Tempelhof Sounds

Kat Frankie: “Berlin still has room for joy”

We talk to the Tempelhof Sounds star about her upcoming album, Shiny Things.

Kat Frankie. Photo: Elina Kechicheva

Tell us about your new album, Shiny Things.

I think on a very fundamental level, Shiny Things is a guitar album, and in some ways, that’s a return to what I was doing when I first came to Berlin. There are acoustic guitars on this album, which I haven’t done for many years now. I think it’s because there are lots of things that I want to say and want to explore, so I really went back to the fundamentals to give myself more room to do that. For me, I always look for something new to explore on every album so that I don’t repeat myself. I’m incredibly proud of it. Sometimes, you put music out, and you’re a little bit worried, but I have absolutely no worries about sharing it with the world.

How are Shiny Things different?

I would say the main thing with this one is that it’s less about being musically ambitious than it is about being conceptually ambitious. A conversation that I’m having with many people at the moment is what can music do? What influences does music have on effecting change on social justice, and what’s the power of music? 

It’s something that has started to seep into the subject matter of my songs. Most of my older stuff is fairly abstract, and the last couple of years have been the years of activism, and for me, as a musician, I’m trying to figure out what art can really do?

Do we write songs because we don’t want to get our hands dirty at the riot? Or are we planting the seeds of a collective movement, one that can encourage and support actual action?

Do you find it easier to be abstract than to be direct?

I think that I always wrote music in a very abstract way because I don’t really like to give away everything about who I am. It’s almost like writing in code so I can feel safe and I can control what is known about me. But, these days, the stakes are a little higher, and I have a platform to communicate that. I’m pretty private, and I used to wonder why anyone would anyone be interested in my perspective on my life. But now, I think that the older I get, the less fucks I give. So I’m going to share my opinions a little more because we need to start and have these conversations.

Your music video for the first single Shiny Things is full of humour. Is it important to approach these topics in a bright way? 

Yeah, that was very fun. I asked my friend Albertine [Sarges] if she could be the king because she’s the funniest person I know, and thankfully, she said yes. In the video, I get to poison her and take the throne. 

We’re just trying to do things for the album that have this baroque kind of vibe. That’s the visual world that this album lives in. It’s a time that saw a lot of upheavals, and I think it’s interesting to reflect on that, considering where we’re at culturally and socially today. 

Albertine Sarges has been part of your band for some time, and now she is having her own success. Having spent most of your musical career in Berlin, does the scene here still excite you?

My friends excite me, that’s for sure, but I notice differences. It’s a tough thing to do these days because so much music promotion is on the artists to build social media profiles and stuff that kind of takes the fun out of it.

Also, because Berlin is becoming more expensive, it means that different kinds of artists are platformed than they used to be. But, of course, that’s not to say that there aren’t still lots of dirty little underground little places for indie bands to play but that the nature of DIY creativity is generally changing.

I think the German music scene spends so much time looking outward at what other countries and artists are doing, and I think maybe it would be cool if it was a little more confident in itself and the ability for artists to influence each other.

In what ways did this city shape your music?

I’ll tell you one thing that Berlin offered me that I think is not on offer anywhere else in the world: the space to play and present work that is not perfectly polished. 

Berlin still has room for joy. It has a celebration of mistakes and an audience that can see through to the idea that is trying starting to be communicated. There’s a support for those who create here, and that’s a diminishing quality in music culture.

At its heart, Berlin is a city that is very anti-superficial. Obviously, that’s changing now, but for me, it meant that there wasn’t a pressure to create something commercial, and in that sense, I’m incredibly spoiled. I’m not a big, massive mainstream artist, but I can do what I want and make what I want my way.

You have always seemed to have a firm grasp on every aspect of your artistic image from day one. How important is creative control to you? 

I’m someone who is very sure about the things that I want to do. So I don’t want to discuss it. I just want to make it. 

But doing that takes a lot of learning. So, essentially I’m always just trying to assemble the skills that I need to communicate my ideas. 

In the beginning, you can’t afford to pay people to do stuff for you, so you have to learn how to do everything yourself out of necessity. But the other thing is, I’m just really interested in learning how to do everything. 

I’ve come from not knowing how to do anything to be in a place where I’m not just producing songs, but I’m also producing my music videos. I’m storyboarding them, and now I’m even starting to direct. Personally, I just want to know how to do all of the different things. I want to try everything.

How does that mentality inform your live performances?

I’m always trying to create a sense of dramaturgy with my setlists. Whatever it ends up being comprised of, I try to have an emotional arc because I want everyone to have a chance to feel everything. 

The beautiful thing about live music is that it’s incredibly cathartic and allows you to convey so many different things. 

You know, I could present delicate, beautiful, and heartbreaking songs, and simultaneously, I can just bring the thunder and lightning. I like it if there are moments of tenderness and moments of power – and I mean real power. I think building a show is more of an emotional concept than a sound concept, and I’m lucky to have such wonderful, crazy talented musicians in my band that make it possible for me to do that.

Are you excited to be back in front of a big crowd at Tempelhof sounds festival?

Yeah, it’s really fun because it’s this giant cement rectangle and as a singer, you’ve got to love a big room, you know? So I’m incredibly excited to be back there, and the lineup is insane.