All Katy Otto wants to do is to bang the drum all day
By Ivy Gray-Klein
Katy Otto’s blonde hair flies around her face as she sways to music in a cramped room near Spring Garden St. But unlike the crowd, she isn’t dancing. She’s drumming.
Between performing with her band, Trophy Wife, and running Exotic Fever Records, Otto has become a mainstay of Philadelphia’s independent music scene.
Originally from the Washington D.C. area, Otto left two years ago after noticing a decline in the creative community.
“A lot of people had moved to New York or to the West Coast and I wanted to be in a place that felt like it had a lot going on artistically,” she said. “Everything that I experience with Philly is the perfect blend.”
Otto’s involvement with music began as an adolescent. At 17 she picked up her first set of drumsticks after seeing legendary grunge band Hole at Lollapalooza in 1995.
“It changed my life,” said Otto. “I saw [Patty Schemel] play drums and I was convinced it was the most powerful and beautiful thing I had ever seen a woman do in my life. I’d seen other bands, but something about her was just magic to me.”
As a young woman learning an instrument dominated by men, Otto found encouragement from her teacher. He introduced her to world-renowned female percussionists, like Evelyn Glennie and Susie Ibarra.
While still in high school, Otto formed her first band, Bald Rapunzel.
“It was kind of a band name that you’d give when you’re a teenager [laughs],” said Otto. “I don’t think I’d quite name a band that now.”
Otto and Bonnie Schlegel, her Bald Rapunzel bandmate, started Exotic Fever Records in 2000. Both inexperienced in music distribution, Otto and Schlegel taught themselves as they went along. Exotic Fever has released over 40 records in 12 years.
“It’s a different landscape now because of digital distribution of music. It makes it a little tricky to know how to put out stuff,” said Otto. “I still put out records when I think a band will support it. You just can’t really afford to put money into someone else’s project and then they break up. I end up sitting there with tons of extra records that just don’t go anywhere.”
While the immediacy of digital music has its benefits, Otto still laments the disappearing mail order culture.
“This morning a person from Portland ordered a record. It’s always exciting to me, but I used to get several of those emails a week,” said Otto. “I know it’s because we do digital distrubtion that people buy the record that way, too. But I miss pouring through a catalog. It’s changed a lot since I started doing stuff.” Continue reading