British singer-songwriter, one-time Riot Grrrl, and Daisy Chainsaw and Queenadreena frontwoman, Katie Jane Garside, is back with her new album, Geiger Counter, from her latest project, liar, flower. Amanda Sheppard spoke with her for PKM.
Proclaimed by Courtney Love as one of the original Riot Grrrls, Katie Jane Garside first buzzed onto the UK charts in the early Nineties as the ethereal frontwoman and enfant terrible of the alternative rock group, Daisy Chainsaw. Doe-eyed Katie Jane growled and thrashed on stage as the glammy goth-rock asylum escapees performed their hit single, “Love Your Money” on hip British TV shows The Word and Rapido. Meanwhile, American TV audiences caught a glimpse of Beavis and Butthead fighting over her as the band looked on, gleefully scrubbing up from the toilet.
Daisy Chainsaw – “Love Your Money” [Live on The Word]
Daisy Chainsaw toured the UK with Hole and soon after embarked on a tour of the US. However, label pressures and exhaustion prompted Katie Jane to leave the group and retreat from the spotlight. Katie Jane came back strong toward the end of the decade, with the noise rock juggernaut, Queenadreena, alongside former Daisy Chainsaw guitarist Crispin Gray and shared stages with such acts as Killing Joke, Nine Inch Nails, and Marilyn Manson before splitting up in 2010. Along the way, Katie Jane recorded a solo album, collaborated with French composer Hector Zazou, and formed Ruby Throat with multi-instrumentalist Christopher Whittingham. The sultry folk-noir duo has since released four albums, including their most recent LP, Baby Darling Taporo, which they recorded during a four-year voyage across the Pacific Ocean with their daughter, Leilani. Now home from their travels at sea, Katie Jane and Chris are louder and more aggressive than ever as liar, flower with their new LP, Geiger Counter.
liar, flower – “even though the darkest days”
PKM: So, you’ve been back on land for a little while now, you’re in Cornwall, I understand?
KJG: Yeah, we’ve been about 3.5 years. We got back and we’ve been on and off our boats since then but we’re just right now moving out to get back onto the boat full time. [At age 11, KatieJane’s father, a British Army man, took the family to live out at sea for much of her adolescence.]
PKM: I was really fascinated when I heard that you lived on a sailboat and grew up on a sailboat. I actually watched this documentary called Maidentrip.
KJG: Oh yeah, that’s just a fabulous film, her name has just slipped my mind but we actually met her.
PKM: Laura Dekker.
KJG: Yeah, there you go. She’s an extraordinarily enigmatic young woman. She has a real atmosphere, a real presence about her. I think she’s in her early twenties, now, maybe mid-twenties, actually. She’s a bit of an extraordinary person. Yeah, how did you find that movie?
PKM: It seems like being out at sea is like a really transformative experience for a person, from what I took away from the film.
KJG: What Laura Dekker did [sailed around the world alone at age 15] is something quite extraordinary for a 15-year-old to spend all that time all alone at sea. That’s someone of an extraordinary nature, I think that’s the first thing to say about that. And she’s quite unique in that. I’ve spent a lot of time at sea as a child but the responsibility was not mine. And then I went to sea with my child and with my capable, capable bloke and then the responsibility was mine and I found that quite awesome. And humbling and dismantling and terrifying and privileged and beautiful. So, it’s all of that all at the same time. I think Laura handled that –– that’s why she’s so extraordinary. It’s that exposure and the isolation. You’re out of time, it’s the thing that is transformative, I think is that there are no reference points, there is no time once you’ve flat let go of the land. You don’t realize that until you do that, literally, you are in no time. You could be in 100,000 years ago and it would look the same, it would be the same. So much of life is in reference to the other, to our environment, to the people in it.
Ruby Throat – “also elizabeth, daughter of the above”
PKM: It would seem like deadlines and all of that would just melt away like it’s just completely irrelevant.
KJG: Yeah, yeah, just think, if you walk past a building, you unconsciously know vaguely when that building sprang into life, you can sort of put yourself in place against that, you watch children growing, actually, that’s the one thing that doesn’t change. You do still see children growing if they’re with you [Laughs] so, that is a piece of time, but, [sailing] is an extraordinary thing to do.
PKM: I was watching your great video for “Little Brown Shoe” not long ago. Can you tell me a little bit about making that?
KJG: I think that was the second lock-down video and we live in this wild place and we were able to shoot under the cover of darkness down a road that really leads nowhere. It actually leads to a place called “Smugglers Cove,” it’s up a river that joins to the sea. They used to hide their WWII ships up there. Yeah, I suppose this was an aspect of the days before you had satellites telling you where everything was. They would hide the fleet of ships up there around the corner, but, anyway. yeah, so, “Little Brown Shoe” was a really quick shoot, actually, we did the whole thing in three hours and got some trash and set some cameras rolling and we had a bit, for the first time in our entire lives, a tiny bit of crew which was our friends, my nephew, and a tiny bit of drone work and it just went off very, very easy.
PKM: It’s very striking. It looks like a lot of fun. This cool kind of Borrowers fairy vibe to it.
liar, flower – “Little Brown Shoe”
KJG: Yeah, well, Christopher storyboarded that really it was actually nothing to do with me. He knows all that. I’ll do something if the camera’s rolling, so something will occur and that’s what occurred. I owe credit to his camera work and his storyboard.
PKM: It fits the tone of the song really well, it has that mercurial vibe.
KJG: Good, I’m glad, thank you. Yeah, that was the first song, actually, that arrived for this record. Most of them came out of improvisation. That was improvised down, actually, but we’d been sort of working, flying that one around, so it wasn’t exactly totally improvised. We had the hook and kind of went “Okay, let’s press record, let’s catch this one.” That’s what started it rolling when it actually became what it became.
PKM: So, I’ve been following along through some of the podcasts and interviews you’ve done, and from what I gather, you said that you did a lot of meditation and sort of channeled, you didn’t say channeled but that was my take on it, some automatic writing for the album?
liar, flower – “My Brain Is Lit Like An Airport”
KJG: Yeah, this has been my method forever, really. The last couple years, I’ve really meditated intently. So, I meditate an hour in the morning before everyone’s up. As I come out of that, I write, I touch type before my brain remembers who she is. I kind of think even then, back to the boat that I kind of found that method where I’d be so very tired and we’d have to sort of have to get up every fifteen minutes to check the horizon for the ships. In that sort of 15-minute window, I’d have an alarm set every fifteen minutes. I’d be so tired, I’d sort of actually fall asleep then on the 15-minute alarm, be back up again and in that state, just write. Write whatever’s there in that sort of climbing out of the dream state. I find that’s a really good method for getting out of your own way for not writing frontal cortex front brain writing from the separate subconscious, I guess, is the word people like to use. So, yeah, for this record, I wrote, I really went in deep with meditation for that and I would just write stream-of-consciousness and then bag it, just try not to look at it for three months and then print out the pages and have them all around me and maybe laid on the floor and we’d be in improvisation to record. Chris is really good, he’s an incredible musician but he’s also a really good technician. He’s really good with studios. So, we’ve now sort of cottage studio, y’know tiny, well, it’s all set up in the sitting room actually with cables everywhere and we’re just improvising straight to tape. It’s not tape, it’s digital, straight into the box like they call it and almost like “My Brain Is Lit Like An Airport,” “Mud Stars,” and “Hole In My Hand”. “Hole In My Hand” was actually improvised to phone, that was a different story. I had to learn that improvisation.
PKM: Oh, right, because of the phone.
KJG: Right, straight in and then the best bit of the improvisation gets cut out and that becomes the song and Chris overdubs onto that and whatever else is needed on that and then we’re just improvising together. Just guitar and voice. I dunno, I think channeling has lots of implications, so, I won’t use the word channeling, but I do like to get out of my own way.
PKM: Just capturing the muse.
KJG: Yeah, it’s a way and I like to just talk about it and I’m not an advocate for very much but I’m definitely an advocate for meditation. I think it’s supremely, supremely desirable to get out of your own way.
PKM: It’s really inspiring, especially with all this social media stuff. We’re at each other’s fingertips more than we used to be.
KJG: Yeah, and meditation is so powerful and I think everything to be gained. I think maybe sometimes if there’s lots lurking in the unconscious that you’re not ready for, perhaps maybe you’ll need some support before you sort of dive in deep, but I think if you do, it will probably let you know that you need to go and process and get some help.
PKM: Right, it would pay off in the end. So, if we could go back to sailing for a second, I noticed with Laura Dekker about the time and there’s just moments where there’s no wind out and you’re just kinda sitting along the water. How was that like as a young person because you did grow up on land for a little bit before you guys hit the water? Do you have any memories of…
KJG: Of no wind? Whenever you take up your anchor, you’re basically in for a pretty rough ride, generally. You’re either terrified or bored, insanely! [Laughs] It gives time for your mind to wander and that is the truth but also for us as kids my sister and I, it was a beautiful experience, actually. Again, I always use the word privilege, we had each other, for a start, but we had nothing, literally, there was no outside communication with the world. There was no radio of any kind, no ship to shore, no ship to ship, so, once we were let go of the land that we were just there, we had obviously no devices of any kind. We just had books. Then I made these rag dolls and we spent our entire days playing with the dolls and making up stories and acting them out to cassette tapes of musicals our grandfather had made for us, My Fair Lady, West Side Story, and lots of other ones. My sister’s also a singer and a musician, I think this built those neural pathways, quite honestly, pulling this stuff out of the sky, you know?
[Katie Jane’s sister, Melanie Garside, co-wrote songs on Queenadreena’s third album, The Butcher and The Butterfly, and filled in for the group’s then-bassist and former Daisy Chainsaw bandmate, Richard Adams. Melanie left Queenadreena in 2005 and currently works as a music therapist when she’s not performing as Maple Bee.]
KJG: I became that, I became those dolls, I slipped into those dolls and that became my life but I never questioned it, actually. I never heard a bit where I was like “What are you gonna be when you grow up?” I always took enormous solace from singing and having said that, it took me into my mid-20s before I started to have the confidence to write myself but I think, yeah, the neural pathways were there, I knew I was gonna be a singer and you know, I came to London when I was seventeen, then I answered an ad in the Melody Maker and when I was 18, I was in a band called Daisy Chainsaw and I took a while to get it sorted out but it all makes it sort of sound easy, it wasn’t easy, but I had no question that that’s what I would do and that’s what I’ve done ever since with that without looking up, really. Just going deeper and deeper into what that is to do that.
PKM: That had to be a total whirlwind, too, especially when “Love Your Money” took off, that whole album [Eleventeen]. You guys were really thrust into the spotlight, at the time.
PKM: And you guys went on tour with Hole and Mudhoney, do I have that right?
KJG: I think we played a couple of shows with Mudhoney, we didn’t tour with them. We toured with Hole quite extensively through the UK and that was a beautiful thing, actually. I’m a diehard Courtney Love fan. I think she’s extraordinary. An extraordinary performer and force of nature and a giant, really. You know, she’s towering, brilliant, genius!
PKM: And from the look of it, it’s safe to say the feeling was mutual. Not to sound superficial or anything, but I can really see where you had an influence on some of her fashion later on down the pike with Celebrity Skin. And you guys hit it off then, I take it?
KJG: I felt like I was like the new kid at school or the small one or something. I was very much in awe of them, of Hole, and I think I was quite intimidated, quite honestly, quite shy, but, you know, I watched. Eric [Erlandson] was very sweet to me, was very kind to me, he’s a very nice man, but, you know, I watched in awe, I was like the small one in the corner.
Daisy Chainsaw – “Pink Flower” [Paul Morley Show]
PKM: You’d never know it to see you on stage.
KJG: I don’t recognize myself when I’ve seen myself on stage. There’s something, the stage is a very catalyzing place and I’m not built for it. There’s the adrenaline and terror of that “up-into-the-void” that creates an altered state for me, so, yeah, I don’t recognize myself. Obviously, over the years, I’ve gotten less surprised but I don’t recognize that person to be me but I don’t have a lot of me, anyway, to hold onto, so, that’s okay.
PKM: It’s purely the music and the moment, then?
KJG: I guess so. I think with some people. I just came in with very little sense of self and that’s been useful in what I do. I think it’s probably been partly why I’ve ended up doing what I do, as well. A shifting around and then shifting, I mean, there’s sort of all I know. There’s flowers cut from the same rose bush, I guess, but they’re all slightly different angles on ’em looking through different windows, I guess.
PKM: It’s been quite a ride just the whole way through for you, it sounds like.
KJG: [Laughs] I don’t remember much of it. It all feels like it happened maybe a few days ago, so, I guess I’m more a goldfish than a zen master. [Laughs] I am not a zen master, I’m just afforded not much memory.
While American alternative rock audiences embraced Daisy Chainsaw, American rock critics were dubious. As Daisy Chainsaw toured the US, fans and music critics at home in the UK became smitten with Britpop, and snoozed on the band’s brutal 4:08 follow-up single, “Pink Flower,” which entered the UK Singles Chart at #65. And as the group faced intense pressure to continue touring the album, Katie Jane’s performances grew more volatile. At one point, Katie Jane debuted a freshly shaved head dressed in bloody bandages and drilled holes in a baby doll’s head with an electric drill. Katie Jane ultimately split from Daisy Chainsaw in 1993 and left London to stay at the purple Rigg Beck house, an informal guesthouse for visiting poets and artists, in Newlands Lake District.
KJG: I was there for about a year, long enough to see the seasons come and go. It’s a really extraordinary place. It still is but the house is gone, now. It was burnt down on purpose because it had a rare breed of bats living in the falling-down roof but whoever bought the land had always planned to knock it down but they were unable to take the house down because it was protected, you know. Anyway, it was, one day, mysteriously burned down, so, I suspect sabotage. Obviously, I have no proof of that. I always loved to go there and walked in the mountains with my family and just adored it and one day, I met a man who took me there, he said he thought I’d like it. We just walked in and there was extraordinary things there just very strange art and decrepitude and skulls of all different animals and the door was always open and it turned out that a woman, the maverick, lived there called Varya V. And the house was literally falling down, the roof was caving in and it had different floors. The top where the roof was caving in was the winter floor and below that was the autumn floor. I lived on the summer floor and then there was a spring floor in the basement, that’s where Varya lived and I met her and said, “Can I come and live with you” and she gave me a room which was utterly completely infested with mice and rats. Anytime you turned the light up at night, they’d just come alive and yeah, the house had just really gone back to nature, really. It was being taken back by the land, but it was utterly beautiful and everything was so filthy and I had a sleeping bag. There was a made-up bed there, but I think the sheets on it hadn’t been changed for like ten years or more or something, so, I chose not to sleep in those sheets. There was no hot water or anything like that and yeah, I lived there and it was just beautiful and I’d just walk in the mountains and find my voice there. After Daisy Chainsaw, which as you pointed out, was quite a ride, for one so young there was a lot of pressure and lots of world tours and burn out and lots of shaving heads and I was toured-out! They told me they wanted me to do another world tour and I was like, “Well, I don’t think I’ve got another world tour in me, right now.” So, I stepped away and yeah, went up with the intention of recording me singing against waterfalls and avalanches and the walk in the mountains and I recorded loads of it. Actually, I recorded loads of stuff to portable DAT tapes and the plan was to cut it all together and make that a record but I never got around to it. I have the DATs somewhere, maybe one day, and I’ll sooner find out what happened in the mountains, but I never did that stage of the journey, but I did wander for extensive days and nights screaming into the sky and it was just a really beautiful place and one day, it was done and I said goodbye to Varya and I took my little car and drove back to London and sometime after that, I found out Crispin had moved into the area and after a long, long journey, we started putting another band together and that became Queenadreena.
Queenadreena – “I Adore You”
PKM: That took off big-time, as well!
KJG: Yeah, it did.
Queenadreena released their debut LP, Taxidermy, in 1999 to rave reviews from UK music critics and spawn four singles, including a cover of the Dolly Parton song, “Jolene.” In 2002, Queenadreena signed a deal with Rough Trade records for the band’s follow-up album, Drink Me with their new drummer, Pete Howard, and shot a video for the album’s lead single, “Pretty Like Drugs.” Queenadreena toured aggressively and weathered numerous bassists (Orson Wajih, Janne Jarvis, Richard Adams, Michael Vakalis, Dom Bouffard, Melanie Garside).
Queenadreena – “FM Doll”
The band also released the stand-alone single, “FM Doll,” in which Katie Jane explores the dark side of her fairy ingenue persona through the allegory of the JonBenét Ramsey murder case. Rough Trade records dropped the group before the band completed their third album, The Butcher and The Butterfly. Queenadreena released The Butcher and The Butterfly in 2005 on One Little Independent [formerly One Little Indian] and re-released the controversial “FM Doll” as the album’s lead single, which peaked at #81 on the UK Singles Chart. The band recorded “Live at the ICA” at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts that year, as well, before returning to the heavy grind of the festival circuit. Queenadreena also met with a few more lineup changes (Paul Jackson, Nomi Leonard, Bambi on drums), and recorded their final studio album, Djin, before splitting up in 2010.
KJG: Yeah, by then we were in our thirties and you kinda go,”I know what it means to walk away even though this is not what I meant to happen.” There’s a lot of work involved in making a band work and in people turning up and tours being booked. I got more and more entrenched into something that was not going the way I intended but I got into that place where I was codependent and dysfunctional and quite honestly there was some clinging to the cliff and it was quite desperate and it took me a long time to extricate from them, in fact, I think it was that was about 8-9 years of Queenadreena and grueling was the word! I got to the point where driving over bridges was really, really not desirable. I just couldn’t handle driving over bridges and there were many, many bridges to drive over [laughs] when you’re on tour. I found my way out of it and ran away to sea, this time.
Toward the end of her tenure with Queenadreena, Katie Jane carved out time amid the riggers of touring to record tracks for her solo project, Lalleshwari. She also met her partner, Chris Whittingham, while he was busking on the London Underground.
KJG: Yeah, that was one of the days where I sent a prayer of extraordinary intention out to the universe for an intervention because I couldn’t see how to find my way out and I needed things to change, so, anyway, I met him on that day and I was like face down on the tiny floorboards of my studio room that I lived in and I met him that day and we started working together and I had already been doing Lalleshwari which was about the last five years, actually, it sounds like a long time to make a record but it’s just my 4-Track setup on the floor and I would retreat there and just make a noise and gradually managed to piece that together, in the end and sort of threw it together like nuts in a jar and I sort of let it order itself because I was just too close to it, but, you know, it is what it is. There’s some that’s on there that I really do love on Lalleshwari like “Lesions in the Brain” and “Sleep Like Wolves” I really got my voice in a place where I just wanted to hear it. So, yeah, I met Chris a couple of years before that and we did The Ventriloquist. I think we finished that before the end of Queenadreena, I think we even went on tour in France with Ruby Throat before the end of Queenadreena. Then, I just knew we knew it was done. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done was just walking away, but I did. All in good time, but, I did, I did get out of it, but it’s just life, isn’t it?
Ruby Throat – “Ghost Boy”
PKM: Right! And I imagine, yeah, the longer you’re in something, the harder it is to break away, finally. Ruby Throat, you know what it kind of reminded me of little bit was a while back, I did an interview with Michael Gira from Swans and [Katie Jane forming Ruby Throat] kinda reminded me of when he ended Swans at that point and he struck out with Angels of Light where it’s like this beautiful music but still powerful.
KJG: I’d like to hear that, actually, I should listen to it. I haven’t heard any Angels of Light.
PKM: I highly recommend it!
KJG: I haven’t heard much of Swans, actually, I ought to hear them.
PKM: It’s very punishing music, but great. Not that Queenadreena is punishing at all, it’s just like one type of powerful music that sort of transmuted into another and it just kind of reminded me of that. I saw a parallel there, somehow. It had to be really liberating finally just like getting in touch with your own voice and like creating music on, I heard you say, junk shop instruments and now, you play autoharp.
liar, flower – ”i am sundress (she of infinite flowers)”:
KJG: I’ve had the autoharp for a real long time, it came around the world with us. It’s a beautiful thing and I didn’t get on with it at all and then suddenly, I did. When I started I just picked it up not very long ago, really, just last year. Played it without the pick, just played it not as it was intended, just played it with the side of my thumb and then suddenly that found my way in and yeah, she gave me really beautiful songs I was really, really pleased with,”i am sundress (she of infinite flowers)” and “Broken Light” and “Geiger Counter”, they just came so easily and just felt like a real gift, you know.
PKM: So, it was more like an intuitive approach to the instrument.
KJG: Well, I’ve been writing songs for a very long time, you get afforded a point where something feels like it lands from somewhere else because of all the –– maybe it does land from somewhere else! Where is anywhere, anyway? It’s all just a story, isn’t it?
Geiger Counter is out now on One Little Independent Records and available on Bandcamp, Apple Music, and Spotify. Follow Katie Jane Garside on Instagram @garsidekatiejane and katiejanegarside.com. Follow liar, flower, and Ruby Throat on Facebook.