Even though she left Albuquerque for the rain-drenched Pacific Northwest more than a decade ago, elements from the state Kate Mann grew up in can still be found in her music and on her back. The gigantic Zia symbol tattooed between the desert-folk artist's shoulder blades isn't the only part of the Southwest that's made its mark on the budding singer-songwriter from Albuquerque. The sounds that flutter out of Mann's acoustic guitar work within the broader genre of Americana, but the landscapes painted in her lyrics bring to mind a highly New Mexicanized vision.
Mann’s work isn’t all tumbleweeds and cacti. As she points out, the preference for minor keys and somber vocal intonations are more in line with her current hometown of Portland, Ore., where she's cultivated a strong following. Shortly after putting the final touches on her third studio album, to be released in the fall, Mann is heading back to Albuquerque, where she'll play a couple shows this week. Mann's excited about her new record and about the chance to make her mark on the city’s music scene that she's watched grow from a distance.
I went on a road trip to the Pacific Northwest in college and I fell in love with its landscape, beer and coffee.
Besides the desert atmosphere you convey in much of your work, in what ways do you think growing up in New Mexico has influenced you?
Many of my songs end up having a Latin or tribal flavor, and being around different cultures in New Mexico played a part in that. Also, I write with a lot of natural imagery and I draw that from growing up there.
On your second album, Devil’s Rope, you move away from the bare-bones approach you took on your debut, November Songs, by adding a lot of other instrumentation.
The first album was just a live acoustic recording. I didn't know what I was doing and I just wanted something to be able to sell at shows. The second one was coproduced with 8-Ball Studio Owner Rob Stroup. It gradually grew and took shape under his guidance. I love the power of it, but it’s not a good reflection of what I do live, where I’m pretty much always alone with my guitar.
Is your third album a better reflection of your live show?
It’s nestled in between the first two. It’s more stripped down and it’s mostly acoustic guitars. But there’s also cello, violin and even street drums where we got somebody to play with drum brushes on a suitcase.
What else sets the new record apart?
I think I've settled into myself more as a songwriter with this album. I'm more comfortable with my dark lyrics and not feeling like I have to compromise that aspect of myself. I've also been listening to a lot of old-school country and Tom Waits, and that's had a lot of influence on my songwriting.
Do you think you’ll ever write a happy song?
I think some of my songs are kind of happy. I have a lullaby for my dog on the newest album. I'm not a clinically depressed person; it just comes out the way it comes out. Although a lot of the songs have dark themes, there's also hope. Searching and following dreams isn't a dark subject, it's just sometimes you have to go around dark corners to see what's there.