Playing through the pain

Colorado native Katie Herzig channels tragedy into new album

Courtesy of Katie Herzig

Katie Herzig reflects back on everything she had to endure before making her new record, Walk Through Walls — especially the death of her mother in 2011, as she was preparing for her last tour. Herzig is candid about one of her biggest fears.

“I don’t think it was that I wouldn’t ever write again; I knew I had to,” she says. “But having to sing and perform these songs? That was a fear of mine.”

And before she could even think about performing, there was the issue of actually writing something. Herzig went nine months without writing any songs, and when she finally realized it was time to start, the prospect of doing so was daunting. Fortunately for Herzig, once she got going, she gradually started to heal.

“I think clearing my emotional palette would be a good way to think of it for me,” Herzig says of her mindset heading into the making of Walk. “Once I got through that early stage, it became what songwriting has always been for me, which is a combination of my life, what is happening, and what I’m observing.”

Walk, which came out earlier in April, is an intriguing look at a life in flux. For Herzig — who was born in California, spent most of her childhood in Fort Collins, graduated from the University of Colorado Boulder and then moved to Nashville a decade ago — transitions are nothing new, and the record dives into her attempts to find her bearings again. From the smoky, warped synth-laden opener “Frequencies” where she sings about allowing herself to love enough to risk her heart being broken, to the fun and sexy “Drug,” which centers on being so deep in the throes of love that you cannot possibly free yourself from its grasp, Walk explores the past, the future and what we do in the present to help us move from one to the other.

The album’s wide-ranging musical framework also mirrors Herzig’s personal growth and adventurous side. While there are moments on Walk that recall some of Herzig’s ebullient hits like “Free My Mind” or “Hey Na Na” — the ambient, echoing pop track “Summer” is a fine example — some of the tracks are more subdued, employ unique percussive elements and have a stripped down, “less is more” aesthetic. Herzig’s willingness to take a slightly different tack with certain aspects of this album not only represents her ever-broadening creative horizon, but also her openness to accept songs for what they are instead of trying to make them something else.

“When you start an album, it has this unlimited potential to be anything you want it to be,” she says, “and when it gets towards the end and you start to see what it’s become, you have to come to terms with what it is and let go of everything else it could have been. I never know exactly what to expect, but when I start to see what it is, then I have to start to wrap myself around what it is because I’m going to have to live with that for years!” Owning your sound can be fun if it takes some unexpected turns, but owning your words can be a different subject altogether, even for songwriters.

Where do you draw the line with regard to what you are willing to share? Do you even have a line? When it came to writing songs for this album, Herzig engaged a variety of perspectives on this subject.

“At the beginning, I had this attitude like, ‘Am I really saying this?’” she admits. “And then [it became], ‘I don’t care. I’m going to say it.’ And then other times it was like, ‘Oh, okay! I’ll let that be what it is because apparently I don’t know how to say it any other way!’” And now that the record is complete and out there for the world to hear, it’s time to play the songs live. Herzig knows it will not be easy, but she is ready to give it a shot because the payoff could be great.

“I know it’s going to be a challenge, but I’m looking forward to sharing those songs because I know that everyone experiences loss, so people really connect and respond to that,” says Herzig. “It’s a good thing to challenge myself.”