Mar 09, 2023
By Caleb Campbell
Photography by Lindsey Patkos
Baltimore-based singer/songwriter Katie Callahan debuted in 2019 with her full-length record, Get It Right, before following in 2021 with her first-ever studio album, The Water Comes Back. That album found Callahan unpacking themes of identity, womanhood, and religious trauma, approaching her songwriting via a deeply personal and spiritual lens.
That same lens takes on an even greater role in her forthcoming record, EXTRAORDINARY, which finds her connecting the spiritual, physical, and emotional worlds, weaving them together with stylistic threads pulled from Americana, folk, and indie pop. The resulting album is deeply lyrical and confessional, yet also shows a shimmering mystical allure, leaving the record feeling at once personal and universal.
The full album, is out on June 2nd, but today Callahan is sharing an early listen to the record’s lead single, “Once at a Wedding,” premiering with Under the Radar.
“Once at a Wedding” leans into the starry pop side of the album, offering swirling reflective beats, pulsating bass grooves, and sparkling pop hooks. The track opens in a searching and spacious mode, colored by rippling synths and darting rhythms. Callahan steadily ratchets the tension higher and higher before letting it release with a towering chorus, layering on the soaring harmonies and euphoric vocal performances. The lyrics mirror this same progression, with the uncertainty and anxiety that colors the verses melting into a simple and joyous mantra: “I’m gonna dance, dance, dance / Disappear in the light and the sound / I’m gonna dance, dance, dance / Let the body and blood and the spirit abound.”
Callahan explains of the songs origins, “‘Once at a Wedding’ began as an essay I wrote on the train back from the wedding of two beloved friends from college. The wedding itself was totally beautiful and perfect, but the circumstances swirling around made it almost a surreal experience. My very first single from my last record, “The Water Comes Back,” was due to release that night at midnight, my friends and I were booked at the weirdest, most-likely-to-be-actually-a-brothel hotel in Long Island, and I anticipated that I was at last pregnant after a long while of trying.
An hour before the wedding, it became clear I was, in fact, not pregnant, and there I was, socially anxious and surrounded by folks I mostly knew from a former life 15 years ago. The convergence of past and present and this visceral physical experience mixed with an anxious mental state, celebrating the work I’d been doing and grieving this missing piece I’d longed for–all of it was such a deep well of emotion. The essay was a way to process all of that and as I wrote it, I realized a song may be a really disarming way to tell the story.”
Check out the song and video, and pre-order the track below. EXTRAORDINARY is out everywhere on June 2nd. You can also read Callahan’s Q&A on the track below.
Talk to us a little bit about the songwriting process for this one. How did the song come together—both lyrically and musically?
Songs tend to come to me as short lyrical and melody pairs, little phrases that I can build out into something more. For this song, it was “how I’d been in love with the groom,” which I found to be a deliciously disarming way of articulating this rich depth of history I had with the couple getting married. So I started there, knowing I wanted to tell a story about infertility and getting drunk and trying to disappear into the music at a wedding, and also knowing there isn’t really a blueprint for writing a song like that.
Musically, I could hear what I wanted the song to become, but I was limited by my equipment and ability when it came to creating that sound. I play acoustic guitar in the most medium of ways, and this song required more, I knew it. I worked with my friend, Shannon, a producer and composer, and she and I sort of created a very rough blueprint that used more automated sounds that leaned in a Peter Gabriel “In Your Eyes” sort of direction. I sent it off to my producer, Matthew Odmark (Gray Matters Studio), and he got it immediately.
What was the recording process like for this song? What sort of vibe were you going for and how did you achieve that?
We recorded this song sort of blindly–like I knew what I had in my head, Matt seemed to be in step. I was definitely influenced by the Francis and the Lights song “May I Have This Dance” and the spirit of Maggie Rogers’ “Back In My Body,” but suddenly we had a band with which to articulate those things. Megan Coleman’s drums and Luke Sullivant on bass were super important building out the foundation and everybody else acted almost as ornament, the occasional sparkle from Lindsey Miller on electric, some synth-oriented keys from Hannah Holbrook, but a lot of the real character of the song came from Matt (Odmark) and shaping the song in production. He used my voice almost like a synthesizer for big climactic moments with lots of tight harmonies, filling out the quietness of the verses with really mood-building, tense, evocative sounds that became this beautiful, complete picture.
This song dives into a really emotional topic, and it’s one that is not often talked about, let alone sung about. What sorts of emotions did it bring to the forefront to write and record this song? Did it feel extremely personal to share it?
It absolutely feels extremely personal to share this story. All these narratives around issues of pregnancy and infertility–that they’re purely “women’s issues” (they’re not) or that they don’t count or don’t mean as much depending on your circumstances (they do, they always do)–they only serve to pull people apart and create isolation. Nothing good comes from that.
For me, articulating that I, in fact, wanted another baby was one of the first times in my life I actually admitted wanting something for no reason other than the desire itself. And it got so swirly in my brain, like, “I’m the mother of two perfect kids, do I really deserve to want another, and do I deserve to feel disappointed if it doesn’t happen? Shouldn’t I just be grateful for what I have?” And the answer is both yes to gratitude and also yes to grief. Pain is pain, and while perspective is such an important tool, acknowledging suffering in ourselves and each other is such a basic human way of showing love. I wanted to write about my experience with secondary infertility because it was a deeply affecting, constant voice in my life, and I know it’s that for so many other folks. Why not sing about it?
Let’s talk about the video. Whose idea was the video treatment and who directed and shot the video?
Yes, let’s talk about it! The video was directed and shot by Joey Malinski for ATB Productions. I met him and his spouse, Adriana, at our daughters’ kindergarten orientation. They both looked at me and told me I looked familiar, which I credited to having “one of those faces,” but as I tried to figure out if we’d met before, I learned they had this production company. I had this idea for the video for “Once at a Wedding,” something dance/movement oriented and almost like a performance piece. I did a lot of theater in college, and that really appealed to me. Joey was totally in step, taking my idea and running with it. He wanted to do these long, single-take shots for the verses and make it more theatrical, lean into all that drama, which actually is perfect because the wedding the song came from was that of a theater friend. Everybody there was some sort of performer.
Any fun/entertaining stories from the video shoot?
One of my favorite things about the video is that the actual bride and groom from that wedding, Lauren Saunders and Dustin Morris, generously agreed to both let me share this story and also be in the video; they are, predictably, the bride and groom. And the space we shot in actually came from yet another kindergarten connection, this time via my older daughter: her friend’s father owns and operates a theater and creative incubator space here in Baltimore called The Voxel, and we were able to shoot there.
Even though the song’s topic–infertility–is a heavy one, the “I’m gonna dance” positivity of the chorus, coupled with the bright colors and joyful vibe of the video during the choruses, really translates into an emotional roller coaster. What made you want to tell this highly personal story in both song and video form?
I think “Once at a Wedding” could be one of those examples of that Carl R. Rogers’ quote, “What’s most personal is most universal.” It’s absolutely my story, but I’m willing to bet there are so many like it in spirit.
I didn’t grow up trusting my body; there’s something about growing up relatively evangelical that separates all of those parts of a whole person and teaches you to question your gut, doubt your emotions, and disregard desire. But over the last several years, I’ve been learning how to reconnect those things, and for me, that’s what the song is about. Pregnancy and infertility are all deeply body-oriented experiences that hit such raw spiritual and emotional nerves, and I’m working to heal whatever those wounds are with my body, too.
So yeah, the topic is heavy because being a person is heavy, living is heavy, and it’s also so incredible. There’s beauty and brutality. There’s mourning and dancing. It’s all part of it.