It’s about 20 minutes into our conversation when Kate and I realize the irony of the situation. I’m describing the sound of her new album Don’t Hide from the Light as holy, cathedral-like. It’s true—between drum machines and synths there are heavenly organs and enough reverb to satisfy a Gregorian choir. But as I mention that, we both look around at the place we’re sitting in: a mildly distasteful, slightly ironic bar called Church, adorned with faux stained-glass, religious-themed decor, and a photobooth labeled “CONFESSIONS →”. I point out how apt it is that this is the place we’ve chosen to meet, considering the imagery her music brings to mind. Kate laughs, “I was just thinking that too.”
At 26, Kate Davis is running a multi-faceted music career with few contemporaries that match her consistency and excellence. Her record label, Track and Field, is in its third year of existence, and has been slowly expanding the reach of its dreamy indie pop sound outside the borders of Portland, Oregon, pulling talent from Los Angeles, Michigan, Australia, and beyond. She’s a member of Cemeteries, a Portland-based dream pop band with an excellent 2015 album Barrow. And now with Don’t Hide from the Light, her first solo album as Pat Moon, she’s molding something entirely hers.
Kate grew up and went to school in North Carolina, majoring in Music Business at Appalachian State University, eventually leaving the south for Seattle, Washington. After a stint at Seattle’s (recently shuttered) preeminent DIY venue Cairo, she made the move to Portland, working at a vinyl manufacturing company and a local record store. All of which influenced her eventually starting her own label, Track and Field Records in 2014.
But Portland’s become a difficult place to operate from, in any profession, in recent years. With one of the fastest rising home and rent prices in the entire country, the most easily displaced residents (low-income workers, minority groups, young people and artists) are being pushed out. Despite its reputation as an artists’ haven, lately Portland feels creatively stagnant. So much so that Kate doesn’t think of Track and Field as an inherently “Portland” label anymore. “I kind of did at first, because the bands we were working with were from here,” she says. “But my favorite experiences have been with bands who aren’t. I like that it’s beyond the city. A lot of the bands I’ve worked with from elsewhere seem to be more excited about what I’m doing.”
When I bring up the recent closing of Cairo, and Portland institutions like Slabtown, Branx, or The Know, Kate and I ponder: where to next? Labels and scenes are amorphous these days, less so tied to their geography than the past. The sleepy port town of Astoria, Oregon is floated as a serious possibility, considering its recent perception as a beacon for priced-out Portland weirdos. When I ask if going back to North Carolina is in the cards, she worries about affect it would have on her music. Despite its flaws, there’s something sneakily spiritual about the Pacific Northwest.
You can hear it in Don’t Hide from the Light. It permeates through each instrument, the glacial pace of “Things Will Change” and its plodding outro, or the frosty keys on “Dark Light”. “It’s a cold morning,” she sings on “I See You”, “a quiet thing.” There’s a tension there, pulling one way towards the holiness and beauty of the outdoors, and pulling another way towards any possible reprieve or change in setting. “Love Me as I Am” has the feeling of a fast-moving dirge, spiritually ascendant, but lyrically looks inward for personal contemplation.
And while the pace picks up on “Feel You” with a thumping 4/4 beat, and with a tropical-sweetened melody on “Into the Water”, there’s always an air of melancholy cold just beneath. When I ask about the album’s title, Kate references the word “hide” which appears over a dozen separate times throughout the album’s lyrics, and speaks very literally about that phrase in reference to the album itself: “It’s kind of [about] overcoming or figuring out the process of making this album, or like figuring out who I am and being okay sharing this part of myself.”
Many of the songs on the album deal with themes of change, or imminent transition. At one point Kate tells me that “Things Will Change” is, coincidentally, about struggling to find somewhere to live after coming back to Portland after touring with Cemeteries. “It was awful, actually. We were very close to just flying back home and living there.” Kate points out that her lease is up soon and while she’ll probably end up staying in Portland, its been tempting to look towards greener pastures.
A few days later, Kate and I meet up at The Grotto, a massive outdoor Catholic shrine in Northeast Portland. It’s a beautiful setting, with marble sculptures set back into the woods and a large rose garden atop a 110-foot cliff. We primarily choose this place to meet because neither of us have been here despite living in Portland for years, but the symbolism once again can’t be denied.
Everything about Don’t Hide from the Light feels just like this place does. You can imagine on a particularly foggy day turning a corner and being confronted with a stone-faced figure from the Bible. Near the end of “I See You” everything crescendos into a hazy mass, the pumping drums barely audible behind the cacophony. But then—a breath, Kate’s voice alone with the beat, and then finally alone with itself.
There’s a haunting moment just over halfway through “Into the Water” where the percussion ducks out of view and ghostly harmonics intertwine with a slumbering piano. I’m reminded of it when I hear soft music being played as we walk through the trees. Looking high up in the branches, oddly enough, are strategically placed speakers pumping out hymns, like Mother Nature isn’t already sacred enough as is. I turn and ask Kate if she’s particularly religious. She pauses for a moment and says “Not really, more spiritual than anything.” Indeed.
Don’t Hide from the Light is out now.
Visit Track and Field Records.