Feral Songs: Kat Steih switches gears for a new rock record, "I Am Not My Self"


A black-and-white head shot of Kat Steih.

Kat Steih features honest lyrics and emotive new-wave, hard-rock, and pop-punk instrumentation on I Am Not My Self. Photo by Hilary Nichols.

Kat Steih takes a bold look beneath the surface on I Am Not My Self.

That deep examination reveals the challenges people often face with presenting one persona externally while wrestling with another self internally.

“Each person has an outer persona and an inner world. Even if my persona is funny and easygoing, what’s really holding the strings is what’s on the inside,” said Steih about her new album out May 17. 

“The puppet master can be in pain while still conducting a pretty, whimsical dance—something nice or fun to amuse herself or to self-soothe. I use music to acknowledge things that I feel. Some may call it bold, and it empowers everybody.”

The Ann Arbor singer-songwriter especially shares that courageous and empowering message on the title track, which features fearless electric guitar, bass, and drums. 

Steih sings, “I am the candle, and you are the flame / Fingertip to fingertip, your voice animates me / Tremors I detect in the seismic quake / The look on your face rearranges me.”

The title track also reflects the honest lyrics and emotive new-wave, hard-rock, and pop-punk instrumentation that flows throughout I Am Not My Self’s six tracks.

Sonically, it’s a shift from Steih’s prior expansive and folky EP series, Songs From a Faraway Galaxy … and West Park, which was spread across three volumes in 2021 and 2022.

“People who know my work know that before I had my expansive and folky sound, I performed performance art/noise/electronic music under the moniker iO Megaji,” she said. “iO Megaji was reckless music, and then my sound became more peaceful, and now it has become bold.”

I spoke to the singer-songwriter ahead of Kat Steih and The Ferals’ album-release concert on May 17 at The Neutral Zone, where she also works.

Q: What’s been inspiring you lately from a creative standpoint?
A: I read a book called The Architecture of Suspense: The Built World in the Films of Alfred Hitchcock by Christine Madrid French. I’m interested in systems—whether it’s people (a band or an organization), an album, or an art show. All these systems have a flow. I like to generalize this flow idea and look at it in different types of systems. 

In visual art, I’ve been interested in negative space—I got a book about Nōtan, which is the Japanese concept of negative space and how it has its own visual appeal. 

The Architecture of Suspense book isn’t just about the buildings in his movies, but about the way Hitchcock structured the entire experience of the films he made. For masters like this, every element masters. 

Q: Your last release included three EPs for the Songs From a Faraway Galaxy … and West Park series. While those three EPs have been out for over two years now, what’s it like to go back and listen to them at this stage in your career? 
A: All of my music is exhibitionist—I’m inviting the audience to look through my window and watch me. Those songs from Far Away Galaxy were a window into a valley of escape. These songs are a window into the bondage of self. 

QI Am Not My Self weaves emotional expressions of anger with “perky, topsy-turvy” humor. How did you balance these two elements thematically throughout the album’s six tracks?
A: Humor is a useful tool to take people to the dark side. 

Q: “Secrets” explores the challenges of feeling stifled, being honest with yourself, and facing your fears. How did writing that track provide you with relief, strength, and courage? 
A: That song is not about my secrets. I grew up knowing there were secrets that I couldn’t touch lurking in everyone around me. Not being able to ask—and they’re not willing to tell—but feeling the heaviness, knowing they’re burdened with something they can’t or won’t express … that stifling atmosphere became my inner world.

Q: “Take Me” examines feeling restless and needing to embrace our primal urges—both alone and with another. How does this track help explore the intimate side of life and serve as an anthem for destressing?
A: It is bold to acknowledge that restless energy. It’s the antithesis of “Secrets.” Addicts know that energy well. My audience wants to have that energy acknowledged. It’s empowering to hear and feel the guitars and the vocals.

Q: “You Have to Be Alone” shares personal fears of feeling empty, being isolated from others, and accepting your fate. What other insights did you uncover while writing this track?
A: Being alone isn’t just about being lonely; it’s also about being unsupported. 

Q: What was your writing process like for the six tracks featured on I Am Not My Self? How did you seek input and inspiration from others while putting them together?
A: I work with other people to help move my ideas toward the expression I know it wants. The idea is fully realized in my brain—it takes up physical 3D space in my mind. I realize the idea physically in the world by having a lot of conversations about it and working together on it with other people. I start with a raw demo, people help me look at the different parts of the music and the lyrics, we create the more fully formed components, and then I choose the ones that fit the idea and put them together. There’s a long list of people who have been a part of this process.

Q: How long did you spend recording the six tracks for I Am Not My Self? How did The Ferals—Alex Anest (guitar), Bob Zammit (drums), and Samn Johnson (bass), and David Roof at Rooftop Recording—help shape the album’s overall sound?
A: After I finished Songs From a Faraway Galaxy … and West Park, I knew that the songs “I Am Not My Self” and “You Have to Be Alone” were ready to be born. Samn and I got together in the summer of 2022 and arranged them. I gave Samn a demo of the structure, the drums, the chords, and the lyrics. Samn organized it into an Ableton session, converted my chords into a nice guitar part, wrote a bass line, and filled in the missing pieces. About four months later, we did the same thing with “(My Baby’s Having A) Baby (And It Isn’t Even Mine)” and “Secrets,” and then four months after that, “Jam Jar” and “Take Me.” 

At that point, it was winter 2023. We knew that Alex was in to play with the band. I found Bob through another musician in the community. We had a try-out with Bob in February 2023 and he had thoroughly learned the songs we sent him. Kat Steih songs have very tricky drum parts, so this was a huge accomplishment. We signed on Bob and made a plan to record the first few days of May 2023. We practiced once in February, once in March, and then every day for a week before we recorded. We recorded all the instrumentals in two days at Dave’s studio and I went in for a third day to add extra vocals.

To describe the recording process and the band in three words: experienced, efficiency, and expertise. 

Q: How long have you been working at The Neutral Zone as a music advisor? What do you enjoy most about working for the organization and supporting local youth involved in music and other creative endeavors?
A: I started working at The Neutral Zone in 2018. I feel so enthusiastic about hearing teens play and write music. When I make music and throw shows with them, I’m invested not just as a teacher but as a participant. I share the risks and the rewards while also being able to carry them a bit further as a more experienced person and getting to experience their joy of accomplishment. 

Q: You also received a professional development grant from The Neutral Zone to help record and release your album. How did you learn about the grant? 
A: The Neutral Zone gives professional development money to their full-time staff. I have worked there so long that I also qualified. I made a proposal to use the money to record the album and also observe Dave [Roof’s] recording techniques. They thought it was a great idea and knew it would be a good investment in me as a music advisor. 

Q: What do you have planned for your May 17 album release show / The After Party at The Neutral Zone? How will openers bibomba and GVMMY help set the tone for the show? What will The Ferals help bring to the show that night as well?
A: The show is called The After Party because it’s directly after the Community High School Comstock music festival, which is a huge deal every year. Comstock ends and we start at 6 pm with bibomba. bibomba’s music is like smooth purple satin—it will be a soothing and welcoming opening set. GVMMY will hit at 6:30 pm—his shows are like a party on that planet in Doctor Who where everything on the surface is a glittering black diamond. So we’ll have a Plutonian black diamond planet party until 7:30 pm. The Ferals and I will blow up the bondage of self as we play our album. Catharsis will be achieved with GVMMY closing the night out with a DJ set.

Q: What other live shows do you have planned with The Ferals this summer?
A: What if I said this is the last show I’ll ever play? Because this is the show you should come to.

Q: What’s up next for you later this year? Any plans to work on new music or other creative pursuits?
A: I have an art show I’ve been imagining for about two years; I’d like to do that.

Lori Stratton is a library technician, writer for Pulp, and writer and editor of strattonsetlist.com.

Kat Steih and The Ferals perform May 17 with bibomba and GVMMY at The After Party. The event is free and takes place at The Neutral Zone, 310 E. Washington St. in Ann Arbor.