In this series I interview the musicians who lent their talents to the Picket Line soundtrack, many of them comics enthusiasts and storytellers in their own right. Andrea Carter is the bark and the bite behind Kitty Versus Wolf, and contributed the song “Fighting to Standing” to the soundtrack. She sat down with me over G-chat to discuss the school of Trial and Error, her relocation to Minneapolis, and why she avoids specifics in songwriting.
B: I’m a little early in contacting you. Six minutes early!
Andrea: Whoa. That must be a record or something. Two artists arriving early?
B: Definitely a record. Ok, well, this question might be getting old, but I’ve been asking everyone to start off by describing their sound, in case someone hasn’t heard it before. And people seem to hate that question!
Andrea: It’s not a bad question, it’s legit! Well, my sound is whatever I’m feeling like at the moment. But lately, I’ve really been into alt-country. That’s primarily what my new album sounds like. My next album, well that’s going to be a different story. I think my next album will be a lot more orchestral and synthy. I’m interested in all aspects of music, and I think I’m ready to expand.
B: You’ve already got two albums in the queue? Let’s talk about the first one – you’ve been recording songs for that right?
Andrea: Yeah my first album, ‘Dear in the Headlights’ will be on sale mid-November. We’re finally done with all the recordings and we’re ready to start mixing and mastering. It was a HUGE deal. I had no idea that making a record was going to be so much work! I’m learning a ton. And I hope the second one will be out next year.
B: Fantastic! I guess I didn’t know ‘Dear in the Headlights’ was that far along. It makes sense that you’re already thinking quite a bit about the next album then – that’s a healthy sign!
Andrea: Yeah. I’m pretty excited. I wrote the first album with my ukulele, but I’m trying to write this one with just my guitar. It’s going all right so far.
B: How are you planning to release ‘Dear in the Headlights?’ Digitally?
Andrea: Well. I’m going to release it digitally, yes. But I’m also going to print CDs. I’ve decided that it’d be a good move, you know, to have something that people can take away after shows. I’m working on a lot of other merchandise actually… homemade merchandise, that is. I guess I didn’t realize how much work that would be either! I think that’s why I entitled the album ‘Dear in the Headlights.’ I really do feel like it’s always trial and error. When something doesn’t work, I gotta rework it and make it better… path of least resistance, you know? I feel like a little kid, even though I’m 27. I just kind of start running and hope something works!
B: All of that learning is probably one of the most valuable things to come out of an experience like this – aside from the music itself.
Andrea: Yeah, having something to show for it is huge! It’s easy to just ‘be ambitious.’ It’s another thing entirely to be ambitious with one goal in mind…. it gets hard. Lots of ups and downs.
B: Definitely. So, talking about goals, you recently took a jump to make singing into a career rather than a hobby. Was that more of a mental switch, or an actual situational switch for you? (And by situational I mean, making life-decisions according to that goal.)
Andrea: Good question. It’s definitely both, though, for me it was mental at first. But then after I lost my job, it was pretty darn easy to make a situational switch–moving from Madison to Minneapolis. All in all, it was definitely the best move for me to make, given my options. It kinda showed me how bad I wanted it.
B: Why Minneapolis?
Andrea: Tons of reasons! But for starters, it’s a great city for music and art. The people here are so supportive of anything to do with art and community in general. And secondly, I have a lot of family here. It’s been so easy to meet people, I can’t even tell you. I just love it here. And well, as much as I love Madison, the city isn’t very supportive of local musicians. It’s sad, but a lot of musicians I know moved out for that very reason.
B: Yeah, that makes sense. Madison has a lot going for it, but maybe that’s not one of them. Speaking of Madison musicians, though, you’ve been a critical player in some Madison bands like Recreation Station and Merle Outlaw – and many of those musicians help out with Kitty Versus Wolf. Do you find your collaborations bleed together, or is each project pretty distinct from each other?
Andrea: They do really bleed together, though I suppose that’s expected. I think that’s why I wanted Kitty Versus Wolf as my own personal project, rather than making it a band. And now that Aaron (of Merle Outlaw) and Shawn (of Recreation Station) have their own projects, it’s really cool to see specific nuances change, depending on who’s directing it. And by that, I mean, it’s just easy to pick out each other’s styles and strengths, depending on who’s directing a project.
B: Yeah, that makes sense. You guys have kind of developed a collective, maybe without even meaning to!
Andrea: Yeah. It is a collective. We’re like a music gang. We walk around and snap our fingers and get into fights.
Andrea: Ha. well we definitely snap our fingers… but ehhh maybe not the fighting so much. Though, I do like to think of myself as a hooligan.
B: I’d like to hear Shawn sing some West Side Story, haha.
Andrea: Shawn’s a rabble rouser.
B: So, did I remember this detail right – you didn’t really start singing until you were in college?
Andrea: Yeah. college. Well, funny thing is that where I grew up, the arts were not encouraged. So, yeah, I went to college thinking I was going to be a politician, then realized that I couldn’t do it. So, I got a degree in consumer protectionism thinking I’d work for the FTC. And then I realized, I couldn’t do that either. So when I graduated I was pretty sure I was just going to be a bum.
B: Did you just wake up one morning and realize you have an incredible voice? Or how did that work out?
Andrea: I mean, people told me I could sing well, but I just never really believed it. It took a LONG time before I actually started singing so that it meant something to me–being creative. [So one of my] friends discovered I could sing, and we started a band in 2007.
B: Was that Merle Outlaw?
Andrea: No, it was actually a blues band… and it was named after me. AH! It was embarrassing!
B: Haha, well we all have our embarrassing projects starting out, right?
Andrea: Oh yes, I’ve got the embarrassing project under my belt. After that, I joined a soul band and a country band, and did some other projects. [Then] I got burned out, quit everything and started up Merle Outlaw with a few friends. It was pretty fun. It wasn’t until Merle Outlaw that I started writing. And it was after Merle Outlaw that I started playing the ukulele, so about a year ago.
B: It’s an impressive rap sheet, though, for starting kind of late in the game.
So, let’s talk about “Fighting to Standing” for a second.
Andrea: Ah! Yeah. Let’s do that!
B: That song was written and recorded before Picket Line was completed, and then grafted into the soundtrack project. In my opinion, it fits thematically and tonally, but how does it feel to have a song you’ve written with one purpose in mind used for something else completely?
Andrea: Well, honestly, that’s exactly what I want a song to be like. I want the listener to let the song take on a meaning of their own understanding. So, for you to think that, it’s perfect. It’s right on. When I wrote that song, I didn’t really know what I was writing. It just kinda came out. It wasn’t until it was recorded that I looked back and thought, whoa! There’s a good message in here.
B: It’s kind of a vessel that you get to create, and other people get to fill with their own meaning.
Andrea: Couldn’t have said it better myself.
B: But it doesn’t take away from what you’ve created, only adds to it. “Fighting to Standing” fit so perfectly, in my mind, with the story, so I’d say that philosophy was a success in this case.
Andrea: Yeah, it really did! After reading your book, I really understand why you wanted the song. I usually avoid being specific on purpose. There are exceptions, but you know…
B: Would you approach it differently, for example, if you were asked to write a song specifically for a project?
Andrea: Yeah, I would approach it differently if I had to write for a project. I don’t have much practice at that, admittedly! But I have done it, and I like doing it, I just prefer to write a song without parameters.
B: What does your songwriting process look like?
Andrea: You know, people ask me this often, and you’d think I’d know how to answer it by now. But truthfully, I hardly know. I just know that I want every song I write to be the best I’m capable of making it. But I usually have little songs running around in my head all day long. And I record them. I take my recorder everywhere. And then I just eventually sit down and string together all those little melodies that are rattling around in my head. I personally feel like my songwriting has improved immensely, now that I play an instrument, but it’s completely possible for me to write an entire song without playing any instruments at all.
B: And just tell others what to play?
Andrea: Yeah. Like, I can still hear what chords I want to go underneath. I can get very picky. Aaron and Shawn know this! They’re great. They have both really been instrumental (!) in helping me develop as an artist. I don’t know where I’d be without them. Fact.
B: Well, I think it’s symbiotic, then, because you’ve made some beautiful contributions to their music as well. The Recreation Station track on the soundtrack, for example, which you sang vocals in.
Andrea: Yay! Recreation Station!
B: Well, we can wrap this up whenever, but I wanted to mention the shows you played in Milwaukee and Green Bay as part of the Picket Line book tour!
Andrea: That was a lot of fun playing on the book tour. Can’t wait for the west coast leg of it!
B: It will happen! I’m enjoying a little break, meanwhile.
Andrea: Yeah, you’ve been working it. Good for you! It’s hard to wake up and make your own schedule, but awesome at the same time. Good thing you’ve got awesome friends and support around you!
B: Yeah, this soundtrack project has really been fun to showcase those awesome – and talented – friends!
Any closing thoughts?
Andrea: Closing thoughts: This interview was brought to you by the letter B and the number 60. Merry Christmas to all! And to all a fantastical night!
B: Haha, perfect. Spoken like a true madman.