Pizza with the Band – Katie Miller of Kate Dressed Up and Producer SPHMRE at Pizzanada in Bloomfield

by Ed Magdziak • April 12, 2023 • Arts & Entertainment, MusicComments (0)331

We’ve been fans of indie folk singer/songwriter Katie Miller and her band Kate Dressed Up since their eponymous EP dropped in 2016. Miller’s personal lyrics are always delivered with an emotional punch and gorgeous vocals. Her guitar playing is nuanced and accomplished. Miller reached a pinnacle with the 2022 release of Kate Dressed Up’s debut full-length album In Another Lifetime. The songs, written pre-pandemic, take on a poignant yet hopeful shine now. Songs like “Ride Home” and “How Could I Have Known” find Miller at the top of her game. The album also happens to sound fantastic. It is both polished and intimate, allowing the songs room to move and breathe.

photo credit: Kenny Bieber

A lot of that has to do with the album’s producer SPHMRE, aka Ravi Bhavsar. Growing up in a musical family, he developed an appreciation for making music that led to DJing and eventually production. Self-taught, his rise in the field is impressive. How Miller and SPHMRE met and decided to work together? Check out the interview below.

We met both for vegan appetizers and pizza at Pizzanada in Bloomfield.

Katie and SPHMRE

Ravi is vegan but unfortunately the original place he and Katie wanted to take us to closed down. They reached out to suggest two alternate places, one of which was in our hometown of Bloomfield. We asked if they wouldn’t mind driving up to Bloomfield. After seeing Pizzanada’s impressive vegan menu we all agreed this was the place to hit.

We started with cheese sticks that were so stringy and delicious that it was hard to believe they were not made with real cheese! The plant-based mozzarella had great cheese-pull and were quickly devoured with the tasty marinara sauce.

We also had a wonderful vegan calamari appetizer that was made with oyster mushrooms. The dish was perfectly crispy and incredibly tasty. This was a daily special so keep an eye on their menu to see when they are next available.

And, as soon as we heard about the vegan cheesesteak, we had to try that, too. This was an incredible sandwich and my personal favorite of the day. It was served with peppers, onions and vegan cheese. A winner!

The star of the show (and the reason we regularly order from Pizzanada here at Chez YDKJ) is the vegan Tie Dye Pizza. It’s also available with non-vegan toppings and both versions are incredible. Homemade vodka sauce, sliced vegan mozzarella, and a pesto drizzle make it a fresh and herbaceous pizza. It also looks beautiful. We love this pie and Katie and Ravi now do, too.

We got down to hearing their story between the delicious dishes coming out of the kitchen.

photo credit: Kenny Bieber

Kate Dressed Up plays at Flemington DIY Thursday, April 13th, at a Songwriter Night with Jacob Tremont, Dennison & Donahue, and Andrew Dunn.

How did you two meet?

K: I have a friend Kate Kocses who hosts the comedy open mics at the Madison Community Art Center. She came out to a show at Scarlet Pub in New Brunswick a few years ago and we hung out after the set and she mentioned she just started a new job at Guitar Center that week. It just happened to be the store where Ravi worked.

R: I was showing Kate the ropes and in our down time we were hanging out and playing music. I was looking for a new artist to work with as I wanted to do something different and she played one of Kate’s songs. I was like, “Who’s this? She has a great voice and I love the songwriting.” And Kate said “Oh that’s my friend Katie.” So I immediately asked if she could connect us and she did.

K: He actually first reached out to me on Instagram which was kinda weird. These DMs seemed fake. But we talked on Instagram for a while and Ravi mentioned he was interning at Flux Studios on the Lower East Side in New York City. He said let’s do a song together. I had a song that I didn’t have a place for on the album I was currently writing so we agreed to record that one and see if we were on the same page. I asked if I could bring Kate as it was the first time I would be meeting him. I also looked up Flux Studios to make sure it was real! I brought my guitar and played drums on the track and we completed the song in one night. It was a great studio and I was just so happy to be there.

R: The best part of the story is that I was still an intern at the time so I hadn’t actually ever done a session in that room yet! I had more than an hour of technical difficulties. It was so embarrassing. But we got along really well and had a great time. Also, I had never worked in this genre. I had experience with hip-hop, Bollywood, pop and rap. I always wanted to work with someone in this genre and Kate was someone I really resonated with.

And how did the song turn out for you and lead to producing the new album?

K: Later Ravi sent me a rough mix. It sounded unlike anything I had done previously. I told him I loved how shimmery the vocals turned out and he was like “I put a shimmer plug in on it”. Once we had this exchange I knew there was something here. A couple of months later I invited him to one of my shows and I played “How Could I Have Known” which at that point was a very rough draft. The next day he texted me and asked if he could record that song. I thanked him but told him as much as I want to say yes if you make that song, I basically said the rest of the stuff would sound like crap. His response was “it sounds like we need to do the whole thing.”

The album is so polished yet also sounds warm and intimate. Was this intentional?

R: Yeah, absolutely. As I was working on the record at the studio, Fab Dupont, owner of Flux and my mentor, asked “Are you going to leave that element sounding raw like that?” I was like yeah. We intentionally captured sounds in ways that exuded an intimate feeling. We also polished certain things, especially the vocals. Kate has such a beautiful voice and I really wanted the songs to have a proper shine yet leave the instrumentation. I wanted the songs to still have that intimate and authentic feeling. It’s like when I saw her live. How can I capture that? I didn’t want to lose that. We agreed we can’t put the album out until it sounds right.

How did you get started in music production?

R: I grew up around music my whole life. My dad is an amazing singer and plays a bunch of instruments by ear. We used to go around performing Hindi and Bollywood songs and through that I started DJing. I was 14 at the time. Then I started doing mash-ups, putting 2 songs together which I though was really cool. This got me into thinking about how would I make my own music? At 16 my dad gave me my first interface and I’d start to record myself singing and playing around with it after school. This way I learned about MIDI, automation. I was addicted and kept learning. I fell in love with the process. My parents wanted me to go to med school but my heart was in music.

Katie, tell us about your residency at Cedar Point amusement park in Ohio.

K: Theme parks are not for me. But obviously a residency somewhere where they’re putting you in a hotel, feeding you and also paying you for a week to play music for literally thousands of strangers…who’s not gonna do that? We were not on the biggest stage there, but on a smaller stage near a wooden roller coaster. It did have permanent seating though and we played six, 25 minute sets. For seven straight days! I brought my drummer Ryan Hilsinger, my bassist, Nick Iacobelli and my business partner, and great friend, Mickey Skabla. I knew Mickey would handle our merch and keep my head on straight. I asked my husband if he wanted to go and he asked “do you want me to go?” and I was like “not really”. He said “cool because I don’t really want to go”. Our sound guy was 19 or 20 years old. He was an intern at the park, on a work-study kind of thing. His name was Harry and he took such good care of us. Getting to know him was one of the best parts of our time there. He also hinted that we were his favorite band during his internship. One big thing I learned is that at this stage in my life maybe touring isn’t for me. Bottom line, it was basically shenanigans.

Did you go on any rides?

K: I only went on the Slingshot. Ryan and Nick also went on the Slingshot. Nick said he wasn’t sure if a ride could be spiritual but the experience was definitely spiritual for him. It was an unforgettable experience, but I don’t need to do it again. I actually bought the video of me on the ride.

Let’s switch topics for a minute. What’s your favorite cuisine?

K: I’d have to say Middle Eastern. And I know that runs a large gamut. There’s a Lebanese restaurant in Collingswood called Li Beirut. Their tasting menu is crazy. They do six cold mezza and three hot mezza. Then there’s a main course of one dish that is basically all of their meat dishes on one plate. The Mixed Grill. It’s in bite-size amounts so it is perfect. Then they do this dessert. Ice cream with spun sugar on it. It’s an incredible experience.

R: It’s so hard to choose a favorite. I grew up vegetarian and I’ve been vegetarian my whole life and about three years ago I went vegan. I would have to say Indian food, but specifically Gujarati. It’s a very different cuisine than the north. North Indian food is really rich and uses a lot of heavy creams.

Are you going to continue to work together?

R: We’ve actually done a couple things recently and we have some stuff in the works. It’s very different than In Another Lifetime. With that album we had a clear game plan. We had the songs written and came up with many ideas together. The outline was there. Now it’s like “What do we feel like doing?” It’s very, very fun.

K: The way we’ve been messing around, since the album, is really the first time we’ve been collaborative from the point of creation. Tablua rasa. What are we doing next? We’ll see!

You recently posted online that you don’t know what’s next for Kate Dressed Up. Is this terrifying, exciting or both?

K: Both. This is the first time in a very long time where I don’t have a “goal” for the project. I previously had these mile markers I would set for myself. They would be in front of you and be something you can move towards. I have no mile markers at the moment. What’s been cool is that I actually find this a relief. I still feel completely addicted to music but that I’m not in a rush to find new mile markers. My sights have not turned away from being creative. It’s a bit of a blessing that I have time to be creative. I can let ideas marinate, I’m not forcing it. I will end up with the best results this way. I’m still doing little projects for myself and it’s been a breath of fresh air.

How about you Ravi. What have you been up to outside of working with Katie?

I’ve been making TikTok’s.

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