Based out of Chicago, Airstream Futures came to the scene in 2016. Formed by former members of The Bomb and The Methadones, they had a strong debut with the 2019 LP Spirale Infernale. Fast forward to 2023, they just released their third full length, Armer L’harmonie, on Rad Girlfriend Records. Holding down the bottom end for this outfit is Katie Karpowicz.
I recently had a chance to talk with Katie about how she got starting playing, her influences, her gear, her thoughts on bass playing, some thoughts about life in Chicago, and more.
What made you first decide that you wanted to play music? Were there specific artists or bands that made you want to join a band?
My parents are both professional musicians. They were very hesitant to push playing music on my sister and I for fear they’d pressure us into following in their footsteps. It wasn’t until high school that I decided on my own that I really wanted to start understanding how the music I loved so much was made. I grew up listening to a lot of Pop and Hip Hop music (and still do), but got into Punk music around the same time. I went to my first Warped Tour in ’04 and that really opened my eyes to that whole world of music and bands.
So why did you decide on bass? Why not guitar? Or keyboards? Or drums? Or kazoo?
Funny enough, my parents played a big role in this one too. My first inclination was to learn to play guitar, but they joked with me that—based on their own experience gigging in bands—guitarists are everywhere. However, a really solid bassist is harder to find. I guess that stuck with me.
Who were some artists that have influenced you both as a bass player and a songwriter?
It’s sort of a “go-to” answer with a lot of bass players, I think, but Flea was the first bassist that really registered with me. When I first started playing, my ear wasn’t developed enough to be able to pick out the bass track on a lot of songs. His playing was so distinct though and was the first to help me understand a great bassist isn’t typically just strumming along to the root note of a chord.
Then, the first time I heard Victor Wooten’s A Show Of Hands, it changed the entire way I felt about bass guitar. Even now, I can’t quite put into words what that album did for me, but it will always give me a feeling that I can never practice or learn enough. From there, I started getting into other greats like Justin Chancellor of Tool, Matt Freeman from Rancid and Les Claypool.
What sort of rig do you typically use?
I have a beautiful ’70s-era Ampeg 2×15 cabinet that will probably be with me forever. For amplification, I mostly use my Ashdown ABM-600 because of its crispness and versatility. I also have a Markbass Little Mark Tube amp that I fall more in love with all the time. You’ve gotta love a 500-watt tube amp that only weighs five pounds.
What sort of practice routine, if any, do you follow regularly?
I’ve always been drawn to the technique drills when practicing. When I’m using my fingers to strum, I’m always harping on hand position. If I’m using a pick, I have to start a song over if I realize I’m not employing alternate picking. That sort of thing.
At this point in my playing career, my favorite thing to do is throw on a song I love, find the key and just start improvising bass lines and solos over it. Hip Hop, Dance music and Jam bands work great for that sort of thing.
In your opinion, what is the role of a bass player in a band?
This might be a bit corny, but I like to imagine the bassist as the seams of a garment. I really struggle to write sometimes until the drums and guitars are sorted because I want to make sure I’m complimenting all of the different parts of a song. It’s the “hand sewing” part and tying everything together into one cohesive piece that’s most exciting to me.
What advice would you give to novice bass players just learning how to play or anybody thinking of picking up the instrument?
There are a lot of jokes out there that bass players are lazier or less talented than guitarists. Or—even worse—that women make for better bass players because they’re not good enough to be guitarists. I hate that!
Sure, it’s fairly easy to write really basic bass lines. However, with bass you have to do more and be more creative with less. We’re working with two fewer strings and a lot less notes! Don’t ever view it as “opting out” of the more complicated instrument. A truly great bassist rises to the challenge and finds a way to stand out. That first time you write something really memorable with *just* four strings, it’s incredibly rewarding.
How did you first get involved with Airstream Futures?
Believe it or not, I never played in bands before I joined Airstream when I was 28 years old. It was just never the right time or situation for me prior to that. I spent a lot of my 20s blogging about music and my current day job is in live events promotion. I was, and still sometimes am, more drawn to the opportunity to hype up other artists than to be that artist that needs hyping. However, Airstream came along at the perfect time. I was happy and content in my personal and professional life and feeling like I needed a new thing to get excited about.
I had been friends with our guitarist Jeff for sometime via our connections to the local scene. When the band’s original bassist left to pursue further education, he texted me asking if I knew of anyone who would want to join. I didn’t, but when he texted me again a couple weeks later letting me know they still hadn’t found anyone, I kind of sheepishly told him I played. I think he thought I was kidding but we decided to link up and try running some songs. I think to both of our surprise (ha!) it really clicked. And things just fell into place from there.
What are some of your favorite songs or albums that you have performed on?
There’s a song on the new Airstream Futures album that came out this month (Feb. 2023) called “Controlling The Burn.” Everybody brought it on that track! The drums, the vocals, the guitars… hopefully the bass, too! It just gives me chills every time I listen to it. I listened to a ton of songs from The Cure trying to come up with that bass part—we just felt like it needed something very ’80s and New Wave sounding. I think it worked!
What are some of your favorite artists or bands that you’ve been listening to lately?
This is always a tough one to answer because I sometimes feel like I wake up a different person every day, musically speaking. My tastes are all over the map. My favorite album that came out last year was Nnamdï’s Please Have A Seat. (He’s from Chicago!) It’s the perfect example of us getting to a place in music where genre is irrelevant. Each track has such a myriad of influences, it’s hard to categorize it.
We’re also in the midst of a great era of pop music right now with Lizzo, Charli XCX, Beyonce and others just continuing to release amazing album after amazing album.
Do you prefer playing live or playing in the studio and why?
I like both for different reasons! In the studio, you’re thinking about the song structures and getting that creative side of your brain really working. But, on stage, you’re just able to rock out and have a ton of fun doing it!
What are some of your favorite venues to play in the Chicago area?
The Gman, Liar’s Club, and Cobra Lounge have always been really great to me, so I’ll always have love in my heart for those venues. Obviously, playing the Metro was a lot of fun and I’d love the chance to do Bottom Lounge again. If anyone from Thalia Hall is reading this… your venue is on my “places to play” wish list! It’s one of the most beautiful spaces in Chicago.
Do you have any favorite places to eat in Chicago? Or any places that you would recommend to a newcomer?
I have been a proud West Town resident for over a decade and am in love with the local businesses in this neighborhood. Get an amazing brunch at Flo, eat Detroit style pizza at Five Star or New York style at Dante’s, go shopping at Seek Vintage and RR-1, then go dance your ass off at Beauty Bar!
What sort of things do you enjoy outside of playing music?
Does watching other people play live music count? Ha, I would be at a show in some capacity every night if I could! Again, I also work in the events space and love what I do, so being around live music is just a part of my DNA at this point.
Travel is a big thing for me and one of my favorite ways to mentally reset. Prior to the pandemic, I was getting out of town for at least 2-3 days a month and I’m finally getting back into that balance.
If I’m at home and not at a show, you can probably catch me checking out new places to eat, enjoying the many awesome dive bars around town or at my apartment watching horror movies.
What’s happening with you next?
Well, right now, I’m most active with another group, Hi Ho. Our front person Gillian McGhee was the singer/guitarist in Turnspit (RIP), our guitarists Nick and Dustin also play in The Flips and our drummer Dave is the current bassist in The Killer. So we bring a ton of varied influences to the group and we’ve been creating some amazing songs that have a really genuine, heartfelt vibe to them.
We got off to a rocky start after playing our first show with this iteration of the band two weeks before COVID shut everything down (great timing!), but we’ve really started gaining momentum again. Our first new single in ages, “Horizon,” is out on February 24th and it would mean the world to me if you’d give it a listen!
It hasn’t been an easy few years for local musicians, so I really appreciate everyone who’s reading and listening along! Stay cool.