Strawberry Moon has been a familiar band on the Richmond indie scene for a few years now, but with their brand new single, “Control” — the first off their upcoming LP, Habitual Creatures — the band has really come into their own, sporting a stronger, fuller sound than could be heard on their previous full-length release, 2018’s Dust Bath. It’s no wonder, really; as founder, lead vocalist, and chief songwriter Katie Bowles explains below, the current version of Strawberry Moon couldn’t have happened without the current lineup coming together.
Unfortunately for all involved, the current quartet came together around the end of 2019, and only had a few months to work together before the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated lockdowns put the kibosh on any band activity for over a year. “Control” actually came out of that period; longtime followers of Strawberry Moon will remember the original version, released two years ago on a collection of Bowles’ solo demos entitled Quarantine Songs.
In the liner notes to Quarantine Songs, Bowles writes that “Control” was inspired by “feeling a big lack of control during a period of unemployment and solitude during COVID-19.” That’s certainly a relatable feeling for me; back when the pandemic began, I thought I’d really make the most of my time stuck inside the house. Instead, I quickly got to the point where anxiety made it difficult for me to get even the simplest of things accomplished. And of course, there’s also that tendency to blame oneself, to figure that if you can’t get off your ass and accomplish everything you want to do, it must be your own fault.
Bowles captures this feeling in “Control”‘s lyrics, singing, “Wish I could focus my energy on what’s right in front of me.” On the chorus, she admits, “I am beating myself up for things out of my control.” Musically, “Control”‘s sound captures the same feeling of pent-up anxiety that Bowles describes in the lyrics, with Liam McElroy’s lead guitar sketching a hesitant melody overtop of a rumbling rhythm section groove. It takes until after two full verses and choruses have gone by, but eventually the song’s tense feel explodes into a heavy, raging riff, over which Bowles finally declares that something must change. “Enough with the blame,” she sings. “There’s gotta be more than hating yourself ’til you die.”
Expanding on “Control”‘s lyrics, Bowles says, “It’s all about the concept of realizing your self worth; letting go of the things you can’t control, and embracing the things we can.” In this manner, the subject matter dealt with on “Control” reflects the subject matter of the album as a whole. “This album is largely about love, romantic and friendships and finding love in your community and in nature,” she explains. “This song in particular is about self-love.”
Here’s “Control,” the brand new single from Strawberry Moon. Listen now, and then scroll down for my interview with Katie Bowles.
Marilyn Drew Necci: To begin with: who is in the band as of right now? Is that the same lineup that recorded “Control”?
Katie Bowles: I sing and write the lyrics, Liam McElroy is playing guitar, TJ Meade is playing drums, and Gray Stephenson on bass! This is the same lineup on “Control,” as well as the rest of our upcoming record.
Drew: The full-band take of “Control” feels to me like a strong, heavy rock song. Obviously, it has changed greatly from the solo demo version you released on bandcamp two years ago as part of the Quarantine Songs EP. Does the form it takes now reflect the way you always saw it, even back when you recorded that minimalist demo? Or did bringing it to the band cause it to change in ways you hadn’t expected?
Katie: We actually did updated versions of all three of those quarantine songs! At the time, we had just formed the full band the winter before the pandemic, and playing in a group for the first time felt so empowering and affirming; it felt like growth. It was hard to go back to not seeing each other or collaborating for six months. I tried to keep my creative momentum going by releasing some lo-fi demos.
The song it became with a full band definitely feels meant to be. Gray wrote a very groovy bass line and it feels dancey. [When] Liam came in with the crunchy guitar halfway through, this song really came into its own. Adding the louder rock element made it so I can really yell in the high parts and really put my all into it. We decided to release this song first because the crowd always super engaged with it during shows.
Drew: While Strawberry Moon has released a couple of lo-fi demos since Dust Bath in 2018, this new album will be the first one to show off a recorded version of the full-band sound you’ve been constructing over the past several years. How did Strawberry Moon evolve from its solo project roots five years ago into what it is now? Was bringing in a full band always the plan, or did it happen organically?
Katie: I started this project five years ago with one friend, then a different friend, then alone. Now I feel so thankful to have found these talented friends to collaborate with. Liam McElroy, the guitarist, is my partner; he supported so many of my solo shows, and eventually we started playing music together. It felt so sweet and emotional and special to work with this person I love.
Gray Stephenson is an amazing bassist in Deli Kings, LJ and the Sleaze, and Nightcreature. We supported each other in the scene for a long time before he expressed interest in helping me make this a full band, and I absolutely jumped at the chance. TJ Meade is a badass punk drummer in the local bands Sweeties and Haircut. He is so talented and I’m so happy to have him on board.
We are all able to bounce ideas off each other and all bring something different to the table. When I am writing songs by myself, it’s easy to get stuck in a pattern of similar songwriting styles, but with our band we are able to workshop my song skeletons and breathe new life into them. It’s the most satisfying feeling ever to show each other ideas and watch how everybody makes it their own. Our band now feels like a more mature version of what I started five years ago. Every practice, every song written, every show, feels easy and fun and meant to be.
Drew: I see that you are playing quite a bit less guitar, at least live, than you once did. Considering the band started with you singing and playing guitar, why’d you decide to pass off the guitar duties, to some extent? How is the experience of performing with Strawberry Moon different now that you spend some of the time strictly in the lead vocalist role?
Katie: I feel that with Liam on guitar, I am able to put my absolutely all into singing. Every performance we do, I am putting every ounce of my power into my voice. It feels second nature to sing, and that’s where the joy of performing comes from. Liam is also able to play guitar in a different, more effortlessly rock and roll way than me. He steers the songs into a wave of fuzz, or rips a guitar solo, in a way that I could not have done with my atmospheric loop pedal. He brings so much energy to these songs. It’s inspiring!
Drew: Do you feel like the current version of Strawberry Moon is more of a “singer-songwriter with trusted backing band” type project, or has it evolved into a true collaborative band experience?
Katie: It has definitely evolved. The four of us are in the band for the long haul, and are excited to promote our upcoming album and then get right back to work on our next one. We are a great team and work together so well. Even though I write the songs, and honestly identify with the moniker Strawberry Moon alone, it’s not my band! I could not have made this album without them. I’m so thankful to be creating with friends and supporting one another as a team.
Drew: What was the process of making Habitual Creatures? How did it differ from past recordings you’ve done? How do you feel about the finished product? Does it represent a new phase of Strawberry Moon, or is this more like arriving at a destination you were always aiming for?
Katie: We are so proud of this album!! It is the biggest release our band has ever put out; it’s twice the length of the last album and has a lot of love and work put into it. We recorded it with Levi Douthit, who really was able to capture our songs and encourage us to push ourselves. Levi recorded the drums and bass on analog tape, and the guitar and vocals digitally, and it was so cool to see this process. I absolutely feel like this is the arrival of our destiny. I feel like we have found a great sound and I can’t wait to make more of it.
Drew: What are the plans for the release of the full album? Are you working with a label for the release?
Katie: We have recently been talking to the local label Sockhead Records, run by the members of the band Destructo Disk, to make some cassettes of our record. They are new to Richmond and we are excited to work with them on putting out cassette tapes and planning some tours to support the release! We are hoping to release the album and cassettes in late summer/early fall. Album art is in the works by Richmond Angel Alexa Taveras, and we have a tiny regional tour already in the plans for July with the band Gnawing. Basically we just want to take our time with this release and give this project the room to make an impact, trying not to rush things!
Drew: What does the rest of 2022 look like for the band? Are you planning on doing any touring for the album?
Katie: We are definitely planning some east cost touring this year, applying to festivals, and getting our foot in the door at some local venues that aren’t our usual haunts! We are so thankful for the pocket of community that Richmond has offered us. We feel so at home here, and we want to use whatever momentum we find from this release to channel back into our local scene and uplift all the talented folks around us as well. Mostly just want to keep playing music forever and ever with our buds.
Top Photo by Savannah Elliott