Grinders, Kill Bill, and Opportunity Abroad: A Spotlight on Katie Wiley-Alt

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Earlier in the week, CV staffer Connor Small showed me a song written and performed by mutual friend and Bucknell Junior, Katie Wiley-Alt, called “Freestyle A Cappella.”  It immediately grabbed my interest.  Connor went on to tell me that she had just won a competition by hit label Mad Decent for most popular song. Naturally, Katie made the short list during the following Campus Vinyl discussion on our next student spotlight.  I jumped at the opportunity to write the piece not only because I’ve enjoyed hanging out with her in the past, but also because I felt eager to learn more about her experience in the music world—an aspect about her I had somehow previously failed to realize.

She invited me over to her room where we could look at the music she writes and the equipment she uses to write it.

To my observation that I consume music better than I create it, Katie joked that she thinks that she’s the opposite.  Katie, or fluxxy, listens mostly to tunes she creates herself, rather than to the music world around her.  She explains how she yearns for a particular sound in music. While she appreciates the sound of xxyyxx, for example, she finds most satisfying music she tailors herself.

I think the fact that Katie listens to her own music more often than she listens to other artists makes her particularly appealing.  By this metric, you know her music is genuine.  It’s almost like a peek into her person.  For me, music becomes more meaningful when you can connect it insightfully to the person who makes it.

Knowing that catalogs of sound exist for download off of the internet, I went on to ask how much sound in her tunes is “hers.”  Katie thoughtfully tilts her head side to side, finally deciding, “Hmm, I’d say anywhere between 80 and 90 percent [for non-remix songs]”.

“This might sound weird, but I kinda just go around the room and bang s***,” Katie explains about her process to gather sound bytes.  She then uses hardware and software to tinker with the pitch, tone and dynamic of each clip until she reaches a product she feels she can include in her work.

In a particularly avant-garde tune, Katie flirts with recordings of nothing more than the sound of snowfall and ambient metallic grinding and glass tapping noises.

In the same vain of musical experimentation, Katie has mixed sound bytes from film into her music.  For instance, Katie has a mix of The Lion King and plans to release a song in the near future that features Kill Bill sound.

Next, we talked about her music making process.  Katie explains that it normally takes her about one day to complete a song.  When inspiration strikes, she has been known to spend up to 15 hours working on a song without interruption.  Not infrequently, she writes until 5 AM.

On this subject, she jokes that sometimes her brain convinces her a tune is good just so that she will finally close shop for the night.  This is the case for songs she revisits 24 hours after completion, unsatisfied with final product.  In other cases, she loves the work so much that she listens to it until she “kills it”.

When she does complete songs after a double-digit bender, she says she feels like she has had a baby.  Not so much in the sense of physical pain, but in that feeling of pride and joy.  She says that she finds her music beautiful, and that no one could tell her otherwise.

At one point during our chat, Katie even let me take a stab at making music side-by-side with her.  First we made a beat.  We combined different sounds, including a snare drum, bass line and a third layer tone to mix into one of her beats.

Even cooler, Katie showed me how she creates samples, letting me choose a song of my liking to sample in front of me.  I choose a personal favorite, “Go Outside” by Cults.  (Check out my recent article on their most recent album!)  She imported the song into her software, set it to one of her homemade arrangements and pressed play.  While some parts of the song meshed with her arrangement better than others, this method to sample at random has steered her towards some seriously cool tunes.

“Even 30 seconds from a four minute song—that’s not bad,” Katie smiles and shrugs.

Katie has traveled more frequently with her budding success.  She heads to Boston most frequently to perform, boarding with her manager, Erica Taylor, head of Erica Taylor Management.  While Ms. Taylor has not confirmed details, there exists a possibility that Katie will perform at the Boiler Room as a part of her duo, Baes, which is comprised of herself and Bucknell alumna, Connor Schaum, who goes by stage name Fausttt.

The Boiler Room is a world-renowned venue that has earned big name acts, including Flume, mass publicity.  In Katie’s words, some have touted the venue as, “the world’s biggest underground show.”  While she jokes that such a description sounds, “weird because its like the biggest possible underground deal,” such an opportunity would mean huge things for her future in the music world.

After the time I spent with Katie to write this spotlight, I can’t wait to spend more time with her music.  While it sounds condescending, I’m truly impressed with the quality the songs she has produced.  Her trap songs made we want to dance.  Her more atmospheric songs made me want to zone out relax.  Her samples would be grate to bop to on the way to class.  With such an eclectic repertoire, Katie even asked me to help define her genre.

Maybe you can help.

Keep an eye out for Katie’s future releases.  You can hear Katie’s music on three different accounts.  Her official soundcloud account is @fluxxyofficial.  She also has an account for her vocal tracks and another for her electronic tunes.  Those are “teacup-feels” and “fluxxs”, respectively.

Bucknell NewsJ Swirsky