Altadore, the project of Portland, Oregon resident David Katz, released his second album Gardenia last month, showcasing an impressive progression in the songwriter’s musicianship. Playing and recording much of the record himself, Katz departs from the more somber feel of his first album – Opal, Luna, and Hymn (2016) – with an upbeat, 70s-inspired body of work composed of nine tunes.
Still writing about the ways of the world, touching on universal themes of loss, love and confusion, Gardenia sees Katz skillfully and subtly flip the melancholic side of human existence around, finding an air of contentment and gratitude which, from the first track, is carried throughout the album in a warmth of instrumental and vocal layers; soothing in places, upbeat in others.
We got chatting to David Katz to find out more about the man behind Altadore, his four-year journey to Gardenia, and more…
Hi from across the pond! What has life been like in Portland since the pandemic?
Oh gosh. I assume it’s pretty similar to other large-ish cities in the US. A whole lot of staying home and cooking. And a lot of snacking. I’ve been self-isolating since March 13. Those two months have flown by. Fortunately, I think Portland has been doing relatively well given the circumstances.
We’ve also been snacking A LOT, as well as loving getting to explore your album, Gardenia. What was the journey of this record, from writing to production to release?
I first wrote Once in a While in December of 2016, a few months after my last album Opal, Luna, and Hymn came out. That song felt more refined than anything else I had written up till then, so I knew I was pointed in a direction that was exciting for me to go down. I had the line ‘gardenia and wine’ in there which eventually inspired the name of the album.
I think it was sometime in July of 2017 that I got in touch with my friend Brian Harvey about helping me track the songs. I was just starting to get into production and didn’t feel confident diving in alone. Apart from being an engineer, Brian’s also a fantastic composer and songwriter and I’ve always admired his natural sense of melody and vibe. At that point I was at a total loss on how to move the songs forward, and I really wanted someone to come in and help carry the load. So yeah, I had 6 or 7 songs loosely put together and we went into the studio to track drums and bass together. He was very gracious with me as those two sessions we did together were my first time playing drums on a record. Lots of takes were had. What a guy.
After that, around January of 2018, I eventually brought in my other buddy Graham Barton to mix. At least that was the initial plan, but Graham ended up adding and writing on a number of songs throughout the record, completely bringing them to a new level that I wouldn’t have reached on my own. For instance, on Once in a While, when I passed it off to him for mixing, it was just drums, bass, guitars, piano, and vocals; a pretty normal band arrangement. But being the brilliant mind he is, he asked if he could add some stuff, so of course I said yes. I was super curious to hear what he would do. And he did not disappoint. He added in all of the ornamental magic in the second half of that song, which led to him to work similar magic on most of the other songs on the record too. Gardenia really wouldn’t sound the same without Graham’s involvement.
So as far as production goes, I had all of these sessions on my computer that I did with Brian, and then once I got the songs in a place that I personally felt confident on, after adding guitars and piano and vocals, etc. on my own, I passed them off to Graham and filled him in on my overall vision for the mixes song by song. It was really about nailing this certain sound and character of the 70s that I was enamored with heavily at the time (honestly still am and probably always will be). I was listening to a shit ton of Harry Nilsson, Randy Newman, Carole King, Elton John, and George Harrison, to name a few. And also a lot of contemporaries that nod to that era like The Lemon Twigs, Drugdealer, Michael Nau, and Angelo De Augustine.
There were a couple songs where Graham and I wrote quite equally as well, Big Cloud and The Way It Should Be. I was stuck on Big Cloud for many months and decided to toss Graham a shitty demo I had and asked if he could figure something out, which he did. Thank whatever is holy for talented friends. And The Way It Should Be we co-wrote the last 2 minutes or so together. He pulled out some deep Beach Boys cut from their album Surfs Up that led us down the triumphant path that is the ending of that song.
After working with Graham on mixes and arrangements for a little over a year, we wrapped the record and I moved onto getting the release together. I hired this great artist and designer Darryl Norsen to do the artwork. Found him on Instagram through other artists and musicians I think. Anyway, he also put together the vinyl packaging that I’m crowdfunding right now via Qrates. I’m really happy with how it turned out. Funny enough, the photo on the cover was shot on an iPhone with no intention of it ever being an album cover. I was really lazy and unmotivated to figure out the artwork, but I found that photo from some months back and thought it could work. Darryl worked some magic and there it is.
Wow, what a journey! Four years later you’ve got a beautiful album AND an accidentally awesome album cover! Does the album have a cohesive, underlying meaning and theme to you?
Not entirely, but there are many sentiments of kindness and contentment that I explored. My record before Gardenia was just so emotionally heavy that, once I worked through everything I needed to, I really wanted to be more vocal about the things in my life that I’m grateful for. I wanted to spend less time whining about the things that made my life harder or that made me sad. Not to say there aren’t bits of that on Gardenia as well, and not to say those types of feelings aren’t valid and part of the human condition to be connected on, but there’s much less than on Opal and it felt good to explore a different outlook. I wanted to learn how to be better with being content, being happy with what I have, being kind above all else, and I think writing these songs allowed me to figure that out a little easier, or at least in a fun, constructive way.
A wise outlook, and such a great transition from Opal, Luna, and Hymn. Definitely resonates throughout the album. Do you have a favourite song on the album (…or is that a mean question)?
Oh no, not mean, but certainly tough to answer. Sometimes holds a particularly special place for me, and I like it because it’s under 2 minutes. Brevity can be tough in music and life in general, so I’m proud of that one. More songs should be under 2 minutes!
So where do you find inspiration for your music? Other musicians, other artforms?
I’m definitely most inspired by other songwriters. Lately I’m most inspired by songwriters who produce or record their own music, likely because I’m doing the same. It just flexes so many different muscles that way, and can feel especially intentional when it comes to the interaction of art and craft. Also I’m always inspired by melancholy when it’s done right. Snow by Harry Nilsson comes to mind… I Remember by Molly Drake, too.
And as a musician, how did your journey start? When did you know this was what you wanted to do?
I started playing a bit of guitar in grade school, I think, but got really into playing in bands and writing songs around grade 6. I caught the music bug around then, especially when I started playing songs for and to people. Couldn’t really imagine doing anything else since then.
What about the name ‘Altadore’ – why did you choose that as your stage name?
So it’s clear, and to go on record, I absolutely loathe naming bands and projects. It’s so hard and gives me so much anxiety. However, the name Altadore came pretty naturally which I’m grateful for. Altadore is the name of the district my Dad grew up in in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. It was also the name of the avenue he lived on. I love my Dad a lot, really admire the guy, so to name my project after him was a no-brainer. Stand-up dude, that man is.
Naming bands and projects is terrifying, but you’ve gone with a great one and for heartwarming reasons, so we can safely say you’re winning! I’ve never been to Portland, so I was wondering what the music scene is like there?
The music scene is really great here. A lot of incredibly talented and nice people, and the scene is getting more diverse with each year that goes by which is great, at least it seems that way to me. Excited to see what another 5 years will show for the scene here. Hopefully the business side of the industry will develop alongside the musicians and artists too.
Are there any other local musicians we should check out ASAP?
Matt Dorrien is a great singer-songwriter. I don’t know him personally but his record In the Key of Grey is amazing. My buddy Clint Snow has a project called Mount Goldie that put out an incredible record in 2018 called All My Friends Are Mothers. I played a couple shows in his live band when the record came out and we have a side collab in the works right now too.
*Adds names to ‘Must Listen ASAP’ playlist* So for a bit of fun, if you were stuck being exiled to a desert island, what book, song, and luxury item would you take with you if you couldn’t take anything else but these three things?
Fun! I would take the book I Loved You More by Tom Spanbauer. It has some of the most tragically beautiful writing I’ve ever read. Picking a song is so hard! But Maggie May by Rod Stewart holds a special place in my heart. Or La Vie En Rose by Édith Piaf, no matter how played out that song is. It’s fucking perfect. Luxury item… this probably doesn’t count as luxury but I would bring my electric toothbrush. I know, so boring. But seriously if I was on a deserted island and couldn’t shower, I’d at least have a clean mouth.
We will let you off for picking two songs just for the insanity of your luxury item! All for dental hygiene, but I think you and your clean mouth will need an extra song to get through the mundane days. Okay, as all our readers are stuck at home, we were hoping you’d give us five of your favourite songs you’re listening to at the moment, and tell us briefly why you’ve chosen them?
I Don’t Want to Live Alone Anymore by Jenny O. is on constant rotation lately. It’s such a pleasant vibe and lyrically it’s very topical, even if I don’t actually live alone right now.
Complete Annihilation! by Smushie I’m lovin’ on real hard. Also such a pleasant vibe. Songwriting and production on that one are lovely. Right up my alley.
Brown-Eyed Woman by Grateful Dead has been stuck in my head for like 2 months. Specifically the lyric “brown-eyed woman and red grenadine”. No clue as to why. It’s such a good line and is a real earworm.
Shameika by Fiona Apple on her new record is INSANE. She’s such a badass and that song absolutely rips. It croons but it’s gnarly and aggressive all in the same song. Not many people can pull that off let alone even try. She’s in another league.
Lastly, The One by The Lemon Twigs. Those dudes are so much fun and they write incredible pop songs. Not to mention they’re complete shredders on their instruments. The music video is great too.
Such a great selection! Thanks for chatting with us, and we hope to see you playing on stage over here once the world’s a little bit safer!
I would love to play over there once things are safer! We’ll have to grab a cortado or a pint – my treat. Thanks!