Kristin Allen-Zito recently released her second solo album, The Atlas, on Clickpop Records. The Bellingham, Washington-based artist writes emotionally delicate songs with instantly memorable melodies. Allen-Zito gained much attention for her work with The Trucks, an all-female rock band whose sometimes sexually frank lyrics were set within a sturdy pop framework. Their 2006 self-titled debut quickly became a cult favorite. The Atlas marks somewhat of a stylistic return to her earlier work, Jen and Kristin (recorded with her sister, Jen Allen-Zito) and her 2004 solo debut, Helium.
On the eve of a benefit performance at Seattle’s Triple Door Theater that is very close to her heart, I spoke with Allen-Zito about her current and future plans.
You recently performed in Iceland. What can you share about that experience?
It was this crazy show I played. There was a metal band that played right after me, then there was another band called The Cocksucker Band. All Icelandic bands from different genres. In Seattle you’d have three metal bands playing the same night. But for some reason there, it’s totally acceptable and fine to have four different bands playing different kinds of music. I was just added to the bill and it was really fun.
This was your first trip to Iceland?
I loved Iceland, it reminds me of Bellingham a lot. Reykjavik is about the same size as Bellingham. The friend who I stayed with knows everyone in town. We were walking down the street and ran into the boys from Sigur Rós and I met them and it was like, no big deal. But I was like, “Oh my God, I can’t believe this.” It’s such a small town and a tight community. So the music and the art is supported, but also showcased on an international level because it’s the capital city.
You are taking part in a June 14th benefit for the cancer support community Gilda’s Club Seattle. What attracted you to that event?
I was interested in playing the benefit because during the time I was writing my album The Atlas, a friend of mine was struggling with cancer and passed away. And it was definitely a life-changing moment for me. She was an original member of my other band, The Trucks. So I feel like this album was kind of for a musical community that she was a part of. And the album was for her and her memory. So I felt like when I was asked to play at the benefit, it felt like the right fit for my intentions with this album.
How long of a time period was The Atlas written over?
About seven years I would say. I think I started writing in 2002. It was a long time period that I was writing for that album. There were originally twenty-four tracks that we worked on. We picked the ones that we thought were the best.
There’s an overall sparse sound to the album, mainly acoustic guitar and your voice, but with well-placed additional instrumentation throughout. The cello work of Dylan Rieck is particularly effective. How did the arrangements take shape?
It depended on the song. Some of the songs I had a stronger vision for, others I would let Paul Turpin [the producer] kind of take the reins. We’re fortunate enough to know all these amazing musicians we both can call on. Like “I Hope That My Heart Never Stops,” that song was definitely Paul’s arrangement. Dylan did all the string arrangements.
What was the inspiration behind the song “Utah”?
I wrote that song right after I had been on a road trip, driving across the country for the first time. We had literally just driven through Utah. I think I wrote the song in Colorado where we were stopping on the tour. I loved it, it just blew my mind. I had never seen how beautiful the country was. Utah was gorgeous, I loved the skies and the canyons.
Are you planning to tour again soon?
I was looking towards fall, but right now we have nothing booked. I’m going to be going to school in the fall. Coordinating touring with school is a new experience for me. Right now it will be playing regionally and not going outside of the northwest, for now. It’s possible I might do a couple shows in New York, but I’m not sure when that’s going to be.
You’re working on a degree?
Yeah, I am. I’ve been fortunate enough to teach music in the last couple years. And I loved it. So I’m going back to school to hopefully get a teaching degree. I’m pretty excited about it. We’ll see – there are some other things I’m interested in. I’m kind of at the beginning of school, as I spent so much time playing music in the last ten years I didn’t really go to school as much. I might become a math teacher. Or a science teacher. I would love to become a seventh-grade science teacher.
Why seventh-grade specifically?
I think that’s the time where I remember being really excited about science. You’re getting kids to be excited about the scientific method. I also remember Bill Nye the Science Guy and thinking he was totally awesome in middle school.
Who are some of your biggest musical influences?
My mom [Linda Allen] was the biggest influence because I grew up listening to her play music and listening to all the folk people around Bellingham. I think the first person I discovered on my own was Ani DeFranco. PJ Harvey, Smashing Pumpkins, a lot of bands in the ‘90s. I got really into Anna Oxygen and Tracy + the Plastics when we were doing The Trucks.
How come The Trucks are no longer together?
What it came down to was that all four of us lived in different towns. And it was really hard to keep writing together. The logistics got more and more difficult. We still loved hanging out and playing together but it got to the point where we knew we just couldn’t keep doing it. And they’re all such creative ladies, everybody ended up doing things on their own. I would love it if we had continued but it was just getting impossible.
The Trucks’ first major song placement was in the Showtime program The L Word, what was your reaction to that?
I freaked out. I totally screamed and jumped up and down. It was awesome, I loved it. I never expected that to be a possibility and it came out of nowhere. It was really excited, I still get excited when I think about it. The fact that it was an awesome show was also really exciting.
In addition to your aspirations to teach, do you still plan to continue writing and recording music?
Playing music and recording is something I grew up doing and I feel like it’s something I will always do throughout my life. I just felt like it wasn’t completely satisfying and I felt like teaching was the best way to really share that. It’s so much more exciting for me to be able to see other people enjoy it.