In close to a decade, Katie Von Schleicher has grown from never having even heard the Beatles to writing, producing, recording and playing every instrument on an 8-track EP set to be released this fall. This is her story.
by Amanda Beland
Katie Von Schleicher is a Brooklyn-based vocalist, pianist and musician.
Schleicher, of Pasadena, Maryland, didn’t grow up in a musical family: there weren’t records playing in the house and her parents didn’t put a particular emphasis on music in daily life. She did take piano and violin lessons briefly and sang in theater productions. When it came time to apply to colleges, however, Schleicher decided she wanted to go to Berklee College of Music in Boston.
“I wanted to go to Berklee because I liked some of the musicians who had gone there,” said Schleicher. “I didn’t listen to the Beatles or Neil Young or albums at all really until I got to college and I got there being like ‘I’m gonna be a songwriter and I’m gonna make pop music.'”
“A lot of the time I just listened to albums. I tried to learn what the hell was going on,” said Schleicher. “It was really late. I think a lot of people went to Berklee and were like, ‘I know what I wanna do’ and I was like, ‘I have a fantasy idea of what I wanna do.'”
I think a lot of people went to Berklee and were like ‘I know what I wanna do’ and I was like, ‘I have a fantasy idea of what I wanna do’
During the first week of her freshman year, Schleicher met Stephen Konrads, another freshman also from Maryland. The two clicked instantly. Konrads grew up in a musical family and played piano and sang from the time he was a child. He eventually joined a band and through him, Schleicher began expanding her social and musical circles.
“That’s when I realized I needed to be cooler and download lots of illegal music and hear Led Zeppelin for the first time,” said Schleicher.
That’s when I realized I needed to be cooler and download lots of illegal music and hear Led Zeppelin for the first time
Berklee introduced Schleicher to new people and possibilities, but it also made her start to question a lot of things, including herself. Schleicher said her inability to “fit in” with the Berklee style of education combined with a lack of solid mentorship made it difficult for her to find confidence in her songwriting and musical abilities.
“For the first time in my entire life, I was trying to be cool,” said Schleicher. “The music I was making was so trapped between Andrew Lloyd Webber and trying to be cool that it really fucking missed the mark. I made an EP by myself and just threw it away when I was done with it. I still haven’t heard it. I got to college wearing Abercrombie and being chunky with blonde hair and just really confused. I think I grew up a lot when I was in Sleepy Very Sleepy, which was after college.”
For the first time in my entire life, I was trying to be cool … I got to college wearing Abercrombie and being chunky with blonde hair and just really confused
Schleicher and Konrads remained close throughout college. Schleicher stayed in Boston after graduating in 2009. Konrads had a practice space at the old Starlab Studios building in Union Square and him and Schleicher would spend countless hours hanging out and trying to write songs there. A mutual friend suggested the two of them start a band. Konrads brought in bassist Wayne Whittaker and drummer Harrison Seiler, whom currently play with Konrads in his current project Eternals, and Sleepy Very Sleepy was formed.
Schleicher and Konrads continued to write songs together. Eventually the band recorded a full length EP “Unlimited Circulation”, which was recorded and mixed at the Soul Shop in Medford with help from engineer and friend Elio DeLuca.
For Schleicher, the pressure and insecurity she felt in college continued under the surface in the new project.
“We were trying to do intensely amazing things,” said Schleicher. “You know, you’re sitting in a practice room just throwing out ideas … the fabled Paul McCartney and John Lennon quote, ‘Let’s write a swimming pool,’ let’s make money – let’s do something insane – let’s make this the best song ever. And the mix of me and Steve was just like ‘Let’s give ourselves a migraine trying to write a song.’ I remember just sitting in Starlab all the time by myself just banging my head against the wall trying to write something amazing. It was so much pressure. I mean that sticks with me today – when it’s hard just to not like really amp it up before you try and work on something.”
‘Let’s write a swimming pool,’ let’s make money – let’s do something insane – let’s make this the best song ever
“Unlimited Circulation” was released in May 2011.
“I really owe a lot to Steve, just helping to support me but also when we were in Sleepy Very Sleepy, me trying to write better shit because his songs were so good.”
I really owe a lot to Steve, just helping to support me
Around this same time period, Schleicher began working with another Boston-based band called Boy Without God. Soul Shop engineer Elio DeLuca brought her in to sing background vocals for the band’s 2011 release God Bless the Hunger.
Boy Without God’s frontman Gabriel Birnbaum eventually asked Schleicher to come on tour with the band in 2011.
“Gabe’s stuff was totally different than what I was doing,” said Schleicher. “Up until that point, I hated – I mean it’s still tough – being this emotional songwriter. I felt like it made me a worst musician … that I wasn’t calculating, you know? And Gabe’s stuff was really both. It’s more fearless: he’s made songs where I’m just like “Really? You think that’s going to work out?” and he’s like “Yeah let’s do it.” So that kind of fearlessness made me feel a lot more open.”
That kind of fearlessness made me feel a lot more open
When Schleicher got back from the Boy Without God tour, she decided to move from Boston to New York.
“I think I wanted the experience. It seemed easier – like if I go to New York, I’ll be in a band already and then I’ll have some kind of identity. I didn’t want to live in NY, I didn’t like NY, but I was like ‘I guess I gotta try.'”
As soon as Schleicher moved to New York, she stopped writing music. She continued to play with Boy Without God, which would eventually be renamed as Wilder Maker, and bartended for rent money.
“It was a dark time,” said Schleicher. “I have this typewriter and I was carrying it out the window and climbing onto the roof and writing out there whenever it was warm enough to do so. I was writing lyrics … well I guess they became lyrics … but I was writing poetry that wasn’t super concrete emotional stuff… just because I needed an outlet. I was more inspired by a lot of things that I was reading and for the first time, I really felt open with words.”
I have this typewriter and I was carrying it out the window and climbing onto the roof and writing out there whenever it was warm enough to do so
After six months, Schleicher began writing and arranging what would become her first solo release.
“The six months off was the best thing I’ve done so far because after that, I wrote my solo record,” said Schleicher. “That was the only thing I ever felt like I could really stand behind as a musician. I’d say it’s the first thing I felt comfortable with – really late in the game – at age 26.”
That was the only thing I ever felt like I can really stand behind as a musician. I’d say it’s the first thing I felt comfortable with
“Personally, I find it really hard to believe in anything and I can be such a devaluer of things,” said Schleicher. “The whole record concept was – when I was writing poems and when I decided I was trying to write lyrics – I took this bent of What if I had God in my life? What if i had belief in my life? What if I wrote songs to God? There’s a song called “You On My Mind” and one of the lyrics is Wouldn’t it be lonely without you on my mind? It all sounds like love songs, but all the songs are about God. It helped me have an angle and it made me feel like I could write warm, conversational songs. I wanted to make something that was simple to listen to; not hard, just enjoyable, like Tonight’s the Night by Neil Young. You just put that on, make some spaghetti and you’re good. Even if it’s deep, you can just listen to it, make some spaghetti and feel okay about everything.”
But you can just listen to it, make some spaghetti and feel okay about everything
Schleicher wrote and arranged eight tracks for the record. She headed into the Soul Shop in August 2012 with what she describes as “my favorite musicians” for three days of tracking and mixing.
“It was an exercise,” said Schleicher. “I took the songs in and taught them to everybody on the first day and we just recorded them all live in the room. The Soul Shop was the place to do it. Of course it helps to have someone like Elio when I can be kind of vulnerable about what I’m working on. I sent him the ideas of what I wanted to do, not the songs, and I was just like ‘Here’s what I’m thinking’ and he was like ‘Fuck yeah, let’s do this.’ As soon as I wrote that Elio email and got the response, I felt like ‘Fuck yeah, let’s do this’ I think also the immediacy of it was really nice – it was nice to not have this grandiose dream of what the record was going to be like. I just wanted it to be simple and defined and those parameters helped a lot.”
The Soul Shop was the place to do it. Of course it helps to have someone like Elio when I can be kind of vulnerable about what I’m working on. I sent him the ideas of what I wanted to do, not the songs, and I was just like ‘Here’s what I’m thinking’ and he was like ‘Fuck yeah, let’s do this.’ As soon as I wrote that Elio email and got the response I felt like ‘Fuck yeah, let’s do this’
The record originally had seven songs. Schleicher had an eighth track “Wilkes-Barre” which she wrote partially about how her grandparents met. She went into the Shop unsure if she even liked the song.
“I think that song is probably the best song I’ve ever written because it’s honest,” said Schleicher. “It’s a song I wrote on guitar with two chords and then went to the piano and was like ‘Can you make a song more complicated afterward?” I just came up with all the harmonies after the fact. I wasn’t even sure if I wanted it on the record and Elio was like ‘Are you kidding – this is the best song.” So, it’s funny how that works. That’s why you need Elio around because otherwise that song would just never exist.”
I think that song is probably the best song I’ve ever written because it’s honest
Before heading into the studio – Schleicher and Birnbaum had booked and planned a three month tour of the U.S. with Wilder Maker. Right after recording concluded – the two, current Wilder Maker drummer Sean Mullins and a former bassist set out in a van.
“The tour was pretty intense, it definitely improved my musicianship in terms of playing songs and shows – but I think the tour was less about music and more about what it’s like to try and play music. It was very humbling.”
The tour ended close to Christmas time. Schleicher went home for the holidays before heading back to Brooklyn in the new year. She continued bartending, began playing sporadic solo shows in the city, performing and recording regularly with Wilder Maker and working a couple days a week at the New York record label Ba Da Bing records.
Schleicher said recording at the label has helped her realize and learn a lot about music and the industry surrounding it.
“You know, people don’t respond to your emails,” said Schleicher. “Working there helped me to realize that it’s not personal and that it’s not predictable. It just takes focus and persistence.”
Sometime last year, Schleicher started renting a practice space and recording her entire writing sessions, some of which would last over 90 minutes long. Her hope was to find out what worked and what didn’t by listening to her music after the fact instead of analyzing in the moment.
“The new methodology allowed me to find songs that would have slipped out otherwise,” said Schleicher. “I’m finally listening to The Pixies, to The Breeders… I’m really catching up slowly to music, still learning. I knew I wanted to make heavier stuff. I wanted to make weirder stuff. So recording those sessions to tape made me realize that these writing sessions sounded good. The songs, when you play them the first time around, sound better when I’m making up lyrics – using dummy lyrics.”
The new methodology allowed me to find songs that would have slipped out otherwise
“When you’re writing something, you’re just singing absent-mindedly. Sometimes, those are the most honest lyrics,” said Schleicher. “I would completely forget them if I didn’t have these writing sessions recorded. So, I was driving in my car listening to my own songwriting sessions on a daily basis.”
Schleicher eventually picked eight tracks and decided to release a cassette EP. Once she had the lyrics, she arranged and recorded herself on a four track tape machine playing every instrument on the record – except on two songs where her boyfriend plays drums. She mixed the record partially with DeLuca at the Soul Shop and partially in New York at Spaceman Sound.
For Schleicher, the record sounds and feels completely different than her past work. Lyrically, it’s much simpler than what she’s used to and sound-wise, it’s heavier. Although she said she feels less enthused about the content of the record’s lyrics, she feels content with the sounds.
“Sometimes I find it really hard because I want to do something different,” said Schleicher. “What Steve does is very Steve and what Gabe does is very Gabe. I think in a lot of ways it’s a struggle to get close to what it is I’m trying to do; to read my own mind.”
I think in a lot of ways it’s a struggle to get close to what it is I’m trying to do; to read my own mind
Scheicher is currently working at Ba Da Bing, who will release her EP once it’s been mastered. Schleicher said the record’s been mixed since February of this year, but she’s been waiting to get it mastered and to release it.
“I’m just afraid, I think. it’s so unbecoming, but it’s just really honest,” said Schleicher. “I think I’m afraid of no one hearing it. I’m afraid of putting it out and not taking advantage of at least getting one blog to write about it. I’m afraid of putting it out and not booking a release show. I’m scared of booking shows. It’s very simple stuff, but it needs to happen … it will happen … it’s just waiting for this magical clarity of ‘Oh it’s a great time.'”
I’m just afraid, I think. It’s so unbecoming, but it’s just really honest
When I try to be quiet, to make my mind really quiet … and there’s this darkness, there always appears some thought about music
“I have made more attempts than anyone I know not to continue,” said Schleicher. “I have been extremely vulnerable the entire time. I think in a world where I can devalue every single aspect of what I’m doing or what other people are doing, somehow music is the thing that sticks around. When I try to be quiet, to make my mind really quiet, and there’s this darkness … there always appears some thought about music. It’s also the best drug; to play music is the best drug. Wilder Maker has saved my ass on a regular basis. I’m finally in a situation where I see what can develop over time: personal band chemistry, camaraderie, musical chemistry on stage. We’ve had times where crowds go wild and it’s just worth it; everything is worth it in that moment. For my own music, why I continue is that it’s just a thought that stays in my mind no matter how hard I try to push it out. And I think I’m becoming better at just doing this and not expecting money or not expecting anyone to listen.”
Schleicher’s new EP is expected to be released this fall. She’s currently playing shows around New York with Wilder Maker and the Ben Seretan Group. Check her out on Facebook and Bandcamp. Also check out her work with Wilder Maker on Facebook, Twitter, Bandcamp and on their website.