The Glass Heart String Choir is as big as its name implies, yet all at once produces a sound that is larger than the sum of its parts. Comprised of only Ian Williams and Katie Mosehauer, the duo succeeds in producing sweeping cinematic arrangements that reflect the vastness of their combined expression and heart. Their first release since their 2018 debut, Lights, further implies as much; ‘Stars’ is a hearty slice of baroque indie folk that wonderfully captures the duo’s synergy as songwriters and performers. Featuring stunning shots of natural landscapes, its music video speaks to themes that Katie speaks with For Folk’s Sake about below.
Mosehauer states, “The Stars video explores the elastic way we experience time—there are moments when an instant changes us, and others in which we are completely unaltered by years passing. Rather than following the traditional script of following a person as the actor and nature as the setting of a video, and we used a variety of time lapse and infrared photography techniques to treat people as the static component of images and let time itself be the actor. The resulting images are both familiar and other worldly, like strange dreams and real memories all at once.”
As part of the premiere of the music video for ‘Stars’, both members of the duo also partook in our ongoing ‘FFS 5’ interview series, wherein each artist that partakes answers the same set of five questions.
Please tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from and how did you get started in music? Any defining moments along the path to present day?
Ian: I grew up in various parts of the rural western US, and was drawn to music early on. My mom is a piano player and church organist, and I took lessons from her as a kid. I was a band kid and played trumpet though high school and college, and picked up guitar and started writing songs in my late teens. Moving to NYC to pursue a masters degree in Musical Theatre Composition was definitely a defining moment, it really opened my world up.
Katie: I grew up on the outskirts of DC and was also drawn to music from an early age. I was very lucky that my parents acquiesced when their already overly-activitied daughter explained that it was imperative that she get to play the violin. From that point on, the violin was always my great love. Unfortunately, I never quite fit in with violin culture, and I spent the better part of several decades proving myself a failed prodigy to a litany of disappointed classical instructors. In retrospect, much of our mutual disappointment can be attributed to a very simple fact: I do not like Mozart. In fact, I hate Mozart. There is not a soul on this earth who can inspire me to practice Mozart for more than 20 consecutive minutes. This important realization helped me to understand that I loved the instrument, but not the narrow scope of what people wanted me to do with it. That’s really what made me start asking, what is it that I want this instrument to do? And I’ve been happily forging my own path ever since.
As an artist, how do you define success?
Ian: Creating art, and striving to make art that is better and better. Always pushing yourself to do your best. Always pushing yourself to do your best.
Katie: Ian and I have often reflected about how happy we are when someone tells us our music made them cry. We then immediately feel like terrible people, but achieving that kind of response from someone means that we’ve managed to conjure and capture something that feels big and beautiful and true, and that’s the biggest success I can ask for as an artist.
It’s a bit of our internal measure of success, too. Ian and I write separately, so Ian will record a demo and send it my way, and I’ll work up an arrangement, demo it out, and send it back. I’m lucky in that I have total freedom in arrangements, so what I send back to Ian is often a significant transformation of a song, a total sonic surprise. When I sent him the initial demo for Stars, I got a text back that it was only the second chord and he was already crying, along with the comment, “that is exactly what I meant”. I feel like I succeed as a songwriter when what I contribute results in Ian feeling truly seen. I like to think that’s what we provide to our listeners, too, an opportunity to look in the mirror of someone else’s story and see ourselves reflected.
What do you find to be your greatest struggle when it comes to the music business?
Ian: Definitely social media! Neither Katie or I are natural sharers, I think we both prefer to express ourselves through our music and songwriting. We’re feeling like we’re starting to get the hang of it, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that I’m being either a braggart or disingenuous. I’m always reminded of the scientific fact that you disturb and change something in the act of measuring or recording it.
Katie: In addition to the very real challenge of social media, I think one of the biggest challenges about the music business is how little time we get to actually be musicians. We all have a million ampersands after that title these days: musician + engineer + producer + graphic designer + booker + promoter….The reality of that means I am always terrible at at least one of the five instruments that I play. There simply isn’t time to be continuously well-practiced on them all and keep the business and production pieces moving at the same time. I’m pretty much trapped in my own version of Groundhog Day where I have to re-learn the same proficiencies over and over again. It’s super fun.
What do you think is the most realistic goal you can achieve as an artist/band? What do you hope to achieve?
Ian: For me, it’s the quest to just spend my life making art, and share it with as many people as possible.
Katie: We sat down a few years ago and really asked ourselves that question of what do we want to achieve? what is it that we’re trying to do here? We agreed that our core goal was to be able to produce high-quality works of art expressed through both performance and recordings that were true to our personal aesthetics, and to do so in a sustainable and ongoing way. We took a long hiatus from public-facing work while we figured out what it would take to achieve that goal. We built a recording studio, learned how to engineer, transitioned jobs and built a business model. It was a long and arduous road, but one that was wholly worth it: we’re self-contained and self-reliant and can sustain the trajectory we started with our first release last year as Glass Heart String Choir.
Outside of music, what do you like to do that you feel contributes to the creativity that you tap into for your music?
Ian: Traveling and seeing as much of the world as possible, reading (history, literature, science fiction), poetry, listening to all the amazing music and songwriters around the world.
Katie: Music is a really three-dimensional experience for me. While my experience of thinking about or hearing sound stops short of something like synesthesia, I have a strong visual experience of shape and color that I lean on heavily when writing. I find that living a visually interesting life and arming myself with a lot of experiences of shape and color outside of the writing context, be it strange and intriguing landscapes out in nature or on a canvas in an art museum, fuels a specific part of my brain that contributes to musical creativity.
Words by: Jonathan Frahm