Name: Katy Henriksen
Current Project: Sound Off Podcast on Critical Frequency
Recommendations: Agua Viva by Clarice Lispector. Every single sentence in that little confessional novel is charged full of visceral energy. I get chills just thinking about it, even though it’s been years since I’ve read it. / It is Finished by Nina Simone, from a concert in 1974. Go listen to that rendering of “Funkier Than a Mosquito’s Tweeter” right now! Talk about transformative.
Keep up to date with Katy's work and appearances on her website www.katyhenriksen.com
When did you start talking about music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What is it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I was born into it. My first time on a stage was when my mom played her senior bass recital while pregnant with me. My grandparents were early music scholars and my grandfather chaired the university music department, so I grew up playing “Chopsticks” on their harpsichord and had no idea that was unusual. When I was little we’d do family Christmas carolling and all break out our instruments to play holiday music together. I started Suzuki violin lessons when I was six, then added voice, piano and viola. As a child of the 80s, I watched a lot of MTV. I had Cyndi Lauper She’s So Unusual on vinyl. My parents loved the Beatles, my mom would always put on Joni Mitchell when my dad was out of the house. Music was at the core of my life - it resonated deeply and intimately with me. When I listened to it I found magic that transcended any daily cares or worries. When I practiced, I forgot everything else. When I performed there was a connection unlike anything else I’d ever experienced. Music has always resonated and provided me with the most meaningful connections with the world. In high school, I was drawn to hybrid sounds of Bjork and then in college, I found Nina Simone. I started off as a voice major but decided switching to journalism was a more practical course. How wrong I turned out to be.
For most, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development and the transition towards your own style? What’s the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
I’ve never felt like I really “fit” anywhere. I was too classically trained to be part of the DIY scene, I wasn’t classically trained enough to fit in with the opera and symphonic worlds. I was interdisciplinary before that became trendy at all, and the musicians, thinkers and artists I was attracted to also displayed this characteristic. I also never really latched on to one format. I was a musician, I was someone who loved graphic design and page layout, I loved reading and writing, photography, collage. Hybridity just really drew me in. I was also always jealous of those who could really hone in on a passion and a stricter form. I thought maybe if I could zone in that way that I could become a better musician, better artist or writer. Making connections where others couldn’t see them was always my thing. Finding my way has certainly been a challenge. I looked towards fostering connections always, and trusted that my form would find me. Sound Off really does combine it all for me, but it took a lot of time to get there. I’m now 42 and feel like I’m just now really figuring out how to put it all together.
What were your main challenges when starting out with the podcast and how have they changed over time?
I couldn’t have launched my podcast without the help of Amy Westervelt, who owns Critical Frequency Network. I was a radio host and music director for 8 years, so the podcasting world is new to me. She helps me navigate that. Coming up with the right format was super tricky - finding a cadence between sharing a conversation and highlighting music. Now that season one is in the books I have a better sense of how each episode should come together. Another challenge is that I want to do so many interviews and highlight so much music! As I continue in with season two, my challenge is to figure out how to earn income from the endeavour and reach a larger audience, as well as expand the online publication that goes with Sound Off. Since I’m only one person and I don’t have a team, I sometimes wish I was able to clone myself. I’m full of ideas but only have so much time.
How do you see the role of podcasting in the creative process? Should it amplify public taste, distinguish the good from the bad, inform, promote artists, or, as Howard Mandel put it, “illuminate, educate and entertain” readers?
I’ve described Sound Off as a love letter to us all. The podcast is about fostering connection, curiosity and helping us get through this crazy moment in time. I love the intimacy of radio, the way I can share conversations with listeners all over the world. My hope is that listeners come away from the conversations and the music highlighted with a sense of wonder and curiosity, feeling connected and ready to challenge the status quo. I give space to musicians who are working against systemic issues of gender, racial and class to lift voices from underserved communities and to highlight those pushing boundaries to effect change in our society. That can all sound lofty, but at its core this is really about telling stories and fostering connection.
Whom do you feel your obligation to – the artists, the readers, the publication you're writing for?
I feel an obligation to all of us. That’s why I became a music journalist in the first place. I’ve always had a deep-seeded need to connect us all and build community through those forged connections. I feel it in my bones.
What are the most important conclusions you've drawn from the entry of podcasting into the media landscape? How do they affect journalism in general and your own take in particular? What role does social media play for your approach?
I love that podcasts remove the barrier of broadcast, meaning that anyone anywhere can become a listener. It also means that anyone who wants to can become a podcaster, just as anyone can release a book or album or publish their own writings. That means the landscape is noisier than ever before and that it’s more and more difficult to cut through that noise. Since I graduated from grad school in 2003 there’s increasingly a disregard for journalism and its role in society. We’re vilified everywhere you turn. But if we cover a friend positively, we’re cheered. Part of the problem is that it’s impossible to distinguish vetted, quality journalism - which could also be said for podcasts. When I tell someone I podcast, they may have an idea that I’m shooting the shit with someone and that I simply plop that online. What actually happens is that I spend many hours with an artist’s music, then take a long conversation I’ve had with them and condense it to an edited 8-15 minutes. One episode of the podcast takes about 8 hours of production. On the other side of the coin are these slickly produced podcasts that have huge staff support. One podcast with 10 employees. So, it’s tricky - I’m just me, but I’m not someone just throwing up a conversation and a bit of music online.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
As the pandemic rages on, sometimes I want to throw my smartphone off the highest cliff. That I’m so fatigued by Zoom even though I didn’t’ even know what it was a year ago is really quite something. I don’t know what I’d do without the Internet or my laptop, or, even though I fantasize about ridding myself of this device tethered to me that carries an endless supply of music, art, research, memes & much comment raging, I love my smartphone for the fact that I can listen to a chaconne performed on period instruments followed by a live Nina Simone followed by some obscure folk field recording or for capturing video on the go or sound. I mean I can even record podcast interviews on it.
Now that we’re nearly a year into the pandemic and most of us have been homebound for that stretch, I’m truly grateful that I can do all my interviews remotely and even help produce livestreaming events. It’s not the same as sharing the resonance in a room, but it’s definitely connectivity in a time of social isolation. Since I don’t live in a big city - I’m based in Fayetteville, Arkansas - technology allows me to work remotely with collaborators across the globe. That’s certainly a beautiful thing.
Regarding the second part to this question - I see technology as a tool and creativity is that human spark that can utilize that tool via imagination. I know there’s been lots of research into AI, but we’re in such early stages of that, so I see technology as something that must be harnessed by humans. It’s true though, that technology is changing the way we interact and even the way we think. There’s such a glut of information at our fingertips at all times now; we’re definitely overloaded.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives, writers and possibly even the artists you're interviewing or working with for a piece?
In Sound Off, collaboration is the conversation between me and the artist I’m talking to. Interviews are absolutely collaborative experiences and anyone who approaches them differently is not doing it right. I absolutely light up when I engage through heartfelt conversations. The engagement comes from my genuine curiosity and wonder for whomever I’m speaking with and also the depth of knowledge I bring into the interview itself. When the interview becomes a meaningful conversation instead of simply transactional experience, magic happens. I take that into consideration in every facet of my life, because what is the point of anything if we’re not fostering a heartfelt connection?