Music News & Reviews

After band, relationship breakup, singer went back to her Kentucky roots in crafting solo album

Kentucky-native Katie Toupin will be coming back to the bluegrass for a show at The Burl on Monday. Her debut solo album, “Magnetic Moves’ comes out June 14.
Kentucky-native Katie Toupin will be coming back to the bluegrass for a show at The Burl on Monday. Her debut solo album, “Magnetic Moves’ comes out June 14.

Leaving your hometown becomes a lot less gut wrenching when you have spent much of your adult life leading a nomadic existence.

Just ask Katie Toupin, the indie-minded songsmith who hails from the Louisville/New Albany area, but eventually headed to Los Angeles for some personal and professional revaluation. The move might sound extreme, shifting from Kentucky to the West Coast. Then again, Toupin’s bags, in a sense, had been packed for awhile.

For roughly five years, she toured lands near and far as part of the Southern Indiana-rooted Houndmouth, a critically lauded, commercially established quartet with strong Americana roots and a broad, pop-savvy palette. In 2016, she split from the band and, in short order, her Kentucky home.

“I was pretty homeless for all those years,” she said of her touring days with Houndmouth. “I moved around a lot. I was gone so much I couldn’t justify keeping a place. This is the first time in my adult life, probably, that I’ve been in one spot for a long period of time. There was a lot of necessary growth and a need for some normal life to inspire the music I’m making now.”

Nonetheless, the change presented some challenges. In getting her own life in order, Toupin quit drinking. But there was also a dissolving relationship to contend with.

“Without getting too personal, the relationship I was in was difficult. I went through a lot of changes in the last couple of years. I’ve gotten sober and just really changed my entire life. My partner was also dealing with some of those things.”

How did Toupin contend with personal turmoil? Simple. She wrote songs about it. Among them was “Lost Sometimes,” the gospel-esque affirmation that serves as one of the highlights from her debut solo album, “Magnetic Moves” (due out June 14). The composition’s roots extend back to Kentucky — specifically, to the piano in her mother’s Lexington home, where she began writing the piece.

“I was actually in Lexington when I started that song. I wrote the verse and the chorus pretty quickly. When I was writing, I just heard this gospel choir behind it, but I also wanted to have this kind of minimal piano sound in that low register. It just felt right sitting at that piano at my mom’s, so I didn’t want to add too much.”

In almost happenstance fashion, Toupon recorded “Magnetic Moves” not in Kentucky or California, but in Texas. While on an informal tour in 2018 consisting primarily of house concerts, she was introduced to three Austin-based artists — Grammy winning producer Steve Christensen, multi-instrumentalist Scott Davis and percussionist Josh Blue. Having already exhausted production ideas for her album, she teamed with the three at an Austin studio, liked what she heard and decided to produce the album herself. The resulting 10 songs making up “Magnetic Moves” possess a massive, occasionally melancholy but unmistakably homemade pop sound that was conjured quickly in a pair of mammoth recording sessions.

“The first thing I did was stop caring about what anybody thought the record should be,” Toupin said. “I just wanted to make something that I liked. That was step one. But I was also going through a breakup and relationship stuff. I was so depressed and sad, but part of me was also really excited. There is one song, ‘As Good As It Gets,’ where I was probably rock bottom of going through this breakup. I remember walking into the studio and wiping tears from my eyes but was like, ‘Okay, I’ve got to record this song this morning.’ So I used that pain at the same time I was making the record. I remember laughing because I was in the perfect headspace to make all these sad songs.”

Touring commenced last week for the album with Toupin undertaking a series of club shows as a duo with multi-instrumentalist Michael Chaves, whose credits include guitarwork for John Mayer, Rachael Yamagata and, most notably, Leonard Cohen.

While the gyspy life has kicked in again, Toupin said she still feels very grounded living in Los Angeles. She may be back on the road, but for the first time in ages, she feels she has a home.

“I’ve been touring a lot since I was, like, 20 or 21. By the time I got out of Houndmouth, I didn’t really have a lot of friends left back in Kentucky. Things were just different. Then when I didn’t have the band there, I felt I had kind of lost my identity.

“I love Kentucky, I love Louisville, but I was burned out. It really felt like for my own personal growth, I needed to go somewhere else. I needed to go somewhere to really start over and struggle again.”

Katie Toupin

When: 8 p.m. May 20

Where: The Burl, 375 Thompson Rd.

Admission: $17