While sitting inside the mouth of a giant dinosaur, Paul Rubens once said, “everyone I know has a big but(t),” which keeps them from trying to accomplish their dreams. Katie Bennett, the lead singer and frontwoman of indie band Free Cake For Every Creature, uses her passion for music and writing to overcome her “big but(t)” of anxiety. Bennett takes the fears and realities life such as facing her own mortality, getting older and moving to a new city and repackages them into positive songs for her listeners.
We caught up with Bennett to talk about Free Cake, their most recent album, Talking Quietly Of Anything With You and the upcoming tour this month.
Katie, when did you decide you wanted to move from solo artist to a full band?
Katie Bennett: This is a really good question and something I’ve been thinking a lot about recently. I actually started writing a piece about the solo vs. band question, but as of right now it splinters into many directions. Here’s a (hopefully) concise answer: When I started Free Cake, I was just learning to play guitar and record. I saw songwriting as a way to explore my feelings and experiment with playing guitar rather than communicate a specific idea. The intention wasn’t there, and I didn’t even really see myself as a musician yet. But I always liked the trope of the mad-scientist-artists locked away in their room, chipping away at their “masterpiece.” Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always wanted a laboratory of some sort (I was heavily influenced by the cartoon Dexter’s Laboratory), and that, along with the fact that I was too shy to ask anyone to play with me, factored into early songs. After I put out a fresh batch of songs, people immediately started asking me when they’d hear “full-band” versions, which wasn’t something I’d really considered before. There’s definitely pressure to be “loud” and “full,” both in recording and live performance, and I’d argue this is especially true if you’re a girl. The other day I played a solo set and beforehand someone made a comment about how the person on stage was “just a girl with a guitar.” There’s no equivalent phrase for men. So — societal influence was part of the reason I decided to switch to full-band song, but more importantly, so was my curiosity to explore, try new things and grow as a musician. I’ve loved playing with a band and hearing my songs in different ways. Everyone I’ve played with is so talented, and has pushed me to be my best. I still play by myself sometimes, but for “bigger” show I often play with the band — this is by choice and also necessity because, unfortunately, many people won’t book solo acts. Anyway. I’ve grown a lot over the last few years and now consider myself an adept musician and even producer. I’ve always been extremely involved in the production arrangement of ever free cake song, but I see myself completely obsessing over the creation of the next album. I want to tinker with what it means to have “full band” recordings. Back to the lab.
Where did the band’s name come from?
KB: Hah, I get asked this question all the time, and rightfully so I guess! Someone we played with in Nashville (Logan from the band Kristof Waltz) actually messaged me the other day on Facebook, saying that whenever he wears our shirt, people ask him what the band name means. This is what I told him: Back when I was a very new songwriter, I sort of subconsciously put my songs under “free cake for every creature” in my iTunes so no one would know it was me. At the time, I was just becoming vegan and used to bake a lot, so those things probably factor into the name. Cake for everyone, love for all, etc.
What’s your songwriting process like?
KB: It differs. Like I said, when I first started out it wasn’t really an intentional process, and it still sometimes isn’t. Sometimes I’m just low, or ecstatic, or pissed and when I start writing in my journal, a song comes out. Lately I’ve been working on expressing my anger…growing up, my parents expressed their anger through yelling and sometimes violence, so anger is very closely tied with fear for me. I don’t want to back away from anger anymore, and so lately have been trying to write a song in which I express that anger.
You sing in an almost whisper kind of voice. Would you say you’re a soft-spoken person?
KB: It depends. Growing up, through the college even, I would’ve answered yes, definitely. I was very shy, at least around people I didn’t know too well. I’ve always had a lot of social anxiety, and before playing music, I tried to tame it through drinking or medication. Between 15 and 20 I was prescribed the highest dose of anti-anxiety/depressant Lexapro. Since I started playing music, though, I’ve had to be unexpectedly social in order to book/play shows and it’s helped me become exponentially more comfortable communicating with people. I still get incredibly nervous about socializing every time I show up at a show/party, but I can usually tame it a little by remembering to breath and clutching my bottle of seltzer, hah.
Do you have inspirations for your sound?
KB: Yes! Sparse but thoughtful arrangements like a lot of Velvet Underground songs. Playful like The Gerbils and Kimya Dawson. Pretty and soft like Soko, Karen O and when Georgia sings on Yo La Tengo tracks. We’re working on a few new songs now that incorporate these influences, and I’m so stoked to get them recorded to tape.
What drives you to be musicians?
KB: I can’t speak for my band members, but speaking for myself, I’m driven by my awareness of my own mortality. I picked up the guitar after almost compromising my life a few times in some hellish party-related circumstances. I’m so grateful now to be living and breathing, and there’s nothing I’d rather do with my life than sing and try to write the most honest songs possible. So I’m 100% committed to doing that and being the best I can be.
Is there something other than music you all are passionate about?
KB: Totally. I always thought I’d be a writer, and I write daily in my journal and sometimes elsewhere online. I love to take pictures on my crappy 35mm camera that I found for 50 cents at a thrift store. I like to film music videos for Free Cake and friends’ bands. I love to go thrifting, cook, listen to records with friends, go for walks…
You mention your age and turning 23 a few times in Talking Quietly Of Anything With You. How does growing up affect you and your music making?
KB: I write about my own experiences, so if I’m getting older, I’m going to write about that. Growing up affects me in my music making because I have to consider how I’m going to support myself. Lately, I’ve decided that I’m going to commit to being a musician and living this lifestyle, at least for the near future. It was a difficult decision to make, because it would be nice to have the financial income of a salaried job. I used to be a preschool teacher, but now I work at a cafe that allows me the flexibility to switch around my schedule and take off to play shows and tour.
How do you feel about your upcoming tour with Diet Cig?
KB: I’m excited. It’s the first tour we’re going on that we didn’t book ourselves, so that’s a relief, and I’m excited to likely be playing for many young women.
Where was the cover photo taken for Talking Quietly Of Anything With You?
KB: My friend Domenica took the picture at the Cabazon Dinosaur outside of LA last summer when I was on a solo tour with their old project, I Tried To Run Aways When I Was Six. It was actually quite an ordeal — we really wanted to visit the dinos because we’d seen them in the movie Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. I was only supposed to take like an hour to get there, but when we got in the car that afternoon, the GPS said it’d take three hours. We had to decide — do we go and potentially be late for the show? I’m so glad we did! AND we got to the show on time.
If you could be any animal, what would you be?
If you had to eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
KB: Veggie Sushi
What’s one thing or person the world doesn’t need?
KB: Donald Trump
Free Cake for Every Creature is touring with Diet Cig starting September 20th. Find tour dates here.