Katie Pruitt is settled in her spare room / home studio in East Nashville. It's calm on this side of the city, the strip of restaurants and bars are jostling for the few lunchers that are taking the trip out - but aside from that, everyone's playing it safe. Its a safety play that affords Pruitt the opportunity to play her first show in a while a few days after we speak, an outside event full of socially-distanced friends celebrating one of the first opportunities to play a show in a long time.
The east side of the city seems to suit Pruitt. While she half-jokes it's where all the independent musicians move to as it's most affordable, the calm and community seem to suit an artist who's now coming into her own as a respected and acclaimed independent herself. Her debut, Expectations, is a beautifully considered collection of thoughts and diary entries from years past that all feel like they were released like doves into the world at the same time. It's an album of shedding, growing and becoming - and is one of the best records of the year.
On a cold Friday afternoon / morning on both sides of the Atlantic, we sit down to talk about the songs that have inspired and influenced her.
I honestly feel like what makes that such a good song is that it's complex but it's also just so simple. I just think it’s really beautiful. I like how it's not very clear who exactly he's talking about. He could be talking to a friend, a family member, a loved one, someone in a relationship. It applies to all humanity and how we interact with each other and how love is the bottom line in life. I can’t remember when I first heard it,I feel like probably it's one of the songs that I've kind of heard all my life because my parents definitely listened to Simon & Garfunkel, and just the classics in general. ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ almost sounds like a church hymn almost too, and I grew up in the church. Aretha Franklin also did a version of it, and I remember hearing it and thinking it took it to a whole new level. It’s been covered by hundreds, probably thousands of people because it's so relatable and powerful.
Another classic. I love this one. When I first started playing guitar, me and my friend Teddy would smoke weed before school, and sometimes we wouldn’t end up going. So instead we would just play guitar for hours, and I remember learning this song, because we would just cover a bunch of songs. And this was kind of at the time when I was starting to write my songs and it just had like a profound effect on me. The verses are so specific to her own life, talking about dropping out of school and taking care of her dad, and then the chorus opens up to somewhere everyone's been, flying down the highway in a car and feeling like that freedom. So I think it's really beautiful how in the verses she tells her story and in the courses it opens up and becomes this inclusive type of like experience. It reminds me of those times in high school, like just feeling kind of free.
Yep. It's just so joyous. It’s kind of got the same message as ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’, but it's not this hymnal kind of ballad, it's more joyous; celebratory of how lucky we are to have this community of people around us that can lift us up. And I mean, if I've learned anything from 2020 it's like, holy shit, I'm so grateful for my community and the people around me - it's important to lean on each other! Because we're not going to have it together every day. We're not going to be happy every day. We need people there to reinforce why life is worth it. You know, the community does that. I think I started to appreciate it as one of those classic songs, it's like an encore song. Like at the end of the show, it's like, “Hey, everybody come on stage and sing ‘Lean on Me’. It’s this celebration of life and friendship and love. That's why everyone loves it, you know? It’s genuine. Bill Withers is just simply the best.
John Prine wrote this song from other perspectives. The lyrics are “I am an old woman named after my mother” - he wasn't writing from his point of view, but I think what makes it so special - we've all felt that feeling of being stuck, and that's kind of what the song's about. She’s stuck in this unhappy marriage in this small town, in Montgomery, and she'd give anything to just leave and feel free. That’s not my exact experience. But I have felt that way before; I feel that way a lot, just kind of going through the motions of life and being like, “Well, do I have a choice?”. It feels like you don't sometimes because everything’s socially constructed, you know, everything's kind of laid out. You know, you go to college, you get a job, you buy a house, you get married, all these things that we're all just so used to doing. One of my biggest fears is like waking up one day and just being, “Fuck, what now? I'm stuck”. So I can relate with the character in the song a lot. I just think it's such a beautiful song – it’s relatable, and it's so visual and vivid. John Prine never fails to put you in a place. I think he's changed the course of folk music and the way people write and think about songs. He's done more for folk and country music than a lot of people.
I think Jason’s one of the best modern songwriters. It's just like, God, how are you so good?! He’s one of my idols for sure. I remember when I was listening to this song for the first time, because it was more recently, I was driving to the park with my dog. The song is about the time fleeting, just this impermanence that we are mortal. Death is something no one really wants to confront or talk about, because it's sad. But I was just looking at my dog, she was hanging her head out the window, super excited to roll up at the park. And I just saw her little, happy face in the rearview mirror. And I just started bawling, crying, you know? It’s knowing that this can't go on forever, and I'm just like - oh, fuck, especially with dogs, you know? It's even less time and we get so close to our dogs. So ever since I've just I've listened to it probably like thousands of times. It's just such a good reminder that you know, if we were vampires, if we lived forever, “I wouldn't feel the need to hold your hand”. That's one of the most significant lines of the song for me because it's like, if we had if we had an eternity, would we feel the need to cling to each other so hard? Also, I think that that's what makes a great song as well. It’s something that you've thought about and felt before but have never heard explained in exactly those words. But I don't think he's ever written a bad song. I find something that I love in every one of his songs.
Katie Pruitt's debut album Expectations is out now via Rounder Records.
Photography by Alysse Gafkjen.