Stepping into adulthood is terrifying. Everything you thought you knew as a teenager and a kid about the world just evaporates, and the complexities of all of our interpersonal relationships start to become more prominent. You’re faced with all of these heavy thoughts and ideologies about who you are meant to be as a person and what your path is meant to look like that it’s so easy to get lost.
Rising singer-songwriter Kathleen Tarver has captured all of those complex emotions in her vulnerably raw debut album ‘Subject To Change’. Beginning her journey as an actress in shows like Big Time Rush, Ballers, No Ordinary Family, and The Secret Life Of An American Teenager, she moved from Georgia to Los Angeles to pursue her dreams. Music was something that was always on the cards for her and through the release of early EP’s she started experimenting with what it looked and sounded like. Finding herself continually questioning particular thought patterns and searching for an emotional release, she started to write a little more candidly and found herself stripping everything back sonically instead of going down the pure pop route that she initially thought she wanted to do.
‘Subject To Change’ is completely built around introspection. Lyrically the album takes you on a coming of age journey of growth and harsh realisations from the very opening moments of ‘Back To You’ right through to closing track ‘When I Leave Home’. She hones in on all of those thoughts that you feel guilty for feeling, and the ones that you find yourself over-analysing to figure out what they really mean. It’s an album that feels comforting as she normalises the thought process that we all go through when faced with heartbreak, trauma and important life decisions.
I recently chatted to Katelyn Tarver about the honest and vulnerable songwriting behind her debut album ‘Subject To Change’ through capturing an introspection within heartbreak, growing up, family ties, mental health, and the day-to-day life of committed relationships. Check it out BELOW;
THOMAS BLEACH: ‘Subject To Change’ is a vulnerable and naturally personal affair. The thing that made this record stand out so much was the transparency and tenderness behind the lyrics as it felt like a very cohesive exploration of heartbreak and the reality of stepping into adulthood. Where were you in the writing process when you realised the lyrical journey you wanted to take listeners on through this record?
KATELYN TARVER: I’ve been sort of dipping my toes into this world for the last few years. I grew up listening to pop music and loved Britney Spears, NSYNC, and Backstreet Boys as that was the era I grew up in. I loved to sing and perform, and I was like “I think that’s the sort of music I want to do”. For a while I was really chasing that big pop-dance sound, but when I would go into the studio my instincts were always more emotional, ballad, and singer-songwriter directed. I started to piece together that I would say I wanted to be this particular sort of artist but then write these types of songs, and once I started to embrace my instincts a bit more I started to realise what was coming out of me.
From there I started to write about where I was actually at in my life with being in my late 20’s, being in a city like Los Angeles, being in the industry I am, and reflecting on the upbringing I had. I naturally started to ask those questions, and more intentionally started writing about them over the past few years. So with this album it felt like it had all been piling up for a while, and I finally just ripped the bandaid off and dived in.
‘Downhill From Here’ is a very bleak song, and when I wrote it I was just having one of those sort of days. I just decided to write about it honestly, and after I wrote it I realised that it was something I wanted to explore in a full body of work. So that was sort of a springboard into the type of songs I started to write, and for what eventually made the album.
TB: Well that song really does set the whole tone for the album, especially with the lyric “You can love someone with all you got, but it doesn’t mean it’ll be enough”. How does your heart feel when you hear that lyric back now?
KT: It’s sad. It’s just one of those hard truths, and I think that’s what this album is exploring. That song is geared more towards a relationship, and I’ve seen people get divorced, I’ve seen people break up, and I’ve just seen things that I didn’t think would happen, and you start to think “Oh, that could happen to me”. You end up facing a harsh reality of realising that nothing is guaranteed to work out for you, and stuff may happen that you don’t expect. That lyric is a tough one, but there is also something about it that just feels true in a really sad type of way.
TB: What is a lyric from the album for you that you personally think encapsulates the themes and emotions behind this project and time in your life?
KT: There are so many! There is a lyric in the chorus of ‘Back To You’ that goes; “cause I was scared of changing” and there’s something about that lyric that feels like it encapsulates a lot of the themes on this record. A lot of the album is about exploring being scared of the unknown, being scared of change, being scared of uncertainty. I’m the type of person who likes to feel solid ground beneath me, and I like to know what I think about things and I try to outsmart life and predict what will happen so I can avoid pain. I think once you go through enough heartache you get to this point where you learn to embrace it instead of running from it and resisting it. That lyric is so simple, but that’s just how I’ve been feeling. I am scared of the unfamiliar, so I avoid it and I try to lean on the things that I know are certain. When certain things start to get stripped away you start to think “what am I attached to?” and I think everyone experiences that at one point or another.
TB: ‘Year From Now’ is an immediate standout because it embodies hope that you will get through this pain. You sing “All there’s left for me to do is wait, just wait. Cause I lose a little more of you each day” which is just honestly just beautiful. So can you explain the creative process behind this track?
KT: I had written the lyric “I can’t wait for a year from now” down in my notes because it was in the middle of the pandemic and so many things were getting shut down again and I was getting so frustrated and impatient with life. It felt like it was the only thing that was going to change, like time passing, and you can’t really do anything to make that happen, you just have to wait.
I took that into the session, and we were just talking about how that feeling is really prominent right now. As I said before, I’ve watched friends get divorced or break up and there’s always this sense of wanting relief. It’s such an isolating pain, and I found the only thing that was guaranteed to bring relief was time, so if you can just hold on and know that there is light at the end of the tunnel then everything will be okay. So it’s kinda just capturing that feeling. It was a very quickly written song. I wrote it with Justin Gammella and David Arkwright who I wrote a handful of these songs, and they produced a lot of the songs on the album too. I think David just started playing that guitar riff and I just started it with “I can’t wait for a year from now”, and it sort of just fell out.
TB: On ‘Hurt Like That’ you play with a slightly different production style with more of an upbeat pop style contrasted with the vulnerable lyrics. What or who was sonically inspiring you for this track, as I was hearing a lot of Sasha Sloan in it?
KT: That song is interesting as it’s the only song that was written a couple of years ago. I wrote it with David Hodges and Andrew Tufano, and we had this demo of it for ages and there was just something about it I really liked. I wasn’t sure if I was going to pitch it to other artists, or whether I was going to put it out myself. So when it was coming time to do this album I revisited it again as I felt like there was something in this theme that fitted in the ideology behind the album. When it came time to produce it, it was a challenge. There has not been another song that I’ve had that has taken on that much of a shift during the production process. It started off with different chords, was a lot darker than it already is, and almost even had this drop after the chorus that was a lot more pop-dancey.
The window of time was closing for whether I wanted this song to make the album, so I sent it to Justin Gammella and David Arkwright as I needed a fresh perspective on it. They sent a demo back and they changed some of the chords, added that Americana heavy guitar feel, and I was like “yes, this is it!”. They really transformed it. And Phoebe Bridgers was a big inspiration for the production of that song as I’m a big fan of hers.
TB: The lyric “you just wanted someone to make you feel like someone new” is something that hit me right in the chest as it was a lightbulb moment for me with someone that was in my life. So where were you when you realised that sentiment for yourself?
KT: As a songwriter I’m always pulling from my own life, but I’m also pulling from my friends lives, movies, and TV shows So I guess I’m always on the “hunt” for inspiration, and that one particular line was trying to capture that anger of feeling so hurt, so vulnerable, and so rejected. There’s an anger that bubbles up after that which is like “how dare you make me feel this bad”.
When you experience that abrupt switch from someone where they are telling you they love you, they care about you, and they are in it, and then suddenly they feel different, it’s just such whiplash. You then start to dissect it and you start to question if they were even in it to begin with. I think it’s such an isolating and painful type of pain that everyone goes through. I write a lot about the sadness, vulnerability and pain, so I think with that one I was just trying to capture some of the anger.
TB: Oh, the anger is definitely there *laughs*
KT: *Laughs* Yeah it’s definitely admitting that you’re hurt, but it’s also being like “I don’t know if you even cared about me to begin with, and that sucks, but also, fuck you” *laughs*. I hope it’s sent to a lot of exes around the world, or used in sub tweets, or Instagram stories *laughs*.
TB: We all process our emotions and heartbreak specifically quite differently. In ‘All Our Friends Are Splitting Up’ you sing “I know we process things a little differently. But I’m jumping off the bridge while you watch TV”. It puts the distinct differences in a very blunt manner, but it’s also a line that opens up a dialogue about mental health. How has it been to be able to talk to your listeners about this track and see people relate to different parts of the song like this line?
KT: I’m always so honoured when someone connects to a song or a lyric I write, so when people take the time to share that and reach out to me is really crazy, and means so much. It’s honestly what I’m hoping for when I write it. I’m writing something for me, but I’m also doing it in hopes that it lands with people.
That lyric is pretty blunt like you said. There isn’t much mystery to it. That’s looking at my relationship and expressing that I feel like I’m feeling all of these things and worries and fears and fully spiralling, while they seem fine. It’s looking into how we click with each other. It’s really touching on a committed relationship, and that’s something that is really hard to write about in music. A lot of the stuff on this album was written about heartbreak, while the other half was about the day to day things of making a relationship last, which includes a lot of work on mental health. I’ve spent the last year going to therapy, and I feel like it’s helped me tap into a lot of emotions that I need to look at. I’m always advocating for trying to be as honest as possible and saying what I feel.
TB: ‘Shit Happens’ hears you diving further into coping mechanisms, and one of them is to put blame on someone for closure. But that’s not always possible or healthy so you sing; “Find yourself looking for the cause of your pain but there’s not always someone or something to blame”. How important has it been for you to personally accept that sentiment?
KT: That song is probably one of the most special ones to me on the album as I feel like it was finally expressing this feeling I’ve had for a long time of this frustration with this oversimplified way of dealing with pain. I was raised religious and there’s a tendency I see in Christianity specifically that over spiritualises pain. It’s like “oh you went through this really painful thing, well, everything happens for a reason”. Or, “God’s going to do this thing in your life, and it’s going to make this worth it”. I just see it used a lot which feels wrong. Like someone’s mum just died, and I don’t know if there’s a reason for that, and even if there is then they’d still want their mum to be alive.
As humans we are all just trying to avoid pain as much as possible because it sucks and no one wants to go through it, but I think there is this particular frustration I have with the “be positive” and “everything happens for a reason” outlook. I’ve just seen it cause a lot of harm and pain. And then I was listening to this podcast with Brene Brown, and she asked Dax Sheppard and Tim Ferris what was a bumper sticker or slogan that is overused but has the potential to have a lot of power. And she said “shit happens” as she’s always looking for someone or something to blame when something goes wrong, and that just made everything click in my head of how I could put this all in a song.
TB: But the record isn’t just about heartbreak and love, it’s also about you. And ‘When I Leave Home’ is a different type of vulnerability as you’re singing about your family. How did you find the writing process and emotional heaviness ranged with this song compared to some of the heartbreak and songs we’ve discussed?
KT: I wrote this song towards the end of the process of the album and I realised that I had touched on enough heaviness for one album *laughs*. I have such a close relationship with my family, and they mean so much to me, and I think that love is so specific and it’s quite hard to know how to write about it. But I had this particular feeling of how I’m from Georgia but I live in Los Angeles, so I go home for the holidays and as much as I can, but there’s always this feeling of when you are pulling up to the airport and your whole family is with you and my dad is trying to not cry. It’s become this joke in my family as we don’t even do long goodbyes as we can’t as there’s too much emotion *laughs*. So that’s where the idea started. My fear was that it would be way too sappy, and not be the right thing. But I wrote it with Annika Bennett and Davis Naish, and I’m just so happy with it as it captured that bittersweet ache of growing up. And I don’t know if you noticed but my family is actually singing the outro!
TB: Let’s play a quick game of rapid fire questions about the album. Are you ready?
KT: Let’s go!
TB: The emoji that best describe my debut album ‘Subject To Change’ is…
KT: The happy face with the single tear.
TB: The song that nearly didn’t make the album was…
KT: ‘Hurt Like That’!
TB: The song I’m most excited to perform live would be…
KT: ‘Back To You’.
TB: The first song from the album I’d choose for you to play to your friends if they’ve never heard me would be…
KT: I feel really proud of ‘Shit Happens’, but I would want you to play ‘A Year From Now’.
‘Subject To Change’ is out now!