Musicians Off the Record: Kathy McCarty

Kathy McCarty is a singer-songwriter and guitarist often noted for her work in one of Austin’s most influential bands, Glass Eye.  Her recordings and appearances marked a distinct break with Texas music of past eras, and the longtime central Texas resident—whose childhood was spent in Stanford, New York—helped advance the city’s burgeoning music scene in the 1980s. “I guess around eight years old I decided to be a poet. And then I got older and no one cared about poetry at all. So, I set it to music . . . I started playing guitar in the ninth grade. I had that idea that this is my concept, I‘m going to write poetry, set it to music get famous.”

McCarty’s precision of observation was most evident in the work of the art-rock band, Glass Eye, who formed in 1983. The band went on to become a leading practitioner of college indy/alternative rock, performing with “an almost jazz like sensibility of not over playing,” states McCarty.  “But our music was definitely arranged for maximum oomph, it wasn’t just a lot of people banging away like some bands . . . We were awarded the best avant-garde band in Austin for years.”

After the band’s break-up, McCarty’s rigorous insistence on performance led her to two solo projects, 1994’s “Dead Dog’s Eyeball,” and the EP “Sorry Entertainer,” both dedicated to the work of the iconoclastic Austin tunesmith, Daniel Johnston. McCarty had been approached years before by Johnston with a tape of his songs and without having heard the tunes, was asked for an assessment. To be polite, she told Johnston, “I loved it, it was great, you can definitely open for us.” That evening, after one hearing, she was hooked. Years later, she took up the solo recordings of his material when it appeared that Johnston would no longer be able to continue his career due to a mental health problem, and in so doing McCarty helped further his reputation as much as anyone.

Despite being established as an Austin musical treasure, McCarty bowed out of the scene for a time although she kept herself politically informed. “I don’t know why I really don’t write that many political songs, because I probably spend an hour a day doing political things. I write letters to my congressman, call him, and I give money all the time. I just get real unreasonable real fast.” With good reason, she returned to the studio in 2005 for her first solo release in a decade, the strikingly poignant “Another Day in the Sun.”