It's fair to say that Katie Von Schleicher is a shining example of a DIY musician Cinderella story. The 30something artist was working at Ba Da Bing Records in Brooklyn, New York when her boss and friend, Ben Goldberg, offered to put her lo-fi bedroom project, Bleaksploitation, out on cassette. Seeing this as an opportunity to prove herself, Von Schleicher leaned 100 percent into the release of this album, doing press full-time and treating it like an official release. Impressed by Von Schleicher's tenacity and the success of the album, Goldberg was keen to put out another record for her, this time with full label support.
Katie Von Schleicher's latest, Shitty Hits, incorporates all the comfortable melodic elements found in a conventional pop song and distorts them into dark, warbly shadows of what they used to be — and it feels strangely good.
The artist says that the support of a label provided her with validation and the much needed pressure to create. "So many of us are trying to do this and working full-time at other jobs, it's hard to take yourself seriously," she says. "I tended bar for so long and aspired toward a record deal long enough that by the time I had one I considered it a wild gift, one that exists very much in the present."
It's a gift that allows Von Schleicher to channel her experiences with mental illness, anxiety, and depression into a relatable format that resonates with the masses. "It's surprising sometimes, that people relate," says Von Schleicher. "Mental illness can feel really solipsistic, we don't feel connected to the whole when we feel depressed. ... I don't know why, but it takes me by surprise just how raw people get when they come to shows and relate to the music. It enables people to put themselves out there, but in a more direct and social way, which, let's be honest, is even more straightforward than writing this stuff into a song."
Some of the songs are more lyrically forward in exposing these heavy themes, while the instrumentation and production does the talking in others. Take the overtly manic track, "Paranoia," which repeats the line "paranoia came" followed by eerily cheerful "la la la's," compared to "Nothing," which Von Schleicher says proved to be a bit more painful to write. "'Nothing' is the song that shows but doesn't tell. The lyrics are static. The emotion is intense and irrepressible, and it's all in the music and production."
Von Schleicher credits her fascination for experimental production to the Caretaker, a gritty, melancholy electronic musician from the UK. "After I heard the Caretaker, I began to imagine all music as done by the Caretaker. I'm so enamored with production and arranging because that's where the real intangibility or other-worldly potential comes in," she says. "I want music to feel as close and familiar as possible, then warp everything unexpectedly."
While Shitty Hits undoubtedly captures the warped and ethereal sound Von Schleicher chases, she also accomplishes an even greater feat — writing songs about hopelessness and despair that are actually nice to listen to. You could probably do a two-step to the album's "Life's a Lie" if you really wanted to. This idiosyncratic anomaly makes Von Schleicher's music a magnetizing reprieve for anyone feeling alone in the world.
Katie Von Schleicher will perform with Anna Burch and Don't! on Monday, Dec. 11 at the Loving Touch in Ferndale; 22634 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-820-5596; thelovingtouchferndale.com; Doors at 8 p.m.; Tickets are $7.