FOR ALL the underground reverence and mysticism surrounding Kath Bloom, it’s kind of difficult to imagine her performing ordinary tasks. The singer-songwriter, prolific throughout the 1970s and into the '80s, who Pitchfork once said sounds like "a woman who has spent years in the wilderness," has scheduled several interviews into her routine at home in Connecticut.
On this day, there are family affairs to tend to, errands to be run. She’s had several cups of coffee and is feeling chattier than usual, she says.
Listening to her recordings, one can see how Bloom is easily mythologized: her voice cracks and hisses, heavy with feral emotion and sprawling with a knowing transcendence. It’ll comfort you while it smashes your heart.
Lyrically, she can devastate with just a few carefully paced words. Among her most poignant: “I’d like to touch you, but I’ve forgotten how.”
The daughter of oboist Robert Bloom, she studied cello as a young girl and picked up the guitar in her teens. In the early 1970s, she began collaborating with Bruce Neumann and eventually experimental guitarist Loren MazzaCane Connors. Bloom wrote with Connors until 1984, releasing numerous recordings of their unusual folk and blues music.
After Connors and Bloom’s collaboration ended, she stopped releasing new material and focused on her family. Then, in the early 1990s, director Richard Linklater discovered her music and included the song “Come Here” in his 1995 film Before Sunrise. The exposure not only inspired Bloom to work on material for a new album; it gave her a whole new fan base. The records she and Connors released in the 1970s suddenly became highly sought after, with collectors paying top dollar for an original pressing.
The whole experience took Bloom by surprise.
“We did not expect that,” she remembers. “No one used to like me. I think they thought we were weird. I was surprised when people started to like it. I think I had to grow older to sing songs for people.”
Despite the resurgence of interest in their work, Bloom hasn’t spoken to Connors since 1987.
“I can’t go into it,” she says. “I’m very grateful for the time we had together and I look for that with everybody I play with—just a closeness is very important...and it’s what music is. You can’t always have everything. Lester Young and Billie Holiday couldn’t play all the time together. Mostly, it’s the writing of the songs that became more important to me.”
A new generation discovered Bloom’s work when a group of musical admirers, including Mark Kozelek (Sun Kil Moon, Red House Painters), Devendra Banhart, and Bill Callahan, made a 2009 Bloom tribute album, Loving Takes This Course. Callahan’s contribution, a cover of the heartbreaking, brittle “Breeze / My Baby Cries,” became a hit for him.
“Bill Callahan got my name out there quite a bit,” says Bloom. “People always ask him for ‘The Breeze,’ and he has to say, ‘I didn’t write that song!’”
The tribute album led to many collaborations for Bloom, particularly with Kozelek, who guested on her 2017 LP This Dream of Life and released it on his own Calo Verde label.
“I appreciate anybody who’s helping me at this late stage of the game,” Bloom says. “Mark’s been a really big supporter. The people I’ve recorded with over the years are my close friends.”
This Dream of Life was recorded over five winters in Los Angeles and, in addition to Kozelek, features contributions from Avi Buffalo and Imaad Wasif.
“I go [to L.A.] every year, and just do all kinds of recording,” Bloom explains. “Sometimes, I just record by myself. We work on things with different people, and these are the songs that made this album. I’ve got quite a few more for the next one.”Bloom says she hasn’t been writing like she used to, but the past couple of weeks have been fruitful.
“I’ve always worked on my music walking, sitting in a field,” she says. “I’ve used tape recorders most of my life, and the iPhone has an amazing recorder. I can record and send it off to anybody. I’m grateful for that. I have to be in motion a lot when I write.”
She describes her process as “kind of a grab bag,” having studied visual artists, musicians, and actors and finding inspiration in a variety of creative methods.
“I write in a journal, I sit down with my guitar and just kind of start singing—all those ways are the ways I work,” she explains. “Words come to me...usually, the thrust of the emotion of the song comes from sitting with a guitar and then sometimes I fiddle around with it. Sometimes it goes on for months, sometimes for years.”
“I guess the unconscious is a bit of a part of the creative process,” she adds. “It’s from the unknown, a lot of it. It’s not too premeditated.”
Lately, she’s been finding inspiration in the children she works with.
“That’s a great love of mine,” she says. “There’s so much energy, this primal energy, not just mental. You realize how important music is to all of us.”
For this tour, Bloom is joined onstage by Kevin Lipson, who she describes as “a phenomenal bass player, but more than that, just a very sensitive musician.”
“The way he plays bass, it’s kind of a revelation,” she marvels.
Peggy Snow, who will perform a set of her own at their Sulfur Studios show, will join Bloom on harmonies.
While she sometimes plays by herself—on European tours, for instance—Bloom prefers to perform alongside others.
“I like to have some kind of crew playing together,” she says. “Some of my songs I can only sing according to what other people play around me.”
In the past, Bloom has felt more comfortable performing on recordings than for a room of people, but with live accompaniment from good friends, a new album, and the release of her first music video by BAFTA-winning filmmaker Esther May Campbell, she is enjoying her time on the stage.
“I like to sing for people now,” she says. “I get much more of a high from it and feel really connected.”