Katie Jo’s ‘Pawn Shop Queen’ Is ‘an Anthem for Perseverance’ [Exclusive Premiere]
Singer-songwriter Katie Jo's debut album, Pawn Shop Queen, chronicles some of the most traumatic experiences of her young life. Its title track, however, offers a bit of optimism: a reminder that our worst moments don't define us, but make us stronger.
Jo describes "Pawn Shop Queen" -- which is premiering exclusively on The Boot -- as "an anthem for resisting the lies depression tells us about ourselves ... for perseverance in spite of one's self." She'd had the title in her mind for a song for quite some time, and by the time she sat down to write it, at home in her pajamas, it took less than an hour.
"It’s the sound of someone mustering the energy to regain their self confidence, a statement to myself that trauma and heartbreak alone don’t define who I am," Jo reflects. "At the time, I was not only processing the fallout of some pretty shocking infidelity in my relationship, but also trauma around my own reproductive health and infertility. I felt betrayed, both by my partner and my own sense of worth."
Indeed, in the four years that led up the recording and release of Pawn Shop Queen, Jo endured a series of heartbreaks, just one of which would sideline most people. At 26, she was diagnosed with bicornuate uterus (essentially, her uterus did not develop properly); later, Jo was surprised to learn that she was pregnant despite the medical condition. However, because her long-term relationship was falling apart, she sought an abortion -- which turned out to be both a medical emergency, as her diagnosis complicated the routine procedure, and a life-saving choice, as carrying the pregnancy to term would have killed her.
“It was a very traumatic, life-altering thing to go through alone. For five or six years, I just kept it to myself and fell into deep depression," Jo admits in her bio. "All of my friends were starting to get married and have kids while I was forced down this alternate path I didn't quite understand. It really destroyed my emotional fortitude."
Jo turned to songwriting, then live performances, as a coping mechanism and a way to work through her grief and trauma. When a new love cheated on her, again leaving Jo dealing with depression, music helped once more.
"When your world is upended so quickly, it’s easy to think, 'Will anyone ever love me again? Will I even be able to love myself?'" Jo tells The Boot. "When I came up for air and finally took stock of the brokenness within me, I was inspired by the imagery of these once beautiful, valuable items that end up looking like a pile of junk after they’ve been used, roughed up and discarded. It really captured how I felt about myself in that season of my life. There was very much a sense of, 'I don’t want to feel this way about myself forever, but what do I do now?'"
Jo originally envisioned "Pawn Shop Queen" as a slow ballad, but her producer, Chris Schlarb, turned the song into the anthem that readers can hear below. Bassist Anthony Shadduck, percussionist Tabor Allen, pedal steel guitarist George Madrid and pianist and organ player Philip Glenn's work helps capture, as Jo describes it, "that feeling of running from your problems while running toward yourself ... that spirit of that hard-won emotional endurance."
"My hope is that anyone who’s fed up with themselves and their circumstances throws this song on their car stereo, hits the open road, and finds some kind of relief in letting it all go," Jo says.
A Wichita, Kan., native now in Los Angeles, Calif., Jo began her music career as a bluegrass-leaning banjo player, and found a home in LA's music scene. She worked on Pawn Shop Queen with Schlarb at Long Beach's Ego Studios.
“I was in a really low place for a lot of years. But once I started writing and performing, it was an escape from this pit of despair I was hiding in. The songs for Pawn Shop Queen came out of that period," Jo shares of her new album. "While it’s not a black and white diary entry of the events, the record really encapsulates cynicism and emotional isolation.”
Listen to Katie Jo's "Pawn Shop Queen":
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