Anika Pyle first came to prominence fronting the acclaimed Brooklyn punk band Chumped, which riffed and raged for a few exciting years and then, following the album cycle for 2014’s Teenage Retirement, decided to retire.
In its wake, Pyle refocused to explore the more sensitive side of her songwriting in the project Katie Ellen, which debuted with a Bandcamp demo called wild <3 in early 2016. The indie rock riffs were ever present, as was Pyle’s powerful vocal delivery, but the range was notably more dynamic. Songs could be a midtempo stroll (the title track) as easily as they charged (“Lucy Stone”); clean guitar tones mixed in with fuzzed-out overdrive; the arrangements and melodies were as east coast rock as they were Nashville roots.
A move to Philly later, and Katie Ellen released Cowgirl Blues this July on Lauren Records. The album is fantastic — one of my faves of the year — and impressively mixes emotive storytelling and with personal introspections. Pyle sings about insecurity and loneliness, and that particularly tough brand of loneliness when you’re in the company of friends and loved ones and the feeling doesn’t shake.
“Drawing Room,” which opens Katie Ellen’s Key Studio Session, is ground zero for that emotion, while “Han” is a waltzing tearjerker that addresses sorrow at a more esoteric level. “Sad Girls Club,” my favorite song on the record, is about the need to embrace our collective vulnerability, society’s expectations be damned (“Sad girls don’t make good wives,” sneers the refrain); its delivery in this session is particularly potent. The set closes on the aforementioned vignette “Wild Heart,” which unpacks disconnection and self-doubt on a sunny afternoon in Paris; watch a video of Katie Ellen (which also features drummer Dan Frelly and guitarist Anthony Tinnirella, joined on bass for this performance by Jake Ewald of Slaughter Beach, Dog and Modern Baseball) playing that song in WXPN studios below.
The band is wrapping up a fall tour this month — including a stop at Gainesville’s storied FEST — and this Friday, November 3rd, it plays Johnny Brenda’s with Worriers and Thin Lips. Tickets are still available for the show, more information can be found at the XPN Concert Calendar. Below, listen to an archive of Katie Ellen’s entire Key Studio Sessions set.
Katie Ellen, The Key Studio Sessions