Now/It's: An Interview with Abby Clark (Sister Kit)

As we approach the end of the year, a wave of nostalgia crests into substantive scrutiny. Admittedly, the Now/It’s publishing schedule for 2018 has been something of an aberration in the sense that one week there were four interviews to post in five days, while some stretches saw nothing posted for a week and a half (such as this most recent run). Obviously, this isn’t for a lack of content, but rather, just another aspect of the aforementioned substantive scrutiny. Sometimes a passion project like Now/It’s requires some “room to breathe.” If such a notion wasn’t entertained, it would no longer be a project of passion, but rather, a project, full stop. Granted, I’m not saying Now/It’s is the passion project to end all passion projects, on the contrary - if anything, it pales in comparison. But sometimes it’s nice to be reminded of that fact, which was recently made apparent in revisiting a June 2018 conversation with Abby Clark of Sister Kit. Clark has her own passion project(s) that requires the occasional hiatus. When we first met to speak, Clark was anticipating a summer release of her newest EP, Slow Recovery. It had already taken some time to arrive at that particular release window, but as happens from time to time, it wasn’t released until November. Nevertheless, the time undoubtedly allowed Clark time to ruminate over the EP as well as turn to her other passion project - visual art. There’s a truly moving amount of talent well within Clark’s grasp, both musically and visually, so to know that otherwise idle time can appeal to various passions of hers serves as a calming perspective (much like her lyrical purview) to those who find themselves in similar (or varied) situations.

Now/It’s met with Abby Clark at Dozen Bakery, in the Wedgewood-Houston neighborhood of Nashville.

N/I - Your single has done incredibly well on the site!

Abby - That’s great!

N/I - I love that song. Such a great song.

Abby - Thanks.

N/I - How long have you had these songs done? Because the last time I saw [Sister Kit] live was in September of 2017. I feel like I could try and guess if some of the songs were similar or not, but realistically, you’ve been working on the songs for the better part of a year? More than a year?

Abby - It’s kind of weird, because the first song that’s on there, I probably wrote three or four years ago, when I first moved to Nashville. I feel like when the album is out, you can probably tell, because it’s not necessarily the most complex, melody-wise. But I feel like from there, it grew.

N/I - Well songs and approaches to them shift over time.

Abby - The more I wrote, the more I feel like you can tell how I grew from the first song.

N/I - I think there’s something nice to be able to see that from a recording…. I guess you don’t really see that as much as hear it, but nevertheless….

Abby - I think so. To answer your question - the last song on there, or the second to last song - was written while we were recording the album. So it was sort of last minute, and we threw it on there. It was anywhere from three to four years ago to a year ago that I finished it, but all the songs were pretty much recorded around the time of that show in the Fall.

N/I - Fall 2017. So you’ve not really released anything else as Sister Kit, have you?

Abby - I did a song called “Be My Man” and recorded it in my bathroom [laughs], and then put it up on Bandcamp. It was a random one. You can buy it, so it was sort of funny that people were buying it when I just kind of put it up there to show what I kind of sound like, or at least the style of music. We needed that because we were playing shows but no one knew what we sounded like. I don’t know if it was that helpful, but people were buying it, which was funny.

N/I - That’s always amusing in any capacity. Putting it out there and seeing people buying a song. I’ll run into similar moments with the website. I don’t necessarily know anyone in Canada, but they read the site religiously.

Abby - Totally.

N/I - So how did you go about booking shows if you didn’t really have anything to throw into a booking pitch? Was it mostly friends?

Abby - It was mostly friends, and then two or three shows in, it was word of mouth. So now we have a couple shows coming up that are just from friends telling friends.

N/I - That’s the most normal way to book shows. Or at least the most natural. Or most desirable. It’s better than emailing strangers at bars or clubs and begging…. Or convincing them that this is going to be worth their time. You may not be a Cincinnati band, but they should still book you in Cincinnati. That’s the fascinating aspect of being an indie musician - that playing music is arguably the smallest component of how your time is spent. It makes sense, but my question for you would be whether or not you anticipated all the pitching, booking, press, and other logistical things you’d be doing as an indie artist?

Abby - Well, I didn’t really know how to do any of this. A lot of it was sort of getting advice from Rob [Jackson] and other friends. But I still have no idea what I’m doing or what a lot of it means, but I guess I haven’t really been the most proactive about getting it out there. I think I want this EP to sort of exist. It’s just been a really long time working on it. It’s something that means a lot, but I feel like I’m already moving forward onto more stuff. This EP just kind of feels like a platform for what could be. I’m just building off that.

N/I - That makes sense - you have that one song you put out, but as far as people getting to know Sister Kit, this will serve as an introduction, or re-introduction of sorts. It’s not what you’re always going to sound like, but it’s a realistic frame of reference.

Abby - Totally. So I don’t think I know.

N/I - That’s fair. It’s not like you’ve been in music for thirty years and you’re still trying to figure things out. You have a good core surrounding and helping you. It’s like any new endeavor - be it a new job or a new musical outlet - there’s always a learning curve. It almost boils down to optimism versus pessimism. Some people go in thinking nothing is going to work, so they need to have so much stuff ready to throw out into the world to circumvent non-interest, and then there are others who put it out and let it breathe.

Abby - I think that’s where I am. I do this because I love it, and my art on this side is something I want and have to do for myself. So releasing this, I wasn’t necessarily expecting it to be big by any means, so that might be why I haven’t tried super hard, but I really want to try.

N/I - Well you’re in a cool spot with all your art, because you have your design work as well. I would imagine with someone such as yourself, the more creative outlets you have, it can help alleviate some of the creeping external sense of “it’s this or nothing.”

Abby - It makes everything fair.

N/I - It’s totally fair, but at the same time, where your needs are to create in the musical realm or the visual realm, someone in the “all or nothing” realm can get hung up on desperately needing something to gain traction and sell well, or do well to be a success. Things can become almost inconceivable at a certain point, and then people can’t decide what they need or what they want.

Abby - That’s definitely a possibility.

N/I - Anyway…. Where are you from originally? I realize I don’t know a whole lot about you personally.

Abby - I’m from Birmingham, Alabama. I moved here in the Fall of…. It was August of 2014. We’re coming up on four years. Yeah, Birmingham, Alabama.

N/I - Were you artistically involved in Birmingham as well?

Abby - I was always writing music. I started writing when I was ten…. Me and my sister - when it was a thing to play around coffee shops [laughs] we did that. It’s funny.

N/I - I did the same thing in high school [laughs]. It was peak Mumford & Sons era, which is embarrassing to admit now, but whatever.

Abby - It was a big thing back then.

N/I - I saw the guitar and the little kick, and I thought “Whoa! What a minute, you mean I don’t have to have a whole band with me?”

Abby - “We’re working with something now!”

N/I - So I would do the coffee shops with really bad Sufjan Stevens and Mumford ripoffs.

Abby - That’s amazing.

N/I - So all that to be said, I was intimately familiar with the rise of coffee shops in the South.

Abby - It was a time. It was a great time. But when I was younger, I got into photography, and then in high school, I loved to doodle and draw. So when I graduated and it was time to go to college, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, but I knew I didn’t want to do anything but art. I didn’t want to do anything in music either, because I knew that if I ever made a career out of music, I would want it to be making it for me.

N/I - Just from the creative aspect, as opposed to being strictly a songwriter.

Abby - Totally. Or being on the music business side of things. I didn’t really want to do that. It felt like it was a creative outlet I didn’t have to go to school for. Also, I didn’t want it to mess up how I write, in a way…. And maybe that’s not true for a lot of people, but I felt it would be for me.

N/I - Sure. That’s absolutely understandable. I’ve talked to songwriters who are very happy and at home writing for other people, because they’re more externally empathetic than they are internally exploratory, so that fits them better. But for you, you’d rather do that internal exploration than try and appeal to someone else without a guarantee. You see all that and everything in between in Nashville.

Abby - For me, it’s a very personal place and space that made me think I wouldn’t want to go to school for it, but do something that would allow me to still do it in my free time.

N/I - I would imagine the idea of being a songwriter and having someone coming up and asking for you to write a song about “lost love” and then get thrown into it with songwriter X to write five songs in three hours. That’s a strange and unfamiliar place to be if you’re unaccustomed.

Abby - It’s a little forced, to say the least.

N/I - Truly. I’m curious, when you do find yourself being creative, do you have two different mindsets?

Abby - In talking to friends who are involved in both art and music, I’ve heard a lot of people say that they’re sort of working on both at the same time, like they get ideas from the other. But I don’t know if my mind works that way. In my experience, if I’m working on music, it’s just music. It comes from the same place, but the way that I approach it is very separate. It’s kind of nice, because when I get tired of one thing, I shut it off and go to the next thing. Then I’m never tired, creatively.

N/I - That’s got to be pretty nice.

Abby - It is. If I get bored, I can just hop to the other. But it’s not like I’m painting something or working on something with my art where I decide “oh, that’s a good lyric,” or “I can hear this chord progression…”

N/I - That makes sense….

Abby - But maybe that’s not other people’s experience with it, but when people say they can flow back and forth between one medium and another, that’s how I think it happens for them. And maybe it’s not accurate.

N/I - Your guess is as good as mind. You’d just have to ask every single person that’s ever entertained more than one creative medium [laughs]. That does lead me to another question - do you find yourself inspired by different things when it comes to painting versus writing and vice versa?

Abby - I would maybe say that’s the common line?

N/I - Sure. But maybe - and correct me if I’m wrong - writing is a little more personal? At least in terms of life experiences? Or being narrative versus abstract?

Abby - Totally. I think that with songwriting, I get to say whatever I want to say and then it’s out there. People get to hear how I’m feeling or seeing things, which is really great. But with art, it’s this vague expression a lot of the time. There’s a lot of straight forward pieces of art, but when it comes to my paintings, they’re really abstract, and sometimes I think that’s more vague when it comes to how I’m feeling. It’s nice not to give away everything.

This interview originally took place in June of 2018