You may know Katy Otto from her time in the bands Del Cielo and Bald Rapunzel, or her label, Exotic Fever Records. I know her simply as one half of Trophy Wife, one of the most inspiring rock bands I’ve seen in well over a decade. My band, Bells≥, had the good fortune to play a couple of shows with them earlier this month, and we’ll do so again this Saturday at Secret Project Robot. I caught up with Katy and her equally awesome bandmate Diane Foglizzo via email to talk books, French, and more.
How did you two meet and get Trophy Wife started?
Katy Otto: Diane doesn’t seem to remember it the way I do, but I had seen her messing around at some point on an acoustic guitar and was mad smitten. Key changes, time changes – all the things that have kind of become part and parcel to how we make songs. We were working together on a magazine — Give Me Back — at the time that stepped in where HeartAttack left off. We did a lot of writing, editing, and layout – eventually I think I just asked Diane if she wanted to “jam,” as embarrassing as that word is. I didn’t want to scare her away by calling it a band just yet. She didn’t have an electric guitar or an amp at the time, but I lived in a big ole group house full of equipment and musical derelicts, and we got her set up proper. First practice, we wrote a song. I didn’t tell her we’d put out albums, get matching tattoos, tour Europe – you gotta ease people into this stuff!!!!
Diane Foglizzo: I had known of Katy for a while before we worked on the magazine. She was always putting on shows and playing in bands. But I mostly remembered her because she was always that girl yelling out random things to bands at shows! Hah!
I noticed the words: “comblee par les vagues elle ne coule pas” on your website. I put them into a French to English translator and got: “Filled by the waves she does not flow.” First of all, is my translation even close and secondly, what is the significance of that text?
Foglizzo: Wow that translation is awful. It makes no sense! It actually means: tousled by the waves, she does not drown. Or in latin: fluctuat nec mergitur. It is the motto of the city of Paris and is on its coat of arms. I’m first generation American- all my family is French and most of them except my mom and 4 of my siblings still live there. I eventually got this as a tattoo – felt relevant on lots of levels. I guess the correct translation kind of speaks for itself, no? I know Katy relates to the sentiment, so we kind of have adopted it for our band.
Otto: We like incorporating languages that have personal, familial significance to us in our band. We have some lyrics in French, too – and one in German (my grandfather immigrated to the U.S. when he was a child, and speaking German has always been important to me). With this particular phrase, Diane is right – it did resonate with me, too. I was thinking the other day that sometimes people seem to assume that if you are emotional, you are not resilient. The phrase you reference is about resilience. I think that actually, being both – emotional and resilient – is possible. Sometimes not expressing emotion actually can hurt your resiliency, I think.
Foglizzo: Yes, resiliency. That’s the word.
“Four” is one of my favorite songs on your album Patience Fury. Musically it’s crushing and beautiful at once, and the only lyrics are: “Disassemble it and dialogue with me. Hold on (because) you can fix things.” I point to these lyrics especially because it seems to me that you are both working really hard in your life beyond the band to try to fix things. Could you talk a little about what each of you do at your day jobs?
Otto: I do communications, social media, and development consulting for non-profit arts and social justice organizations. Currently, I work primarily as the Communications Director of the Service Women’s Action Network based in NYC – a group dedicated to ending sex discrimination and sexual violence in the military. I also work with New Paradise Laboratories, an innovative internet and experimental theatre company based in Philly. Occasionally I do other projects. I help with some social media for a domestic violence shelter in DC, the District Alliance for Safe Housing. I have helped organizations with strategic plan development as well. I have worked full-time jobs at non-profits in the past, but I started my consultancy a few years ago as a means of synthesizing different kinds of work I like to do and being able to do it for different kinds of organizations.
Foglizzo: I try to maintain a healthy balance of many things (some times more successfully than others). It helps me stay excited, focused and it is super exciting when i can connect the dots between my various projects. At this moment, my main paid work is with Girls Rock Philly, a music based empowerment camp for girls, as their program coordinator. On the side, i also work at Giovanni’s Room, one of few remaining queer bookstores in the country and i think the largest and oldest at this point. I also nanny, when I can fit it in, because I love hanging with kids. As important to me and if not more sometimes though are the things I do not for pay: I’m in school at the community college here in Philly studying American Sign Language Interpreting. I also work with an organization called Decarcerate PA, working to stop the building of new prisons as well as change the laws, policies and sentencing guidelines that have led us down the road of mass incarceration, incredibly felt here in Pennsylvania. As for “Four,” that song came from a super personal place. I sort of speak to two main people in the song. My mom and Katy. “Disassemble it…” to my mom about me coming out to her. “Hold on you can…” to Katy (and to myself and to my mom) about not giving up when shit feels hopeless.
Otto: Diane and I write songs as a way to work through an intense friendship and creative partnership. One thing we have talked about wanting to do lately is interview other people we know who are in creative partnerships. This seems like a really interesting subject matter to us both, but is not the kind of thing that we think our society is that interested in highlighting. There is a strong focus on romantic partnerships, but it would be neat if friendships that also have a creative component were discussed in more detail. They take a lot of work, self-knowledge, effort, and communication. They are worthy of inquiry.
In what ways do you think your careers intersect with the band and vice versa?
Foglizzo: Hmm, well I know that I wouldn’t be in a band and feel so comfortable playing music if it weren’t for the Girls Rock movement, which didn’t exist when I was a kid but did something to me when I was helping to start the first camp in Washington, DC. I’d never been in such a positive effective and supportive environment of women and it really changed me. It was hard and had its ups and downs but at the end of the day, whatever it was we always worked through it. I went to an all girls’ school from 2nd to 12th grade and left there not having any idea of what being in a community of supportive peers and friends (especially women) was like. And now I work at Girls Rock Philly and also am in the most intense creative relationship ive ever had with another lady in my this current band Trophy Wife. But I feel like my answer to this question seems too easy!
Otto: I know that in my life I have occasionally opted for a career path that will allow and value focus on my artistic life. Because of my work in the nonprofit world as a consultant, I have had some of that freedom. My nonprofit work is about building a better world that values people. I think we express those kinds of ideas in our art. We also think a lot about embodiment in our band – we take up space, we make ourselves whole. I want a world and professional life that support that kind of embodiment for everyone – particularly people often left out of dialogue and leadership by mainstream institutions – queer people, youth, people of color, women.
Clearly scholarship is very important to both of you and I’m sure you’ve both read a ton of philosophical and sociological texts, but what do you pick up to read for fun?
Foglizzo: I like reading queer young adult fiction. Though honestly, thinking about it, they would be classified as page turners rather than fun reads, a lot of them end up feeling pretty heavy. David Sedaris? He makes me laugh. Err, I think I could use some suggestions actually. You know who I do love though that I find hilarious? Eddie Izzard! Cake or death?
Otto: Oh boy. For fun I at times read People magazine, which my mom did growing up. I know it is kind of a guilty pleasure but – wheeeee. So good. I still read Bitch magazine cover to cover, too. Also, I am sick of reading things on computers, and things being marketed to be read on computers. I like reading Bryant Terry’s cookbooks. He is a vegan, African-American food justice activist and thinker who combines recipes with songs to listen to while making them, art and films that inspire him, etc. He is the bomb.
Photo: Jana Sotzko