by Ben Shine
In 2011, I proposed a story to NUVO about Tonic Ball. I ended up chatting with a young writer, Katherine (Kat) Coplen, who was so eager to get the whole story that she came to Second Helpings for a tour, wanting to get the story not only about the benefit show but on the mission it supports. I was impressed by her curiosity, her energy and her effort. Over the last three years, I've sent a bunch more press releases and pitches her way, and I've read even more of her writing and the stories she nurtures from other writers. Kat's established a footprint that goes well beyond your average weekly music editor -- she's a champion for interesting local projects, an occasional freelancer for broader-market publications, and a deejay who happily floods the airwaves with Indiana songs. I chatted with her recently about her origin story, her take on Indianapolis music and her intriguing sideline in writing about rock dads.
SBW: Tell me how you got to be Kat Koplen, music writer, radio deejay and all around amplifier of great music in Indianapolis?
KC: I grew up in Indianapolis, mostly on the Northwestside and later on the Southside. We had a musical house. My mom is a music teacher and longtime member of the Carmel Symphony Orchestra (on piccolo!), so starting on an instrument was nonnegotiable. I picked French horn, and I dove in. Marching band, concert band, pep band, pit orchestra -- I did it all. When I left for college, I put down the French horn and picked up the radio mic at student station WIUX. There's nothing as quiet and cold as a weekend walk across a perfectly silent college campus at 6 a.m. for your early morning radio shift.
Those shifts at WIUX transitioned into a place on the station's board of directors, which led to an internship at community station WFHB, which led to arts and music freelancing gigs in Bloomington, which led to a very lucky freelance pitch that landed in the inbox of NUVO A&E Editor Scott Shoger. And that -- thank god, because I majored in history and had no real prospects -- led to a full time position as NUVO's music editor.
That was in November of 2011. During my three years there, I've published several dozen covers and assigned and edited hundreds of stories. I work with about 30 freelance writers and photographers, in addition to the close-knit staff. It's the best.
SBW: What's it like to live inside a community that you also write about? What advantages do you think that affords you and does it ever conflict? How do you maintain a journalistic stance in the midst of all of it?
KC: I've lived amongst musicians for a very long time. Transitioning to living among them while also writing about them has had its moments of awkwardness -- as in, more than once, someone has pulled me aside and said, "I have a beef about what you published this week." But you know why they usually have beefs? Because they care so much. Musicians here desperately, desperately care about the art they're making. Witnessing that passion and creation firsthand is so cool. I try very hard not to let my friendships and familiarity conflict or influence what I assign or write myself. How do I maintain a journalistic stance? I try to go into every show and listen to every record with an open mind. I also see hometowns as a place for artists to experiment, to try new and weird things, and to mess up.
I'm lucky in that I overwhelmingly get to write about things
that I love. Although NUVO does run critical reviews, the vast majority of the
time I'm writing or assigning a story because I think something is awesome and
deserves to be highlighted. That's a cool place to be in.
SBW: You've been in Indy for three years, right? What's happened/happening in Indianapolis in your eyes in the time you've been here, immersed in its music/creative scene? (as someone who's been in it a long, long time, it's changed more in your three years than in my 25 years)
KC: In the three years I've been back, I've seen the development of a successful local hip-hop tour, Ghost Gun Summer; the launch of a huge number of local labels; a flourishing all-day celebration for Record Store Day yearly; the evolution of Musical Family Tree from archiving project community to non-profit; the launch and growth of sites like Sky Blue Window and Bringing Down The Band that cover local music; and about a zillion First Friday shows. I've also seen all-ages venues fling open their doors, and then keep them open, which is hugely important.
SBW: What's the best thing/band/trend happening in music in Indianapolis right now, and who are a couple of your personal local highlights?
KC: I love the diversity of local show bills I've attended recently, which I think is a vital trend. I absolutely think psych rock belongs on the same bill as hip-hop. I'm stoked on local hip-hop in general right now. I've had this Flaco song called "Lemme" on repeat for weeks. I had a long conversation with Freddie Bunz after he wrapped the fall Ghost Gun Summer tour and he stressed how successful treading the punk rock circuit has been for that group. Above all, I admire the do-it-yourself nature of Indy's current crop of musicians. No venue? Open one. No label? Start one. Tour? Book one.
I've always got an ear out for what Sleeping Bag is up to, and I hear singer/drummer Dave Segedy has a new solo album coming. I love seeing Mike Adams at His Honest Weight. Have you heard the Digital Dots song "Half Lit Moon?" Find a catchier song than that, I dare you. Chives, Jon Autry, Murder By Death, DMA, KO -- these are bands that I'll go see whenever they play.
SBW: Your weekly radio spot -- what's the idea behind it and how's it going?
KC: Acquiring my radio show was a thing of fortuitous beauty. The powers that be at Alt1033 -- then X103, before last year's format change -- asked if I wanted to take over their long-running weekly local music night. I, looking back on my college radio days with no small bit of nostalgia, agreed immediately. In the next day or so, Oreo Jones, who already worked at the station, called me up and said, "I want to do the show with you." I agreed to that immediately, too.
We play all local music, including tunes from Bloomington and occasionally Lafayette, from 10 to midnight every Sunday. Oreo and I talk about shows coming up that week and sometimes host guests (keep your eyes out for Andy D very soon!). We premiere new music and dig up old stuff, too. It's a combination of tracks we find ourselves and music people send us. We have no genre limitations. Believe me, I understand how rare two hours of commercial airtime with no limitations is. I can't believe I get to do it sometimes.
SBW: Outside of music, what art gives you inspiration?
KC: I've got wandering feet. In the last few years, I've spent time in Greece, Scotland and Italy with my mom. Those trips included hours and hours spent in museums. To me, an afternoon in an art museum in a new city is a perfect day.
I also visit a lot of botanic gardens, national forests and parks, greenhouses, etc. I find a lot of inspiration in green spaces. I've written more than one piece atop a particular bench in the Lilly House historic gardens. So, Earth art, I guess? I find inspiration in the Earth's art.
SBW: You've gotten to meet/interview some pretty big groups in the last few years. What's it like to meet people who, are not only great in their own right, but have influenced so much of what is happening right now? The ones that stand out most to me are The Clean and The Vaselines ...
KC: It's bizarre, frankly. Sometimes I realize I've developed a sort of weird distance from what I'm doing, which is, explicitly, asking to talk to someone I find interesting, and having a whole line of people work very hard to set up time for me to do that very thing. Ask, and you shall receive (your interview with Styx). Most of my touring interviews are done over the phone in advance of the artist's Indianapolis stop. So I have a specific seat in a little room in the office that I've conducted a couple hundred interviews from. The window faces Meridian and 40th Street, so I stare out at Tarkington Park while ringing up Ozzy Osborne or Jane's Addiction. Or Ani DiFranco, or someone equally ridiculous and extremely famous. That little room has played host to a lot of conversations with very famous people. It's also very cold, but that is beside the point.
SBW: Rock and Roll Dads -- What is it, how'd it start and why is it so awesome?
KC: Rock and Roll Dads is a side blog where I collect all of the bonkers quotes from, well, rockers of a certain age, let's say. There's no real definition of a Rock and Roll Dad -- just a dadlike figure saying something I would talk about with my own dad. Curt Kirkwood from The Meat Puppets talking about "Ghost Riders In The Sky," or KISS drummer Eric Singer talking about his remote control. Or -- this was a good one -- Guided By Voices' Mitch Mitchell talking about his day job driving a big rig. Just dad stuff.
SBW: What are your top 3 all-time most-influential albums?
KC: 1.) Bottomless Pit -- Blood Under The Bridge
A perfect album from a perfect band.
2.) Paul Simon -- Graceland
It's weird to think that I've never lived in a world where Graceland didn't exist.
3.) Murder By Death -- Like the Exorcist, but More Break Dancing
Murder By Death was one of the first bands I watched make the leap from local regular to international touring act.