Singer-songwriter Katie Costello released her first album, Kaleidoscope Machine, in 2008 when she was just sixteen years old. Her song “Isn’t It Lovely” won the grand prize in the Sennheiser “My Song” Contest. She has had several songs featured in high profile television shows. Most recently Costello released a stellar five song EP, The City In Me, that continued the melodic and lyrical ingenuity of her debut.
On February 22nd, 2011, Costello will release her second full-length album, Lamplight. Loaded with more emotive vocals and her customarily thoughtful lyrics, the album will undoubtedly please existing fans while earning her many new ones. I was fortunate enough to speak with her about Lamplight and the creative process behind it.
How was Tony Berg chosen to produce Lamplight?
He’s worked with Aimee Mann, Michael Penn, and Jesca Hoop. To me, the people he’s worked with – the three of them especially – are distinctively their own person. I don’t know that any one of those people is really pigeonholed as being any sort of widely recognized genre. I really appreciate that he’s worked with a pool of people that really pride themselves in having something new and unique to say. I just desperately wanted him to make this. And I’m glad he did.
Do you arrange your songs on your own, or is the arranging process collaborative? Are the other musicians involved?
Any of those ways. For Lamplight in particular, after I had written these songs they were really just in their basic form. I hadn’t considered arrangements at that point, because they were all pretty new at the time. So Tony played the most significant part in the arrangements. Especially because this record is much more guitar and rhythm based than my first record – a direction I’m totally thrilled about.
How long was the recording process for the album?
Over a period of about three months. But we actually took breaks on and off. I started working on it in October 2009. We worked scattered dates throughout October and finished the record during January and February 2010. All in all, it was a very short recording process.
Did you play piano on the album?
I did, yes. Well, there’s also a keyboardist named Patrick Warren. He’s just one of my favorite players ever. I’ve listened to all of Fiona Apple’s records many times, same with Aimee Mann. To have somebody on my record that was on all the records that I loved and that influenced me was just totally surreal. So he played a lot of the keyboard parts.
Do you have a standard songwriting process? How would you describe your approach?
I would say it’s different for every song. However, I would say more often than not it’s done relatively late at night and due to some sort of underlying, deep-rooted anger or sadness. [Laughs] I never write out of joy, because I simply don’t have any of it. I’m kidding, but also truly not in a sense.
What events led up to recording your first album, Kaleidoscope Machine?
It sounds perverted how young I was, but when I was 14 I was working with somebody that introduced me to a producer who offered to record three demos. At that point I was utterly unaware of how anything worked. But I was writing songs that I knew I wanted to record, but didn’t really know how. So I recorded these three songs when I was 14 -15 years old. It was a lengthy process; we sort of took our time. By the time we finished I had another four songs I wanted to record. So I started making the record [Kaleidoscope Machine] when I was about 16 with these same people.
It took awhile because obviously I was a full-time student, so I would do it after school or on weekends. With recording I feel like unless you really allocate a pretty significant chunk of time, it takes a couple hours before you even really get into it. Because I was so busy in the midst of an education, it just took a very long time. Once we were in the swing of things I finished the latter half of the record in New York. At that point I really felt a lot more comfortable and confident with what I wanted. I think having it take such a long time was a blessing in disguise because it made me sort of figure all of it out. And then it came out in November of 2008.
You’ve had songs featured in shows on the CW Television Network, 90210 and One Tree Hill, as well as ABC’s Private Practice. I imagine that resulted in considerably increased visibility for you?
With all of the placements I noticed a definite increase in traffic, comments, and general online activity. And definitely iTunes sales. It’s just wonderful that they support independent artists. It helped me be able to do the process over again and make another record. That was amazing of them to give me the opportunity to keep doing it the way I wanted to.
Will you be touring in support of Lamplight?
I definitely plan on doing a lot of dates. That’s pretty much the main item in the works at this moment, planning to getting it to as many places as possible.
Do you enjoy live performance?
I absolutely love it. Something I am routinely plagued by is a willingness to tell people embarrassing things about myself. Which is problematic. When I perform, I end up opening up too much and revealing things that are just slightly inappropriate or irrelevant. I think other people either love it or feel bad for me. I’m totally fine with it.
This may be a delicate issue, but are you aware there is a painter named Katie Costello making her presence known?
I do and I’m planning my attack. I’m offended personally. [Laughs] I think we did have an exchange a long time ago on Myspace or something. We were like, “Aw man, our names are the same. That’s crazy.” And that’s kind of been the extent of it. I think she’s a brunette and I’m blonde, and we notoriously have more fun. Maybe she’ll know that I’m after her and she’ll change her name.
Perhaps she could paint some cover art for your next album. It might be a great opportunity for some mutually beneficial cross-promotion.
Well maybe I’ll contact her and figure that out! I welcome anybody that has my name.