Katie Callahan — “Magnificent Beast (Keep It All Together)”
Americana Highways presents this premiere of Katie Callahan’s song “Magnificent Beast (Keep It All Together)” from her forthcoming album EXTRAORDINARY. The album will be released on June 2; the song will be available on April 14. It was mastered by Pete Lyman at Infrasonic Mastering.
“Magnificent Beast (Keep It All Together)” is Katie Callahan on lead vocals; Megan Coleman on drums; Luke Sullivant on bass; Lindsey Miller on electric and acoustic guitars; Charlie Lowell on keys with Hannah Holbrook on additional keys.
We had the opportunity to chat with Katie briefly about the song. The premiere appears just beneath the interview.
Americana Highways: What prompted you to write this song? What inspired it? What is its message?
Katie Callahan: “Magnificent Beast (Keep It All Together)” is a song about living with anxiety. It’s something that’s grown with me as I’ve gotten older–maybe it’s being a parent and suddenly responsible for other lives, maybe it’s just the state of the world, I don’t know–but I’ve had to learn to get along with it. My anxiety is a pretty constant companion, and I wanted a song that didn’t vilify or tell a story about how it holds me back, but how it’s a companion on the journey.
This whole record, EXTRAORDINARY, is built like a body, using chakra points as touchstones–seven songs to build a complete body, linking the physical to the emotional and spiritual. This one is the “third eye” chakra, the intuitive center that tells us to believe and name what we know deep down. For me, being honest about my mental health is paramount to me knowing myself and treating myself, and others, with love and respect.
AH: How did this song come together when you wrote it? What was the songwriting process like?
KC: I can distinctly recall the moment in the shower the line “so I’m taking my fear on the road” came to me, but I didn’t have a clear sense of what to do with it. Initially, I thought it was going to be a song about how, as somebody who grew up in the tropics, I am terrible at dressing for the winter, but the “fear on the road” line wouldn’t leave me alone, and I thought there was something a little deeper to explore. There’s also a level of absurdity in the amount of worrying I do on a daily basis–the things I get swirly about are innumerable and unlimited–but being a little tongue-and-cheek, finding levity in the worry, was pretty cathartic. Reliving the childhood fears of house fires and shark attacks, for example, and coupling them in the second verse with the very adult worry of data stealing–all valid concerns in certain environments but when piled together, they’re almost comical. I loved the invitation to be playful with something that has historically been a little painful.
AH: What kind of a vibe were you going for on this song? How does the final version differ from what you imagined it might be before you went into the studio?
KC: After hearing the “Song Exploder” podcast where Brandi Carlile shared her inspiration and process behind “You and Me on the Rock,” which is a songwriter’s tribute to Joni Mitchell, I knew I wanted to add something to that world. I loved the cadence of the song, the playful bounce of the lyrics that ebb and flow between weighty and breezy topics. So I tried to do something similar: use humor and a disarmingly bubbly and rambling melody line while simultaneously telling a more serious story.
I love the way this song came out. One of my favorite additions was after our big band day, we invited Charlie Lowell to come and play a little organ and some extra keys for the track in what I call the “Rolf the Dog style,” sort of a slappy, playful, saloon sort of vibe. It’s the cherry on top for me.
AH: What do you hope listeners get from hearing the song? What message do you hope it conveys?
KC: I guess I hope the same thing I hope when we’re talking about any of my music or art: I hope when somebody hears this song, they feel less alone. They can laugh along with the familiar, heavy absurdity of worrying, they can hear the cacophony of thoughts and say, “Yup, I get it.” It feels like a soundtrack to walk down the street to, something to keep a listener company and offer a little honest light.
AH: Do you find songwriting to be cathartic, a way to work through things, confront things, unpack things? How did this song serve you in that way?
KC: I absolutely find songwriting to be cathartic, although I have seldom written things actually in the emotional moment–I tend to wait till the sting or weight has simmered, and I can look at something with more perspective. Because “Magnificent Beast” isn’t about a specific moment in time, it came pretty naturally once I sat down and committed to the idea. It isn’t a moment; it’s pretty much all my moments. Anxiety isn’t really all that funny on its own, but to be able to relate my everyday, up-every-night experience and know others will see themselves in that funhouse mirror is a delight to me, cathartic in and of itself. I left the lines about data mining and shark attacks in, just to see what my producer Matthew Odmark would say, and wrote a backup line–something about maybe parenting in the age of the internet–but we ended up leaving it, and I think it’s one of the best lines in the song.
AH: What is coming up next for Katie Callahan?
KC: The full record, EXTRAORDINARY, will be out on June 2nd! I’ll be playing a few local house shows in the Baltimore and DC area around that time, and hopefully more in specific places as the summer goes on, so be on the lookout for those. I’m looking forward to writing with some peers, letting this magnificent beast of an album out into the world, and watching it run wild.
Do you ever dress right for the weather? Neither do we, nor does Katie Callahan in this song. What does this phenomenon mean? Preoccupation, juggling, and a hope for something real, and the constant companion of our own anxiety and self-talk, they all get covered in this song. Listen and find yourself in the light of its reflection.
You can order and pre-save the music here: https://ffm.to/magbeast
Enjoy our previous coverage here: Song Premiere: Katie Callahan Lullaby