Last year, Katie Von Schleicher released Shitty Hits, an earnest statement of blown out melancholic bedroom pop, invoking the likes of Emmitt Rhodes, Angel Olsen, and Alex Chilton. Over the course of a lean thirty-five minutes, songs like “Midsummer” and “Life’s a Lie” showcase a jagged, sharp-witted charm. More delicate numbers like “Swoon” and “Mary” are illuminated with a tender breeziness.
The album’s closer, “Sell It Back,” strikes a different tone, however. It’s slower and outwardly dark, spacious and shot through an aquatic lens that fuses distantly echoing drums, humming synths and droning sax. It stands out as something on its own.
We spoke to Katie over email about this song, and how its origins, roots, and form shine a light on the songwriter’s artistic process, inner monologue, and future expressive horizons. An album dealing with anxiety, isolation, and the uncertainty of getting older, Von Schleicher shares that “it would be hard to argue these aren’t all me talking to myself.”
Written during a period of rare extended access to an acoustic piano, Von Schleicher wrote the piece with specific memories informing her time with the instrument.
“My grandparents gave me a piano when I was young and music was very private practice. I spent a lot of high school sneaking into the dark dance room, which had a piano, when it was empty. It’s just like church, this very large and powerfully resonant instrument.”
Fittingly, the song evokes the sound of an empty dance hall, like an abandoned church of high school gym hosting a dance without a soul on the floor. A bottomless feeling. “When you feel like you’re a door they’re knocking on,” she sings, “Or worse, that no one passes through.”
“Sell It Back” had an uncertain future in the album’s larger creation, Von Schleicher says. “When we recorded the basics, this was one I thought wouldn’t make it. It’s bare, the lyrics are decipherable and personal. It’s fucked up that it’s more complex than the other songs while being objectively more sparse too.”
On paper, the song didn’t fit, but she went for it anyway and found a greater truth — perhaps a greater freedom — on the other side.
“The album’s lyrics, I am hoping, sit in a different tonal place than the music itself does, except I guess on ‘Sell It Back.’ What makes it different, to me, is that it feels tranquil, even if the narrative stance is to be on the offense,” von Schleicher says. “That’s something I explore a lot but don’t release.”
She continues, “In my earliest voice memos, I still took the long instrumental break, except that it was just me repeating this same motif on the piano, slowly, over and over. I think this is part of an exploration I feel like doing that felt unfamiliar or strange to me somehow, which now I should learn is a positive thing.”
Indeed, the song’s openness — a sort of weightlessness — feels like being engulfed by some strange abyss, though it’s a strangely welcoming feeling. “Ending it that way, since I spend the song talking to myself, was a promise to myself moving forward, I think.”
Extra: Von Schleicher enlightened us to this song’s “lineage in demos.” She described several as “the pull I might have been feeling toward something maybe more spacious but also kind of groove driven, almost loungy.” Sounds like a direction to lean into. words/c depasquale