Plotting a new course, Pluto finds über-talented songstress Katie Haverly on a journey outward. Emboldened, politically charged and environmentally conscious, she is questioning what it means to be human and exploring the meaning of purpose through song. Haverly's potency as an artist stems from her impassioned quest to find understanding.
Pluto, produced by Gabriel Sullivan of local band XIXA, is Haverly's fifth studio album. Is it jazz, folk, blues, gospel? Or a measured intermixture? The sound is distinctively one of her own creation, inspired by her experience living in Tucson, absorbing the culture, the warmth of the desert and its inhabitants. "The love and acceptance I have experienced in this community, has forever changed my cellular structure, my heart," says Haverly.
Thematically, Haverly's lyrics run deep. Striking a balance between the very personal exploration of desires, fears and inadequacies juxtaposed next to those of social justice and concern for the health and well-being of all members of society. Yet, her songs are more than mere explorations. Rather, they are admonitions and calls to action. Haverly sees her music as a conduit to change.
There is fire in Katie Haverly's voice and conviction to her words. Pluto's timbre is unapologetic.
The third track, "Mess," is a stirring, country-tinged waltz whose inspiration rose from a series of works by artist Manfred Bockelmann: Drawing Against Oblivion, a requiem to children murdered by Nazis. The horrors of the Holocaust are overthrown by the heart-rending beauty and solemnity of the song. Haverly's voice drips with gospel. "When we all say we're sorry, a good piece from now.../And the critics will argue about the merits of how/We portrayed all the ways we let them all down/But in the meantime, while we're still warm in our beds.../Is there time, to climb out of this mess?"
On "Wreckage," Haverly's lyrics reach deep into hidden chambers of the human heart. Haverly sings, "I can't erase the phrases that you said/The words and colors flush and dissonant.../I can't refrain from sharpening the edge/I can't forgive the sins of my hands/At least not yet, not where things stand.../So I'm just gonna hold on.../No rash decisions.../Just gotta move on/Avoid the wreckage."
Veiled in metaphor, with its sophisticated jazz chords, the electric piano-driven "Pluto" is clever backdrop for Haverly to make political commentary. "Pluto is metaphor for Donald Trump," Haverly says. "Pluto is the furthest planet from the sun, in its own orbit." Yet, Pluto has the power to wreak havoc should it break the order within our solar system.
A particularly jarring moment comes with the closing track. "Better" is a rumination on love. Haverly reflects, "I wrote this song when I was at the lowest point that I've been in years." Words on paper cannot capture the emotion when she sings, "When my mind can't seem to rest/When my better is not my best/When the world feels dense, like it's closing in/When my better is not my best/I think of you..." While struggling to piece together broken fragments and reclaim something of herself lost, it's Katie Haverly's expressive voice that can prompt a rush of sentimentality.
Tucson Weekly caught up with Haverly for a brief Q&A.
What does Pluto mean to you?
This record feels like utter magic to me. Every hurdle seemed to have a magical solution that felt like a gift.
What was the vibe like in the studio?
There were countless moments of magic. I recorded all 12 songs in just four days with an incredible rhythm section: Drummer Winston Watson and bassist Thøger Teetens Lund. Seven out of 12 songs are entirely live takes.
Isn't magic hard to capture?
One of the most magical moments was the last song on the record. Gabe set up the studio so that my keyboard was facing two speakers. I could feel so much. It was like playing live. It's one of the recordings I am most proud of that I've ever made.
What does the new album mark in your life and evolution as an artist?
This record is a culmination of 20 years of passionate and dedicated songwriting, recording and performing. I am confident it's my best work to date. The songs are deep and very emotional. They represent all of the powerful and beautiful elements I have to offer as an artist, and as a woman.