Russia-based artist Kate NV created her Room for the Moon album by nurturing her relationship to isolation until it bore fruitful outcomes. About a year prior to the COVID pandemic, she was weathering one of the most isolating periods of her life, marked by changes in her relationship with her body, her surroundings, and how to bring more life to her creative process. But Kate never lands on the idea of loneliness as an accurate descriptor of her experience; even as she questioned who was for her, she’s had a pleasant acquaintance with the beauty of solitude since childhood. It’s proven an optimal space to work from: Kate NV’s new album is a gripping, joyous ride through the light of life, cloaked in the warmth of nostalgia.
Room for the Moon switches moods, tones, and languages without ever isolating a listener from the feeling. Even if one doesn’t understand the words, there’s an inviting allure to engulf oneself in the catharsis of Kate’s happiness. This album’s another product of her relationship to music; she speaks of music with her pronouns, and never forces the work with her. Kate allows her to go where she must, letting everything happen to her. Given where we are, Room for the Moon offers a refreshing perspective on how to let everything happen — from trust, rather than despair. Writing in from Moscow, here’s a brief look into Kate’s working process and how she navigates her rich life with the songs that become her closest friends.
This interview was conducted via email and edited for clarity.
VMP: Hello, Kate! Michael here. Not to fall into the cycle of the times, but how are you doing? Are you safe? What’s Moscow like in the wake of COVID right now?
Kate NV: I’m actually fine, but the world is collapsing though. It’s finally sunny and warm in Moscow, and I can cycle. I’m still social distancing, but it’s hard because Moscow is not on quarantine anymore. Which is very bad, ‘cause we have a huge number of cases and deaths and I can only hope that we will survive this somehow.
When you say you “always let music express herself without pressure,” do you only create when you feel called to do so? What are the immediate differences you feel once pressure’s introduced to the process?
Good question! Sometimes it feels like I just sit on my chair and everything happens by itself. The thing is that my walk to this chair could be one month long or a year or one hour. And I never know how long it will be. But also, sometimes when I’m working on an old project or something unrelated (like short voice interviews), I can randomly come up with some sketches, and I never stop them when they happen. I just play and record all the ideas that come to me. I can do like five random sketches while working on something else. I just follow the music, and that’s it. But I guess it’s nothing special and lots of people do it this way.
I’m immediately floored by the way you blend languages and textures. I don’t understand most of the lyrics, but I gravitate towards how whimsical and free the music feels. What kind of release do you experience when you translate your ideas to music? How have you observed your music translating to folks in other cultures?
I guess I never thought of the language and lyrics as the main part of a song. Probably it’s not a really great approach if you call yourself a pop artist. But I’ve noticed that the words do not mean that much to me when I listen to the music. Usually I start carefully listening to the phrases when I already noticed everything else in the track. Before that moment, it’s just syllables combined together rhythmically and melodically that serve the whole atmosphere of the song. The most interesting thing, I noticed that I have this approach to any kind of song. It doesn’t really matter if I know the language or not. Though it’s definitely easier to ignore the words’ meaning when the song is not in your native language. Haha.
Also I like to think of lyrics as a final layer that I add (or not) to the whole experience — like a new texture that helps you to understand the song better.
But it’s also great to leave it for the listeners so they can decide what this song is about. Music can tell you everything by itself.
I never had even a thought that some music wasn’t written for me and I cannot understand it. If I loved it, I felt that it was made exactly for me, even if it comes from a completely different context and even if I didn’t understand a word.
Once you finished building the Buchla and your body shifted as a result, what were your most immediate realizations about how you needed to change your creative process for this album?
Well, I was already in the process of finishing the record while working on Buchla. But I think the main change that happened during my recording sessions with Buchla is that I realized how I miss the human presence with all the imperfections. I felt that I needed to sing more and move more. And I felt that I want to play with a band and use my voice as the only instrument that I play. It was a very important moment ‘cause before that ...I wasn’t really into singing. I also have been thinking a lot about [the] importance of the human voice in the music and realised that it’s the most relatable instrument cause most of us can speak, and we use our voice everyday, so basically this is the only instrument that we have with us all the time.
You’ve said this album came to you during one of the loneliest moments in your life. Can you expound on the conditions of that loneliness, and the growth you had to endure in the wake of that experience?
I went through different phases, but I love to joke that I had my very own quarantine moment over a year ago. Probably the weirdest part of the whole thing was the feeling of total loneliness, but being surrounded by lots of people and actually having fun. I guess people can relate to that. It’s like you are at the party full of strangers and you have nothing to talk about. I remember I had days when I thought that I don’t have friends at all.
But I certainly didn’t feel miserable. At some point, I just remembered myself as a child — I was often left alone because my parents worked constantly and I had to entertain myself on my own. And I was never bored or lonely. I had so much fun alone. So as soon as I thought about it, everything became great.
I really like to write music and do everything as I want, and for a long time I couldn’t find and build a team, and that’s probably why it was awkward sometimes. But then I guess I just found my support in music. I’m just glad that we have each other.
Take me through your working process in your home space vs. a larger studio. Do you prefer the intimacy of one environment over another? Do you work alone and then have other folks contribute, or is your work deeply collaborative?
It depends. I love to work at home cause I can work in the middle of the night, but I also appreciate when I have a separate space where I can go and work and my bed is not there haha. When I was working in Stockholm I had studio keys, and I could go to the studio anytime I wanted. I lived in the hotel up on a hill that was 10 min away, and it was awesome. The only inconvenient thing about that experience was a not [a] 24 hours working schedule [for] grocery stores.
Most of the time I work alone but I love collaborations ‘cause usually I have a lot of fun together with other people. The process is different but in both cases it’s very important for me to make it as fun and easy as possible.
When you say these new songs are now your “closest friends,” did you have to remove certain people from your life as you grew up? How does your imaginative power fuel the creative process to build new memories?
I think I always treated songs and tracks as friends rather than, for example, children (many often compare albums with children).
I go through so much while writing tracks, so I definitely have no one closer than the songs I make. I certainly know everything about them, and most importantly, I accept them the way they are.
I did have to remove certain people from my life though. And this led to loneliness, of course. I needed time to understand who I am, what I am and how I ended up here.
The easiest way to do this is to do this [is] in silence, without being distracted by extraneous irritants. I just cleared the space to make it easier to think. It’s like cleaning your desk before an important work.
What’s your process for reconciling your darker ideas against such cheerful music? Do you feel any distance from those feelings now that they’re documented?
I realized that people are very afraid of silence and loneliness (which [are] actually very similar things). For some reason it is customary to feel awkward or think that both are bad and caused by some fateful events and filled with gloomy moods. But I voluntarily remained alone and, in fact, I really liked it. I didn’t have super dark thoughts (or ideas) about everything that happened — I was absolutely happy while recording this album. And absolutely honest. I enjoyed making those songs so much; that was such a happy time even though I understand that I was totally lonely.
All I’m trying to say is that it’s great to be honest with yourself during the moment of creating something. My songs are sincere and they are cheerful, because I had a great time alone but together with music.
Why does the medium of pop music work as the best vehicle for you to process and interrogate these feelings? What are the major differences in how you articulate your ideas with or without your vocals?
I never force music to be something she doesn’t want to be. Relationships with music are the healthiest I’ve ever had. So it’s not like I decide when I articulate my ideas through songs or tracks — I listen carefully, and I hear when music wants to be a song and it needs that layer with voice and sometimes even the layer with lyrics. I can’t even tell the difference — it’s just the way it is. With or without voice.
In my eyes, your visual universe represents the isolation of your loneliness in the way the worlds feel restricted to one setting, but you do the most you can with what you have. What freedom do you find when you portray these characters?
Worlds are probably restricted to one setting, and you have to work with what you have. You need to find non-obvious ways to overcome limitations. There is a certain freedom in this. I sometimes imagine that when my consciousness expands, it’s like I enter a new room and at first it seems to me that there are no restrictions (and there are no walls) but then it turns out that they certainly exist, I just don’t see them at first, since the space is too big.
It’s like the drawing is limited by the paper and the pencil, but the idea is infinite.
Since all my heroes are part of my imagination — I just feel free to let them appear as they wish.
Lyrically, you speak a lot of fleeting moments, changing plans, saying goodbye. As life moves in flux, how do you challenge yourself to remain flexible as an artist?
It's funny, but the changes are permanent. This is the paradox. We change, life changes, everything is constantly changing. I am learning to let go and accept everything as it is. This seems to be the flexibility. You just flow like a stream.
How do you feel when you see folks dancing to songs with pieces of your darkness embedded within? How do you embrace these truths — and protect yourself — when this music becomes cathartic for others?
Hah, there is no darkness in my songs and pieces. There could be a very nice and warm sad feeling, like nostalgia, when you remember something nice that happened in the past; you loved it, but it’s gone, so you are sad that you don’t have it anymore but those memories are still very pleasant and make you happy. That’s probably the darkest level that I have.
Also as soon as I finish music, it becomes independent and it doesn’t belong to me anymore. It becomes something else, and the way people interpret it lies on their shoulders and it’s not my responsibility.
For instance I know that some people find “plans” very sad lyrically but I personally don’t think so. It’s just the way you perceive things. The whole mood depends on that.
Michael Penn II (aka CRASHprez) is a rapper and a former VMP staff writer. He's known for his Twitter fingers.