Country Queer

Lifting up LGBTQ+ voices in country and Americana.

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Q&A With Katy Guillen

By Christopher Treacy

Photo Credit: Morgan Jones

With partner Stephanie Williams, Katy Guillen has launched Katy Guillen & the Drive, a rocking new fem-duo that dabbles in both pop and country with a toothy, bluesy edge. Having dropped a pair of EPs in 2020 and 2021, Guillen and Williams made the most of the pandemic by trying out new musical ideas and seeing what stuck, then bringing them to producer/engineer Kevin Ratterman at Invisible Creature Sounds (Emma Ruth Rundle, Jake Shears, My Morning Jacket) for further development. The resulting album, Another One Gained, is due in August. The first single, “Set in Stone” was just released and made its way into this week’s CQ Roundup. Written in the wake of the dissolution of her last band as well as a romantic breakup, the track is fiery, infectious, and steeped in yearning. It documents that state of mind wherein change is both uncomfortable and inevitable, when the comfort of past patterns seems most attractive to us. Guillen recently took the time to answer some questions about “Set in Stone,” the album that will follow, and working with Kevin Ratterman.

What came first for “Set in Stone” – lyrics or music? It’s dark, but there’s a deliberate prettiness peeking through.

The music came first, and pretty naturally. Steph and I came up with the rhythmic verse sections just jamming and messing around a few years back at a unique little guitar shop and venue in Carbondale, Colorado. I saved that idea for about a year and came back to add the melody and chorus, and the bridge and solo sections came last. When I look back on how the song came to be, it just sort of patiently built itself over the course of a few years. It developed as we were both going through some darkness in our own lives, which is why that sentiment comes through. To me, the bridge and solo section are where the song finds some lightness and a bit of resolve. Those sections were written last and at a point in time when we were both in much happier places, which could explain the more hopeful, “prettier” sound. The lyrics came when I was in the middle of various part time gigs, between bands, between living situations, and trying to figure out some next steps in my life. The song is about all of that- trying to re-identify and find some stability.  

The song examines our sense of security and how we romanticize those times when we felt like we knew what we were doing/where we were going. Do you think most of us have a tendency to glorify these times in retrospect?


A Honky-Tonk of Our Own

I think people tend to glorify the past or romanticize easier circumstances, especially during times of personal turmoil. I know I did this for a period of time after the end of my long-time band. At the time when I wrote the song I felt unhappy, burnt out, and lost. I was longing for things to be how they used to be; for a time when I felt confident in who I was as a musician and where I was headed, at least professionally. I have such a different perspective on it all now though. When I look back, it was just the challenge of change and transition that I was struggling with, and it was all necessary. I’ve found that the best way to move forward is by being present, looking ahead rather than behind, and accepting yourself through major changes.  

It can be painful to be thrust into the chaos of unknowing and uncertainty, but apparently that’s how we grow—when we’re forced to step up. What kept you moving forward when things fell apart?

Steph, my bandmate and partner has always been a huge source of motivation and inspiration. Fortunately, I had a truly loving and caring support system of family and friends which is crucial in any time of chaos. Also, my cat Charlie was with me through it all. Pets can be so helpful.

Working with Kevin Ratterman must’ve been interesting. I see his studio is equipped with a 1971 console. Were you looking to create something with a vintage feel? What else did he bring to the table?

We were looking to create something with an atmosphere, an emotion, and a realness. Working with Kevin was an awesome experience, and we learned so much from our time at Invisible Creature. We tried out a variety of interesting layers, structural ideas, and different instruments as a result of working with him. We’re longtime fans of his work with My Morning Jacket and Heartless Bastards, and we had a feeling that he would understand what we were going for sonically. By working with Kevin, we were able to bring the songs to life in a way that felt very natural and true to their individual moods, while also setting an overarching tone for the album as a whole. It was a fun and collaborative process. 

In terms of the album’s overall sound, is “Set in Stone” a good representative? Is the rest of it darker/lighter, grittier, etc?

“Set In Stone” is one of the darker rock songs on the album. The overall themes musically and lyrically are similar to Set In Stone; melancholy with a silver lining. I like how you put it earlier when you said, “It’s dark, but there’s a seemingly deliberate prettiness peeking through.” That seems like an accurate summation of the record, and I’m glad it can be heard in this song. You can expect to hear more rockers with singable guitar solos and big drums, a few poppier tunes, and a couple of ballads on Another One Gained

Is there anything else you’d like us to know about the song?

I think a unique take away from “Set In Stone” is that in every aspect, it’s a journey song. It was written in several different locations (Carbondale, a small island in Thailand, Kansas City, Lake Of The Ozarks, and Los Angeles). Lyrically, it describes the process of a significant life change. Musically, it takes the listener through various emotions, and the guitar solo was arranged to hopefully take you on a journey.

Christopher Treacy has been writing about music and the music industry for 20 years. He’s contributed to The Boston Phoenix, The Boston Herald, Nashville Scene, and Berklee College of Music’s quarterly journal, as well as myriad LGBTQ+ outlets including the Edge Media Network, Between the Lines/Pride Source, Bay Windows and In Newsweekly. He lives in Waitsfield, VT.