I sat down with Katharine Seggerman of Lunch Duchess to talk about her forthcoming album, Crying For Fun, out August 16th on Heavy Meadow Records. We talk about Britney Spears, relationships, and of course, our feelings.
So how did you decide to start singing and drumming?
People kept telling me to do it for years and I was always resentful of that because it’s kind of hard. And I think there’s some weird gender aspects of me wanting to prove that I’m a good musician and not just a singer. And then I bought myself a headset microphone and that was a game changer, and it still took years to get competent at it.
I feel like the natural progression of “what can I do in addition to singing?” is playing guitar. So drums is different, were you already interested in it?
That was my starting point actually. I started drums when I was 12 and played in a band with my friends in middle school, and played in jazz band in middle school. I did a teen program kind of similar to She Rock, and then my own bands in high school and college. It wasn’t until I was in this band, BOYF, now defunct (RIP). That was a hilarious band and I played drums in that and then started singing on the headset mic.
I just really wanna see you with an early 2000s Britney Spears-esque headset mic. That’s my dream Lunch Duchess set.
You’re giving me such a good idea, I don’t know what to wear for the release yet. Maybe like the red latex one she wore in “Oops I Did It Again.” Ponytail and hair extensions.
You describe your voice as “Disney-esque.” What’s your vocal background? Are you a trained singer?
My only musical training is percussion so I can read percussive music, but never got beyond middle school choir for vocals. Although I did sit down with Sam’s mom, who’s actually a well known singer in the Twin Cities and got some tips from her, because I’ve been trying to learn a little bit on my own as an adult.
In the press kit you sent me, a lot of the sentences end with “this may sound like a lot- it is.” Which I think is an interesting choice of words, can you define “a lot”?
I think of the songs as being very distilled, and not even distilled to simplicity but really intense elements taken from each component of the song. Like the emotionality, the lyrics, the instrumentation. There’s not really a lot of fluff. I think the intensity of the songs themselves and the commitment to going all out when I easily could’ve alluded to an idea. Like the part when everybody in the band is singing “lala lala lalala,” it’s so unnecessary... it’s a lot. I think a lot of bands might have a similar idea, but with less intensity.
Ok, well obviously I follow Lunch Duchess on Twitter, and I saw one of your tweets where someone was very confused by you defining your band as grunge pop. But then in your press kit you’ve articulated the sound of each song to a tee. So do people not “get” your sound, is that a problem you come across?
I think that particular tweet was about a really interesting conversation I had with someone who doesn’t really listen to music. I mean the way he was talking about it like “I use hip hop at the gym.” Which was really eye opening because I’m surrounded by people who live and breathe music.
The album is very cohesive but the songs shift from each other. Like “Chicago” is more rock in feel than most of the other songs. How does that come together?
That’s a good question. I think it goes back to the way that I write each song. So for some songs- well they all start with vocal melody. Probably something is bothering me and a melody pops into my head. And then I will find stuff to go under that using either a banjo or a piano, sometimes a bass. And then flesh it out as best I can for the structure itself. And after that I bring in bandmates. I think it’ll change based on who kind of takes the lead instrumentally, if it’s gonna be more guitar driven or more synth driven. A mood is really important to me, so using the instruments to convey a certain mood of like doom, or excitement, anxiety… I think a lot of it has to do with the developmental process, writing with the band once the structure is done, and what the mood of the song needs to be.
It’s interesting that you drive things based on how it comes together rather than creating a formula for what you want the album to be and then bringing people in.
And even having different people be involved on the album in different parts. Like the song “Better” originally was played with a different guitarist. And some of these songs were played by Matt on guitar who now plays bass, some of them were played with Ranelle on bass, who now plays synths. It’s fluid.
I actually did want to walk about “Better.” It has this playful, bouncy sound. But there’s that line “just kidding, that wasn’t me but only cause society is extremely unforgiving of female sexuality.” It has me wondering how much of that song we should truly read as a joke?
I think they’re serious issues, but I’m trying not to burden myself by taking it so seriously and being so angry about it, even though at different times I am definitely super angry about some of that stuff. On one hand “Body” I’m talking about “I get naked anytime I like” and that line kind of bothers me because it sounds like I’m talking about having sex but I literally just mean I like being naked. I’ll probably spend some time in a nudist colony at some point, I don’t know. I don’t understand societal norms around that and why bodies have to be sexualized, that really pisses me off. And that goes into the territory of possession too and reproductive justice, so that’s stuff that I’m angry about. And not prioritizing partners’ sexual needs, especially if the partner is a straight cis guy, they could be doing a little better. Which is why the song is called “Better.”
That’s funny because I have a question about “Body.” I’m very much a believer that having a body is weird and that I’d be ok being sentient haze.
I wish. What are you, an Aquarius or something?
I’m actually a Capricorn! But because of your points on autonomy it becomes arguably the only political track on the album. Because you said you try not to let it burden you, was that a moment where you wanted to touch on something more specifically?
In writing that song I had started out wanting to do something really silly and was just playing around. The first two verses are about really inconsequential things like allergies and being sensitive to drugs. And then I was asking myself “why am I even writing about bodies if it’s just a joke?” and realized I could say something I actually do care a lot about in it. Which is not usually how a song works for me. Maybe I’m adding little bits here and there but it’s not “let me bring in an entire issue that’s important to me.” So kind of explaining to myself why I wanted to write about that in the first place. And the other ones definitely aren’t political, I think they mostly deal with boundaries and relationships. And sometimes that’s in a societally gendered way, kind of a stereotype of like women are supposed to save men and men are stereotyped as not being responsible for their behavior, not taking accountability, needing to be mothered. So I think some of the songs are push backs against that mentality.
Especially on “Lust/Love,” a lyric I really attached to is “don’t recall how to be alone, it’s making me angry that you do.” Thematically I did want to ask you about the concept of boundaries throughout the album because it does undercut most of the songs. This idea of what am I on my own? What am I with another person? How do I not overextend?
That’s one of the only songs on the album that’s about an entirely different relationship. I don’t want to get too specific and make the subject feel bad. But a lot of the songs on the album are about a specific relationship and a specific type of relationship that was pretty co-dependent. And trying to figure it out, usually from a self-empowering kind of way, during those rare moments in a co-dependent relationship where you question what you’re doing. But this relationship [portrayed in "Lust/Love"] was so far from that and purely physical. And then kind of acknowledging that I don’t know how it feels to be in a relationship where we’re so much more independent- to the point of excluding emotions. And just really having my thinking changed by someone who was a lot more detached, which at the time was really healthy for me. It was just a reset.
Going off that, Crying For Fun definitely has some difficulties defining love.
Yeah, especially going back to that one very co-dependent relationship and just feeling moments of total doubt in myself. Like is this love? Do I know how to love? Is this how I want to be loved? And am I loving this person the way that they deserve? So I think there is a lot of anxiety about that on the album. And then other moments that are kind of taking a break from that, like “Chicago” is a new crush, and “Lust/Love” is a whole different thing. So kind of exploring different avenues and trying to answer those very basic questions about love and capacity to love.
I really like the word “capacity” in this context.
I guess, damnit I thought I had grown, but a song on the previous EP is called “How You Love” and towards the end of the song it keeps repeating “is that how you love?” and “did I love well?” So I guess I’m still asking that question in a way, but starting to use more outside sources for getting feedback than relying just on myself. Your own internalized narratives can get so twisted if you keep telling yourself the same thing over and over again.
So is it safe to assume that you’re someone who’s comfortable being seen as openly emotional?
Yes, definitely! And even then I still am a little nervous about it. There is a part of me that really enjoys confrontation because I think it’s healthy for people to be stating their needs instead of the Minnesotan tendency to gloss over it and not talk about it. So sometimes I still am scared to bring things up. But it’s a lot scarier to me to not be feeling emotions at all. And I think I was feeling that way for a long time when I was a lot more depressed and medicated, and coming out of that I think I’m really grateful that I have the capacity to be really sad or be really upset or be really happy. So I kind of think Crying For Fun is a little bit about that, about getting back in touch with my emotions.
And it’s, in a way, easier to not feel.
But if you’re not feeling you’re not getting signals from life about where to go. You’re not gonna end up in a happy place when you’re finally ready to confront your emotions. And I keep using ‘you’ language but I know it’s not universal, it’s personalized.
Talking about Crying For Fun versus My Mom Says I Have a Rich Inner Life, we have “Cry II” and the single “Ride or Die” appears again. Is Crying For Fun an expansion of the EP or do you view it more as something totally different that has a track that’s been refurbished?
I think the answer to that is more technical than anything else. I wondered should we re-release “Ride or Die” and I asked a friend of mine and he was like “well it’s probably gonna expose more people to it so it’s good to include it again” and it’s a good song, I still like it. But thematically, if it’s an expansion? I think so. I’m asking that question about love again and defiantly talking about crying, which is not something people are usually proud that they do. And there are other themes that still carry through too, I think about independence. Some of the stuff on “Unable/Unwilling,” I think that song is a lot about coming out of depression and people putting their assumptions on you about your motives for doing certain things. I think in that one a boyfriend assumes music is something I do as a hobby. But in fact it’s mostly emotional exorcism. That’s the reason why I write songs. So unfortunately when I’m doing really well and I’m happy, like I am right now, I don’t do a lot of writing. But I try to not worry about it. I don’t really understand the point of art that is not necessary to the maker. If I don’t feel the need to create then I’m not gonna make myself do it, I’m not gonna do like an inspiration exercise. Which maybe I’ll change my mind on that, but at the moment I’ll fill my time with something else. Like going to grad school.
Are you? Congratulations!
Thank you! I’m going to be a talk therapist. So doing some more emotions and dark secrets and analysis. So kind of fulfilling that need in a different place, I guess.
It would be cool to find out your therapist is in a band. Though probably just for the patient, not for you.
I’m so nervous about that. Like “yeah she’s in a band and writes some really forthright lyrics about sex and I know way too much about her sex life now.” Yeah, I’m probably gonna have to change my name.
There’s something very subversive about Crying For Fun. There’s a sweetness in some of the instrumentals but the lyrics are darker; I think it’s part of what makes the album sound so distinct. How do you create that kind of juxtaposition?
I think it’s maybe a mirror of how I’m thinking about some of these things, which truthfully it’s not the healthiest way to deal with things. But a lot of these songs have been in the bag for years, “Better” is a really old song for example. In kind of just stepping back and looking at this collection of songs and other things going on in my life I feel like the angst comes from thinking that I have to keep my dissatisfaction about things secret. So not being able to openly discuss when I’m dissatisfied, which is nobody’s fault, I think it’s more an existential problem. You only have one life to live and you have to be brave enough to do it. I think freedom of choice can be a really terrifying thing for people. Sometimes you wish someone else would make the choice for you. So you go with the flow and you stay in things that you don’t like but you sort of pretend that you do like them and then it ends up just making you resentful. And I think I’ve been feeling resentful about different situations just out of my own fear to do what I want to do. But if you don’t know what you want to do for a long time, you just end up kind of stuck in a loop.
How does that lead into creating these very saturated songs?
I think that I’ve been really selective in what to put on the album. There are a lot of other songs out there but at some point it feels like it’s not clicking or it doesn’t need to be said. It feels redundant compared to something else in the catalogue. And then I’ll decide not to develop it any further. I feel a little bad about this, but I really don’t like performing songs that I don’t feel to be emotionally true anymore, which is probably frustrating for my bandmates. It’s like “oh yeah I just want you to learn this song” and then six months later it’s like, “no I don’t feel that way anymore.”
Are there any songs specifically that you’re not playing right now?
There used to be one, I was just listening to a demo of it on my way here because it popped into my head, it’s called “Friend/Lover/Fuck Me Over,” and it’s being just really frustrated with someone even outside a romantic relationship and feeling like they’re just not respecting you as a person no matter where you try to meet them. It has some really cutting, mean lyrics, some of my songs do. At the end it says “bad people they have a way of being bad friends” which is literally calling someone a bad person, that’s pretty mean. So sometimes I’ll shy away from songs that are overly attacking of someone without taking enough share of the responsibility.
You say it yourself that Crying For Fun is full of “earworms,” which is almost an understatement. I think it’s funny with the subject matter that you work with that it ends up being really catchy. How intentional is that?
The only songs that I end up developing are the ones that are banging around my head for a long time. That phrase and melody is just going through my head constantly until I think of some other parts to go along with it. So I’d say it’s pretty unintentional but I like the fact that a lot of them are darker subject matter and are catchy. I think everyone could take some time to reflect on their emotions and relationships and other stuff that maybe they wouldn’t hear about in a normal pop song. I feel like there is such a trend about that lately- pop songs about anxiety that you hear on Top 40 and you’re like “what? This is really dark stuff.” That Julia Michaels song that’s like “I got issues and we got issues.” Unexpected.
A lyric that’s really imprinted on me is “I love you like I fight a war” on “Makes Me Love You More.” Could you tell me a little more about it?
I think that song is coming to terms with a complicated romantic relationship, and I think right now our culture is quick to dub things abusive or toxic, but even in those relationships you’re getting something out of it or else you wouldn’t be in it. I’m sorry, I mean that in a nuanced way, obviously in an abusive relationship there’s not much you can do to defend a truly abusive person. But there is something lovable about every person and you can’t just pretend that you never loved the person, even if it was a kind of love that felt like going to war everyday. And that’s with yourself and with that person. With yourself just in terms of it’s not actually healthy for you but you make yourself do it or you’re trying to make yourself get out of it. I don’t think that fighting in a war is the ideal way to be in a relationship, but even in those relationships there is still something that you love about that person and that’s still a valid love. And definitely admitting guilt on that too. Like should you be in a relationship with someone? Maybe you’re doing some harm too or I was doing some harm in feeling like it was a war. It’s two sided.