Texas-born singer/songwriter and musician Katy Rea left Texas 12 years ago for the promise and opportunity of New York. Rea auditioned for several television parts and stage plays, occasionally earning a role in someone else’s story, basking momentarily in the flickering glow of rare, unsteady and infrequent success. However, songwriting was her true love and solace, and for her, the only way she could reliably self-soothe.
For years, she floated around the city as if in a daze and found herself drawn to those, who couldn’t love well. After closing bar shifts, she’d return home to write and strum along to the voices and sirens outside, often lulling herself to sleep.
One day during a rehearsal, Rea’s drummer and friend Joshua Jaeger, audibly observed that she’d be happier without her habits, but warned that it would take courage to overcome them. She knew in her heart that Jaeger had been right, so two weeks before recording her full-length debut The Urge That Saves You, Rea quit drinking.
Slated for a November 11, 2022 release, The Urge That Saves You was recorded at Figure 8 Recording entirely live, including main vocals, all in one go. It was during the album’s recording sessions that Rea realized, for the first time with complete certainty that making music was exactly what she needed — and should — be doing.
Sonically, the album is reportedly hook-driven empath rock that splits off into cinematic, dark psychedelia in a seamless and effortless fashion. Her backing band, which features members, who have played with Angel Olsen, Fleet Foxes, Widowspeak and a lengthy list of others play with a touching restraint and makes for a collection of Rea calls “premonitions, prayer and warnings.”
The album’s songs reflect Rea’s life journey in a way that’s not exactly autobiographical and isn’t always obvious. As a songwriter, Rea prefers to use characters and metaphors in her stories. But they’re rooted in a gritty, psychological realism that feels novelistic.
During quarantine, the Texas-born, New York-based artist took it upon herself to learn how to engineer and mix her own album after an inspiring phone call with musician and producer Sam Evian, who urged to make the work her own in every way that she could. She spent countless hours at Phil Weinrobe’s Rivington 66 overdubbing and mixing. Learning to mix wasn’t without difficulty. At times, Rea felt like she was learning a different language. Luckily, she had engineers like Spencer Murphy, Andrew Forman and others around to answer questions and help along the way.
The post-production process was just as rewarding as the recording sessions because Rea succeeded in making the album sound exactly how she wanted it to, while also proving to herself that she was more than capable of taking the reins. So it’s understandable that Rea celebrates the album’s completion with a well-earned pride. She’s also inspired to continue engineering and producing future albums on her own.
Earlier this month, I wrote about “Lord Try,” a song that evokes the seemingly inescapable and lingering ghosts of regrets, old selves, bad memories of bad people and bad places, centered around a lush and expansive arrangement and Rea’s gorgeous vocal.
“Happiness,” The Urge That Saves You”s latest single is a shimmering and seamless synthesis of elements of classic Nashville country, troubadour pop, and shoegazer textures paired with Rea’s gorgeous vocal, expressing aching yearning. The song is an urgent plea for a rare, hard-won inner peace and security; the sort that comes as a result of digging out of old habits, bad thinking, trauma and your own bullshit.
“When I was writing ‘Happiness’ I was looking for a kind home within myself. I was one of these people who gave tender guidance to friends but couldn’t follow my own advice,” Rea explains. “I had the idea that living as a songwriter was inherently chaotic, a constant battle with sadness, and mysterious rendezvous. I realized this mindset was built on fear and false heroes; you can only read so much Rimbaud before thinking maybe there’s a healthier way. I realized finding self respect had to do with taking actions that really reflected my values. I began to reroute, to organize, and finally made a plan to record. Getting the songs out of my room was the thing that saved me. Making The Urge that Saves You gave me personal agency and a peace that I had never known. It taught me that my fear of not being good enough really didn’t matter; I’d survive it through doing, through making, through collaborating and slowly the fear would quiet to almost nothing. When I listen to ‘Happiness’ I can hear her digging out of an old and cruel system of belief. ‘If you could know war may be coming from the inside, if you could know love may be hollowed out before her, before him.’ This song is about taking responsibility. And In a way it was a kind of premonition, the message came before I knew what I needed to be happy but now it is very clear.”