The best bands evolve and take risks, avoiding the slow death wrought by repetition and stasis.
It’s only their second full-length album, but on “Heavy Days,” Katy Guillen & the Girls are already taking their sound in new directions. The 10-track album, produced at Kansas City’s Weights and Measures Soundlab, showcases not only the musicianship of Guillen (guitar), Claire Adams (bass) and Stephanie Williams (drums), it also reveals craftier songwriting and a firm veer from straight blues into rock. To watch the video of “Heavy Days,” visit Bridge909.org.
“Heavy Days” will be officially released on June 24 via a partnership between KG&G Records, the band’s own label, and the VizzTone Label Group, a blues/roots label in North Carolina. However, Saturday night the band is giving its hometown a special release show at Knuckleheads.
On Monday, Guillen answered some questions about the album and the new sound:
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Q: Talk about the songwriting process for “Heavy Days,” how it differed from your other recordings and what inspired some of the songs.
A: The songs for “Heavy Days” started coming together right around when we released our first album in September of 2014. After that release we maintained a very busy performance schedule, touring that album to new places like Sweden. We worked on songs in between the gigging and traveling, which there seemed to be a lot less time for last year.
I write songs in a much more fragmented way than ever before, because we’re so busy with gigging and running the band. Which is how a lot of these songs came together — in pieces when we had time. Normally when we get together to practice and try new songs out, I’ll show Claire and Steph an idea I’ve been working on, like a riff and verse or chorus and verse, or any combination of ideas — sometimes an entire song — and we’ll jam on it, and Claire and Steph work out a part. There’s a couple songs on the album that started out by us just jamming at practice. We had a lot more time to work on the songs for the last album, but this time I had to rely on voice memos and short quiet moments at home to flesh out ideas.
The inspiration for a lot of the songs comes from the experiences we’ve had over the last couple of years. The band has endured some growing pains as we’ve gotten busier and enjoyed some success, but we’ve also been able to bond over those things, too. Some of the lyrical content tends toward the dark side, drawing from bearing a heavier load of responsibility and work that’s attached to the music now, learning to pull the good out of challenging situations and depression. Lyrically, some songs were a direct result of an experience the band had together. So there’s a lot pulled from the people and places we’ve met.
Q: The music and the songwriting feel different from your other recordings — more rock than straight blues. And the songcraft feels sharper, brighter. “Waking Up From You,” for example, has a garage rock/girl-pop vibe. And there are more layered vocals throughout.
A: We went in more of a rock-driven direction for this album, because that’s just where we were about a year and a half ago and what we were feeling, energy-wise. We definitely enjoy riding the line of blues and rock and having the ability to play to both worlds. I’ve been listening to a lot of Heartless Bastards over the last year or so, and really enjoy Erika Winnerstrom’s style. The song “Waking Up From You” was inspired by her songwriting.
Individually, Claire and Steph both have unique backgrounds and tendencies as far as feel and style, which adds to the band’s overall sound. I feel like I let them influence me a lot more in terms of riffs and chord progressions. We were all feeling the rock on this one.
The approach to this album wasn’t drastically different from our first one, but it ended up sounding quite a bit different because of our open-minded approach. We thought a good way to bring in some different energy was to work with a new person. We recorded at Weights and Measures Soundlab with Duane Trower, and Paul Malinowski worked with us as a producer. Paul brought in a lot of objective feedback and ideas for layering parts that beefed it up a bit. He also brought in some extra equipment like amps, pedals and a couple of guitars to try out. Claire took a lot more liberties with extra vocal parts, Steph overlaid extra percussion, and I did more guitar layers. The goal was to try some new things while maintaining much of the energy of the live performance.
Q: How were things different in the studio this time?
A: The band loves recording with Duane, so it felt like home. We tracked the album over the period of about two months, in between performing. So it was fairly drawn out. The first couple of days we set up and tracked all the songs and got all the drums, bass and basic guitar parts. What ended up taking the longest was the vocal parts, the extra layers and trying ideas out. The first album came together quicker, but that’s because it was more stripped-down. Claire and I spent a lot more time on vocal layers, and I spent quite a bit more time on the guitar layers.
Q: You had some guests in the studio who really added some nice accents.
A: We had Mike “Shinetop” Sedovic (Danielle Nicole Band) play keys on a couple of tracks, and Ryan Heinlein of Project H played trombone on a song. The band likes to play with guests and have people jam with us when the occasion presents itself, and we had a couple of guests on the first album, so we definitely wanted to have some special appearances on this one. Both Mike and Ryan were perfect for the songs they tracked on, and their parts nicely complement what the band wrote.
Timothy Finn: @phinnagain
Katy Guillen & the Girls will perform Saturday night at Knuckleheads, 2715 Rochester. Tickets are $10 in advance. Mikal Shapiro and the Musical open at 8:30 p.m.