Kathy McCarty, aka K. McCarty (see below), longtime stalwart Austin music genius, just put her pivotal ‘90s album Dead Dog’s Eyeball: The Songs of Daniel Johnston, back into print (consult https://www.thekathymccarty.com/ ), and brewing up her new Apotheosis. She was kind enough to take some email questions.
Seattle Star: Are you an Austin native? If not, where did you grow up, and when did you arrive?
Kathy McCarty: I was born in Stamford, Connecticut, and grew up in Pound Ridge, New York and New Canaan, Connecticut until I was ten years old. Than my mother remarried and we moved to Austin, Texas.
I have lived in Austin since I was ten years old, attending elementary school, junior high, high school, and the University of Texas here. Living here a total of fifty years.
In many ways the culture of Texas is the only culture I know, so I consider myself a Texan. But I am not a sixth- or seventh-generation Texan like many people I know.
Seattle Star: Which Austin neighborhoods have you called home? How do they compare and contrast with each other?
Kathy McCarty: I initially lived in what was then called “Northwest Hills,” the farthest suburb north in 1971. It is now considered “Central Austin,” because the city now goes about another thirty miles north.
It was a place of tract houses and few to no amenities at that time. Since it had been newly developed from ranchland, scorpions and tarantulas were common and were often found in the house.
When I graduated from high school I rented a house near the University. This area was just called “the University area.” It was not expensive at the time. The house I rented was $300 a month and had three bedrooms. It was a rather run down rent house with shag carpeting and tremendous amount of roaches.
Later on, when the University area began to get a little more expensive, my friends and I moved to South Austin, where I still live. South Austin is on the other side of the Colorado River from North Austin, and used to be known as the area where the Mexican and blue-collar whites lived. In the olden days (pre-1970) without indoor plumbing in many cases. Because South Austin was considered largely a low-rent area, the rents were low! There are also very, very many Mexican restaurants in South Austin.
After about 1980 South Austin also became the area of town that was known for having a lot of hippies. Most Austin musicians have typically lived in South Austin, where it has never been considered too much of an annoyance if you have band practices in your house.
I have always been happier in South Austin that I ever was in North Austin. I really like it here.
Seattle Star: What music, growing up, made you want to make music–which songs, albums, bands, radio shows, TV appearances, etc.?
Kathy McCarty: I did not want to be a musician until I was about thirteen or fifteen maybe–I forget. I did play the violin from the first grade onward, but I wasn’t that great at it. I sang in school choir and church choir, and always enjoyed singing–but I did not think of making a profession of it until I was a teenager.
I loved a lot of records: The Clancy Brothers, the Kingston Trio, Gordon Lightfoot, the Beatles!!The soundtrack of West Side Story. But I did not want to be a songwriter until I heard Simon and Garfunkel. I super dug them, and Paul Simon’s solo work; then went on to love Randy Newman, Leonard Cohen, and Donovan. And the Beatles of course.
Seattle Star: Which singers are dearest to your heart, and why?
Kathy McCarty: I adore Randy Newman, Richard Thompson, Jon Dee Graham, and many of my contemporaries like The Pixies and Joe Genaro. I adore the band Doctor’s Mob. I love Neil Young, too. And Elvis Costello and David Byrne and the Replacements.
I like it when people sing the song they wrote. I like how it sounds. I really do not care how technically great a person’s voice is. If all someone does is sing great, it is not really my thing.
Seattle Star: Which singers objectively influenced you the most, and how?
Kathy McCarty: Probably all the Irish traditional singers I heard in my early youth. That kind of singing and that sort of melody is really just hard-wired into my brain.
Seattle Star: When and where were your first public performances, and how did they go?
Kathy McCarty: If you are not counting things like choir, my first public appearance was singing folk songs in the bar of the Balcones Country Club when I was about 16. My mother worked there and got me the gig! I had not as yet written anything of my own.
I could barely play and sang rather poorly in a quiet, reedy soprano. Nobody liked it and I myself felt like the ultimate loser. I was not asked to do it a second time.
After that, my next public appearance was playing with my first band Sinequan at Raoul’s, a legendary punk rock club here in Austin. We kind of sucked and could barely play or sing, but the other songwriter in the band, a boy named Scott Fletcher, was really a great songwriter. So we believed in ourselves. I don’t think anyone liked us and I do not remember if we got booked a second time.
Seattle Star: How did the Glass Eye band get together?
Kathy McCarty: Ah, this is a rather long story. Brian Beattie was my best friend, and Scott Marcus was his best friend. They wanted to start a band. I auditioned and they said I sucked too much on guitar to be in their band.
But I wanted to be in a band with them, so I asked them to “back me up” until I could find some people who did want to play with me. But I thought I could hook them into paying with me, because I was locally famous and had a following left over from my second band, The Buffalo Gals.
The Buffalo Gals had been an all-girl punk rock band here in Austin, and although I would say that we kind of sucked, we did have interesting songs and were fun and pretty.
So Brian and Scott agreed to temporarily back me up, and our very first show was well attended and: We did not suck!!!!!! Neither asked to be let out of the band after that point, and shortly afterward we added Stella [Weir]. That very first Glass Eye show was on Thanksgiving night, 1983.
Seattle Star: What are your best, worst, and oddest stories of playing Austin with Glass Eye–which years, venues, other bands on the bill, etc.?
Kathy McCarty: You are assuming that I remember! I seriously don’t. It is all a blur! The best I can do is describe something I can manage to remember, but I can make no assessment of whether it was “best” or “worst” or “oddest.”
Seattle Star: What are your best, worst, and oddest, stories from touring with Glass Eye–which cities, years, venues, other bands on the bill, etc.?
Kathy McCarty: I really do not remember too much about what year things happened. Sorry about that, I just don’t. I can tell you what cities Glass Eye had the biggest following in though:
Our #1 city (other than Austin) was Philadelphia! We got accepted and revered there beginning with our very first release (Marlo) because we were included on a very special gigantic show called “The Human BBQ” that was hosted by some very cool music loving guys at a fraternity called Pi Lam.
They had previously had some truly huge names play their yearly Human BBQ Party before they got famous–10,000 Maniacs was one of them–maybe even R.E.M.— and they had us on the bill on (I believe?) our first tour and cemented us into stardom in Philly.
Our other really big town was San Francisco. We were extraordinarily lucky in that we got a huge write up by Gina Arnold, who came to be a very big rock writer in the ensuing decades, in the big newspaper–the Chronicle? I believe it was on the front page of the music section of the paper, even. I mean coverage that we had never gotten in Austin. So we always had very large crowds there.
It was kind of funny to be big in these two slightly-less-big major cities, Philadelphia (rather than NYC) and SF (rather than Los Angeles.) It was always rather odd to go from out huge show in Philly to a deserted NYC show (although the NYC and LA shows did get better over time.)
Two of our other big cities were Morgantown, West Virginia, and Little Rock, Arkansas. I believe we had decent crowds in Chicago and Seattle, too.
Seattle Star: Other bands on the bill?
Kathy McCarty: We had the dubious distinction to have a great number of bands open for us and then go on the much huger stardom that we enjoyed!! After a while it became a kind of bitter joke— like “Wanna get famous? Open for Glass Eye!!”
I will have to ask Brian because he remembers things with far greater accuracy than I do, but here is a partial list of such bands:
- Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians
- The Indigo Girls
- The Dead Milkmen
- (obviously) Daniel Johnston
Seattle Star: What parts of the Glass Eye saga are you proudest of, and why?
Kathy McCarty: What I am proudest of is that our music still, at this late date, does not sound dated. It still sounds original and interesting, and this is not just my opinion–it has been commented on frequently.
During the decade that we were together, often people were confused and mystified by our music and the difficulty they had “classifying” it— it ultimately did not do us any favors! To be “difficult to describe.” But the manner in which it has held up over time is remarkable, and I am quite proud of that.
Seattle Star: The legend goes that Daniel Johnston appeared out of the crowd, to hand you one of his tapes. Where did that occur, and what went through your mind at the time?
Kathy McCarty: This is a very well-documented story. It is described in great detail in my memoir. Maybe I should just send you an excerpt. This happened in early 1985 or late 1984. I remember it happening at Liberty Lunch, a large venue in Austin.
Excerpt from Hunk of Junk: Playing the Punk Rock by Kathy McCarty:
Something happened to me at this point that was to have a great impact on my life trajectory.
I met Daniel Johnston.
Glass Eye played a lot in Austin; at least one show a month, and sometimes as many as three. I don’t know what we were trying to accomplish by playing so often–it just made our fans think they could come see us any old time, and consequently come to see us less.
The Buttholes [Butthole Surfers] were the first Austin band I was aware of who realized that playing less often might be a great idea. All of a sudden, instead of playing regularly, they were playing Austin only once a quarter at most—maybe only twice a year. Suddenly Butthole Surfers shows were events! Events everyone was terrified of missing. But Glass Eye never got the memo. Booking agents or other bands would ask us to play, and we would always say yes.
So one night Glass Eye is playing, in December of 1984. I don’t remember where. This guy comes over to me, when I was in the crowd, and kinda corners me, telling me how great he thinks I am, and how much he loves Glass Eye.
Now, this kid was kinda memorable, because of how nervous he was. I mean, he seemed like he was fixing to have a stroke from the thrill of talking to me. At this time, our first record Marlo had not yet been released—in other words, we weren’t that famous yet. No one had heard of us outside of Austin, and even in Austin we weren’t that big. I mean, we were headliners; but often played the middle slot, and even opened for bigger, out-of-town bands.
But this guy–he was acting like he was meeting John Lennon. In fact, I think he even said that Glass Eye was “The Beatles of Austin!” Something about what he said to me got me–and it was probably that. I mean, who doesn’t want to be called The Beatles?
He handed me a cassette tape of his music, and I said I would listen to it. When people gave me cassettes of their music, at this time, it was because they wanted an opening slot at a Glass Eye show. I just assumed that that was what this nervous fanboy was after.
Naturally, I put the tape in my pocket and promptly forgot all about it. I didn’t like listening to the cassette tapes that people handed me all that much, because then I would have to picture disappointing them. Our opening slots had a waiting list of other bands that went forward for over a year–newer bands waiting their turn to open for us.
Maybe I should explain this: for a newer band, the thing is to build a following. How do you do this? By getting in front of a lot of people, a certain percentage of whom will groove on your band. I mean, even if you are the shittiest band ever, some people will like your music. So in order to maximize this potential, you want to open for bigger bands–as big as possible! Then more people see you, and hopefully you can build your following, and start to rise.
In addition to newer bands wanting to open for us, the club booking agents really liked to stack the bills with popular bands, often three in one night. I have seen posters from this era, and the bill would be Glass Eye, Doctor’s Mob, Texas Instruments, or, Scratch Acid, Glass Eye, Butthole Surfers. It would make a night be an event, and great value for the $3 cover charge—with a bill that stacked, the club could maybe even charge $5!!
So, while it wasn’t exactly hopeless to give a member of Glass Eye a cassette tape–it was really a long shot. A really a long shot if you gave it to me. I did not have a car! So no dashboard cassette player. Now [though] Brian always had up-to-date listening gear–and a jam box.
A “jam box” was a music playing device that had two speakers, and a cassette deck in the middle, and you could carry it around with you, and bother everyone! Blasting your dumb music. But you could also, obviously, just use it to listen to music at home. They cost about a hundred dollars, so they were affordable. You could get a cheap shitty one for less. They always had a radio in them as well, (later on, they would have a CD player and a cassette deck and a radio!)
So anyway–I promptly forgot all about the cassette tape this hyperventilating fan gave me. Plus, if you remember: I had a lot going on in my personal life! You know, watching my boyfriend who I intended to marry and loved more than anything kill himself with drugs!!
Several weeks later, I was in the crowd at a Glass Eye show, probably getting a beer (which were free for us as I have mentioned; bartenders just handed them to us at the bar, our brand memorized: Shiner Bock) and uh oh here comes this nervous kid again–I could tell it was him by his affect! His terror of talking to me was so palpable! If there is one thing you can say about Daniel Johnston, the guy is memorable!
So, he is utterly screwing up his courage to ask me if I liked his tape! Which I have completely forgotten about and not listened to. Listening to him talk to me, I could tell he thought this was the pivotal moment of his life: Finding out if Kathy McCarty of Glass Eye liked his music.
(Now that I am thinking about it, in some ways it might have been.)
I, for my part, was so touched by his panic and terror. I mean, I knew I wasn’t all that! But this guy thought I was! I didn’t have the heart to tell him I had forgotten about his cassette. He would be crushed.
So I lied.
“I really liked it!” I said. “You can totally open for us!”
Daniel pumped his fists in the air like a prizefighter–a really, really awkward and uncoordinated prizefighter! Daniel always had this thing about him, that I also have, where the way he moved his body was reminiscent of a little kid. Like, you just aren’t that good at it, like you are still learning how to pilot your container. Undershooting and overshooting in your movements.
So he pumped his fists in the air, like a little kid imitating “Rocky” and spun around and laughed with joy like a maniac!!!
“YES!!! YES!!!!” he kinda lisped out. For he had this very, very slight speech impediment. Just a shadow of a lisp, the kind where you say, “th” instead of “s.”
The next day, when I had sobered up, I said to myself, “Oh. Shit.” I wasn’t going to break that kid’s heart no matter how shitty his music might be. I had to get him a slot. Opening for us. This was more easily said that done, because it would mean someone else who had been waiting longer would get bumped. It was also the kind of decision, who got to open, that we made as a group. Or at the very least, Brian had to approve. We strived, as a band, to be a democracy.
In fact, if I was going to come through for this guy, Daniel Johnston, I would have to convince the rest of the band. Clearly, I needed to listen to this tape. Maybe it wouldn’t be shitty. But no matter how shitty it was, I would need to think up some really convincing arguments, re: Why we should let him have an opening slot. Really convincing ones.
The tape was called, Hi Are You? and the homemade cover had a drawing of a, well, it looked like a frog. I had gotten to the Glass Eye house early, where the rest of the band lived, so I could use Brian’s jam box. No one else was there, but we would be rehearsing in about an hour.
Now, I have mentioned that I am a songwriter who cares about songs more than anything, right? And not so focused on the music? When I put that cassette on, what I heard was the songs.
The shitty lo-fi recording quality was of no importance to me, except for being unusual.
Half way through the first song, “Poor You,” I realized: This kid is a genius.
I was on the one hand, quite relieved, because I had some ammunition to win him his opening slot. On the other hand Oh my fucking god this weird kid is a genius an actual genius oh my god!!!!
I listened to the rest of the cassette, every single song, practically weeping. It was just so fucking good! And this guy was so original! Something all the members of Glass Eye craved. In particular I remember getting into the first chorus of the first song, “Poor You,” where the lyrics go:
“And at night, I have an angel
In my dreams, in my sleep
and she runs her fingers through my hair
and I lay in her lap
and she says:
Poor you. Poor you.
Nobody understands you
Poor you, Poor you!!”
–and I am thinking, “You aren’t allowed to say that in a song! I mean you might imply it, the whole “Poor You” thing, but you are never supposed to just say it out loud!!! This is really transgressive! Artistically brave as fuck!”
The third song, “Walking the Cow,” was utterly ravishing–so beautiful, so new. “I am a Baby in My Universe”–so inventive! But not as much of a show stopper as “Running Water”!
I think “Running Water” might be one of the very best songs ever written. Ever.
And then, “Hey Joe!” Such a heartbreaker of a song!
Overall, the songs were so unique–so different from what everyone else was doing, yet so solidly written, such strong material from a songwriting perspective. Daniel Johnston always caught on first, and best, with other songwriters–like myself. Because other songwriters were not tricked by Daniel’s goofy affect and the low fidelity of his recordings into thinking his work was some kind of fluke. The songs are too well written for that. They showed too much knowledge–I mean really an encyclopedic knowledge of pop music. Daniel was clearly drawing on everything–all over the place! The Beatles, Neil Young, big band music, oh I hear the Beach Boys! And Slim Whitman and Roger Miller! So much different stuff!
I was still sitting there, listening to Hi, How Are You? for the second time, when the rest of Glass Eye filed in. By this point I was totally invested in getting this kid an opening slot–and I had what I needed to get it for him, too.
But I didn’t need it. I asked the rest of the band to listen to just one song. But we never even got around to rehearsing that day. We all just sat and listened to Daniel’s cassette. To the best of my memory, we all loved it immediately, and decided to waste no time going to meet him. I think it is possible that Brian and Stella felt like this, and maybe Scott was less convinced. Stella especially adored the artistic aspect of the low fidelity–she got it on that level; Brian too. Brian laughed with utter delight to hear how out-of-left-field the whole cassette was.
I didn’t have to twist any arms: Daniel was added to the lineup of an upcoming show, really soon! He didn’t have to wait at all. (Take note: Sometimes a really, really long shot pays off.) I was so fucking grateful that they all felt as I did about Daniel’s music, and they were able to see that he was an unbelievable fucking genius. It wasn’t just me thinking so, wasn’t just one of my unpopular artistic opinions, that made them look at each other and roll their eyes.
Seattle Star: What were your actual thoughts upon hearing that music for the first time? What were the most crucial aspects of Johnston’s music?
Kathy McCarty: The most crucial aspect for me of Daniel’s music was the incredibly great songwriting. I also think the freshness of his approach very much charmed the other members of Glass Eye.
Seattle Star: What were your first impressions of Johnston as a person, and how did those grow and change?
Kathy McCarty: He struck me as a very nervous, inexperienced “kid” (although we are the exact same age, I came to discover later).
Seattle Star: How did Johnston’s live stuff compare and contrast with his recordings? How did he go over with audiences?
Kathy McCarty: Initially, he was an incredibly nervous and rather bad performer who could barely make it through a song. At most he played three songs–that was about his limit. He insisted on playing guitar, an instrument he played very poorly (though he was a very good piano player.)
On his tapes he generally wrote a song, played it enough to be able to play it, recorded it, and then never played it again.
However, before he got a “dubbing” jambox (the kind one could duplicate entire tapes on) he had to record his newest song for every tape. So there were some songs that he did play over and over–well at least three times to send tapes to his three actual friends (David Thornberry, Brett Hartenbacher, and Goat.) So comparatively he sounded much more polished on the cassette tapes!!!
During the year 1985 when he opened for Glass Eye numerous times, the members of the audience often thought he was a joke. Some sort of joke that Glass Eye was playing on them. Then as he began to be championed by other bands and many Austin bands began covering his songs, he began to be accepted by the live audiences much more.
Seattle Star: You dated Johnston for a brief time. What are your most vivid memories of that?
Kathy McCarty: You are going to have to buy my book to read about that. And yes, it is not even finished yet! So it will be a while.
Seattle Star: Johnston was capable of violence. Did you ever feel afraid around him?
Kathy McCarty: Yes, but very rarely, and not in the mid-eighties.
Seattle Star: What specifically inspired you to cut Eyeball?
Kathy McCarty: My mother and a few other important people in my life could not stand to listen to Daniel’s music and could not hear what I heard in it at all. Because of the extraordinarily “Lo-Fi” nature of the recordings.
You must remember—no one was recording that way in the eighties. It was unheard of. Even “naive” artists like Jonathan Richman were recording in actual recording studios with decent equipment. Nobody was “releasing” shitty sounding cassette tapes recorded in their bedroom on an (often broken) jam box.
In addition, Daniel had just been committed to the mental hospital in Austin and it seemed he would never get better or be well-known outside of the Austin music scene. He was taken by his family back to West Virginia and committed to an infamous mental hospital there, Weston.
I felt that I had some idea of what Daniel had wanted his songs to sound like, had he had access to the musicians and studio and producer that I had access to (Brian Beattie of Glass Eye) and had he the sanity to undergo the usual recording process. I thought I could record a selection of Daniel’s songs in a way that would make them “hearable” to people like my mom. You know, normal people. People who expect music to sound pretty and radio-friendly and reasonably accessible.
Glass Eye had just broken up so I had the time to do it–it seemed to me to be the first of a series of projects that I had wanted to do for years, that I now had time to do. If Daniel was going to vanish into the mental health nightmare that is typical in the United States, I wanted his songs to be heard at the very least before he disappeared.
Seattle Star: How did you settle on a co-producer and a supporting cast for the album?
Kathy McCarty: Brian Beattie is totally the producer of Dead Dog’s Eyeball (and all my other records). He just always gives me a production credit because he says “I deserve it.” His rationale is that I make some production decisions like “How would I like to do this song?” and “All these songs need banjo!!” It has always seemed very generous of him to me. He is the guy that makes there recordings sound good!! If I were producing myself my records would not sound good at all!!
I truly do not even now, know how to record without Brian. It is kind of a problem! I really ought to know how by this time.
As far as the other musicians, just about everyone wanted to be on Dead Dog’s Eyeball and it truly was a labor of love. We asked Scott Marcus (of Glass Eye) to do the rock and roll drums because he is a greatest, and although Glass Eye had broken up, we were all still friends.
When we needed an instrument (like a string section) we thought of someone we knew (in that case John Hagan, Lyle Lovett’s cellist) and asked them if they would like to do it, and since it was a very low budget record, how little they would be willing to do it for!! So we just asked people we knew, essentially. As far as all the instrumentalists (who are not Brian) go.
I say that because Brian is a multi-instrumentalist and it is often less hassle for him to just play things, especially if as a producer he wants it played a certain way.
Seattle Star: You mention in your liner notes making the songs “more accessible.” What techniques did you use? Did that involve interjecting chord changes, where Johnston didn’t clearly indicate them?
Kathy McCarty: All the songs are recorded exactly as Daniel wrote them as far as lyrics, melody, and chords go.
Making them “more accessible” involved mostly:
1. Arranging them for a combo or “orchestra” (Daniel usually was just playing the chord organ or guitar and singing solo).
2. Doing the song in a “style” if I felt that is what he was going for or implying (such as doing “Rocket Ship” in the manner of David Bowie or “Wild West Virginia” as southern rock).
3. Competently recording the instruments and singing, in a manner that sonically was listenable and professional.
4. Interpreting the lyrics in a beautiful singing voice in an emotionally moving manner (I myself enjoy Daniel’s singing, but apparently a lot of people found it creepy and childlike in a way that repulsed them).
5. Just generally, as an artist myself, bringing out the beauty, pathos, originality, and humor in Daniel’s songs to the best of my ability.
Seattle Star: Were there any songs by Johnston you considered but didn’t use? If so, which, and why not?
Kathy McCarty: There were far more songs that I would love to have done than I had room to do. I also let Brian choose some that he wanted to do, because I am nice that way!
People have often asked me why I did not do “Speeding Motorcycle.” Certainly I considered that one, and also “King Kong.” In the case of those two, I felt Daniel’s version truly could not be improved upon. There did not seem to be any point in doing them.
I did go on to do “Worried Shoes” and “It’s Over” on a follow-up EP called Sorry Entertainer. These two and the song “Love Wheel” are on my new re-issue.
I have often been urged to make another album of Daniel’s songs, and I resisted doing this for a very long time. After all, I am a great songwriter myself! Daniel called me “The John Lennon of Austin!!” for crying out loud. I did not want to only be known for interpreting his songs.
But I could easily make one–another album of Daniel’s songs. Perhaps if I live long enough I shall. I would love to record “Pothead” and “Premarital Sex,” and many others. But first things first–getting my hit record of all hits Apotheosis out.
Seattle Star: Who was in charge of the arrangements, and who was in charge of teaching them to the musicians?
Kathy McCarty: Brian and I were in charge of the arrangements, but mostly Brian as far as particulars went. The musicians we asked to be on the record did not need to be taught what to play!
We asked John Hagan to arrange the strings for the other string players, though, because most string players do not play by ear like jazz and rock musicians do. They needed it written down on music paper. But I believe we just let John write their parts, something he was perfectly capable of.
When communicating with jazz and rock musicians you usually just describe the sort of the thing you want. Like, “play a jazz beat with brushes,” or “play harmony guitar like the Allman Brothers.”
Seattle Star: What are your most intense memories of the first few days of recording?
Kathy McCarty: It took about a year to record it, and it was initially recorded in our friend Craig Ross’ bedroom when he was at work, because he had a home studio. At that time Brian was just beginning to put one together for himself.
But it was a very time-consuming effort. I mean, a whole year. At the time we all had day jobs too, so we had to work around everyone’s schedules–I worked as a busboy at Castle Hill Cafe.
One particular memory is that I wanted to record the wonderful song “I Had A Dream” in free time. When Brian and I practiced it, he played the piano and I sang at the same time. So I was cueing off him, and he was cueing off me.
But like a total idiot I had Brian record the piano first, for me to sing along with afterward. Because I really did not, at that time, have a very great or reliable singing voice, and often sang a song, say, six times and then “comped” the best, most in-tune and well sung lines together to make what I refer to as a “Frankenstein” vocal (that was better than I could do in one take.)
But the song was in free time. That means you cannot count the rests to know where to come in, or anything!!
And we could not cue off each other by looking at each other, which is how musicians and vocalists usually do such things
So I ended up having to sing it like one hundred times, to try to get my entrances, exits, and tempo to go along with the piano. I pretty much had to memorize every phrase of the piano track. But Brian had done such a gorgeous job of the piano, especially the piano solo, that I was unwilling to trash it and do it over. It came out really well!! It just took days and days and days to get that vocal.
Seattle Star: Which songs were the most fun to record, and why?
Kathy McCarty: They were literally all incredible fun to record! It is the most fun I ever had recording a record (until Apotheosis, which I have to say was equally fun, but for different reasons). We had a huge body of great material to work with, and we didn’t have to write it— it was all already written! All we had to do is make it bloom!! And have all our friends over to play on it!!
My best memories of the fun of it are really of mixing it.
At that time, all the mixing was manual. You had to move the faders up and down with your hands. And because we only had 16 tracks (I think? Maybe it was 8? I don’t remember) we had to put (sometimes) two, three, or four instruments on every track. Like a percussion instrument in the intro, and then a doubling guitar, or maybe bells! Or backing harmony vocals in a chorus— we just had to figure out where to cram things, especially on the more elaborate numbers like “Desperate Man Blues,” or “Walking the Cow.”
So we had to remember–what was on all these tracks. And where the fader needed to be for each instrument. It was preposterously complex.
So you had to start the two-track machine (where the mix was recorded) and then set all the faders to their starting positions, and then Brian and I had to get all the moves done correctly. I think for “Walking the Cow” we did it over and over and over for two days. Before we did it perfectly.
Dozens of times. And so often, you would get 7/8th through and forget a thing. Like forget to bring a fader down and a big loud bell or feedback guitar would come in, and you’d have to stop the machine and go back to the beginning, and then it would happen again because you forgot again!!
But when you finally got it–finally got it perfectly, oh man, it was such a rush.
All that type of stuff is automated now. I kind of miss that intensity of concentration.
Seattle Star: Which songs were the toughest to get down, and why?
Kathy McCarty: I had a terrible sinus infection when I needed to sing “Desperate Man Blues.” The most challenging song, vocally. Of course.
I remember I had to get antibiotics and steroids (which was very difficult as I had no doctor and no health insurance) in order to be able to sing it at all. But the medications worked–I just remember feeling really under the gun about it at the time.
Seattle Star: Who’s the man singing not to play cards with Satan? How did that bit of business come up?
Kathy McCarty: That is a friend and co-worker of mine from Castle Hill Cafe— a cook named Marc Plaza, who really has a great singing voice. We had invited a bunch of people who we thought could sing decently and who would enjoy getting blasted to record “Hate Song” as a drunken sing-along at the Dog and Duck Pub. I believe this was my idea of a good way to do that song, to dilute the hate-filled spirit of it a bit.
I wanted to include that song because, for one thing, it’s a really good song, but also, it showcased a side of Daniel’s personality that I think most people like to ignore. The man was not entirely an angelic creature of love and light! He had a pronounced dark side as well.
So we went there, and Brian set up his two-track machine, and I believe we had an accordion and a tuba! And we all got completely blasted and sang the song over and over and had a wonderful time.
And at one point Marc, who was a Daniel fan on his own, started singing “Don’t Play Cards with Satan” and it got recorded–and it was so great, I felt we had to include at least a tiny bit of it!!
Marc is credited in the album credits by the way–everyone is.
Seattle Star: A few tech questions I’ve wondered about all these years…
How did you get the ticking noise on “I Am A Baby In My Universe”?
Kathy McCarty: It is an alarm clock. Brian is the kind of record producer who goes around listening to alarm clocks until he finds the one that sounds right. I think it was one of those old fashioned types of alarm clocks that you see in 1930s movies where you have to wind it up. It might have been his grandfather’s.
Seattle Star: How did you get the warbly sound on “Rocket Ship,” and who’s counting down the countdown?
Kathy McCarty: Brian is doing the countdown. In the video you can see him doing it!! It is on YouTube.
Warbly sound? I am not sure what you refer to. We used feedback guitars on that one, played by Scott Marcus I believe. It could be the JX-3P synthesizer. That is on there too.
Seattle Star: I mean the way your vocals warble on the line “rrrrroooooooooooocket-ship!” How was that done?
Kathy McCarty: Oh, the “alien” voices? Those are done in the traditional “Alvin and the Chipmunks” fashion, by recording the voice (in this case mine) in a slowed-down way and then speeding it up a lot!
You have to do this is an intentional way so the note comes out being the right note when you are finished! As far as the warbly element, it’s possible Brian added an effect or did something ese as well.
Seattle Star: For which track did you whip out the steel drums, and how did you get them?
Kathy McCarty: HAHA HA HA HA HA HA HA AH HA HA HA!!!!
There are no steel drums [on “Museum of Love”]. That is a hilarious joke!
Our friend Craig Ross showed us that if you thread a piece of trash plastic in between your guitar strings and push it against the guitar bridge, and then play it, it sounds like steel drums! It really does!! I do it every time I play that song, even with an acoustic it works.
So that is just me playing guitar–with this trick employed. People get a real kick out of it live.
Seattle Star: Which songs were you ultimately the proudest of, and why?
Kathy McCarty: “I Had a Dream” (because it is perfect)
“Walking the Cow” (because it is perfect)
“Hey Joe” (really captures Daniel’s intent)
“Desperate Man Blues” (because it was really hard! Daniel sang over an instrumental record made by a kick ass big band jazz orchestra— but we had to actually play it!)
“Monkey In a Zoo” (because it is truly fun)
“Rocket Ship” (captures Daniel’s intent)
“Oh No!” (really sounds like the Beatles!)
“The Creature” (Really captures Daniel’s pain.)
“It’s Over” (It rocks and is so sad.)
Seattle Star: What are your most intense memories of the last few days of recording?
Kathy McCarty: The mixing memory I wrote about! Because mixing is at the end.
Seattle Star: You left a few songs off, for the Sorry Entertainer EP? How did you decide which cuts to leave off the LP?
Kathy McCarty: Actually we left nothing off. After I had been touring for about six months promoting Dead Dog’s Eyeball, the label, Bar/None, wanted a follow-up of more songs. So we rather quickly recorded a few more, plus the new arrangement of “The Creature” we had worked out for our live shows that was better than the original version on the record. (It is on my re-issue.) So those were additional songs, not “left-off” ones. (“Love Wheel,” “Worried Shoes,” “It’s Over,” and the “live” version of The Creature.)
Seattle Star: How did you secure your recording contract with Bar/None for Eyeball?
Kathy McCarty: Bar/None was the label that Glass Eye was on. After we broke up as a band, I asked them first if they would be interested in Dead Dog’s Eyeball and they were. So I signed a one-off deal with them for it. They wanted to sign me for more records but I had grown disenchanted with the manner in which bands on small labels never seemed to get paid no matter what, so I only signed for one record.
Seattle Star: What lead you to drop the last four letters from your first name? [Dead Dog’s Eyeball was credited to K. McCarty.]
Kathy McCarty: I have always been uncomfortable with my first name. I never felt that it suited me–Kathy. It was a very common name in my age group and I just never liked it. I always wished I had a better, less common name! And I never liked the sounds in it either.
A few years ago I was able to be at peace with it and no longer hate it (finally!) and now I have no problem using the name. I have changed.
Seattle Star: What inspired you to render the album cover painting?
Kathy McCarty: I had an idea in my mind of the cover of the record, and the painting I wanted Daniel to do for it, for that was my original idea–for the cover to be Daniel’s artwork, which he would have been happy to do.
But I realized that although Daniel would be happy to do my record cover, he would not do what I wanted.
Daniel never did what anyone wanted! He was incapable of it. Fortunately I realized it before I even asked him. So I just did what I wanted myself.
But if you look at it you can imagine that image done by Daniel! Of course it looks like I painted it, not him. I did not try to ape his style–but the image of a laughing dog skull against flames is a very Danielesque image.
Seattle Star: When did Mr. Johnston present you with the portrait of yourself on the back cover?
Kathy McCarty: He drew that picture of me once when we were doing our laundry in a laundromat. I used to take him to do his laundry because he never had a car, and I always had a car.
Daniel almost never stopped drawing. I mean ever. So he was drawing in the laundromat and he drew that picture of me. It was just a ballpoint pen drawing, but it looked exactly like me and I loved it.
I added the Magic Marker to it myself to make it look like the drawings Daniel did that way. I did not add the magic marker to the original, though–I Xeroxed it and colored on the Xeroxes and then picked my favorite one. I have one drawing like that that he did with marker and I always liked those ones–the way he did the colors.
Seattle Star: When did you get your box of CDs, and what were your thoughts opening a copy of the CD for the first time?
Kathy McCarty: I do not remember. I was probably just glad I got them in time for the tour!
Seattle Star: What were the Eyeball reviews like? Who elated and deflated you the most?
Kathy McCarty: I am very fortunate in that critics have always liked my music. The reviews were very enthusiastic, and Bar/None at that time had a wonderful publicist named Susan, now married to a colleague of mine, Steve Collier. She got me the most wonderful press!! I think I was thrilled to be in Spin and other big magazines like that–and I was floored to get a rave by Greil Marcus in Artforum.
Seattle Star: Who directed the “Rocket Ship” video, and what are your most intense memories of shooting it?
Kathy McCarty: I thought of everything and made the costumes and puppets. I asked a really great cameraman, who had worked on [Richard Linklater’s movie] Slacker, Clark Walker, to shoot it for me for $100 and he did it! What a prince!!!
So I guess I was the director. I bought a streetlight bulb and that is my helmet (I could only afford one–it was like $75) and I sewed the gold lame space outfits for Peter LaFond and myself. And I made the little Jeremiah the Frog puppets that are the aliens–and I had a big piece of black velvet to be “space” and a bunch of Xmas tree ornaments to be planets.
Oh, and Brian made the rocket ship out of some sort of plastic clay stuff he knew about. So he designed that. And we got some sparklers to use as “exhaust” that did not really work!! The rocket ship was supposed to “fly” down this string but it kept getting stalled. I don’t think any of those shots got used.
And we went out to McKinney Falls to shoot the surface of the planet stuff–what you have to do is use a piece of cardboard to block out the sky and any trees. So it looks like the moon!
So I think we spent like two days on it. And then Clark and I think another guy named Heyd Fontenot and I edited it at the local community TV station. Or maybe Heyd did my “Sorry Entertainer” video….I forget. Well both of those gentleman were instrumental in those videos getting made–I had ideas, but I did not have a camera, or any idea how to edit a video!
Although it was done on an absolute shoestring with most people donating their time and expertise, the two videos I made (“Rocket Ship” and “Sorry Entertainer”) cost me thousands of dollars, and Bar/None did not assist me with the expense in any way. Which if you cannot tell I still resent.
Seattle Star: The “Living Life” video, ditto?
Kathy McCarty: That one was made by Rick Linklater and Detour to be used in conjunction with the movie trailer to publicize the film Before Sunrise. But really it was just a truly generous gift from Linklater to me, as was using the song as the end credits of the movie.
I had nothing to do with that video besides showing up and lip-synching the song! Which I did to the best of my ability. It was shot at The Paramount Theater [in Austin] and I had a real makeup person do my face with makeup beforehand–something that had never happened to me before (or since!)
That video did not cost me any money!! I have always been grateful for that to Rick. He is a real prince, too.
Seattle Star: How did you secure the use of “Living Life” for Before Sunrise? Is it true that the royalties from the song allowed you to do the album tour?
Kathy McCarty: Rick Linklater wanted to use the song— I did not have to do anything. Since I did not write the song I did not even do any negotiations about money— those were done by Daniel’s people. I ultimately got $5000 which I spent taking my band to England to try to get famous over there. Unfortunately it was a bust, as I got very ill and had laryngitis when I was there. It was heartbreaking.
The money did not enable me to tour America. That I did on my own dime, and I lost $8000 and had to declare bankruptcy.
Seattle Star: What are your best, worst, and oddest stories from the album tour?
Kathy McCarty: Best:
Shortly after leaving Austin on tour with the “Dead Dog’s Eyeball” band (my first band where I was in charge, and was responsible for paying people–all the other bands I had been in up until that point were democracies) we stopped and stayed in a $25 motel in New Mexico (New Mexico was always thrifty like that.)
And we all snuck into one room because that was the ultimate level of luxury I have ever achieved touring–getting one cheap room and all sneaking into it.
Anyway, the three guys in my band were Kris Nelson, Peter LaFond, and John Paul Keenon, and they were all a few years younger than me. I was 34 or so and they were under 30 I think. And they started saying these incredibly terrible rock music lyrics to one another, and I thought they were being comedians and making them up! And I was dying laughing at how hilarious these guys I had hired were!! Just weeping and gasping, laughing.
I could not believe these lyrics they were saying were real. They were too hilarious! But so funny for them to be making them up on the spot like that!
But they were equally incredulous at me, because they weren’t made-up comedy lyrics. They said to me:
“Oh my God Kathy, have you never heard Rush before?!?!?”
And for some reason, the fact that these were actual songs lyrics by a famous band made it even more hilarious. I don’t think I have ever laughed so hard. (We shortly afterward began covering “The Temples of Syrinx” in addition to Daniel’s songs. What they had been quoting to me turned out to be 2112.)
And any idea I had that touring with this new band would not be as fun as Glass Eye (who were my best friends) evaporated.
I suddenly came down with a flu virus while we were in Los Angeles–just a few days into the tour. I got so sick, so fast, that I was nearly delirious, and for some reason I now forget, I had to drive all the way across LA in the van with the equipment, with a fever of 104 or 105.
When I got to Kris Nelson’s sister Kimberly’s house, where we were crashing, he filled the bathtub up with ice water and I just laid in it to bring my fever down, since none of us had health insurance and we could not think of anything else to do. Kris also gave me ibuprofen I believe. Or Motrin. I was just so incredibly sick.
And then everyone else got it!! In the band!! The whole West Coast we were just barely able to do the gigs. Fortunately, we were great anyway–but that is only because those guys are just incredible musicians.
I don’t know if this counts as “odd,” but I have a very crystal clear memory of playing in Nebraska, at the top of a grain exchange building. Was it in Omaha? It was in a city like that, Omaha or Lincoln.
And the club, from probably the thirties, at the top of this grain elevator or exchange building was just beautiful. I remember it being just a beautiful place, and it had a balcony. Someone had thought of promoting touring shows there, in this underused venue–I think it was sort of like a VFW hall, except like a million times nicer.
And I danced the foxtrot with all three of the guys in my band, under the stars on that balcony, while the opening band was playing, or maybe just to the sound of ourselves singing. It is just a lovely, magical memory
Seattle Star: Have you toured since? If so, when, and where?
Kathy McCarty: I have traveled some but I have not done a full national tour since then, where you are gone for months. I went to Madrid, Spain with Kris Nelson for a week in 2011, and I have done very short trips out to the West Coast a few times. But I have not done the whole “hire a band and stay on the road for weeks at a time” thing. If it were not for Covid, I think I would have by now. I am planning to tour when Apotheosis comes out.
Seattle Star: You mention in the Eyeball liner notes wanting to do an album of Irish songs. Did you ever make any progress on that project?
Kathy McCarty: No. I never made any money from Dead Dog’s Eyeball so I could not record after that. I just did not have the money. I got a $10,000 recording advance from Bar/None, that I used to pay for the recording. According to Bar/None, they never sold but 10,000 copies, so I never received any additional royalties.
Seattle Star: How has Austin’s music scene gotten better, worse, and/or weirder over the years?
Kathy McCarty: It has gotten insanely difficult to play music here, because the cost of living has skyrocketed to such as extent that no one can afford to try to be a full-time musician. Rent is ten to twelve times as expensive as it was. I mean, it is criminal. And it is difficult to keep a club open. There is just as much talent as ever here; it’s just so much harder– and it was never easy.
Seattle Star: Is it true you tried out for Jeopardy! at one point? How far did you get?
Kathy McCarty: I did. All of Glass Eye, and our manager, thought I was a shoe-in, because my head is absolutely crammed with useless information. I did not make the initial cut, however, because I know literally zero about sports. Like zero. Like I remember one question was “How many people are on a basketball team?” and I did not know. I still don’t.
I scored like 100% in all the other categories though. Oh, except I also made a poor showing in “Popular Music” because I only knew about alternative and underground music. I did not know who Celine Dion was, as I recall.
Seattle Star: You released another album, Another Day In the Sun, in 2005. What’s the whole story behind that album?
Kathy McCarty: Well, Glass Eye broke up before we were able to record our final album. So I had about five really great hits I had written that were not released. After Dead Dog’s Eyeball came out, I felt it was important that my next record, of my own material, be equally strong.
Unfortunately, I did not have any money to record it! As detailed above. At first I recorded it on spec, but Brian had so many paying clients at that point for his studio that I did, eventually, have to actually pay to get in. I also got married and that threw a wrench into the works as well. It just took a really long time to get that album recorded.
On the plus side, it is brilliant.
Seattle Star: What lead you to start your own label?
Kathy McCarty: The recording contracts that were standard during my career in the eighties and nineties were really criminal. They were written in such a way that the band really never got paid. This is a slight exaggeration, maybe, but the royalties were like a 90-10 split with the 10% going to the band (to be divided between the members) and virtually all the expenses, such as publicity and videos, came out of the artist’s 10%.
After I had such a “successful” album as Dead Dog’s Eyeball, and made $0, and had to declare bankruptcy, I was no longer interested in being on a label not owned by myself. My then-manager Dave Reckner memorably told me, “95% of the copies of DDE sold in Texas. If you had put it out yourself you would have made $100,000. So that is the comparison: $0 vs. $100,000.” And seriously, at that age around 35 years old, $100,000 would have revolutionized my life completely. Just thinking about it makes me really sad.
Seattle Star: What gave you the idea to reissue Dead Dog’s Eyeball? How did you secure the rights from Bar/None?
Kathy McCarty: I did a very intelligent thing when I signed my one-off deal with bar/None for DDE. I had seen other band’s albums go out of print and disappear, and when the band tried to get the rights back (because they wanted their music to be available), the labels wanted these huge ridiculous amounts of money. It was really a scam and very fucked up.
So I put a clause in my contract that said, “If DDE becomes out-of-print for an entire year, the rights revert to Kathy McCarty.” And eventually that happened and the rights reverted to me.
I got the idea to release it on vinyl from a fan saying “Why is this not out on vinyl?” on Facebook. I responded, “You know, that is a great idea!” It took a long time to get the master tapes back from Bar/None, because they claimed they “could not find them.” But actually they knew where they were, and sent them to me after about a year of me bothering them.
Seattle Star: What were the most challenging aspects of putting Eyeball back in print, and how did you work through them?
Kathy McCarty: The most challenging thing by far and away was the fact that, due to Bar/None taking their time to send me the master tapes, I sent them off to be pressed on vinyl in spring of 2020. Exactly when the supply of vinyl dried up and every pressing plant in the country had a 12-18 month wait. It was the worst thing ever, as I had been quoted a 6 week turnaround, and promised all the Kickstarter backers an LP in 8 weeks. People had to wait 18 months. A year and a half.
And my next record, Apotheosis, was delayed the same amount of time, because I had to release DDE first and sell them all to get the money to put Apotheosis out!! It has really been a trial— but it has been a trial for every other musician in the world too. I mean I am not special!
Seattle Star: I notice you re-sequenced the album when adding the EP tracks. Are you happier with the new sequencing?
Kathy McCarty: Well I am happier with the job that I did with it! Bar/None did a second pressing of DDE where they just tacked the EP tracks on at the end!!
Because I am a total art fag, I made DDE as a concept album structured around the song “Grievances,” which I saw as a structural key to Daniel’s songwriting up to that point. When I had the chance to re-sequence it so that it could begin and end with the “Grievances” theme, it made me really happy.
Seattle Star: What are your plans for the future? Can we look forward to another album anytime soon?
Kathy McCarty: Yes!! My huge hit album of all his Apotheosis is finished! And I will be putting a Kickstarter up for pressing it ANY DAY NOW!!
It would already be up except for me getting pneumonia!!
Seattle Star: I noticed you replaced the studio take of “The Creature” with a live version. Why the switch? Where was the live one recorded?
Kathy McCarty: We did not have the option of having a trumpet (as in the original “Creature” recording) when we went on the road. Not because we did not have a trumpet or someone who played the trumpet— Kris Nelson played the trumpet on Glass Eye’s Huge record and he was in the Dead Dog’s Eyeball band. But he was singing harmony! And he could not do both at once.
So we worked out a different version of the song to do on the road, and it was so good. Really a show-stopper. Much of the time we did it very last, as on the album, and it was just a killer version.
So when we went in the studio to record the other “extra” songs for the Sorry Entertainer EP, we also recorded our new arrangement of “The Creature” and put that on the EP as well.
When Brian was transferring all the masters of Dead Dog’s Eyeball and sequencing them for Joe Gastwirt to remaster, he decided that the “live” version of “The Creature” was superior to the original and asked if he could substitute it. I said yes. There was not room to have both (plus I think that would have been odd.)
It was recorded in Brian’s “Ratbox” studio (his garage) in 1995. It is called the “live” version because it is the “live” arrangement–it was not recorded at a show though. I can see how that is confusing!
Seattle Star: What did Daniel Johnston think of Dead Dog’s Eyeball? Did he ever listen to it in your presence?
Kathy McCarty: Daniel absolutely loved it. L*O*V*E*D IT!!!! It was always his goal to have his music covered by other artists–he really did prefer that to recording his songs himself.
And I have to pat myself on the back that I really did record his songs in the ways that he had envisioned them in his mind— at least, the vast majority of the ones I did. I felt I just knew what he was trying to do musically with most of them, and Brian was able to translate my thoughts into actual arrangements that would do what I was hearing in my mind. (I do not think I could have done this myself I should add. I might be able to now, but certainly back then I could not have.)
So although I did not talk to Daniel during the time I was recording Dead Dog’s Eyeball, I believe I was able to make Daniel’s vision of many of the songs “come to life.”
So yeah, he loved it.
I think Daniel listened to DDE in my presence one time, when Brian and I went out to Waller [Texas, Johnston’s home outside Austin]–I think the day the photo of Daniel and I that is on the vinyl was taken. That photo shoot happened after DDE came out, and was for a print article I believe. Brian was the photographer, and he just snapped a series of photos of Daniel and I horsing around.
And I think that day we all sat and listened to DDE for a while–at least four or five songs. That was about how long Daniel could concentrate on anything at that time; plus he wanted to go eat and get the photos taken and talk.
The kind of thing Daniel would say about DDE was, “This is great!!! This is really great!!! I love this!!!”
Not really getting into specifics, I mean. He did not say things like “I love the hi-hat there!” or anything. But whenever DDE came up in conversation over the next thirty years, he would always say that he loved it.
Seattle Star: Where and when was the last time you played together?
Kathy McCarty: I think the show at the Cactus Cafe in the ‘90s that I sent you a photo of–where Daniel is playing the piano and I am wearing a red dress. It’s funny–I probably could have done it more if I had asked! I mean played on the same bill. In the 2000s Daniel’s career really took off, and mine kind of ground to a halt; I totally stopped playing for a few years.
Seattle Star: When and where was the last time you saw Daniel Johnston? Did you hear from him anymore after that?
Kathy McCarty: In June of 2019 Dave [Thornberry, her husband] and I visited him in Houston where he was staying—it was kind of like a nursing home because his health had been absolutely terrible, both physically and mentally, and he needed to be monitored (to a degree) 24 hours a day.
I don’t mean he was hooked up to monitors–I just mean he needed to be checked on and given his meds and stuff like that, in a place where a doctor or nurse was on call.
We got there later than we intended because we had a hard time finding the place. Daniel was really happy to see us, and was initially excited and talkative. But then he suddenly got really tired and kind of shut down. If I remember correctly, he wanted to go out and do things, go eat and go shopping, and it was nighttime and that was not possible–it was after ten PM. Plus I don’t think he was allowed to leave!
So it was kind of a nice visit, in that he was happy to see us and we had a good conversation for about twenty minutes–and he exhibited his sense of humor (which he did not always do!) and seemed “like himself.” It was always great when he seemed “like himself.”
But them he kind of shut down and was silent, staring at his shoes and all slumped over–when that happened you knew he was done “being social” and that it was an effort for him to be social, and it was time to leave.
I had some leftovers in a take-out thing from Ninfa’s Mexican Restaurant which I gave to him, which he enjoyed. But he did not finish all of them; he only ate about half. I remember wondering if I should leave it with him to eat later, or if that might get him in trouble, and whether he had a refrigerator to keep them in. I left them there thinking he might pick at them after we left.
I don’t think I ever talked to him again after that visit, because his mental health took a turn for the worse (I learnt later) and he died that September.
Seattle Star: Where and when did you learn that Johnston had died?
Kathy McCarty: I was in Austin and was informed shortly after it happened–I mean, the same day it happened. Early that morning Dick Johnston [Daniel’s brother] called Dave and told him, and Dave told me.
I knew in advance of the public being informed. I think I was in the next circle of people to be told, right after immediate family. Mostly because of Dave [Thornberry], I think—as he was Daniel’s lifelong “best” friend.
Seattle Star: Do you visit his grave?
Kathy McCarty: I was at the graveside the day he was buried, but I have not visited his grave since. I am not really into the whole “grave” thing. I feel like Daniel’s spiritual presence has never been absent from my life. In fact in the six months following his death I often felt he was very close by, just hangin’ out with me.
Seattle Star: How have you grown and improved over the decades, as a singer, songwriter, and performer?
Kathy McCarty: This has been the most amazing thing, that I never expected— but I have improved at songwriting, singing, performing and playing guitar to a remarkable degree since I turned 58 years old.
I really was not expecting that! I have never heard of such a thing happening to anyone–I mean, at that age. Most people are losing their abilities in late middle age, and that is what I expected, I think.
When I first began to learn to play the guitar, my learning curve was like a straight line going up! I learned everything so fast! It really seemed like I was going to be a prodigy at it.
But after a few weeks it became a flat line that only went up in an imperceptible fashion. As in could barely be perceived to be going up. And it stayed that way for decades. Absolutely everyone got better faster at playing guitar and I stayed more or less the same.
I did become a good songwriter though–I guess that is separate. But I was never very prolific.
Then suddenly when I was 58 years old (shortly before Daniel died in fact–that same year anyway) I became incredibly prolific and began being able to write a song a day. Not that I did! But I could have, the ideas were coming so furiously fast. I did write about two albums worth of material, and also wrote a book, and painted a gallery art show, and started a record label–just a volcano of creativity.
I also took some voice lessons and learned to be a much better singer (I had been doing many things absolutely wrong vocally my entire career.) And just recently- this autumn, of 2022 in fact–I was diagnosed as severely ADHD and got medicated, which has resulted in my being a much better guitar player.
Apparently, my guitar frustrations were borne out of the “lack of bodily awareness” that ADHD causes. Now (when I take my medication anyway) I can be aware of both my hands while I am singing–something I was incapable of before.
So, I have been experiencing a tremendous creative burst in the last few years–just in time for the pandemic!
Seattle Star: Tell us more about your new album. Will this be new songs, re-recordings of old songs, some of both? How, where, and where are you recording the new stuff if applicable?
Kathy McCarty: My new album was recorded at Brian Beattie’s studio, which is a recording studio entirely made up of audio gear from the seventies and earlier. Because Brian uses this era of equipment, everything he records sounds amazing. But the gear also breaks a lot, and it is very hard to find anyone who can fix it! My entire project was held up for almost two years because he could not find anyone to fix his two-track machine that he mixes onto.
As I was waiting 18 months for the pressing plant to press DDE I could not complain, as that needed to come out first! So I just waited and waited and waited–and finally the two-track was fixed this July and Apotheosis is mixed now.
It is entirely new songs and most of them are hits–well at least half are. This is also new; I generally do not write but one hit every few years. In the fall of 2019 I was just banging them out! One after another! Man it was so great.
After a time it became clear to me that I was making a hit album, so I wanted to cut my friends in on the action. Many of them deserve riches for their contribution to the music world, and have never gotten said riches. If I am going to get riches, I want them to get riches too! So I co-wrote some songs with people (Jon Dee Graham, Tom Cuddy, and Rich Brotherton) and covered some songs (Steve Collier, Freedy Johnston) and also recorded the song by Daniel that I sang at his funeral reception (“I’m a Song”)
I fully expect this album to be extremely popular. Everyone who has heard cuts from it is blown away. My next move is to put up a Kickstarter to get it pressed, and I am hearing that the turnaround on vinyl is improving. I hope to get it out this year.
I have begun making homemade videos for the songs, and have been learning how to film and edit videos. I plan to have a few actually made by videographers, too, as a few people have volunteered. But I do want to pay them something, so I think I have to do the Kickstarter first.
Not that I am going to pay them anything at all reasonable—but after the record is a hit I will be able to make it up to them. But I think I should pay them at least enough to where doing it doesn’t cost them money! At present my videographer deal is “I will take you to dinner!” but I think I should up that a bit if I can.
I am planning to do that thing that people do now, where you release the songs as singles on Spotify, and put out the physical album later. As I have not done this before, I do not know how that is going to go–but the idea is, to reach a larger audience.
But before you can release the songs, you have to get them mastered–so that is the next step. That and making videos, although I imagine many of the videos I shall make will be rather simple. But the ones I am working on now are complex.