As a shy girl with stage fright who just sort of fell into music, Katie Herzig felt a special attraction to the recording studio. It combines the editing detail of her broadcast journalism major at UC-Boulder with the beauty of making music absent the pesky crowd.
The Fort Collins-raised artist ultimately worked through her stage fright in college band Newcomers Home. It wasn't until her fifth album, April's Walk Through Walls, that she truly indulged her studio obsessions by working with synths and loops instead of her acoustic guitar.
"Usually when I'm creating music, it's 'What do I have around me that I can reach for?' And for years, I only had access to acoustic instruments surrounding me," she explains. "I think I've just been drawn to more synthetic sounds. I'm still drawn to organic stuff. It's just the marriage of the two."
With its sweet, minimalist and atmospheric shimmer, the album was influenced by hearing Radiohead perform after her tour-closing show at 2012's Bonnaroo music festival. Both share an epic yet earnest swoon to their music, with spare melodies and thrumming electronic beats accompanied by thick washes of synthesized strings and voices.
"You use whatever turns it on inside of you, and then inevitably you're inspired-slash-ripping somebody off," Herzig chuckles knowingly. "I had only heard a few songs by Radiohead, but the ones I was familiar with — when they play them live — it has a way of really getting to you."
The album's pulsing synthetic veneer also accompanies some of Herzig's most intensely personal songs. Her mother died just as she was going out on tour in support of her last album, 2011's The Waking Sleep.
While the daily activity and distraction of touring served as a kind of blanket of routine for Herzig, the suspended emotions came flooding out when she started writing Walls. There's the title track's meditations on "the moment where the darkness needs the light," as well as the heartbreaking "Water Fear," where she confesses "I am open, fallen, broken since the moment you passed."
"When the album came out in April I toured it for four months," she says. "I got to the end of that tour and I was like: I don't know how much more I want to tour this content. It's a record I love, but just kind of a heavier experience on the road."
While Herzig had been playing the songs with keyboards and samplers, she's unplugging for her current holiday shows. "I'm finding it really challenging to find songs on this record that work acoustically. So chances are I'm going to be playing more older stuff and just a few of the newer ones."
But don't expect her to return to the folkie singer/songwriter world as more than a tourist.
"Keyboards, samples and bass — all that stuff invited me into the songwriting process more than acoustic guitar, which is what I had done for ten years. It was something that felt fresh," she says while noting that acoustic guitar will continue to play a supporting role in her music. "I still consider it to be a place I'll return to and dabble in, but I've certainly moved beyond that world."