The first song Katy Kirby wrote for her new album Blue Raspberry (due January 26 via ANTI-) was its title track, and it began as a songwriting experiment. The idea? To try to write something in the style of all the heterosexual hopeless-romantic country songs she heard in her adopted hometown of Nashville; an ode to total admiration of a hypothetical woman. “I am under her heel like rock candy crushed to glitter,” begins the first verse.
You may be surprised to hear that Kirby still identified as straight when she wrote this song. She asked herself, as she describes it, “If I was in love with a woman, what would I love about her?” What stemmed from that question was a love song to the myriad, intricate ways that femininity can be constructed — particularly the ones often scoffed at as “artificial”. “I was thinking about the Dolly Parton quote, ‘It costs a lot of money to look this cheap,’ and the ways that she has always been defiantly appreciative of her fake tits and her big hair,” Kirby explains. “I really like that in people; I like that bravery about the aesthetic choices they’re making in their appearance and how they move through the world. I’ve always found that [it doesn’t] obscure someone’s self, but is actually pretty revealing of the way that they are as a spirit.” “I don’t care if whatever you are is found in nature / You hold the patent for that flavor,” Kirby sings on the track.
About a month after she wrote this song, Kirby realized that this exercise hadn’t been entirely hypothetical — she was in fact attracted to women, and not long after, she began her first queer relationship. Most of Blue Raspberry unfolds as a love story, telling the tale of that relationship from the fiery yearning of its beginning to its heartbreaking end. Having had no inkling that she was queer beforehand, Kirby was figuring these new feelings out as she went, often uncovering them through the act of writing. “It felt like this new part of myself that I had accidentally unlocked and stumbled into a new room and the room was dark and I wasn’t really sure what was in there,” she says. “It was just a feeling of, ‘Here fucking goes,’ without really knowing how to start.”
This is Kirby’s second full-length record; her first, 2021’s Cool Dry Place, quickly made her an indie favorite with its playful, offbeat alt-country. Blue Raspberry is more of a slow dance, full of lusher and dreamier arrangements. “I felt like I should honor the spirit of these songs, and let them be big, beautiful love songs, and not try to complicate that or to be squeamish about it,” Kirby says. “I think it would have been easier for me to make them a little smaller. But I was like, ah, they’re queer love songs; they deserve to sound like a big, romantic deal.”
Kirby grew up in an evangelical Christian community in the small unincorporated town of Spicewood, Texas. Despite the conservative environment, Kirby says, she “escaped a lot of the really damaging parts of evangelical culture.” “My parents were very devout Christians in a way that I actually admire, and I think they were holding it pretty well and gently,” she says. “I never heard my parents say anything unkind about queer people growing up, and they’re perfectly thrilled and fine with me and my sibling also being queer.” She was a homeschooled kid who was quiet and bookish, with the sleepy small-town surroundings affording her time to read, put on plays, and teach herself Christmas carols on the family piano.
Notable is that Kirby’s parents listened to very little secular music — “my mom loves Chaka Khan, and that’s the only artist I can think of that she knows she likes” — and her own exposure to music as a child was limited. As a pre-teen, she was introduced to the likes of Sufjan Stevens, The Strokes, and Coldplay via a friend’s music-loving mom, which set off her journey of discovery. She started writing songs as a teenager, and after high school she went to Belmont University in Nashville with the intention of majoring in songwriting. When she got there, though, she found herself discouraged by the seemingly more serious and formally-trained students around her, and switched her major to English.
“I partially gave up, kind of. I was like, I don’t know if I want this as bad as it seems like I need to want this,” she says. Still, she kept writing her own music, putting out her first EP Juniper right after she graduated in 2018. Unexpectedly, it was picked up by venerable Texas indie label Keeled Scales, leading to the release of Cool Dry Place in 2021, tours with the likes of Waxahatchee and Illuminati Hotties, and her signing to ANTI- Records earlier this year.
Kirby worked on Blue Raspberry with co-producers Alberto Sewald and Logan Chung, longtime friends of hers who also worked on Cool Dry Place. “It was really crucial to record those songs with those people and not an outside producer, because the songs felt a lot more personal [than on the previous record] and they felt harder to sing sometimes,” she explains. “And all of the people [who worked on the record] were very close to me while the things that would become those songs were happening, so I think having that level of trust was so important.”
Kirby’s lyricism across the album is witty and eagle-eyed, yet sweet and sometimes breathtakingly intimate — “You think it’s ethically suspicious to bring someone into a world like this, but you’ve got the best smile anyone could ask to inherit,” is a standout line from “Party Of The Century”. The idea of “Cubic Zirconia” (that is, synthetic diamond) titles the gorgeous lead single as well as cropping up in two other songs, in a continuation of that idea of artificiality that she was interested in when writing “Blue Raspberry” the track. “I was thinking about how annoying it is that artificiality and authenticity are separated by this very thin line, and it never seems to benefit anyone when that line is being drawn or defended,” she says. “For some reason, it seems like women especially sometimes get beholden to or punished by this dichotomy, and it just seemed like a scam to me.” It makes for a fascinating, layered, and palpably queer take on attraction. Meanwhile, there’s an eroticism pulsing through all of the songs that can quickly veer from sensual to blunt (“I turned off my location, let her fuck me like you thought you did,” she sings on “Wait Listen”).
Altogether, the album is a celebratory and often euphoric encapsulation of falling in love with a woman for the first time, and it was important to Kirby to translate that joy. “The timeframe between realizing I was queer and then having some joyful queer experiences was pretty short; I was almost magically just able to accept that part of myself and then act on it, and to enjoy it,” she says. “And I know that that’s quite unusual, historically and even right now. I didn’t have to suffer very much, or at all, and that makes me feel weird and a little guilty. [But] I figured it’s probably worthwhile to have some stories about queerness or some representations of queerness that are breezy, and not heavy. I hope that’s nice for some people to hear.”