New York, NY (Top40 Charts)
Katie Callahan is a thirty-something singer, songwriter, artist, and mother living in Baltimore. Her folksy music and lyrical melodies feel nostalgic, familiar, but with each listen, a layer peels back to reveal a raw emotional honesty and courageous exploration of difficult subjects. "I never make a good first impression," Katie often jokes. "You have to meet me twice." But if you look and listen closely, you'll see the groundwork she lays for a quiet but simmering revolution, all the complexity of an internal landscape laid bare.
Katie grew up in Hawaii, the third of seven children in a military family who ended up staying in one place for the whole of her school years. The church and Christianity were woven into the fabric of every part of their lives, and she and several of her siblings served on their small community church worship team. As she began to explore her own style, bands like Jars of Clay became especially important as they were spiritual, rooted in tradition, but unafraid to question, doubt, and be honest. She continued as a worship leader through college and beyond.
Following a scholarship to Goucher College just outside of Baltimore, Katie was a favorite at her campus coffee house, even putting together a compilation of songs to benefit Jars of Clay's organization, Blood:Water, in 2007, and she tried to carry that momentum from school to the post-graduation world. But the recession, persistent depression, and a failing marriage kept her at odds with pursuing music, and so she all but quit.
Fortunately, to be an artist means to be pursued by one's art at every turn, and Katie never stopped writing music, though she seldom played in public. That marriage dissolved, the mental health issues did not, and a vague glimmer of moving to Nashville to attend seminary fizzled. "I was out of ideas," Katie said, "Every day was just another day, and I'd lost what it felt like to dream."
Katie then worked as a manager in a wine shop until she met, fell for, and married the owner. In a flash, Katie was a spouse again, a new mother, and without a career. Using motherhood as a lens through which to view herself and her place in the world, Katie began to explore different ways of pouring her artist's soul into the life she chose--writing a wine column for a local online publication, helping launch a wine import and distribution company, working on physical art projects around her spirituality and for her children, and eventually, after the birth of her second daughter, beginning the process of recording an album with friends.
"When it's nobody's day job, recording demos, arranging, and recording is a long and tedious process," Katie says. "I'd mention I was recording, and people would say, 'Still?!'" Katie eventually released a record with the help of friends she'd met through playing church music in her post-college life, including producer Gabriel Román. Get It Right (2019) was a collection of 12 songs that spanned 12 years of life, including reflections on marriage(s) in peaks and valleys and familial relationships, explored through her own lyric-driven melodies and brought to life with a simple acoustic guitar, piano, drums, and the second voice of the cello.
Releasing Get It Right was a personal triumph, but its impact emphasized how insular Katie's world really was. In December of 2019, Katie sent her album to the info@ email of the Jars of Clay website along with a note saying thank you for a lifetime of inspiration and motivation. To her utter shock, she received a reply from Charlie Lowell (Jars of Clay, Hollow Hum), who suggested she contact them if she had another project to record. Two months later, Katie reached out again, armed with demos to pitch for a record, and he put Katie in touch with his Jars of Clay bandmate, Matthew Odmark. The two began collaborating as producer and artist. Through 2020 and the pandemic, Katie met via Zoom with Matt, Dan Haseltine (Jars of Clay), and Louis Johnson (Lone Wave, The Saint Johns, Lonas) to discuss demos, co-write, and plan what would become her second record, The Water Comes Back, which was recorded in a whirlwind two weeks at Gray Matters Studio in Nashville in January of 2021.
The story of The Water Comes Back began with Katie unravelling a lifelong journey with evangelical Christianity. For her, the election of 2016 opened a chasm of internal unrest around the label of evangelical, the warped beliefs about goodness and worth ascribed by purity culture, and her power and role as a woman in the world. "I owed it to my girls and myself to take apart the stories that kept me from being whole," she says. The complicated mix of grief, anger, relief, gratitude, and nostalgia all come to a head in the track "Baptism," which underscores both the affection and loss of her first love. Its airy melody floats along a guitar line that sounds as though it's underwater, with the bass rolling like an undercurrent.
The tension between religion and the pain it can cause is echoed in "Sri Lanka," a song written about the Easter 2019 terrorist bombing of a Sri Lankan church. "Originally, I had the song sort of plugging along on my acoustic," Katie says, "but Matt [Odmark] wanted to take the song to the edge. It was a tragedy, so it should sound like one." "In A Garden" is a song about acknowledging the sacred in the simple practice of clearing space for something to grow and nurturing it to fruition, and "I Miss God," which instrumentally recalls Fleetwood Mac
and the simplicity of Joan Osborne's "One of Us," is a straightforward declaration of what it feels like to suddenly be without the assurance of dogmatic doctrine.
In addition to faith transition and deconstruction, The Water Comes Back echoes themes of feminine strength and identity. "Witches" is a haunting, swirling song that challenges the vilification of women who push against patriarchal, heteronormative rule of law. "Lullaby
" is what Katie calls "a song written to myself, a way to remind myself that I am enough, and that everything will, in the end, be alright." "Goodbye Baby" describes the anguish of miscarriage. "I Won't Give Up
" juxtaposes its folksy, jangly melody with lyrics focused on the complexities of pandemic mothering and cultural soil-turning of the summer of 2020. "Low Tide," which acts both as the emotional crux and resolution, is about seeing the limitations of capacity within different phases of life, wrestling with it, and accepting it as part of a larger rhythmic narrative of birth, life, death, and rebirth. Its anthemic chorus, "I know the water comes back, the tide rises, the tide falls," is a meditation on seasons and trusting in their return even in fallow times. "I had to realize what my values were and see them butt up against what seemed like the only way to actualize this musical dream, and then I had to reimagine what was possible within my capacity."
Reflecting on her past project, Katie said, "Thinking about Get It Right, all the songs are about men in one way or another--former lovers, strangers, spouses, brothers, fathers. But The Water Comes Back is about women. It's about taking up space. Moving freely. Singing loudly. And almost every time there's a lyric about 'you,' it can be replaced with 'me.' It's a record about honestly looking at identity, and about sadness and pain and joy and triumph all held together."
Katie Callahan is an artist and a mother. She cries at commercials, bakes her feelings, and most often would rather be by the ocean. She writes music that tells the truth as she sees it, a rich internal landscape of churning currents, seasons changing, and the tide coming in and out, quietly challenging the narratives that keep people at odds with themselves. "When people hear my songs, I want them to feel seen and I want them to feel brave," she says. "Like they don't have to hide anything from anybody or themselves."
The Water Comes Back will be self-released in October of 2021.