Learning, healing, and growing with Philadelphia’s No Thank You - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart

No Thank You’s third full-length album, Embroidered Foliage, is a recovery album in more ways than one: vocalist / guitarist and songwriter Kaytee Della Monica writes about recovery from a break-up, and from the loss of her father. Alongside bandmates Evan Bernard (bass) and Nick Holdorf (drums), Della Monica dives deep into the process of finding a sense of self after devastation, but with the dexterity and poeticism that has become characteristic of Philadelphia emo.

The breadth of No Thank You’s tone is stunning, and you can feel it in the outset of the album opener “Saturn Return.” Della Monica’s guitar draws you in with its brash melody, then drops off halfway through for her to remind you that “it’s time to stop wasting time hating yourself.” Suitable comparisons range from Brand New Eyes-era Paramore to Ivy Tripp-era Waxahatchee. The Key spoke with Kaytee Della Monica about astrology, gemology, different types of grief, and stanning Alanis Morissette.  This interview has been edited for content and clarity.

The Key: If you could explain this record, either musically or lyrically in a few sentences, what would you say?

Kaytee Della Monica: I feel like I say this for every record, that it’s a cathartic thing and this is how I heal, and this is how I learn more about myself and grow and change. And I think that lyrically, this [album] is very much about feeling conflicted, and learning about who you are through a relationship and like, what you need and what you want. And I think musically, we wanted it to be pretty high production, and not like lo-fi emo anymore, and sort of make it as powerful to listen to as the lyrics are.

TK: So, I understand that your last album was inspired a lot by grief. And now, this album is also still processing a lot of those emotions, but also a lot of anxiety, and then it’s also a bit of a breakup album. And, anxiety and grief, these are things that are all around us these days. So, what are some of your strategies to cope with that? Would you recommend everybody write an album like this?

KDM: Um, no. [laughs] It can be equally traumatizing to write the album about your trauma, or just prolonging that, which is not necessarily a great thing to do during a pandemic. I don’t know. I mean, I have been writing, I’ve been writing different sets of songs about totally different things. And come to think of it, it’s almost a little bit like fantasy. Like, instead of writing about things that have happened to me that I need to get through, I’m kind of writing about fun stuff that I can’t do right now, because of the situation we’re in. So, I don’t know if maybe writing is helpful.

But, I did a lot of cooking and video game playing, and that was nice. But I feel like a lot of it is just escapism, because what are we supposed to feel? It’s cool that people are into music and still paying attention to that. To me, the opportunity to collaborate more has been really exciting.

TK: I was thinking about while listening to this album, that when you are grieving a relationship, the typical move is to kind of reclaim your independence and decide that the breakup was for the better. But when we’re grieving people, it’s very different for a lot of obvious reasons. What did you find in making this record in terms of, is there a proper way to grieve a relationship?

KDM: I don’t think there’s a proper way. I think that you just have to figure it out for yourself and every time it’s going to be different. I think, whatever the relationship means to you is different than anything else. So it’s hard to have a specific thing to do. You know, I don’t know that the way that I mourned it was right.

TK: Why do you think that?

KDM: I think that there are ways to get out of relationships or end relationships without it being dramatic or painful. There are ways to, you know, either cut the cord, or just being definitive and having decision making skills and being honest, and I don’t think that I am very good at doing that when it comes to people. Like, I want closure, but I’m never ready for it. I have a really hard time letting go of things. So, I think that’s probably a bad way to grieve a relationship is to drag it out for as long as you can. I don’t know if it’s healthy.

TK: I was wondering about “Leo Moon.” I read somewhere that it almost didn’t make the final cut on the album, and now it’s the closer, which I tend to think as a space reserved for one of the stronger tracks on the album. So what convinced you to keep it on the album and put it in that spot?

KDM: 100% Evan, our bass player Evan Bernard. It was a song that I’ve been working on for a long time and I could not finish writing the lyrics for, because I think it just took a perspective of myself that I could only tap into every so often. Like, it wasn’t, it’s not natural to me to access that. So I didn’t know how to articulate any of that without being in that headspace. And, like I said, it’s a rare space for me to be in. So it just took a really long time for me to finally figure out what I wanted to say. And then when it came to recording it, I literally had a temper tantrum like a child because I didn’t feel good about what I was singing and I didn’t agree with what I was singing and I was just like, “This sucks, I never want to think about it again.” And I just said fuck it. And then Evan was just like, “You have to finish it, it’s the best song on the record, it’s so catchy. Like, it’s a good one, you have to make it. We have to finish it.” He bolstered me up and made me do it and it ended up fine and people really like it, and I like it as a closer because I think it’s, like, the next phase of accepting yourself after all this stuff that happens before, and how to move forward and what to take with it. And, yeah, I’m happy, I’m happy it landed there, but it definitely was hard to get there.

TK: What was the headspace that you had difficulty tapping into?

KDM: Just like a positive self image. Like, I’m really quick to admit my flaws. And, I don’t know, I think that that song is, it’s really honest about them, but also, like honest about me trying harder to be better. And I don’t always feel like I’m doing my best and I’m really hard on myself. So it just, I just get bogged down by it. And it’s hard for me to get to that elevated level.

TK: There’s an element of astrology in this song, was that also part of it? Was that also helping you understand what was going on in the song or what shape in the lyrics you wanted to take?

KDM: Yeah, I think after reading the lyrics, I was like, “Whoa, this is very, this, like, reminds me of, like, this aspect of myself that I’ve read about in my moon.” I’m into astrology, I think it’s fun, but it’s definitely…I don’t think it’s the Bible. I just think it’s an interesting perspective to see stuff from, like it’s a new set of eyes on a situation, a new understanding or attempt to understand. So, I feel like in the past few years, I’ve used it a lot to tap into my personality and like, what are things I can work on? What are my tendencies, like how do I, it’s almost like an aspect of therapy. So I feel like, to me, that song is very much me analyzing myself as almost a therapist. And, analyzing my emotions, and why I’m like this.

TK: Reading through a lot of the press around No Thank You, the name Alanis Morissette keeps cropping up as an influence. What do you find really compelling about her music? Or, what are some elements of her music that you incorporate into No Thank You?

KDM: Yeah, I think she’s an amazing lyricist. Just like, so compelling, smart, wordplay is there, cunning and quick-witted, and, like, stabby. Like she’s very, I don’t know, it’s just empowering.

TK: Like, her vocals…she’ll kind of like come out of nowhere and surprise you.

KDM: Kind of that, but also I think just lyrically. And like literally, in the delivery. Yeah, very biting. And I really like that. It comes across to me as very authentic, which I really appreciate, and find relatable. I think her songs are sick. I love Jagged Little Pill. I think that’s almost a perfect record.

TK: Did you get a chance to check out the Jagged Little Pill musical on Broadway?

KDM: No, I wish. I say I stan stuff because I feel like I do, but I don’t leave my house. Not even before quarantine. Like, I love Alanis Morissette, I would do anything to see her production based on a record that I love, but I probably would never do it.

TK: I can also, in this album, I hear a lot of the Philly punk canon embedded. There’s a lot of Modern Baseball and Waxahatchee. So what are some other Philly bands that you’re a fan of?

KDM: I’m in Snowhore, so I don’t know if it counts, but Veronica Isley is so incredible at writing songs. I’m obsessed with her songs. We’ve been writing new ones and like, she’s just, her singing, her melody, like everything about her songwriting, I love. Greg Mendez also, I’m a huge fan of. We’ve been friends for a very long time, and he’s only gotten better. And it’s amazing to watch his career.

TK: Yeah, you guys were in a band together, right?

KDM: Yeah, we were in one called Airports, and he’s also in Snowhore. And, Bad Heaven I like. I really like Half Thought. I really like everything Travis [Arterburn] does. I’m looking through my Spotify, who I listen to. I don’t know. I don’t really listen to music. I just listen to podcasts because music makes me sad.

TK: What podcasts are you listening to?

KDM: I listen to Conan’s podcast [Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend]. It’s really good. It’s very, it’s just like a nice little uplifter you know? I like Reply All.

TK: You’ve been tweeting about working a nine-to-five during COVID. Can I ask either where you’re working, or if you don’t want to share that, what kind of position it is?

KDM: Yeah, I am a jewelry specialist at an auction house.

TK: What does that entail in your day to day?

KDM:  So, I take property in for consignment from clients, and I catalogue it and research it and make sure that it gets photographed. And then it gets put online. And then we have a few auctions a year and we auction it all to rich people. I love working with this stuff. It’s really fun.

TK: What’s the most expensive piece of jewelry you’ve ever handled?

KDM: I have handled an $800,000 diamond. That’s the most expensive piece of jewelry.

TK: I know that you studied sculpting at Moore, does that play into it at all? Just in terms of, I don’t know, like a physical kind of medium?

KDM: Definitely. Yeah, I made jewelry in school, and I love doing that. And after school, I worked for an art dealer for a while. And I just got into objects, you know, decorative objects, posters, fine art prints, and was just in and out of auction houses, and as a consigner on the consigning side or buying side. And then, the woman I was working for passed away, and we had to sell some of her jewelry. I went to Sotheby’s and met with the specialists there, and I was just like, “How do I get your job? This is cool.” And she told me everything I had to do. I had to go to gemology school, which I just recently graduated from. So I’m an official graduate gemologist. I applied to an auction house and I’ve been working there for three years, and I’ve like, pretty much fulfilled that career goal. I don’t know what to do now. But it’s cool. It’s really fun. It’s a totally different thing than music.

TK: Have you been working in person?

KDM: Yeah, yeah, I was, our office has been, you know, maintaining six feet apart from another, everyone’s wearing masks and stuff. And everyone I’ve worked with has been great.

TK: Was there anything else about the album that you would like to add?

KDM: I just hope people like it. I hope it’s a fun listen, I hope it doesn’t make anyone too depressed. I hope it inspires people. And I’m proud of it, and I’m glad we did it.

TK: And it sounds like you’re also working on things in quarantine, that that will bear fruit sometime in the next year, maybe? Or maybe just to work on.

KDM: Yeah. Just something to keep our idle hands busy.

No Thank You’s Embroidered Foliage is out now via Lame O Records; stream the album below or order a physical copy at the label’s website.

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