Interview: Katelyn Tarver on her 'Kool Aid' EP.
On her recently-released ‘Kool Aid’ EP, Katelyn Tarver delves into her life experiences, turning them into catchy songs - from ‘Labels’; an empowering anthem about not being confined to a box of what people place you in, to ‘LY4L’; a celebration of love (“You show me the good parts of myself”).
Coup De Main spent an afternoon in Griffith Park with Katelyn Tarver, where we discussed her new ‘Kool Aid’ EP, the importance of art coming straight from the heart, and more…
When something works, it’s usually because it’s just straight from the artist, from their heart, and their point of view.
COUP DE MAIN: What was it about the song ‘Kool Aid’ that made you want to name your whole EP after it? It’s such a fun song!
KATELYN TARVER: I think for me, I felt like this EP as it was shaping up was coming from a stronger side of myself. There’s still songs that express my insecurities, but I think with ‘Kool Aid’ and ‘Labels’ that when writing I was wanting to convey the side of myself that was a little more sure of herself, and fun. Living in LA and being in this industry for so long, you get told a lot what people think you should be, and sometimes I tend to like being told that stuff. I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, is this cool?’ And I know we all go through bouts of that, or I do at least, so I was just getting sick of feeling that way, of wanting someone else to say what was cool about me. It never is as satisfying, because you’re like, ‘But no, I disagree, this is cooler.’ So I finally allowed myself to feel strong, and express the parts of myself that I felt confident about. It’s fun to have that attitude, and express it - the song is so snarky, and it’s really fun to perform. So I wanted to name the EP that to juxtapose my former EP called ‘Tired Eyes’, on which I was a little bit more expressing, ‘I’m confused, what is my life?’
CDM: ‘Labels’ is a really empowering song to listen to, particularly the line, “I don't belong in your box.” What was running through your mind when writing ‘Labels’?
KATELYN: I kind of touched on it just now, but when I was writing ‘Labels’ I had gone in with that frustration, almost with myself, of being like, ‘Why do you keep worrying about what other people think you are?’ I think I didn’t realise how much I was operating from a space of, ‘This is what people have said about me, so this is what I am.’ I just wanted to push the boundary on that, and be like, ‘Why do we all do this to each other?’ It’s necessary to some degree to name something about yourself or about someone else, it’s sometimes helpful, but I also realised how limiting it can be, and how much it can hold you back - either having someone else put you in a box, or putting yourself in a box. That was in my head, ‘I don’t belong in your box,’ like, ‘I’m more than what you’ve assumed about me.’
CDM: Society seems to enjoy placing people in boxes, everyone is quick to judge each other. Do you think judgement is easy?
KATELYN: Yeah, it’s easier to be like, ‘Okay, you guys are like this. You do these things, you think this way, you say these things,’ but I think everyone is so much more complex than that. It’s this balance because it’s necessary to some degree, but it’s an easy way out to assume something about someone. For me, just because I’m from the South, and polite, doesn’t mean I don’t have any opinions, or something to say - that could tie into being a woman as well.
CDM: The lyrics ring true to you as an independent artist today. Do you think it’s important as an artist to get to the point where you don’t care about pleasing other people with your art? How do you get to that stage?
KATELYN: Yeah, I’m definitely way more there than I ever have been, I just think it’s a journey and it’s an experience. People might not know this, but I’ve been in music for years - I’ve been in the industry, I’ve been in meetings, I’ve been that person who wants to please this industry executive because I think they hold the keys to my success. Like, ‘If you think I should be like this, then I’m going to listen to you,’ but I think being in it as long as I have, and seeing what I’ve seen, and seeing other people go through stuff within the record label side of things, a lot of times they can be super helpful, but I think it is really empowering to get to that point where you realise that no one really knows anything. Even this powerful president of this label, they’re just kind of guessing and hoping for the best. When something works, it’s usually because it’s just straight from the artist, from their heart, and their point of view. It’s been a journey learning that’s what matters, to tell a story the way you want to and how you’ve experienced it, because that is what is gonna connect with people.
CDM: ‘Never Fade’ is a lot more sombre compared to other songs on the EP. You sing, “I wish I could give you an answer / Say the right words and it’d make you feel better." It’s so heartfelt. Do you think that sometimes being there for someone is enough?
KATELYN: I think that’s exactly what that song is about. It’s almost like a response to my song, ‘You Don’t Know’, without me really trying. ‘You Don’t Know’ is about wanting to feel what you’re feeling without having someone try to cheer you up, and then ‘Never Fade’-- We’ve all been in that position of seeing someone we love and care about going through a hard time, and there really is nothing you can do to make it better. If you try, it kind of falls short, at least in my experience. So that was me wanting to express that idea, because that’s what I feel like I want when I’m going through something, is just someone there with me. It’s such a simple idea, but I do think it is a powerful idea to remember, that if someone is going through something that feels scary, even if you know how to handle it, most people just want support and someone who’s there if they need you.
CDM: ‘Don’t Let It Change You’ is also a super powerful message. Do you think change is a normal part of life, even though it’s something we tend to be so afraid of?
KATELYN: I do. I think change is good. That song is super personal, and really raw, it's really a stream of consciousness. The idea behind the chorus is like, ‘You’re gonna evolve, but don’t let the stress of life and your circumstances, the hard trenches of life take away the good core parts of you.’ When you’re going through hard stuff, it’s easy to become jaded, bitter, cynical, and hard - and I definitely sense that in myself. If I’m going through something hard, that song is about reminding myself to come back to what’s important, and accept myself for who I am, and not let that stuff alter me in a fundamental way. That song is still something I’m processing now.
CDM: It’s so cool that the song was stream of consciousness.
KATELYN: That song particularly, I wrote it as it is now, and then I probably rewrote it ten times, because I was like, ‘I don’t know, this might be too much.’ I eventually went, ‘How it was on that first day is how it should be.’ It’s the first song that I’ve done that with, like revisited a lot, because I was maybe scared to put it out there so vulnerably. I’m excited about it though.
CDM: ‘LY4L’ is a total bop. It’s romantic, and also shows the parts of a relationship when you’re baring your soul to someone - “I told you my heart's got some damage.” Do you think that honesty is one of the most important parts of any relationship?
KATELYN: I do. I think it’s always a process, figuring out how to be honest. That song was about the good and easy, the verses hint at the more vulnerable parts. But I do think honesty is really important because I think it’s important to develop trust, and to trust someone with your heart, and with your honesty - those parts about you that feel vulnerable and scary to share. I get taking your time, and making sure whoever you’re with - a friend or romantic partner - is worthy of that, and that you’re not sharing something too soon, that you maybe wish you didn’t tell someone yet.
CDM: You go onto sing in the pre-chorus that, “You show me the good parts of myself.” Do you think it’s important for people to help bring out the best traits/characteristics in one another?
KATELYN: Yeah, I think that was a line that I’d been thinking about, how I just appreciate that so much in my relationship. It’s easy to focus on the parts about yourself that you wish were different, and that you want to change or get better at, and it’s easy to focus on those bad parts. So to have someone who reminds you of the good parts of yourself, and appreciates them and likes them, and brings them out, I think that's special.
CDM: Has it been fun previewing the new songs on the EP at your live shows?
KATELYN: It’s been really fun! Especially fun to play ‘Kool Aid’, because I think every time I perform it, I just feel it a little bit more. It’s always fun to find those moments that I want to hit a little harder, so it’s been exciting. I haven’t played a couple of them live yet, so I’m curious as to how that’ll go, when I start doing those. It’s been nice to play some new music, and I feel like the response has been pretty good.
CDM: What else do you have planned for 2018?
KATELYN: I’m playing some shows here [in LA], I did a little tour of California in May, so that was fun, but with music I’m just excited to share these songs and if I could play them in a couple of other cities besides LA, that’d be awesome too. It’s definitely on the list. Who knows though, I could put out this EP, then write a song next month that I love and just release it.
Katelyn Tarver’s ‘Kool Aid’ EP is out now - click here to purchase, and watch the ‘Kool Aid’ music video below…