Moving from the small town in Nebraska in which she was raised to the bustling New York City was the making of Kathy Zimmer. The music of her rural youth has combined with more sophisticated, urban sounds and orchestration to create something new and different: a genre that Zimmer herself describes as ‘cosmopolitan folk’. This conflict between the old and new and between styles gives Zimmer’s songs a clear identity and often provides the subject matter for her lyrics, as evident in ‘I <3 NY’ from recent EP, ‘Sparkling Smile’. American-UK caught up with Zimmer to explore the story of this beguiling song.
Kathy, ‘I <3 New York’ is one of the standout tracks from the new EP. Tell us the ‘story’ behind the song.
I’m a native of rural Nebraska, but I have lived in NYC for awhile now, and there’s this constant push/pull that is the allure of this city. On one hand, it’s great: the city provides endless inspiration and influence and competition and opportunity and resources. On the other hand: it can steal a little bit from you. I speak from my own experience as well as observing others. Sometimes people can get sort of caught up in the constant ‘scene’ that is NYC and time can escape you; financially, it’s an expensive city for anybody but especially for an artist, and you may get to a place with not much to show for a nest egg to account for your time here. See my gist? So this is a complicated topic that I tried to tackle in one little tiny folk/pop song, ha.
Ultimately, be aware that NYC wins out, in my opinion. The scales still tilt towards, “It’s worth it.” Even the challenges the city poses end up being positives, if you view them as such. NYC can harden you, but potentially harden you into a diamond.
I usually begin writing a song with lyrics, and then find a melody, and drastically refashion the lyrics to fit the melody. Then, my particular process is, I perform the song live for awhile with my band and we figure out an arrangement that gels, and then the song is ready to go into the recording studio. For this particular song, my friend Timothy Dark has always been a guest on my live shows and I thought this subject matter was perfect for him to rap on, given that he’s an NYC native. Note: Timothy has decided that, for the time being, the city WASN’T worth it, and he recently relocated to Las Vegas. I still think he’ll be back.
I tried to capture the energy of the city in the music. There’s some very active guitar strumming going on, and some unique chords. The final thing I write for a song before I present it to my band is the backup vocals, I feel like those are an integral part of the melody of the song (and sometimes they’re even the “catchy” part.) I should probably say, also, I notice that there’s a little bit of ‘Free Man in Paris’ by Joni Mitchell in this song. It wasn’t a conscious decision, it just happened and I noticed it later!
I recorded the song with Josh Valleau at his studio in Brooklyn. He served as producer, engineer and synth player. I so enjoy working with him… he and I have had similar musical journeys in that we came from acoustic and classical music backgrounds, so in my opinion that provides another layer of understanding. My cellist, Brian Sanders, and my percussionist, Sean Dixon, also have experience with those areas of music, so I am a lucky girl, to have such symbiotic collaborators!
This song is always a hit in our live shows, partially because Timothy Dark steps up and provides this unexpected rap which comes out of nowhere. The audience doesn’t know what hit ’em. My midwestern friends here also love the opening line, “Cobwebs on my Midwestern manners…” They can relate!
As far as what’s next for me musically, I’m currently enjoying trying to get this record in people’s ears. I’m always writing, and have some great songs that are eagerly awaiting their turn in the recording studio. If anyone is reading this looking for music to place in movie soundtracks, let me know! That’s an area of particular interest to me.
Read Americana-UK’s review of Kathy Zimmer’s recent EP, ‘Sparkling Smile’.
I <3 NY
Cobwebs on my Midwestern manners,
sensitivity slow from disuse,
my gentle heart’s in here, somewhere,
in this carnival of constant abuse.
NYC, I see what you do to the people you chew,
and like an accident where I can’t look away,
I’m praying I’ll be spared your unyielding snare
while I grin and continue to stay.
I’m talking New York –
thought I’d won, but look out, here you come.
I’m singing New York –
you’ve got me cornered, thought I’d had enough,
now give me some.
There’s girls here who’ve been misdirected;
there’s men who got lost in the scene.
Time flies by in the blink of an eye
and I don’t want to lose track of some dreams.
But I stood on the streets in the fury,
dirty feet, dirty hands, sparkling smile.
Everyone was in such a hurry
and so was I, after a while.
Hopelessly devoted, more addicted by the minute.