KT Ramsey balances form and freedom on 'Fatum Escape Echo'

On Bandcamp, KT Ramsey recounted the process of creating her debut, Fatum Escape Echo, writing, “I had intended to record a completely different improvisational set with several musicians, but near the last minute changed my mind.”

This impulse-driven, improvisational feel bleeds over into the songs Ramsey recorded alongside drummer/producer Lisa Bella Donna, particularly on lengthy charges like “Nox Tremores,” a dizzying instrumental that mimics the feel of a locomotive twisting down a long mountain pass, teetering precariously on the rails at each bend.

During sessions, which took place in August 2015, and particularly in the months that followed, Ramsey worked to home in on her artistic voice, attempting to weave together the seemingly disparate aspects of her musical personality.

“I want to be R&B. I want to be a prog-rock trio. I want to be too many things, because I'm inspired by so many things,” said Ramsey, whose split musical personality can be traced through her bloodlines. (Her father, a rock guitarist, stressed the importance of feel, while her mother's side, which is filled with church organists, taught her the importance of structure.) “I love all these old rock bands, but I'm always asking myself, ‘Is that what I really am?' And that's what I've been trying to figure out.”

A similar push-and-pull exists in Ramsey's songs, which echo both of her parents, incorporating form and freedom as she vacillates between guitar, electric piano, flute and more. Indeed, even the most carefully composed tracks leave pockets for the unexpected, which the musician described as an essential element to her ever-shifting sound.

“I like the honesty that comes through in [improvisation] rather than playing something your body and muscles remember to be a certain way,” said Ramsey, who will headline a video release show at Ace of Cups on Friday, Feb. 17 for the album bonus track “Riddle of the Son.” “It's more of a spiritual experience to have that open area. Let's take some risks. Let's see how we can move and shape this in the moment.”

This impulse was further fueled by the regulars on the Dick's Den jazz circuit who have served as both mentors and sources of inspiration, including Bella Donna and guitarist Stan Smith, who was the first to coax Ramsey onstage to sing at Brothers Drake in the fall of 2014.

“I was so nervous I was sick. I wanted to die. It was like, ‘This is so dumb. I'm just singing two songs. I'm a grown adult,'” said Ramsey, who was immediately hooked by the experience. “Once I got up there … I realized this isn't that big of a deal. I have these people onstage I can connect with, and then these other people in the audience I can connect with. It was like, ‘This is what I need to stay alive.'”

Growing up in Shelby, Ohio, Ramsey, who started playing piano at age 7, realized the importance of music — “My piano was my home,” she said matter-of-factly — but for years she set aside these artistic ambitions, fearful of what might reveal itself.

“I realized at some point I was pretty artistically inclined, and I think I denied that in myself for a long time,” she said. “It wasn't that I was afraid about music itself; it was being afraid of things that were in me and facing them.”

Now even these fears have started to dissipate, helped along by the intensified focus on self-care that emerged with the completion of Fatum Escape Echo, which Ramsey loosely described as “very much a broken-hearts album.”

“It really gave me my freedom back making that record,” she said. “I felt like I released demons.”