From American Idol To ‘Heartbroken & Milking It’: Inside Catie Turner’s Musical Journey

If you’ve ever been through a heartbreak after a relationship or friendship, you already know the cycles of feelings that accompany it: the grounding feeling of pain, the denial that stirs up nostalgia, the anger of being involved in a toxic relationship, the déjà vu that hits when you feel familiar feelings. The capability to put those feelings into words and to hit the nail on the head each time, stirring up those exact feelings is a superpower which can only be delivered by someone who is experiencing it first-hand; and Catie Turner is no different. For starters, she gave some stunningly melancholic performances on American Idol. She has then gone on to make the world her oyster and is now setting herself up for global stardom. With uniquely original music right up the alley of indie artists like Phoebe Bridgers, Gracie Abrams, and superstars like Taylor Swift and Lorde, Catie’s music is the best of both worlds. This, coupled with the fact that her music is uncaged and vulnerable, Catie pushes the boundaries on expressing vulnerability and heartfelt emotions in her music.

Catie grew enamoured with songwriting and her effortless knack for it is a nod towards her upbringing in the music world. Letting the world know of her passion by sharing snippets of her originals on social media, she shows the world that she’s a songwriter at heart. “The process is always changing”, says Catie. “Sometimes I need to get something out and it all spills out within 5 minutes and writes itself. Other times, it’s coming up with a concept and playing chords to match the vibe of the concept. Like if I’m writing a sad song, I play chords and see ‘is this setting the tone for how sad of a song I want this to be?’ My songwriting process depends though.”

In a nod towards her fellow songwriters, Catie also mentioned that verbalising her dilemmas to collaborators relieved the difficulty of not being able to express herself. She cited her collaborators as contributors to the brutally honest songwriting, sonic diversity and the all-too-familiar feelings of heartache. “I think that’s the beauty of collaborating in writing sessions; if I’m having trouble with what I want to say, you can bring it to people who are going to translate it and ease the frustration of feeling but not having the exact words.”

As a musician in general and a songwriter in particular, Catie finds her music to be heavily influenced by what she’s going through at that particular moment. Thus comes the raw emotions, which stem from real life incidences, which you can evidently hear in her music. As an artist who is still carving her path, Catie turns to the anguish and pain she feels in her life and uses music as a mechanism to feel all those feelings on all scales of the spectrum and uses it to cope. The isolation of the pandemic impacted her in other ways that usual, in ways she couldn’t have thought of. “It made it so much harder to make music! I’m an introvert, so to be honest, isolation wasn’t the hard part; it was not having the option to get out of isolation if I wanted. Knowing if I finally wanted to socialize and I couldn’t – well – sucked. And to write music, you have to experience life, and I wasn’t experiencing a life people would want to hear about, anyway. ‘Trapped in my childhood bedroom eating cookie dough’ wasn’t the most interesting thing to write about’.

“I can see how far I’ve come, or how I’ve grown in a certain amount of time. In a strange way, it’s like a very, very public diary.”

Catie is definitely not new to the industry, but she’s still carving her own path, creating her own, personal type of music as she finds her way. However, the distinct melancholic notes derived from her biggest influences, who also happen to be marvels in the music world are also contributing to her own path. When talking about the artists she draws inspiration from, Catie said, “I always find this question so hard, because I feel like the music I listen to is so different than the music I create. Right now, I’m binging all of one directions discography again, because I love living in nostalgia. But I find artists that are authentically themselves definitely influence me – maybe not sound wise, but on how I want to create and what I want to say. Phoebe Bridgers, Harry Styles, Lorde, etc.”

Especially for an artist like Catie, a lot of the music she makes also displays her fearless vulnerability and what she’s going through at a particular moment in time, some of which even she doesn’t realise the intensity of her emotions at the time, until a song has been created. Knowing that the world gets this intimate glimpse into her life, Catie says, “I detach from my music after I write it, so when it finally comes out, it’s like I’m also getting the intimate glimpse into my own life. Like, ‘oh my god, Catie, you were really sad!’ It’s scary, but also kind of nice. I can see how far I’ve come, or how I’ve grown in a certain amount of time. In a strange way, it’s like a very, very public diary.”

A quiet power to describe the indescribable practically radiates off of Catie’s frame. Her framework of knowledge she holds about music is immaculate and perfectly visible in the songs she creates. That stems from a firm belief in her chosen path and confidence to pursue a career in the entertainment industry. American Idol was a pivotal point in her life, which allowed her to harness the incredible power of expression she already possessed. “I knew I was good at music, and I knew I could sing, but it always felt so far-fetched and unreachable that I never really let myself be super passionate about music”, Catie says. “But American Idol made it seem realistic – music was an actual option now – and it all fell into place.”

“My main aim is just putting out music that I think best represents me and where I’m at, and that’s it.”

Coming to her newly released EP, ‘Heartbroken & Milking It’, which is a stunning take on someone who’s experiencing emotions firsthand and traversing new paths, the singer-songwriter has created a turning-of-age album featuring composed vocals and hopefully-melancholic. Talking about the stellar album name, Catie says “There was a period of time where I would leave every writing session and have another song about the same heartbreak. I always would joke that I was ‘milking it for all its worth’. It only felt right to be honor that and name it Heartbroken and Milking It.”

‘I don’t hate you, I just hate the way I miss you, and I hate the way it hits me at night’, these lyrics and ‘Wish I Didn’t Have To Lie’ as a song in general, is a super vulnerable, stripped-down song, that a lot of teenagers will resonate with, that talks about these negative thoughts about the relationship creeping into your head. After starting with a basic concept, Catie defines her narrative and expands it into a full, vivid arc while songwriting, which was obviously influenced by the isolation of the pandemic. “I would lie awake at night and just find myself lost in my thoughts; all the things I could push to the back of my brain with distractions like social media, youtube, tv, etc, I couldn’t rely on – because I was trying to fall asleep – and I’m the type of sleeper who needs absolute silence to fall asleep. So late night thoughts and silence? A dangerous mix. Also, because the isolation of the pandemic, it really just let the thoughts of the past relationship ruminate because I had nothing else to do – no one else to meet.”

Being an effortless storyteller, Catie has always had a knack of expressing emotions and putting thoughts a lot of people have into accurately described words that hit the bull’s eye. Funeral, a song about the intricacies and complications of friendships and the natural process of growing apart, is obviously a heartbreaking song to listen to, but the astonishing ability to write songs that people everywhere will relate to is owned by Catie. “I wanted to tell the story of trying to keep your promise to your friend. Like the pressure you put on yourself because you said you would be best friends forever, and then when there’s a natural growing apart, it’s two people scrambling to save an idea of friendship that they had but ultimately it’s going to die because you’re different people now. It’s being scared of the change that comes with growing older – and growing apart.”

Moving forward with the theme of changes in relationships and the complicated plethora of emotions that accompany it, Catie delivers a stunning vocal and written masterpiece in ‘Push You Away’, featuring a storyline that many people will relate to. “In my relationship, I was always waiting for it to dramatically implode and fall apart; I couldn’t enjoy it for what it was”, says Catie. At one point in our lives, we’ve all experienced that pressure wave of being so on edge in a relationship, that we’re always anticipating the ultimate fallout which break us. In reference to that, Catie says, “I was constantly on edge of it ending, I would look for little signs they were going to leave and break my heart. Ultimately, I think it was me chasing a self-fulfilling prophecy. But Push you Away was me writing about that feeling and that experience, and how I was craving constant reassurance.” Conceptually, Catie’s ability to capture and communicate via vivid imagery that stirs an intense sentiment is incredible.

Songwriting encompasses Catie’s feelings and her honesty, authenticity and vulnerability vibrates alongside notes of all-too-relatable teen nostalgia. Though ‘Heartbroken & Milking It’ is heavier on the heartache ballads, it’s edgier tracks, like ‘Play God’, which features upbeat production, brings a fresh representation of what that emotion felt like at the time. That’s the thing about Catie – she isn’t chasing trends in music, isn’t jumping on bandwagons, joining stereotypes or looking for people’s approval or appreciation. She’s creating her own path in music that is genuine, candid and straightforward and most importantly, unapologetically Catie. “I think my main aim is just putting out music that I think best represents me and where I’m at, and that’s it. I never expect a certain reaction from anyone, but I always hope that they at least don’t hate it; People liking it is just a bonus and is always really cool and very much appreciated.”

Although Catie includes a lot of specificity in her music, she’s always serving the ultimate level of Catie – she never portrays herself to be somebody she’s not. Her unparalleled individuality shines through in everything she does, be it in her music or social media feed, or in real life. Talking about her fearless authenticity, Catie says, “I’m an Aquarius, so the stars just gave me a huge individuality complex with a lot of servings of weirdness. Just kidding – kind of. But what inspires me the most to be my most authentic self is just; it’s so much more fun, and life is too short. When people like me, I want to know they really like me for me, and not a version of myself I tried to sell them because I thought they’d like it more.”

Putting your entire life on display for the world, with genuineness you won’t see anywhere else on the Internet, Catie really does put her best foot forward. However, the crest and troughs of dealing with the endless amount of feedback from strangers, all of which isn’t necessarily positive criticism on the Internet and the boomers and haters on social media is draining. When talking about the best advice she’s ever received, she remarks “It would probably be Luke Bryan telling me ‘don’t read the comments’. I didn’t listen – and I still do read the comments – but regardless, he does have a point.” Additionally, 2021 was an intense year of growth for everyone in countless aspects, and Catie was no exception to this inevitable transformation in her personality. The lockdown put a lot things into perspective and changed our point of view in regards to ourselves and the world. “2021 Catie would tell 2020 Catie to stop overthinking and doubting yourself and I’d probably shake her a few times to really get that through to her thick skull”, Catie says. “I love you 2020 Catie, but this is a call out from your future self.”

“When people like me, I want to know they really like me for me, and not a version of myself I tried to sell them because I thought they’d like it more.”

That’s exactly what it is about Catie that catches everyone’s attention – she’s so unafraid to be herself, that her candid personality and honest energy attracts an increasing number of listeners to what she has to say to the world. She acknowledges that young adulthood is a messy, insecure path to traverse and instead, takes that into her stride and inspires everyone who encounters her fearless aura to be more themselves everyday. It’s not uncommon for listeners to find scattered parts of themselves in her music, especially for those experiencing emotions for the first time in the realm of young adulthood. It’s an impressive skill – especially because it sets up an artist for longevity in an environment of one-hit wonders. Although her defining career moment may be further down the road, you can sense she is going to have that moment sometime soon.

Listen to Catie’s debut EP ‘Heartbroken & Milking It’, under Atlantic Records here; now out on all streaming platforms.

The interview has been edited and condensed.