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Katie Pruitt on ‘Mantras’ and Letting Go of Control

Apr 24, 2024

Katie Pruitt on ‘Mantras’ and Letting Go of Control

Knowing how 2020 and the years that followed would unfold, the dynamism of Katie Pruitt‘s debut record is even more awe-inspiring. Expectations introduced the Nashville-via-Georgia singer-songwriter alongside her deepest aches and most intimate struggles as an openly queer individual raised as part of a devout Roman Catholic family in the conservative South. It would go on to earn a GRAMMY-nomination and ample praise for her lyricism, empowered performances, arranging, and instinct for production. In short, it’s undeniable that Pruitt set quite the high bar of expectations for herself and the music she would choose to share next.

Four years later, Pruitt has unveiled Mantras. While flashes of brilliance from a familiar autobiographical lens inform and inspire the 11 track recording, these aren’t simply more straightforward, memoir-style anecdotes. The truths and experiences Pruitt shares on Mantras feel more revealing than Expectations, as this time, Pruitt’s lens looks decidedly more inward at what she has lived through, reflected on, and learned from since writing her last album.

Not only is Mantras‘ thought process largely internal in nature, but each song leads to paths, stories, and developments that have yet to be fully resolved – if ever they will. The album showcases a great deal of inspiring perseverance in the self-contained conclusions of songs like “Self-Sabotage” and “Worst Case Scenario” and more generally, it unveils a journey of self-healing from start to finish.

However, while Mantras ultimately provides reassurance, peace, and closure, the takeaway isn’t meant to be one of permanent resolution or rigid perspective around anything Pruitt has seemingly conquered in each song. Like the recapitulating nature of a mantra, she is mindful of being continuously attentive and compassionate towards her inner struggles, rather than seeing them as singular moments of adversity.

Speaking with her by phone, BGS shared an insightful conversation with Pruitt about how her focus on inner-healing shaped the sound of Mantras, how her perspective around disagreement and connection has changed, how she cultivates inner strength, and much more.

How was it navigating the presence of expectations for Mantras, considering your intent to move away from a focus on external validation?

Katie Pruitt: On the first album, I was dodging different expectations, you know? I was dodging expectations of my parents or of how people in my hometown saw me and who I am now. I sort of accidentally set high expectations for this next record. I felt like I was competing against myself in a lot of ways and I really had to find moments to just surrender, come back to center, and just focus on the fun feeling in the present moment and talk about that, instead talking about things that I think people want me to say. I needed to focus on what I needed to say, which is maybe different than what other people expected or wanted to hear on this album.

Knowing this album is an expression of personal growth and a journey of sorts for you, what does it feel like to just now be talking about these songs after holding onto them for so long?

Coincidentally, I feel like everything on Mantras is lining up with my life as it’s coming out.

With me talking about my parents selling my childhood home [in “Naive Again”], yeah, my parents are selling my childhood home as we speak. And when I finished a lot of the songs about my partner slowly checking out and leaving, maybe a week after I turned in the record, we broke up. So I’m still experiencing a lot of these things in my life. It’s kind of a first for me, because when Expectations came out, I had kind of already patched things up with my parents and there were things in my personal life were kind of resolved. But then I was having to dive back into those issues every day on stage or whenever I sang those songs. This is different, honestly. It kind of feels good to be able to deal with what’s going on in my life with the songs in real time.

You’ve talked about building “the tracks from the ground up as opposed to cutting everything live, which gave so much more room to let the songs evolve and become what they needed to be.” What does that mean for you and what did those moments of full realization for the music feel like for you, and producers Collin Pastore and Jake Finch?

Jake and Collin’s workflow is very quick. And that was a challenge for me, but I felt like we challenged each other in the right ways. They move very fast and I was like, “Wait a second. Let’s take a look at this. Let’s sit with it for a second and make sure we like it.”

I think having the option [to record parts individually] instead of having all this pressure to be in the studio with a full band and having everyone play the right parts at the right time, was nice for us – to just build one part at a time and ask ourselves, “Is this correct? Does this fit?” And if it doesn’t, we’d say, “We can always mute it.” … There’s not necessarily a wrong answer. We’re just trying to evoke a feeling and if we feel it then other people will too.

What brought you together with Christian Wiman’s work, ultimately inspiring you to writing the album title track?

I was listening to this poetry podcast, [Poetry Unbound], I was really into that during the pandemic and that was obviously a tough time for a lot of people, [creating] a lot of points of contention, especially around beliefs and belief systems. I just felt like, my parents believe different things than me and my friends started to believe different things than me. So that poem, [“All My Friends,”] just really resonated as this “A-ha!” moment.

At the very end of the poem [Wiman] says something like, “My beautiful, credible friends.” In the first part of the poem, you almost feel like he isn’t mocking them, but like, he’s kind of poking fun at how many rabbit holes there are to go down, as far as spirituality goes or, finding yourself goes. Then at the end, he’s like, “And all of them are credible, all of them are valid.” And that really struck a chord for me and I just think that’s a really powerful statement.

Given the open and accepting mindset you impart through “All My Friends” and its juxtaposition with the piercing, personal insights you share in “White Lies, White Jesus, and You,” where would you say religion, particularly Christianity and Catholicism, exists for you now, compared to when you were writing Expectations?

I really try to make clear to my parents or to some of my friends who are still Christian, that [the song] is talking about people who take the Bible and abuse it for their own benefit – whether that be political or just to justify shitty behavior on their end, like saying, “Oh, well, it says that gay people aren’t allowed in heaven. So I’m allowed to say this.”

That’s the part of [Christianity] that really turns me off to it in general. And that’s a shame, because the dude in the Bible, Jesus, the version that I have kind of come to discover as I’ve gotten older, is a pretty progressive dude. And I don’t mean that in the political sense. I mean, in the sense of he’s accepting of everyone no matter what their background is. Like, Jesus himself never says anything about gay people. He’s friends with kind of some sketchy characters if you were going to look at it through a lens of today. So that’s the Jesus that I wish I were taught more about when I was growing up. I think “White Lies, White Jesus and You” was a way for me to process the [version of] Jesus that I have experienced as a closeted gay kid and how the ways that version hurt me and put that in the past and put that behind me.

In what way would you say your journey of self-healing helped you to stop seeing religion as having the power to dictate your worth?

I let go of religion dictating my self-worth a while ago. But then I let other things [take its place]. I used to seek external validation from the church or from my parents or from older mentors in my life. I let that go as I became a young adult and then I started giving other things power to do that. Like success and relationships. I let those things dictate my worth. But then I started delving into the power that intrinsic happiness has.

We really fully don’t have control over what happens in our life. We have some control, but very little. And if your worth can come from within, then those moving parts of life have less control over you or less effect on you … once I learned that, I was able to focus more heavily on, “Let’s have this voice in my head be kind and then I can go from there.” Just me practicing being kind to myself first kind of put this armor up around me and it helps me navigate the world.

What’s changed about your songwriting process since you’ve taken on more personal strength and inner compassion?

For a long time, when my inner voice was more critical and cutthroat and editorial, I couldn’t really write. I wasn’t able to get the thoughts just out of my head and onto the paper, which is the first step you know? Then you have something to work from when you’re able to just say what you feel. But I was just so scared to write a bad song that I wouldn’t write anything. And I think that’s the worst mistake you can make. There’s no harm in writing a bad song.

I think that it’s just about setting the bar, taking a chill pill and [remembering], “Oh yeah, songwriting is fun, songwriting should be fun.” It should be a way for me to get an outlet, a way for me to get this out of my head and look at it. So removing the critical voice is huge. And that was connected to therapy and to me slowly learning how to be kind to myself and slowly learning how to just enjoy writing songs again.

Where, with whom, or in what, do you find your hope and strength to persevere when life feels overwhelming or your inner reserves are running low?

The past or other people’s experiences really help me. I read a lot of Patti Smith and sometimes I’ll just open to a random page and it’ll be the piece of advice that I needed. So definitely words and art and poetry. Another thing would be when I’m feeling, “Okay, all hope is lost,” I have this urge to just run to nature and I just go to the mountains or go sit by a river for a long amount of time and think and meditate and try to put my problems and my fears and everything into perspective. I think, “Well, I’m on this planet right now and I’m sitting by a river. How cool is that?” Just kind of zooming out and not zooming in so closely – that helps me. And like, just good friends and just laughing and having buddies that you know you have a drink with or dinner with and just fuckin’ laughing about the crazy things that have gone wrong. Like, laughter is huge. I know it’s like, “Oh, laughter is medicine,” but it literally is.

Photo Credit: Alysse Gafkjen

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Katie Pruitt on ‘Mantras’ and Letting Go of Control
Katie Pruitt on ‘Mantras’ and Letting Go of Control