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(l-r) Jonathan Cohen, Katie Haverly and Pete Sheehan

Photo: Leif Zurmuhlen

Conversation Pieces

In person and in song, alt-folk chanteuse Katie Haverly isn’t afraid to talk about how she really feels

By Erik Hage

Katie Haverly loves a good conver sation. In fact, she values it above most other pleasures—she says she even prefers engaging in an intense dialogue to being in the audience at a concert. And she is a good conversationalist: smart, gracious, and thoughtful. She is also earnest—with a wide, clear gaze and guileless, calm manner—and as interested in the person asking the questions as she is in talking about herself. In a paradox, she is intense in a breezy way, without being overbearing. She seems, for lack of better terms, centered and grounded, even when broaching topics that might seem “new agey” to some.

She has welcomed me into her patio in downtown Troy to sit beneath a grape arbor heavy and laden with fat grape-cluster pyramids (that are soon bound for the winery, according to her landlord) and to engage in the art of conversation, with the sweet fruit lacing the air. “I love talking about this stuff. You can ask me anything,” she says long after I feel have already been prying too deeply into her life and work. And turnabout is fair play: She has done some prying of her own into my life. This is interviewing at its most unforced and easy, the conversation and grape hues both buffeting the air.

Katie Haverly’s story is one of a talented local singer-songwriter who’s been on and off around the scene for a while, coming up out of the Albany open-mic scene of the early 2000s, a gathering that spawned such local artists as the Kamikaze Hearts and knotworking. She just released her third album, Around the Bend, this year, scoring a Best Female Songwriter mention in these very pages in July.

The songs on that album are often like conversations as well, like dialogues with an old lover whose own side of the talk you never hear. “I’m not the kind to hold in my mind an idea that we both don’t share,” she sings accusatorily in “Whisper.” While in the stormy and powerful “Four Chambers,” she croons, “My darling, please forgive my weeping/But sometimes I’m just moved to tears/Does that mean my heart’s subdivided/Two for you, one for them, an empty chamber?”

For someone who exudes such positive energy in conversation and seems to have such a zenlike, in-the-moment orientation to life, the songs on Around the Bend can come off unremittingly dark. While this is a pretty album, the sound is often atmospheric in a turgid, foreboding way, and the lyrics dwell in discomfiting regions: bitterness, loneliness, plumbing acts of self-exploration. In fact, the music on the CD seems leagues from this person, from this conversation, from this place under the grape arbor where Katie’s tall and lean orange cat scratches the tree in the tranquil late afternoon and the fresh-faced and natural Haverly inquisitively tosses out as many questions as she fields.

“Cathartic” is a word she repeatedly uses to explain Around the Bend. “I was going through a very dark period in my life,” she explains. She composed the lion’s share of the tracks while living in North Carolina, studying in a Ph.D. program for public health. Haverly, who has developed a deeply supportive network in the Capital Region over the years, felt alone and out of her element in the South, and turned to music as an outlet. “Oftentimes you can let out some of that stuff by talking to people,” she says. “But because I felt so isolated, I kept that stuff inside and it came out [in the songs].” Haverly says she’s not a dark person by nature, but felt like “being honest about some of the gross, weird, dark feelings we have sometimes.”

The album itself went through several permutations of sound before finally settling into not-easily-categorized, moody alt-folk. Back in the Capital Region, when she began working on the album, Haverly initially thought of it heading in a jazz-oriented direction. Then, while working with temporary producer Troy Pohl of the Kamikaze Hearts, things organically swung in a more country, rootsy direction (“Real Good” still bears that out). Ultimately, though, those more purist intentions went out the window when Haverly began working with producer Frank Moscowitz, who also provided a good deal of instrumentation on the album.

This is the first really “calculated” album that Haverly has released, in that she brought in a producer and really labored over arrangements and executions of material and relied upon thicker, more fleshed-out instrumentation. In the past, she had recorded in a more stripped-down folk idiom, simply renting studio time and facing the mic with acoustic guitar and voice.

That voice, though, is still the most arresting thing on Around the Bend. In conversation, it is has dewey and cottony edges, like an instrument meant to reassure and comfort. In song, however, it opens up into something more dramatic, shucking its conversational cotton and tapping into frank emotional reverberations. On “Fire in the Kitchen,” she begins with elliptical and rangy purring then shoots into an ominous and high head voice, a sort of mournful prairie wail, with Moscowitz burning mad psychedelic guitar colors around her. At other times, her voice is simply a lovely and acrobatic instrument, able to carry the whole emotional candor of a tune, especially when backed by minimal instrumentation.

“Singing is one of the biggest releases,” says Haverly. “It’s very physical and it’s very cathartic.” She also takes a sort of method-actor approach to vocalization, striving to be emotionally connected and in the moment to reach those emotional plateaus. She claims that singing is “like a ‘transportation,’ ” and that when she is emotionally in the moment “more interesting things come out.”

One offshoot of the album’s more fleshed-out sound is that Haverly is now less apt to show up solo acoustic when performing. She is now backed by a small unit, Vox Celeste, consisting of Jonathan Cohen on bass and Pete Sheehan on drums, and it is in this incarnation that Haverly can be seen performing around the area lately on various stages. Indeed, these days she seems to be all over our region, performing in venues and on local stages, despite having slipped off to live in places like North Carolina, Colorado, and Chicago since first emerging on the scene. (She also has roots in Arizona, where she came from prior to the Capital Region.)

She is most comfortable here, though, and deems the region “a beacon drawing me back.” Certainly, she has found a deep supporting network of musical friends and colleagues here, but she also cites “the high quality of life” and notes that “the people here are real.” Even here, she says, sitting on the patio and taking in the immediate city of Troy with a sweeping gesture, she says she can feel something happening, “a . . . gestation of something.” She may be right, but there’s also certainly a lot of life right here in the immediate vicinity beneath the arbor. Not just the heavy vines of grapes, but the keen artistic sensibilities and conversational vibrancy of Katie Haverly.

Katie Haverly and Vox Celeste will perform at Revolution Hall (425 River St., Troy) on Saturday (Oct. 11) at 8 PM. For more information on the show, call the box office at 274-0553. For more on Haverly, visit myspace.com/katiehaverlymusic.


ROUGH MIX
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