Born into an intense, evangelical Christian family, Katy Kirby felt she was detached from reality at a young age. Artists such as Sufjan Stevens and Coldplay were completely unknown to Kirby until she attended college in Nashville, where she was exposed to genres outside of Christian worship music for the first time. Just like many others in the songwriting capital of the world, Kirby turned to music as an outlet for her views as she began to question her religion and identity. Her debut album Cool Dry Place is rebellious at its core, capturing the struggles Kirby faces as she attempts to simultaneously deviate from her past thoughts and establish her own story.
"Juniper” is Kirby’s first act of drifting away from her old roots into a new world. The upbeat guitars and drums accompany a more somber tale, one where the narrator feels isolated due to her complex and challenging relationship with her mother. As the phrase “You’re on your own” repeats throughout the track, she yearns for love, acceptance, and an embracing welcome away from a “storm front with a vicious curve.” While Kirby explicitly mentioned that she was “uncommonly open and close” with her mom and that this track was not about her, “Juniper” still reflects her experience as a kid enshrouded and isolated by a certain set of beliefs, and then growing up to question what she was taught to accept as truth.
On “Peppermint,” Kirby tries to understand the circumstances leading to a sudden distant friendship as she continues to contemplate her past. Using the sweetness and spiciness of a peppermint to describe some of the ups and downs of her relationship, Kirby concludes this chapter as one where she is “holding you on my tongue.” Even years after the tragic falling out, she is left with the aftertaste of peace and happiness—yet she is still unable to shake off feelings of guilt for not capitalizing on their connection. Kirby’s vocals soar over the dreamy guitars and deep brass, reinforcing the sense of nostalgia that precludes her from moving forward.
One of the highlight tracks on the album, “Traffic!” focuses on her lover’s privilege and ignorance by bridging the self–confessional and third–person writing styles Kirby uses on Cool Dry Place. Auto–tuned vocals and a euphoric post–bridge chorus underscore the built–up frustration she expresses from the beginning of the song. As she vents that “Nobody got there faster than you / Nobody has it better than you,” Kirby points out her partner’s egocentrism, though in a playful manner. On a broader scale, “Traffic!” is meant to criticize our patriarchal world; in an interview, she notices how men are typically “spared from much of human suffering’s broad spectrum.” What separates Kirby from other artists is her ability to turn a critical opinion into an ironic, lively track sung from another point of view. Kirby paints a detailed picture in just three minutes—a picture in which two lovers quietly reflect on their troubled relationship in the chaos of a traffic jam.
The final two tracks on Cool Dry Place imply that Kirby has successfully found enjoyment in her life, though she will always be influenced by her past. “Cool Dry Place” is a slow–burn ballad that finds her questioning the motives of her partner. As she asks, “Would you keep me, keep me in a cool, dry place?” for almost half of the track, Kirby is hesitant to immediately accept the tenderness of her lover; however, she recognizes that if all goes well, their relationship will last forever. The imagery on “Cool Dry Place” answers the narrator’s calls from “Juniper” as she tries to escape a bad storm, signifying that Kirby has finally found the reciprocating affection she has desired for so long.
The country–inspired ending track “Fireman” is a fitting ending to Kirby’s journey to understand herself. Told from the perspective of a fireman’s wife, the track illustrates the difficulty of uncertainty. It combines the two separate parts of Kirby’s life, one where she longed for external approval and one where she has discovered her true passions. As Kirby describes the fireman’s schedule as “three days on and three days off,” the song represents the tumultuous life where she must balance the before and after.
In a saturated indie–pop field, Kirby stands out from her peers by telling the narratives of others that also reveal her own history when woven together. Just nine tracks are able to encompass Kirby’s entire life, showing the process of forming her identity. At 25 years old, Kirby still has a long time to figure out who she really is. For now, though, retelling the stories of others seems to be her preferred way of growing and maturing.