When I was in college, I switched majors a few times, and ended up getting my degree in political science. I thought maybe I’d be a senator one day or something, but once I got up close to that world and saw how politics works, I made a beeline in the other direction—without yet realizing what that direction was. After I graduated, I was in a really strange time in my life where I didn’t really know where I was going, what I was doing, or even what I wanted to be doing. I just felt very lost.
That was very confusing to me because I had always been someone who thought college was where you figured these things out. I thought when I finished that I would be on the track to being a successful, functioning, responsible adult. To make matters worse, I was living in a group house with a bunch of working professionals. They all had their lives together, and I remember one of them referred to me as a “life dropout.”
At one point, I decided in protest I wasn’t going to brush my hair anymore. At age twenty-one, or twenty-two, that seemed like a proactive way to deal with my dissatisfaction. But then I finally started making friends with some creative people. This was fun and exciting to me because as a younger person I didn’t know anyone who did things like that.
One of my new friends was a respected poet and musician a few years older than me. Even though I had been writing songs since middle school, I wasn’t formally trained in music. I thought my songs were probably fake, but I felt comfortable enough to share some of them with my new friend. They said, “What are you talking about? These are real songs!”
We decided to go to New York together, and we met a lot of other musicians there, which was a lot of fun. As we were walking back to the bus to DC, we passed by a wet, moldy cardboard box. It had been left out on the street, and it was full of magazines and books that were being thrown away. In the pile I spotted a magazine called Graphic.
I’m not sure what specifically captivated me so much about it, but once I opened the magazine, I saw like fifty different entries from artists sharing excerpts from their personal journals and sketchbooks. And next to these scanned pages were brief interviews where people answered questions like:
Are you honest with yourself in your diaries? Where does the personal stop, and the professional begin?
I studied the pages of this magazine intensely. I started tracing some of the drawings. Something about it just clicked with me. Soon I started doing my own little sketches and cartoons, which I shared with my friends.
Eventually, I went to Best Buy and bought a scanner and started scanning the sketches into my computer and posting them on Tumblr. Then I got some of my friends to post their sketches, too. It was such a formative experience for me to feel like I was sharing artwork with people in a way that felt true to who I was.
My audience was just a couple of my friends, but the experience was so meaningful to me. I realized that my drawings, which I had considered rudimentary, were fine just the way they were. The most important thing was that I was able to offer my personality and perspective, my sense of humor and style.
As I started to become more comfortable with who I was creatively, I also became more comfortable with my musicianship. My first electric guitar was a gift from my uncle. He got it for free as part of a promotion for buying a Volkswagen Beetle. I painted it and covered it with electrical tape. It was totally shitty, and messy, but it was mine. I started looking for people to start a band, and not long after that I met Daniele [the drummer for Priests].
Sometimes I’d have people over to my house to play music and one day one of my roommates asked me what the point was—in other words, what was the goal? Are you going to start a band? Play a show? What’s the track you’re taking and where will it lead you?
As a younger person I felt like I didn’t fit into the world in so many ways. I hadn’t yet realized that not fitting in was fine. Being an artist often means summoning the courage—and persistence when you fail—to find your own path. Maybe you’ll say or do something that someone hasn’t said or done before, and you’ll feel like a weirdo. But being a weirdo is what creativity is all about.
Wanted/Needed/Loved: Musicians and the Stuff They Can’t Live Without is an illustrated column where musicians share the stories behind meaningful objects. As told to Allyson McCabe and illustrated by Esme Blegvad.
Katie Alice Greer is the singer and lyricist for the Washington, D.C. post-punk band Priests, whose 2017 full-length debut, Nothing Feels Natural, made several of that year’s best album release lists, including NPR, Billboard, and Pitchfork. The band’s highly anticipated follow up, The Seduction of Kansas, was just released on its own independently run label Sister Polygon Records, which has also released music from bands including Downtown Boys, Snail Mail, and Shady Hawkins. Priests is currently on tour.