Music writers love to romanticize DIY home studios — the hiss and static of the tape machine, the in-the-moment spirit of the performances, the images of bedroom walls lined with egg carton soundproofing and floors covered in piles of tangled cable.
The musicians themselves — they’re not always as sentimental about it. As Katie Bennett of Philadelphia’s Free Cake For Every Creature tweeted earlier this week, “[I’m] slowly realizing that, while my 100+ year-old apartment on a main street in a big city may be charming, it’s not the ideal place to record.” She continued: “listen for my neighbor’s trombone exercises and a minute-long trolly honk in every new song.”
While that definitely reads like Bennett’s West Philadelphia environs seeping into her recorded output, it also goes the other way around: the sound of Free Cake for Every Creature is the sound of Bennett and her musical collaborators reacting to their surroundings and turning their workarounds into strengths. What does an artist do when they get home from their partner’s house at 2:40 a.m. with a need to write a song? Learn to sing in the quietest possible voice, so as not to disturb roommates and neighbors. How about when it’s daytime and no one’s being quiet for you? Make those extraneous sounds part of your art.
Bennett founded Free Cake for Every Creature in 2013 while attending Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York; it was a super casual, personal project at first, until she received encouragement from friends and inspiration from punk predecessors. As she told Allie Volpe this spring in a Sound and Place profile on The Key:
I’d just been doing it for really long at that point and I was like, ‘You know what? I am proud of this and I like this. I’d been reading about riot grrrl bands and how they showed people their first songs even if they hadn’t been playing for very long because they wanted to show people that they could do it too. They weren’t afraid of showing people their process and their development. So I thought ‘That’s me, that’s where I’m at’ and it encouraged me so if I could encourage someone else, that’d be great.
In 2015, after gaining attention from a string of Bandcamp self-releases, Free Cake put out the double-entendre’d Moving Songs EP via Double Double Whammy, the record label run by David Benton and Michael Caridi of LVL Up. Bennett relocated to Philadelphia around this time, and spent a lot of time in Baltimore Avenue’s Satellite Cafe, notebook in hand, writing the songs that would become talking quietly of anything with you, Free Cake’s full-length debut. The album came out this spring, and it’s the best showing of the project to date — a healthy balance of ramshackle, K Records style fun and more refined writing and studio craft.
The songs are very much about emotions that surface upon putting down roots somewhere new: they’re imbued equally with a sense of wide-eyed wonder and wistful melancholia, a contrast we hear in these performances of “First Summer In a City” and the title track, “Talking Quietly of Anything With You.” Free Cake as a live band is typically a Katie-and-friends situation, and for the session, we hear Heeyoon Won (of Boosegumps) on bass, Evan M. Marré (of Pinegrove and Russel the Leaf) on lead guitar and Fran Lyons on drums. We recorded the band the night they played World Cafe Live with Sales and Hello Shark, and their breathless, clean-tone, jangley set sounded simply wonderful in our studio.
Below, watch a highlight of the session: Free Cake For Every Creature giving the introspective indie pop treatment to “By Your Side,” a selection from Sade’s 2000 album Lovers Rock. In its original version, the song is high-gloss and soulful, though Bennett & co.’s minute-and-a-half rework doesn’t lose an ounce of heart. Her delivery on the lyric “if you want to cry / I am here to dry your eyes” slays me, and shows (along with the session as a whole) that whether they’re on a stage or in a studio or an unquiet row home, Free Cake For Every Creature will find a way to emotionally connect.
Take listen to the entire four-song set below as well, and if downloads are your thing, grab ’em here via Soundcloud. Free Cake for Every Creature opens for their labelmate Frankie Cosmos next Tuesday, November 1st at the First Unitarian Church. Tickets for the show are still available, and more information can be found at the XPN Concert Calendar.
Free Cake for Every Creature, The Key Studio Sessions