The haunting melodies of Kate Southorn waft across a still summer’s afternoon. Her melancholy sound is the perfect combination of a dreamy and uplifting vibe underpinned with darker tales that channel times of deep reflection. In fact, before you continue any further, we recommend tuning in to Kate’s latest single Godspeed as you peruse the remainder of this feature. It’s her most recent track and the most perfect insight into Kate’s journey to date.
Kate presents her work under the name Ani Lou. She’s a Tasmanian artist with an almost Scandinavian vibe. Her ethereal voice matches her fine angelic features and she’s mesmerising to watch play live as she loses herself in the sounds and meanings of her own stories.
Initially finding a creative outlet as a poet in her early teenage years, Kate quickly progressed by morphing her words into songs. “At around the same time I started looking for something to accompany my music, so I began by having a few guitar lessons. I kept it simple for a really long time…pure and basic melodies…until I became more confident in my own style. I’ve gotten to the point where I’m more confident playing my own lead guitar parts. Trusting myself in that process has been great for empowerment. I also now realise that if people’s music techniques have a certain quirk to them, then that’s a good thing. There’s no strict rules in music. At least not this type of music. And these small choices we make for ourselves end up playing a big role in the individuality and unique style of our music.”
Music has been a constant in Kate’s life. “Growing up, there was music and voices around me, my family definitely appreciated it, although it was never anything formal in our house.”
“As a little girl I remember wanting to be a superstar, that was a big dream of mine… it was the stereotypical ‘holding the hairbrush in the place of a microphone in front of a mirror’ scenario,” she laughs.
Kate continues, “I’ve never got too far into music theory as it’s not how my brain works. I’m more of a doer.” That penchant for doing has seen Kate’s sound mature over the past decade, and her rich layered and textured sound blessing audiences in chilled out Hobart bars. “I’m pretty much self-taught I guess. I enjoy working with other musicians who are also learning and seeing how we can help each other develop.”
“My sense of self and expression has grown through music. I’ve had to put myself out there, especially when I started playing live a few years ago. I started with some smaller gigs but have more recently had the privilege of performing at Dark Mofo and the Odeon Theatre. I haven’t gotten any better at managing my nerves though. I’m okay sharing emotion with people, so it’s not so much that, but there’s a lot of adrenaline that goes into performing. And a lot of preparation. And that stuff still makes me nervous.”
Kate was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome in 2011. She speaks openly about the extreme fatigue she faces every day, “Initially I was diagnosed with adrenal fatigue and hyperthyroidism, it was another six months before the chronic fatigue was diagnosed. At the time, I was studying and couldn’t concentrate at all. I had extreme brain fatigue and was rereading everything and not understanding anything. It’s a really hard condition to manage as I’m constantly exhausted and often feel like I have the flu…with aching joints and headaches.”
Kate’s health challenges have added another dimension to her music. “Music quickly became a coping strategy for me,” she reflects. “Many of my songs mirror what’s happened in my life and I actually find it easier to write about darker emotions that the happy stuff.” Pondering this for a moment she muses, “Maybe it’s because when we’re happy we don’t feel the same need to express ourselves?”
“Music really provides a purpose for me,” says Kate, knowingly. “Over the last few years I haven’t been able to do things for more than two hours at a time due to my immune system being wiped out. Music has definitely helped me to move forward.”
Meeting Kate for the first time, her warm, bubbly and friendly nature is almost at odds with her tendency to produce such dreamy and melancholy work. She adds thoughtfully and with a soft giggle, “I’m really trying to shift my work just a little so I can capture more joy in my songs. I want them to be real, but hopeful.”
Describing the process of collaboration, Kate says, “All my songs can be played solo or with a band. I often play in a five piece band and really enjoy that. My latest EP, Eralda, also recorded with my band, was written with pretty heavy emotion as it came to me after being housebound for a long period. It’s an internal expression of me having been with myself for so long. I do find that the more I write and get out though, my sound evolves. I’m working on a more upbeat feel at the moment and am thinking more outwardly, about different people’s stories and the experiences we have in common as humans. As well, the ways we can come to terms with it all together.”
Eralda is certainly a gift to its genre. It’s easy to listen to, whilst being thought provoking enough to inspire all sorts of emotion. From vibrant chords through to stunning vocal layering, it’s easy to see why Kate has been the recipient of critical acclaim across the nation and been in demand for live performances.
Describing last year’s full program, Kate says, “I was wiped out last year. I took on too many shows and didn’t maintain a healthy balance for me. Sometimes a show would finish about 11pm and by the time we packed up and got out of there I’d get home about 1am. It was taking me a full week to recover and a full week of rest in the lead up. That’s not sustainable for me in the long run…it’s just not worth it.”
Living this reality is driving Kate to consider her future in the industry, “I really want to do shows that are friendly for others who face similar challenges to myself,” she says. “For example, for people who can’t stand for long periods of time, or those with disabilities…there should be space for everyone. It really doesn’t get thought about that much. But when you do stop and think about it, most gigs run late into the evening and venues often don’t cater that well for those with specific needs. It’s something I’d like to help change.”
“Living and eating healthily is my main coping strategy moving forward,” explains Kate. “I have to take care of myself and I’m constantly on the lookout for the latest research into this condition. I’m happy to try new protocols and adapt what works best for me.”
Speaking of her practice schedule, Kate laughs, “I think I have a very creative but disorganised brain. There’s no real schedule I follow but I do find that if I have a break for a week or so, then I have a real urge to create again.” It’s not limited to music either, with Kate adding, “I love writing, painting, acting…I did some dancing when I was younger.”
A sound that’s often described as ‘incredibly mature and accomplished’ by others usually starts simply with the lyrics. “Once I have the words, I can usually hear the song in my head,” says Kate. “That’s pretty much how it works for me.”
Moving forward, this gentle soul is working on herself. “At the moment I’m still working to find a sound that resonates with me. I’m focused on recording and producing and always exploring new sounds and textures.” Kate’s production style is reflecting her needs at this point in her life, “This is something I can do from home and is sustainable for me. I really don’t like stressing others with my own needs and time frames.”
Kate reflects upon what her journey to date has taught her. “I don’t actually know any two people who approach their music in the same way. There is no one, right formula. The industry itself is such an unpredictable beast, and I think it’s important to try and make it work for you as an individual. In my case, I will do what I have to in order to cope and stay well, even if there are things I have to compromise, because I want to continue to find joy in what I do. Some things are more important than success and it’s easy to kill the joy thinking about it that way. Whilst I looked up to some famous artists as a child, I now realise everyone has been through their own journey and struggles in this business and wherever they are in life. Once you’re in it you realise that music at its core is without ego, it’s for everyone and those well-known artists we all admire are just normal people.”
You can follow Ani Lou on Facebook and Instagram. Treat yourself to Eralda online.