Queens Folk Singer-Songwriter Kate Koenig Talks Mental Health, New Single ‘Chromatic Sun’

The “waking world is a dream” for Queens-based songwriter Kate Koenig.

It takes a special kind of artistic vision and a knack for getting things done to wear as many hats as Koenig does. As if songwriting weren’t enough, Koenig adds the titles of illustrator, graphic designer, and journalist to their impressive repertoire of talents. 

With musical inspiration coming from the likes of Kate Bush and Fleet Foxes to name a few, Koenig is an avid experimentalist when it comes to the folk genre. Back in 2019, they released their debut album, Haircuts for Barbers. January 2021 saw the release of their latest album, a compilation of 10 original songs titled Etemenaki

Amidst their many talents, Koenig still finds time to prioritize making music. Their newest single, “Chromatic Sun,” officially dropped today December 16th. Haunting, folksy vocals pair with a steady guitar melody enriched by drum sounds that emphasize Koenig’s dream sequence of a song. Coupled with a traditional folk-esque sound, the lyrics narrate an exploration of internal feelings, reflecting Koenig’s passionate advocacy for mental health. 

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We got to chat with Koenig about “Chromatic Sun,” the folk scene in Queens, plans for 2023, and much more.

So how has 2022 treated you? Any notable highlights?

I moved into an amazing apartment at the beginning of the year. I took a trip to Greece, and perhaps most importantly, I went through the process of recording and producing my third album, Immortal Rhythm, set to be released on January 31st! There probably have been some other good things, but those were the most exciting. 

What’s it like being a folk singer-songwriter living in Queens in this day and age?

It’s got its ups and downs. Of course, there is a lot of competition to deal with when trying to make it as a performer in New York. I don’t think of that in terms of who’s better than who — that’s such an individual thing — but rather that it presents challenges in getting people to come to your shows. That can be a bit of an exhausting endeavor. But, songwriting has always been my passion, and I feel grateful that I reached a point in my art where I gave myself the permission to fail — something I needed in order to progress with my music. I spend most of my spare time writing songs, and I will never not be a songwriter.

“Chromatic Sun”

How would you describe your style and your sound for those wondering what Kate Koenig is all about?

I would say that my sound is rooted in folk music, mainly because I write on acoustic guitar and am obsessed with songwriters like Nick Drake and Robin Pecknold of Fleet Foxes. Their influence tends to come out in my sound a lot. However, some of my stuff can also be pretty experimental and alternative rock-influenced. I naturally gravitate towards writing songs with unusual arrangements, meaning that my songs sometimes include odd time signatures, song sections that don’t follow too much of a repeated pattern, chord progressions that vary in a non-repetitive way, and some odd techniques, such as intentionally creating string buzzing.

So you’ve got your new single, “Chromatic Sun,” dropping today. I see where you’ve said it’s about living with bipolar. Was there a specific moment or series of moments that triggered this song? What else can you tell us about the writing of it?

Yes, it was directly inspired by my experience living with bipolar. I’ve been diagnosed with bipolar II, which affects more depression than mania, although I’ve had “enough” experience with both states. It’s not fun! Thankfully, I take medication now, and have been sober from drugs and alcohol for about three and a half years — those things are a huge help and greatly reduce the symptoms of the illness. In terms of specific moments triggering the song’s inspiration, I admit it came from experiencing some pretty persistent suicidal ideation when I wrote it in early 2019, as well as just times of being in a manic state. The verses capture the depressive times, and the chorus is meant to capture the manic experience. 

Is there an overall message you’re trying to convey to the listener?

Not really! I think most of my songs revolve around just trying to express whatever feelings I might be going through. Writing songs is a cathartic experience for me, and I think I’m just looking to share my feelings with an audience.

Kate Koenig – Photo by Melissa Wu

Where was it recorded and who helped produce it?

The song was recorded at HarvestWorks Digital Media Arts Center in SoHo, NYC, and the recording was engineered, mixed, and mastered by my good friend Kevin Ramsay, who’s been involved in every project I’ve produced so far. He’s the man! It was also his idea to add cello to the track, which was performed by Lara Brodsky. Jared Pease and Eliza Endless also contributed the drum and bass parts, respectively. They’re all amazing musicians and I’m grateful to have worked with them on this.

Can fans expect to see it on an upcoming EP or LP or is it a standalone single for now?

Yes, “Chromatic Sun” is the single from Immortal Rhythm.

What does success as a musician and songwriter mean to you?

If I had a choice of the kind of success I’d like as a songwriter, I’d say that I would want to be successful without being famous. Or maybe, some semi-fame might be fun. But what I really want is some sort of fan base — a substantial group of people who appreciate and care about my music.

If you could tour and open for any present-day artist, who would it be and why?

Fleet Foxes! They’ve been one of my favorite bands for a long time. Their 2017 release Crack-Up is probably my favorite album of all time. I just deeply identify with and admire Robin Pecknold’s songwriting.

What are some of your goals – whether musically or otherwise – for 2023?

I’d like to get started on producing my fourth album, and just write more songs!

Featured photo by Seva Jagat

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