Creativity is a nebulous thing. Catching it and holding onto it is like trying to trap lightning in a jar. As soon as you've got it contained, you lose it's very nature. How then do artists maintain the spark that drives them to embark on an artistic journey in the first place? In the case of Julie Kathryn, aka I Am Snow Angel, it can be described using one word: dedication. Dedication to craft, dedication to authenticity, and dedication to keeping herself uncomfortable. Originally an Americana performer, the acoustic profile lacked the ability to articulate what was in her heart. Now, as a seasoned producer, she wields her will like a sword, crafting intricate sonic landscapes with an expert's hand.
As I Am Snow Angel, she tells her truth with heartfelt vocals and powerful songwriting. As a member of the music industry, she acts as a role model, co-founding Female Frequency, a community dedicated to empowering female and non-binary producers to understand their potential. She is an inspiration to all who wish to break into the production industry. She is so good at what she does that Ableton now pays her to create sounds for them to include in their industry-standard tool.
A few months back I sat with her in Austin, TX, ahead of her show for SXSW 2018. Her live set was equal parts spellbinding and spectacular; she waxes between all facets of human emotions with the same ease that she skillfully operates her Ableton Push in crafting her songs live. Through it all, she retains a sincerity that enables her wide and varied emotional range to land, no matter the message.
Just last week, she released a collaboration with Swedish artist The Land Below titled "Someone To Save Me," a bombastic anthem that illustrates her skill in combining powerfully written vocals with immaculately crafted beats. Listen to it below, read the interview, and keep an eye out for her forthcoming album, Mothership.
Magnetic Magazine: When did you start learning how to make music?
I Am Snow Angel: I've been musical my whole life. I was always playing piano as a kid and I taught myself guitar in high school. I was always the girl with the guitar. I didn't really have a lot of confidence when I was trying to play shows. It was a long a time before I came into my own, musically, and that really happened when I started producing my own music.
MM: What did you learn about yourself when you moved from the acoustic space to the electronic space?
I Am Snow Angel: I learned that I have a really deep spiritual and emotional connection to producing music, especially when it involves some synthetic elements. When I started I had these cheesy beats that I was dropping in and I distinctly remember a feeling of excitement, even with the basic Garage Band beats I was using. I would stay up all night, every night. I barely slept for a couple of years, learning how to produce music. I couldn't stop. From there I've gotten more discerning about the sounds that I use, but there’s just something about creating something digitally that I wouldn't be able to create on my own with a piano.
MM: What synths do you have?
I Am Snow Angel: I have a few things. I have a Novation and I've got like this old Farfisa organ from like 1968. It's got a lot of character to it. Also, I use a lot of MIDI synths. Over the last year, I've been fortunate enough to start working for Ableton as a sound designer, so I've been designing custom built synth sounds. I've come up with some things that I think are pretty cool and, gratefully, they liked them too.
MM: What are the unique challenges that a female producer faces in the industry today?
I Am Snow Angel: I will say, I think that things have been getting better over time. But traditionally women haven't really been encouraged to go into the more technical side of things. There’s also a lot of undermining and second guessing that happens when it is a female who is on the technical side. For example, when I started showing up at gigs with my Ableton set, people said to me, many times, "who programmed your beats for you?" You know, I don't think that would be asked of a man. "Who programmed your beats for you?" They would just assume that the guy did it.
Also I think women communicate in a fundamentally different way. When I'm working in the studio as a producer, I say to the artist, "Well, what do you think? Let's talk about this and decide together.” It's a very fluid conversation and it's very emotional. I don't know if that's because I'm a woman or it’s just who I am, but I'll say that if I'm in the studio working with an “authoritarian” style producer, my style of collaboration can be perceived as weakness and people think I don't know what I'm doing.
MM: You said things are getting better. Where do you think that shift comes from? Is it the skill sets that these individual people are learning or is it the industry support?
I Am Snow Angel: I think it's both. More and more women, especially young women, are learning production as they grow up. Then our culture is shifting to the point where in every industry, people are starting to say, "Wait a minute, what's going on here, are we treating each other well?"
MM: You co-founded a group called Female Frequency. What is this, exactly?
I Am Snow Angel: Dani Mari, an artist who performs under the name Primitive Heart, was looking for a female producer a couple of years ago. I was actually the only person who responded to this email she sent out to a huge email list in New York City. We got together and thought, "Wouldn't it be cool to make an album that's entirely created by women?" Including the mixing, the mastering, everything. In doing that, we developed a community. So many women kind of came out of the woodwork to learn more and get involved.
MM: What is the mission of this organization?
I Am Snow Angel: Our mission is to empower women and non-binary people to produce their own music from start to finish.
MM: What kind of support does the organization provide?
I Am Snow Angel: There's two main prongs. The first is a social media community where we shine a light the artists who are having successes in production. We also have workshops and performances to spread knowledge of how to do what we do.
MM: Let's pivot a little bit. Where do you draw your inspiration from?
I Am Snow Angel: It's really an ever shifting landscape for me. I have a new album coming out called “Mothership” that I recorded in a cabin in the woods by myself in the Adirondacks in upstate NY. I went there for three different periods of time, two in winter, one in spring. I had all my gear and I worked around the clock. It was a very surreal experience. A lot of what I made I don’t remember making. It wasn’t drug induced or anything like that, it was a really deep flow where my subconscious was creating. I was in the middle of the woods with the snow, the moon, and the howling coyotes. All of it connected and came out in the music.
MM: Do you find that you create from the comfort zone or from the fringes of yourself?
I Am Snow Angel: I started out wanting to be in the comfort zone and over time I've started to let myself be more uncomfortable. The audiences connect when an artist is personal and revealing. This new album, I think, is much deeper and darker.
MM: In this vein, do you write to yourself or from yourself?
I Am Snow Angel: Both. Recently, I read this book called Station Eleven, a post-apocalyptic dystopian world where a pandemic had killed most everyone. The ones that survived had to forage for their food and kill people in order to stay alive. That infiltrated my subconscious as I was making Mothership and the theme of the album is about feeling alienated. Being abducted and dropped off on an earth that you don’t recognize. Nothing feels right, which is sometimes how I feel.
The last track I created for it is inspired by a vision of me in the woods, in the white winter snow, and I’ve been abducted and dropped off so many times that I’ve lost who I am. I’ve been killing people and there’s drops of blood on the snow. That was the image that came to me when I wrote about it, and I wrote it from the first person perspective. So a lot of my writing is very personal, but it's also figurative and expansive and fantastical. It's not necessarily “I'm me and you're you.” It's multi-dimensional.
MM: That’s pretty intense. Do you have tools to handle that?
I Am Snow Angel: It's difficult to handle. One thing that has been important for me is developing a meditation practice. When I was young, I would have these thoughts, "Am I real? Are you real? Are you actually my parents? Am I God? Are we aliens?" I was seven years old and I would ask, "do you know what I mean?" and everyone was like "No. What are you talking about?" I would have this panic attack feeling, like a fight or flight response. My heart would beat like crazy and I would think "Oh, shit, I'm not gonna make it." What happened is, over time, by learning how to connect my body and my breath, the thoughts come to me and I don’t feel that physical panic anymore. It's more like "Oh, that's an interesting theory. Maybe." I can enjoy them a little more. I didn't understand it before, but those thoughts come from the the part of me that is the creative part.
MM: Do you think that the digital medium allows you to do different things or do you think that the medium itself brings different things out of you?
I Am Snow Angel: At first, the medium brought something out of me. Because that part of my brain was not developed. That really creative part. I knew how to play a guitar and a piano and I couldn't think beyond that, so that’s all I did. I did what I knew in the tools, I made mistakes, and the things that happened accidentally sounded way cooler than anything I had the ability to conceptualize with my acoustic background. I still do make a lot of mistakes, especially when I've been up for days at a time working. And still, those mistakes inspire. There’s a quote I keep on the all on my studio, “honor thy mistakes as thy hidden intention.” My mistakes are the best parts of what I do, in a weird way.
MM: It's interesting. You subconsciously intend to do something greater than you have the capacity to conceptualize, so the only thing you can do is make a mistake to get there.
I Am Snow Angel: It's true. That's a beautiful part of the process. Like, oh, I was too tired from staying up for three days so I fell asleep on the mouse and I dropped that clip on the wrong track. Wooow, that’s so cool, it sounds like it's underwater! That's going to be the backing vocals now. Who would’ve thought of that?