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Moffatt still works outside the mainstream

By Dan MacIntosh, December 1999

"I consider myself to work outside of, and in spite of, the music industry," says Katy Moffatt.

Such a statement sounds mighty strange coming from somebody who has been recording since the mid-seventies, most recently this fall with "Loose Diamonds" on HighTone.

Nevertheless, it is a true description of Moffatt's relationship with an oftentimes fickle music industry.

Music industry standing aside, this spunky vocalist and songwriter is making some of the very best country music these days. In part, it's due to her intentional distance from the country music machine.

"I'm way outside of the country music industry, as anyone in Nashville will tell you."

Moffatt, 49, has always been a little more sophisticated than your average country singer, which has prevented her from fitting nicely into the neatly constructed marketing molds so popular in Music City.

"I've never in my life had a Nashville deal. My CBS deal in the seventies was a pop deal. It was signed on the West Coast, by the pop division."

Nonetheless, she wouldn't have ever gotten that deal without a little help from a true Nashville mover and shaker.

"I was sent to play for Billy Sherrill before they could actually sign me. Nobody expected Billy - who was autonomous at CBS at that time - to be interested in me."

Even then, though, Moffatt had a reputation for being a little ahead of the pack due to her adventurous musical spirit.

"He apparently had the word out that anything that was kind of like progressive country, he wanted to hear first. So, they had me go to a hotel room in Toronto and play three songs for him, and I did. Much to everybody's surprise - and some people's dismay - he wanted to produce me. So my first album was done by Billy Sherrill in Nashville, and it was marketed by Nashville."

Yet, even this lucky break backfired.

"There were a lot of punches that were pulled because I wasn't a Nashville artist. I was an LA artist. There was a lot of animosity between the divisions and really no sense of working together, which was a shame."

At that time, the Nashville division of CBS did not get along with the Los Angeles office, so Moffatt's album, "Katy," became nothing more than the rope of their tug-o-war, and went nowhere. Nevertheless, she was able to record two albums (the other was "Kissin' in the California Sun") with the label in her four years there.

"Once I left that (major label) world - and I didn't really completely leave it until it must have been the mid-eighties - and once I got out of that world and just started making records I wanted to make, then licensed them to independent record companies, that's when I began to really satisfy myself as an artist."

"Loose Diamonds" is largely a country-flavored recording by sidestepping some of the more poetic folk-influenced that often spices up her work.

"I was surprised," says Moffatt on how her new album took shape. "I really didn't have this in mind at all. Our production meetings (with producer Dave Alvin) were few and far between until we came right down to it."

It was only after these two narrowed down a long list of potential songs, that Moffatt began to realize what nature this album would assume.

The straight ahead country songs on this release are hardcore - no confusion about it - honky tonk tunes. They include "Whiskey, Money And Time," written by her brother, Hugh Moffatt, and "Stoned at the Jukebox," by Hank Williams, Jr.

"I've been doing that song, God, for a long time," says Moffatt of the Williams, Jr. tearjerker.

It was drawn from a pivotal album in Williams' career.

"This record ("Hank Williams, Jr. and Friends") was extraordinary. What Hank Jr. had done, up until this record, was portray himself as a very indistinct identity. He mostly did his father's songs. But it seemed, suddenly - to those of us who did not know him - that he made this incredible record where the majority of it was original, and it was very autobiographical. It was really amazing. It was all very heavy stuff about his father and his relationship to his father and his relationship to his father's music. It was a significant record. I just sat straight and was very moved by the record's songs and what they said about this man's experiences and have been periodically doing that song ever since."

The idea to work with Dave Alvin as producer was in the works for a long time - dating back to when Moffatt recorded for Watermelon Records ("Midnight Radio" in 1996). It was that label's idea to put these two together - no trouble at all since they've been good friends for a long time.

"I've worked with him on his records and sat in with him a lot, but we'd never worked together in this way," she says.

Alvin brought out a different side to Moffatt's musical approach, since "Loose Diamonds" spotlights a new directness in her work.

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