakes” and feel they are critical to the process of Art making for me. Because as an Artists and as people, we don’t know, what we don’t know…and when we approach our challenges with an open heart and imagination, I find that is often the space where innovation lives.
“…Make your mistakes, like you’d make them again” that is how I want to make Art, and also, aspire to live
The film is doing really well, it’s won the grand prize for Experimental Short at the Rhode Island International Film Festival and a few awards at The International Indie Gathering. Was that something that came as a total surprise to you?
Total shock. I was blindsided by the win in Rhode Island, so much so that we left before the awards ceremony to accept our awards from The Indie Film Gathering in Ohio! (I still can’t believe I missed that moment in time). I am still in shock. I don’t think I could feel more grateful, or proud, for that acknowledgment of this work. I feel like a big part of that is my commitment to ego death during the work process. I find that if I let my ego get in the way, or start considering the possible tastes and thoughts of others too much, it can clutter and constrict the art in a way that makes it harder to listen to and trust.
For me, any time spent thinking about awards or what people might think is time I wasn’t spending producing work that is award-worthy, and hard earning of the responsibility of asking for people’s valuable time. I take that responsibility seriously. If I am going to ask another person to sit down and risk 36 minutes of their time, and attention span (Something I struggle with daily in this day and age) I want the work to be something that is indisputably worthwhile, and of use and value to their experience and lives.
That is why I choose to do this work. Because I believe in the power and value both in the process of creating, and the use, and enjoyment of the thing created.
What’s the takeaway from The Avant-Gardener? What do you want people feeling when the credits roll?
For me, the take away is rooted in empathy, vulnerability, and confronting our human condition, and tremendous capacity for bravery. Learning how to watch someone’s story unfold, and share in their perception of it, through their lens. Allowing audiences to experience this character’s story, through her thoughts, feelings, dreams, and reality. Themes of connection to others, as well as ferocious independence, because in life there is often a need for both.
I wanted to depict some of the struggles between the things our spirit might be longing for, and the story we have become accustomed to believing about ourselves and our lives. If people leave thinking about their lives, and the lives of others, and a feeling of empathy for their human family, I will consider this film to be a great success. If they reexamine how and why they make the choices that they do. What is motivating a meaning in life for them? Or how do we better relate to one another when sometimes people seem unreachably different. If people walk away thinking and feeling new things, or If they are touched by the work, then I will feel as though the work is reaching its potential. When the credits roll, I hope people’s reaction is “Wow, I want to watch that again!”
What’s next after this? Can we expect more music in the near future?
Yes, lots of plotting and planning for the future. A lot of new music that I am excited to produce and release! (I have been writing a lot lately, and I have been so single-minded and focused these past years, that I am chomping at the bit to flex my “dreaming” muscles again.) There will also be a Tour for the Film/Record, which is being planned as we speak by our team, as well as more screenings and hopefully more festivals. Art Day, a project I have run for many years (in which me and another person get together for a day, to make Art) is about to get more formalized through the site Patreon, which is a project I am extremely excited about! Looking forward to many adventures to come!