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THE ANATOMY OF A REVIEW Based On A True Story . . .

(But Tweaked And Manipulated, Just Like Reality TV)

Katie Ferrara: When Loves Not Around

Julia Guillaumat

01: Unexpected Mail & Karmic Disorder It was the last day of 2012 and I was frantically tossing luggage well, if you could call backpacks and gym bags luggage into the trunk of my dads car. I was in a rush to get the family out of the house and on the road so we could drive to the annual Foster Brothers New Years Eve Soire in Virginia! As usual, we were severely behind schedule. Mental inventory time, a.k.a. attending M.I.T. both sounded so much more impressive than, What did I forget?! Allergy medicine? Check. Electric razor? Check. 1

Board games? Check. Camera? Check. Money for tolls? A quick glance confirmed that dad was already in the car, waiting. Check. As far as I was concerned, we were all set! It was time to bolt! Then, just as I was about to pull out of the driveway, I saw the corner of a manila envelope sticking out of the mailbox. Drat! I had forgotten to bring in the mail! Even though we were running late, I couldnt leave 2012 with something so noticeably askew. Metaphorically, it was me declaring, Im purposely leaving the year in disorder. That would surely be bad karmic feng shui or something, wouldnt it? It was like going on vacation with dirty dishes in the sink . . . Uh oh, the dishes! I ran across the front yard, snatched the curious parcel, noted that it was from Los Angeles, tossed it in the house, locked up, and raced back to the car. Phew. Oh yeah, there were no dishes in the sink, either. What, you thought I would leave without checking? *** 30 hours, one up-till-dawn New Years Eve family get-together, 720 miles round-trip, and maybe 3 hours of sleep later, I unlocked the door to my house. Exhausted, but home. Phew, again.

02: The Unveiling I smiled at the manila envelope sitting on the kitchen table right where I had left it a whirlwind 30 hours ago. What better way to adhere to my resolution of writing more than to get to work on Day One of 2013? [Authors Note: I employ the word work rather loosely. Admittedly, it can be hard depicting sound in print, but its never a chore.] Energized, I (carefully) tore open the package, eager to see what goodie had been patiently waiting for my return. To my delight, I unveiled slipped from the envelope, but unveil sounds so much more gala an autographed copy of Katie Ferraras EP entitled When Loves Not Around! I knew Katie to be a young songwriter blessed with an easy voice that blossomed with a beguiling, unassuming beauty. Flashback: A few weeks prior to this moment, I had received an email from a website that promoted musicians. This particular site had been a journey of extremes for me, alternately pitching artists who were not yet ready to leave the bedroom with refined artisans who were well on their way to mastering their craft. First listens were either frightful or exhilarating, anything in-between was rare. Katies material was of the refined nature, so it received an enthusiastic click on the green thumbs up circle. Background Tidbit: One frustrating hit or miss aspect of this particular middleman process was the sad fact that clicking that aforementioned green circle didnt always elicit a response from the artists team. Back to the story . . . I had a CD in hand, so obviously the process had been successful (this time). But it hadnt been a member of Ferraras 3

entourage who had responded . . . it had been the artist, herself! In my hand was not only an autographed copy of Katies latest EP, but a personal letter of introduction, as well! Well played, Ferrara, you got my attention. And, kudos to the visuals! The cardboard CD sleeve featured Katie holding her guitar, caught mid-pluck, starring up into the camera while a gentle breeze tousled her hair. At first glance, Ferraras soft smile, graceful flutter of hair, and large, delicate hoop earrings suggested a sweet, gentle nature. However, there was focus in her brown-amber eyes and just the slightest tilt to the corner of her smile that revealed an inner confidence, a resolve, almost a dare. It was that look that someone had when they handed you a gift they already knew you were going to love. The handwritten and doodle-embraced title hinted at the artists desire to make her offering personal. Thus, the promise derived from the album cover was that Katie Ferraras music would be boldly tender and refreshingly personal. Not a bad prejudice to have before slipping her EP into the computer for review.

03: Occupational Puberty Feeling the sudden intoxicating surge of purpose, I began furiously googling Katie Ferrara. I clicked on links that took me to her bio, press quotes, photos, and videos. You name it, I was there. I even clicked on links that took me to the wrong Katie, just to be sure that I wasnt missing anything! Yeah, I try to be thorough. Fun Fact: Songwriters Monthly will be turning 21 this year, but more than ever, it has been behaving like a high school girl trying out for the cheerleading squad! Its been moody, demanding, fickle, and boy, oh boy, has there been drama! Looking back, Songwriters Monthly has been in this awkward transitional state since late 2011! That being said and given the embarrassing fact that there hasnt been a traditional review/interview/article in over a year I wanted to find a way to shine a little bit of legitimate media spotlight on Katie. I wanted to illuminate her talent, frame it, and set it up for public display. With so much constantly clamoring for our attention, sometimes people just needed a gentle nudge in the right direction to discover something they might have otherwise missed amidst all the noise was it safe to say that there was such a thing as virtual pollution? On a personal level, however, I wanted to get to know the young woman who was responsible for rousing my butt out of the self-gratifying depravity of bloggerbation. There was no accountability in that world, it was all about the moment. Say what you felt, then forget about it. Or, better yet, scream vehemently from both sides of the fence at the same time. It

didnt matter. What mattered was simply the snarky way in which you voiced your opinion. Ferrara had sparked a notion in me: I wanted to write something that transcended boundaries. I wanted to create an entertaining piece of faction (fiction laced with facts) that popped with the vivacity and ebullient personality of a Chick Lit novel while maintaining journalistic integrity. I wanted to revitalize a lost art where it took time, thought, and craft to tell a story, not just the few seconds it took to blast out whatever 140-character hashtagged observation happened to be flitting across your consciousness at that particular instant. I was itching to write [insert fanfare] the great American music review! Sorry, Silkwood moment. Or, maybe Norma Rae? No wait, Erin Brockovich, definitely Erin Brockovich. I told you there was an intoxicating surge of purpose in the mix, here. One Tiny Point: in order to write with the depth I desired, I needed help. I needed to actually ask Ms. Ferrara a few questions . . . which was another thing that has become pass in this speed-over-substance society. You dont have time to consult with the subject you are writing about when youre in the moment, it might hinder your flow! Since I was in the mood to be a rebel and do some actual research, I sent Katie a long suffered over message that would reveal my dilemma with unquestionable conviction and clarity. Basically, I wrote, Thanks for the EP.

04: Response Obviously, I wasnt as eloquent in real life as I would have liked. But it worked! Katie responded with a personal message and a friend request. My mind was made up, Katie Ferrara was going to be the first feature for the newly conceived Songwriters Monthly. She was a deserving artist and an individual with commitment and follow-through, she was ready for the spotlight. Unfortunately, all I was ready for was sleep. After 30 hours, one up-till-dawn New Years Eve family get-together, 720 miles round-trip, and maybe 3 hours of sleep, my brain wasnt much more than a goulash of too many juxtaposed thoughts soggy noodles, chunks of tomatoes, and ground beef are not the stuff of compelling writing! In other words, unlike Katies eyes on the cover of her EP, I was weary and had no focus. Time for bed.

05: My Process Dont let anyone tell you that sleep is not a miracle. And, despising coffee, [Story Note: Foreshadowing, dead ahead.] (Sorry Starbucks no matter how much sugar, cream and frothy spin you administered, it still tasted like ick to me. Heck, even my clothes were stained with that pungent, indelible scent after just a brief, unpatronaged bathroom dash yeah, I spent a lot of time on the road. Granted, if an engaging, talented, and personable Barista worked at my Starbucks, that might change everything. But, sadly, such was not the case.) a diet Mtn Dew was just as spectacular as a full nights rest. And then some. The curiously flavored elixir could jump-start my resolve and turn me productive in a gulp! Now, where was I before six glorious hours of shut-eye? Oh, thats right, I was inspired. It was time to get to work. Time to study. It was time to put the music on, let it swirl in the background till it became familiar, comfortable. After that, it would be time to scrutinize, zero in on every minute detail, scribble down pages of notes, and draw numerous unfounded conclusions about the subjects personality, relationship status, and mental state. Artists frequently insisted it was up to the listener to decide what their song was about, so no matter what I came up with during this phase, it wasnt wrong. That knowledge lead to confidence which lead to leap-of-faith deductions which often lead to the truth. Surprisingly, what I did at this juncture wasnt subjective, not in the least. To the contrary, it was pretty much a scientific process. It was akin to crime solving. At this stage, I considered

word choice, tone, and shades of meaning in the lyrics. I analyzed every single chord in the progression and each pitch in the melody. I noted even the tiniest hint of waver or robust in the performance, and I logged the frequency of similar or related topics, words, and rhymes. I reverse engineered, pieced together every bit of data I had until I arrived at the emotional state the artist was in at the moment of inspiration. Thats how I did what I did. Or at least, that was my goal. It was a science, but it wasnt an exact science. Sometimes I got it wrong. But not as often as I seemed to get it right. Yeah, thats how I rolled. And speaking of roll, since I did my best work in the car, I needed to get rolling. Today, I had a good 90 minutes of travel imbedded into my schedule and with Katies EP being just under 15 minutes in duration, that provided ample study/scrutinizing/ dissection time. But first, M.I.T., here I come!

06: Driving Notes Katie Ferrara EP? Check. Mechanical pencil? Check Sheet of paper folded top to bottom, then side to side [Strange But True: For some reason, I am doggedly OCD about folding my paper that way before taking notes.]? Check. Unedited listening ears on? (At this point in the reviewing process, it was vital to be open to any stray thoughts/ideas that presented themselves, critical analysis came later. Insightful and ridiculously off-base were the same at this point in the process.) Check. Lets hit the road! [Writers Note: In order to spare you from those observations of the absolutely ridiculous nature, following is a much edited down version of the Katie Ferrara Driving Notes.] A Kiss is just a Kiss Nice guitar intro. Sweet vocals. Shades of Joni Mitchell?! Message to a friend? Message to herself? Cause its hard to get to know someone without fear, Important: Unless I fall in love. Lyrics circle around and reference earlier phrases, nice. Soothing. Click of the Clock The more upbeat the music, the sweeter her voice floats overtop. Her crisp, light vocals are so fun! Melanie? That Skate


Key song? Less than two minutes to catch the train. About stealing time between two busy people? My babys away . . . dont want to waste a second . . . Its hard to make a simple decision . . . My heads starting to ache knowing Ill lose control? Maybe an affair?! Secret rendezvous? (Ask her.) Leaves Soft. Whisper. Nod to Landslide? Talking to someone close? Dont look back, this is a single move? Leaves visual of leaving? Its okay if you got to go this road alone. No more songs for love? You got a life of your own? Its her! Shes talking to herself, reminding herself of what she sacrificed for music! Maybe? (Ask her.) Everything is Alright Funky. Fun. Vocals = whipped cream topping. Feel good swagger of Edie Brickell? Loving this feeling. Cool tight meter and phrases. I could be a failure, waiting for the start. What questions does she have? Is she hanging on or living in the moment? Is the song an affirmation or just hopeful? (Maybe, ask her? Not sure yet, its kinda cool not knowing . . . or believing both are true.)


07: Spoiler Alert! Sorry vegans, but were getting to the meat. The main course is coming up next. This is the part when the artist is offered the opportunity to keep secrets or spill. More importantly, this is when we find out if the only way an artist can communicate effectively is through meter and melody. Consequently, this is also usually the exact moment when I am let down. Over the many years of doing this, I have realized that most artist really dont spend a whole heck of a lot of time analyzing what they do or why they do it. In all fairness, however, that is not their job, its the job of the public (in general) and the journalist (in specific). [Writers Note: For the record, I despise the label critic its shade of meaning connotes looking for flaws rather than uncovering truths.] When asked about their process or creations, artists either maintain an infuriatingly tightlipped secrecy or graciously spew an ever-meandering flourish of fragmented thoughts. Somewhere in between is the gold: focused insight conveyed in relative brevity. Sometimes, though, it is best to derive (and hold on to) a personal meaning rather than learn the true inspiration of a song (e.g. Really, it was about his dog?!). Sometimes, knowing the facts actually takes away from the experience. Its always a tough call to interview or not to interview, what makes the better story? What provides greater truth for the listener? I was invested in Katies music, I wanted to know more. She was getting questioned!


Spoiler Alert: Because the nature of this story is to offer a glimpse at what goes on behind the scenes when writing about music, I have purposely put Ferraras insights before my own (subjective) observations (i.e. 09: The Review). In other words, its like Katie stating, Its a cat, and then me writing, Okay, its furry, it has a tail and whiskers . . . Was that a meow? If you want to skip section 08 and come back to it at the end, you are free to do so . . . but please dont.


08: Ask Katie Wow, you are very perceptive! Whenever that was the opening line of a response, I couldnt help but feel a little tremble of confidence. But, I have jumped ahead, lets do this like a proper Q&A . . .

Chris Fayz

In-A-Glance Name: Katie Ferrara. Current Residence: Los Angeles, California. Genre: Acoustic-pop singer-songwriter. Influences: Joni Mitchell, Fiona Apple, Ingrid Michaelson, Meiko, and Norah Jones. Instruments: Vocals and guitar. Accolades: Awarded a scholarship for excellence in music. College Degree: Psychology.


Debut EP: When Love's Not Around. EP Backstory: In 2010, Katie left the country to live in London, England. During her stay, she recorded her original music with producer Jonathan Guillaumat. Websites:, http:// *** Songwriters Monthly: The opening track of your EP, When Love's Not Around, is A Kiss Is Just A Kiss. The song kind of deals with that dreaded friend zone status in a relationship. In listening closely, however, I began wondering if the song was a message to a guy or a reminder to yourself? Katie Ferrara: That song is both a reminder to myself and a message to a guy I liked at the time. I was sick of being in relationships or having encounters that were so physical. I think a lot of people have gone through that experience where you hook up with someone that you really like, but then the next day comes and the other person has nothing left to say to you or vice versa all conversation has basically gone extinct. You feel a bit awkward and guilty and you wonder where all the magic went. I just wanted to fall in love with someone when I wrote that song. To me, love isn't a physical thing, it's more emotional, and when I think of the best way to describe that kind of love, I think of someone hugging me when I'm feeling awful. When I wrote the song, there was this guy that liked me and I knew he wanted to kiss me, but I was kind of reserved about pursuing anything with him because I thought it would just be another physical encounter. Although I liked him, if we kissed I


didn't want it to mean nothing, I wanted to fall in love. So thats why I wrote this song. SM: Is Click of the Clock about an affair or just a couple that can't seem to find the time to be together? KF: Click of the Clock isn't necessarily about an affair or a couple, I simply wrote it because I couldn't find the time to meet up with this guy that I liked. I was always working and I had to keep blowing him off when he invited me out. When I got to talk to him, it was Britta von Basedow always too late. Eventually, he stopped trying to make things work with me. The song is also about the feelings you have when you like someone a lot. SM: With some of seemingly secretive undertones of the lyrics, I didnt even consider it might be about a friend. KF: Click of the Clock does deal with romance, but in a subtle way . . . Now that I think about it, it does seem like an affair with the coming home late at night and all! But it really was just the feeling I had when I wanted to see this person and when all these


obstacles got in the way, it made me like the person even more! :-0 SM: Even though the story of the song is told from the perspective of someone leaving you, is it possible that some of Leaves could be about you needing to go your own road (music) alone? KF: Leaves is a song I wrote before I went to England, so I guess it's about needing to do the music thing alone. I was also thinking about the idea of if you love someone you let them go when I wrote that song. SM: I'm still completely on the fence with Everything Is Alright. The upbeat groove and your charged vocals initially led me to believe the song was about being in the moment. However, after a deeper listen, I discovered there are just enough hints to make me wonder if it was a song meant to move you forward, move you out of one place/relationship and into an unknown and you were hoping it was going to be alright more than you really knew that it was alright. You don't have to say anything, because it's kind of cool wondering, but if you want to spill, I'll listen. KF: Ha, ha! I love your analysis! I think I should just tell you a little bit about why I wrote that song. When I write songs, I don't necessarily have a particular goal in mind, things just sometimes work out that way. I wrote Everything Is Alright because I was super stressed out when I was living in London. Having just graduated college with no job, no direction, and a pretty seesaw relationship with the guy I was seeing, I didn't know what I was going to do with my life! I had been fired from 3 jobs and was I feeling pretty sh*tty (but then again, those jobs weren't anything to be jumping for joy about). I first worked for Starbucks when I got to London


because I really wanted to be a Barista and learn how to make coffee. It was fun, except I was working 6 days a week at one point and I ended up getting really sick. I didn't show up to work, so they just fired me. Next, I got a job in a fish and chips shop. That really didn't work out because I smelled like fish! Eww! I'm glad I got fired from that job! Finally, I got a job working in a call center asking for donations to the Royal National Society for the Blind. I was on the phone with a 90-year-old blind woman and I got her to donate 15 pounds a month . . . but she couldn't read her bank card, so I had to guide her through the whole thing over the phone. It took about 25 minutes! I felt bad asking people for money and I wasn't really that good at the job, so I got fired from that one, too. Getting fired made me think about that question employers always ask you during an interview: Where do you see yourself in 5 years, or 10 years? I always hated that question because I just wanted to say, I don't know! I don't like to plan things out! What's the matter with enjoying the moment for what it is? It's alright to feel this way. When I got fired, I felt like I wasn't good at anything else besides music . . . and I was so close to moving forward with my music I had just recorded in a studio with a band and a producer! Looking back, I guess I was telling myself not to give up on my dreams of playing music professionally. Now, I feel a bit more grounded and I have a steady job as a substitute teacher in LA. But a part of me loves that freedom of not knowing if things are going to turn out well. I miss that freedom and, at times, lack inspiration to write. I think people fear the unknown when it's something we should embrace.


09: The Review Okay, (finally) heres the review . . .

Katie Ferrara: When Loves Not Around It begins with a bell-like shimmer of guitar followed by a light strum and the sweet sonic purity of an angel caught absently singing a delicate melody to herself, unaware she has an audience. Katie Ferraras voice entrances with the fragile beauty of a blossoming rose and stirs the soul the way a gentle touch tingles flesh.


Her EP, When Loves Not Around is intriguing in its reserved charm. Musically, Katie is the soft-spoken girl at the party, the one who dances with unassuming grace and offers everyone the delicate sparkle of her smile. Her songs do not scream for attention, but they are impossible to ignore. Ferrara constructs her lyrics with a keen understanding of the importance of details. She is boldly tender and refreshingly personal. In her lyrics, she constantly plays with the balance of curiosity and insight. Her words contain hints, subtle shades of inference that suggest there is a depth she is coyly keeping only partially concealed. Katie is more than just surface, you could spend endless quiet moments listening and never lose that firsttime wonder. Throughout the album, the artist confronts the insecurities and uncertainties that haunt the fringes of life. Through the use of uplifting grooves and alluring melodies, she confidently trounces her inner doubt. When Loves Not Around radiates with encouragement and triumph. Ferrara whispers knowingly that whatever your dreams may be, they are worth pursuit. Katie Ferrara inspires and comforts; she entertains and engages; she makes a dazzling first impression . . . that is also a lasting one. If youre looking for the latest self-absorbed, gratuitous dance anthem that seemed like a great idea at 2am, but has left you feeling a little empty with the bitter twinge of regret on the morning after, stay away from this music. When Loves Not Around is not a fling, its the promise of something more, its the comforting embrace of a good friend laced with the sizzle of maybe.


10: Epilogue So, there you have it. Typically, when you read a review, you only get the review you are not privy to all that went into those few words. You also tend to get a bunch of snarky prose from a writer who is trying just as hard to make a lasting impression with words as the artist is with music. As a reader, hopefully you walk away with something that hooks you, one sentence fragment that intrigues you or makes you curious, something that inspires you to check out the artist for yourself! The purpose of this tale is to illustrate that whatever morsel you walk away with, it is an offering that has been distilled from a vast ocean of experiences, events, convergences, and chance (though I dont believe in accidents). It is the result of connecting and understanding. Even the most concise quote comes from an incredible expanse. The challenge for the writer is to sift through all of the debris to uncover those fragments of veracity that resonate so vibrantly that you want to tweet, update your facebook status, or maybe just tell someone. Thats how the story spreads. But enough. Time to send the Midnight Philosopher on his merry way and get back to the party. Stray Closing Thought: Do you know who else sent me an autograph with her first press kit? It was someone who was confident that her name would one day be recognized by a great many people. It was someone who knew that her autograph would one day be of value, so she offered it to anyone who believed in her from the start. It was Britney Spears. Not that Katie and Britney are even remotely similar, Im just sayin Katies


something special . . . and I think she knows it . . . But if she doesnt, at least she does now.

Kev M

For more information on Katie Ferrara and her music, visit: