Katie Bennett, singer-songwriter behind the bygone indie pop band Free Cake for Every Creature, spent the last three years exploring what it means to be her. She looked into the mirror and then she stepped into it; extended her arms forward, reached for the hands that reached back, and came together whole as Katie Bejsiuk.
The name Bejsiuk is the singer-songwriter’s original surname: her father, a first generation American with parents from Ukraine, changed it before she was born. By reclaiming the name for her solo project, the first new music we’ve heard from Katie since Free Cake disbanded in 2019, she has conjoined with a shadow version of herself who holds hands with her past, present, and future. And with the release of her debut album, The Woman on the Moon, out June 24 on Double Double Whammy, listeners are offered the most wholly version of Katie yet.
The Woman on the Moon gently nods to the pre-band days of Free Cake—when it was just Katie and her guitar—but with a musical evolution cultivated from years of self-inquiry during which her confidence, direction, and self-possession bloomed. Whereas Free Cake buoyantly focused on the ecstatic wonders and wounds of youth in real time, Katie Bejsiuk pans out with wisdom and retrospection that comes with age. The Woman on the Moon is composed of 12 exquisite and refined songs that evoke the sensory through introspective lyrics and salve the heart with Katie’s tranquilizing, cadenced vocals that devoted fans have clung to for over a decade.
Written mostly while she was living in upstate New York between 2019 and 2021, The Woman on the Moon vividly documents memories and moments that define archetypal phases of womanhood: “Women are complex, powerful harbingers of both profound ugliness and unparalleled beauty. These songs are centered around navigating the landmines of girlhood and adolescence, learning how to deeply love another human being and also myself, and following my personal North Star vs. the projected timeline for adulthood. It’s also about what the relationships with the women in my life really look like—the joy and mirroring of self there, but also the unbreachable distance and instances of violence.”
Recorded between April and August 2021, The Woman on the Moon was a challenging creative endeavor for Katie, as there were myriad personal upheavals that delayed the process: she separated from her husband for a period, was estranged from her sister, quit her job, and moved twice. All the while, Katie slowly recorded The Woman on the Moon on her laptop, stealing away during quiet moments, sometimes in the middle of the night. “The process of creating this record is bringing me to the ‘me’ of right now,” she says. “It has helped me move through huge life changes, and helped me access who I am. It was a transformative process.” Katie dropped all preconceptions of what she believed was the “correct” way to record and took it on herself. She learned as she went along—not only the nuances of recording, but also how to trust herself by quieting the noise and getting to work. She was joined by a plethora of old and new faces, including Free Cake collaborators Francis Lyons, Heeyoon Won, Colin Manjoney, Meghan Center, and Peter Gill (Friendship); and for the first time with Will Henriksen, Amy Oelsner (Amy O), Jason Calhoun, and Jon Samuels.
“One of the most important lessons I learned from being a part of DIY communities for so long is that you can still create and advance your craft without owning the most expensive instruments, recording in the cool studio or cabin in the woods, or being in a totally calm mindset,” says Katie. “Life is messy and unpredictable, and I appreciate when people embrace that in their art rather than try to speak from an all-knowing perspective, so I try to allow myself that liberty as well.”
Throughout The Woman on the Moon are open spaces and lush soundscapes—in other words, moments to reflect. It tells the story of becoming better acquainted with oneself. “It feels like the most accurate portrayal of what’s going on in here,” says Katie while pointing to her head. “The big arc of the story is coming to know myself better on a spiritual soul level: thinking about home, how my grandparents were immigrants, and where do I belong?” Within these songs are prayers for belonging, moments of healing, and the path to finding yourself by creating your own star chart.
“Mothers Records” is a flash-forward opener for The Woman on the Moon: a candle lit for the past, a contemplation of family history, backed by the wistful combination of synths, piano, and slide guitar before the rest of the story unfolds. “Feels Right” de-intellectualizes love, turns it into a verb among finger-picked acoustic guitars and shuffling drums with the message that there’s not always answers; go with the feeling. “Vespers” is a drumbeat psalm for teenage pain that brings us closer to ourselves—a slow dance for a night alone. Katie’s layers of celestial, often chanting vocals and devotional lyrics are a spiritual awakening in the midst of “the least romantic night of your life.”
“Onion Grass” depicts a childhood rupture: a friendship mostly based in sacred woods, deteriorated by the cruelty of adolescence. Clean acoustic strumming gradually gets louder and more dissonant with the addition of electric guitar, mimicking the tumultuous journey of growing up, while Katie invokes a prayer for small natural wonders and innocence. “Olive, NY” feels like a companion song to “Onion Grass” in which the story is flipped: as a child, the idyllic natural setting was the only thing sustaining the relationship; as an adult, it causes strain. The song documents Katie’s move to upstate New York pre-pandemic with the dream of buying a cabin in the woods, right before the housing market sky-rocketed. The song is carried by two notes plucked on a single guitar string and Katie’s rhythmic, often spilling and breathy vocals that emphasize the confusion of figuring out the next move.The outro cuts the single-note progression and adds swelling violins and piano, an audible and unattainable dream of endless landscape and sky.
Perhaps the most contemporary version of Katie can be found in “Nightloop,” the closer in which she is listening and connecting to herself, moving through the moments the listener previously experienced throughout The Woman on the Moon. “That [song] shows me writing these songs,” she says. “It was recorded in the evening with my window open, there’s the sound of a car driving by, right in time with the end of a phrase; and a dog barks at the very end, emphasizing the last phrase of the album: ‘incidental music.’”
The Woman on the Moon is a balm for bleak nights, a silvery salve for shaky minds. Above all, it is a reminder that, just like the moon, we are constantly phasing from darkness to light and back again. The ubiquitous woman on the moon—the one who winked at Katie the night she flew solo to prom in “Vespers,” who hid her face and cried on “Tourmaline”—is the shadow self on the other side whose power comes at night, the other half of Katie Bejsiuk.