If there’s a single word that epitomizes Kaatii’s musical ethos, it’s "synergy."
The 14-year-old Dallas-based singer-songwriter (pronounced “Kahh-tee”) this week released “Afraid of the Dark," a shockingly comfortable song about being naturally uncomfortable –– just in time for the early sunsets, mysterious creaks and chilly nights of the season of the witch.
There’s an assured balance between the twee folk-pop elements of her songwriting and the rock bombast with which she expresses herself. She has released only three songs, but Kaatii is confident with her craft; she surrounds herself with like-minded individuals who aim to cultivate the best music possible. And she’s doing all this in the middle of a global pandemic.
“In these last few months I’ve changed and grown so much as a person ... it’s insane,” Kaatii says via Zoom from her living room. “I was talking to my mom yesterday about where I was in January, and it’s so different. I’m still evolving.”
Kaatii’s previous single “Swept Up” was released in July but recorded in February before the majority of Americans were worried about the possibility of COVID reaching the U.S.
“Luckily, we got all the recording done before it really hit, but we had to all of the mixing/mastering/marketing stuff while quarantined, which was difficult,” she says.
The pandemic has certainly not put a damper on Kaatii’s subsequent moves; she wrote “Afraid of the Dark” in August and recorded it remotely before the month was over.
Kaatii has sprouted from the same musically fertile North Texas soil that has produced artists such as St. Vincent, Leon Bridges and Jonathan Tyler, and while she is able to appreciate and pull from the artists who paved the way for her, her finger is squarely on the musical pulse of the moment.
“I’m a huge fan of Beabadoobee. I’m inspired by everything that her and her band are. The 1975, Declan McKenna ... I’m basically obsessed with everyone on Dirty Hit Records,” Kaatii says with a chuckle. If she keeps up the good work, she might end up on Dirty Hit Records herself. “That’s my dream,” she says. “That and getting to work with Beabadoobee.”
That being said, Kaatii is no trend-rider. She's an artist who's taking in the sound of now and planning where to take it next. It’s a heavy load, but, thankfully, she’s not on her own. Kaatii’s humility is apparent when she's quick to give a shout-out to her writing partner while discussing the catchier qualities of her music.
“I co-write a lot of my songs with Kara Connolly. ‘Afraid of the Dark’ and ‘Swept Up’ were co-written with her. She’s really good at the hooky stuff," Kaatii says. "I don’t know if you would call it synesthesia, but I can ‘see’ the melodies and where I want it to go, so I feel like I can pick it apart and find where I want it to go, and Kara’s really incredible at figuring that out. We bounce stuff off each other.”
Connolly had nothing but praise for Kaatii’s knack for musicality.
“Kaatii has a really great ear for sounds ... sonics," Connolly says. "She can hear things in a production that even took me a long time to hear. We’ll be listening to a song and she’ll point out, ‘I love the bass part from this moment to this moment’ –– she can hear the whole and zero in on the individual parts."
Connolly is already mapping out the possibilities in the young performer's creative future.
"I can already imagine her getting really experimental with production and songwriting," she says. "She’s really great at coming up with unique chords and sounds that sound like her. Kaatii is owning herself in a way that takes some people lifetimes or at least until they’re out of college to find out who they are. I think that’s going to take her really far.”
“Afraid of the Dark” was born from an adverse situation during an isolated songwriting binge in Breckenridge, Colorado.
“The night before we wrote it, Kaatii was unable to sleep because she was having a sort of sleep paralysis,” Connolly says. “I was also not able to sleep just because I was in a new place –– a cabin by myself in the dark –– and your mind takes you places that you don’t want it to ... We were both in that moment, so we decided, ‘Let’s just write about this.’ We just experienced this last night. The lyric and melody came quickly and simultaneously, we were so in the moment.”
Kaatii says her relationship with Connolly is very natural, and is a great relief considering that some of her previous collaborators have not been as understanding or in sync with her musical inclinations.
“I’ve had issues in the past, and I think all recording musicians have issues where they’re not vocal enough so they get something that’s not as good as it can be," Kaati says. "It’s such a horrible feeling when you love your creations, but you know they can be improved.”
In addition to writing songs with Kaatii, Connolly makes her own music and runs a marketing group called Painted Bird with her friend Joy Autumn, putting her in charge of a majority of Kaatii’s marketing as well.
Dan Sadin’s production on “Afraid of the Dark” rounds out the edges of what would otherwise be a ragged rock song, bringing out a windswept folksiness and sealing it in with a lacquer of pop veneer that allows the song to be placed directly in the company of other pop-via-rock acts like her heroes Beabadoobee and The 1975.
Sadin was introduced to Kaatii by Connolly, continuing the theme of synergy among all those involved in Kaatii’s career.
“My mind was blown working with Dan,” Kaatii says. “I have never put so much trust in somebody while working on a track. That’s when I sat back and was not as vocal as usual because I knew that I was in good hands and that Dan knew what he was doing. I could almost see the gears turning in his head.”
“Afraid of the Dark” was recorded at EastWest Studios in Los Angeles, the birthplace of acclaimed records like The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You,” Michael Jackson’s Thriller, The War on Drugs’ A Deeper Understanding, and many other hits. Again, Kaatii is in good company.
Rounding out the personnel on “Afraid of the Dark” is drummer Sterling Law, who has previously contributed to recordings by Liz Phair, Natasha Bedingfield, and the aforementioned War on Drugs album, among others.
Kaatii’s looking forward with no plans on slowing down –– as long as she can help it.
“Right now, we’re just dropping singles, but we are expecting an EP sometime by next spring," she says. "Everything’s fuzzy right now with travel restrictions, but we’re shooting to release the EP by the time I’m 15.”
Listen to "Afraid of the Dark" below:
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