Kat Pace is a singer/songwriter and actress from Philadelphia, who lives and writes in New York City. With the release of her three-song EP ‘Survivor’ in June 2014, she is currently working on a full-length album, due out in Spring 2017. Below is an interview she did with Matt Storm that was intended for release on Crash Chords: Autographs, but was delayed due to technical issues. The audio, unfortunately, was irrecoverable, but a transcript was saved! Enjoy reading this detailed chat with Matt & Kat on the ins and outs of the music industry, her background, writing process, plans for the future, advice for up-and-coming musicians, and a healthy aside on Hamilton, show tunes in general, and other genre trailblazers.
Transcript of interview with Kat Pace from 10/5/16:
Matt Storm: And welcome to another episode of Crash Chords: Autographs. My guest this week is the one and only Kat Pace. Thank you for joining me.
Kat Pace: Thank you for having me!
Matt: So, the listeners don’t know but we had a little bit of difficulty getting this interview to air due to audio and technology issues, further proving that when we’re reliant on tech so much it can destroy pretty much everything. I’m excited to have you on the show, though. I gave the Survivor EP many, many listens and I’m quite a fan, so I guess we’ll start there. That record is a 3-track EP. How long had that been in the making? Tell us a little about the writing process.
Kat: Yea, that took about a year-ish. Also thank you, I’m so glad that you like it! I was working with the producer that was based in Nashville and we basically wrote it over Skype over periods of time. It was a very long process and I had been writing songs for a very long time, though mostly without any structure. So he and this other songwriter just joined me and said, “Let’s try and create something that really has some depth and purpose”. So we wrote a bunch of songs and then ended up choosing those three for the EP. I also went to record it down in Nashville; it only took about a week to record it actually… all of it. And then that was it. It was out. It really took no time at all once we actually had everything written.
Matt: And what I like about the Survivor EP is that each song kind of fits a bit of a different pop genre. Is this just because you have a multi-faceted interest in all different kinds of music?
Kat: I do think so, I mean honestly my taste in music is super eclectic; I really do genuinely like everything. I mean you can definitely hear some country influence, which—although I’m not a huge proponent of county music, we were working in Nashville, so having that at my fingertips, why not use it? And I just took some pieces from a bunch of stuff that I liked. There’s African drums in the background on “Where to Find Me.” And though you’d never know it, the main inspiration for the EP was Sara Bareilles. You can definitely hear that in “Survivor”. She has a tendency to use a bunch of different genres too; she’s super jazzy, very indie, plus traditional pop, so it was kind of a fun way to infuse the fact that I love so many different kinds of music in one EP.
Matt: So would you say that Sara Bareilles is your biggest influence?
Kat: I think she was… for that EP. The thing is, I have so many different influences that I really can’t pick one. (I know that’s super cliché, but I can’t.) In fact, I’m working on a full-length album right now that’s going to be eleven songs — that’s due out in the Spring — and that will have a bunch of different influences. There’s going to be a lot of R&B influence in there, etc. So like I said, I’m drawing from a bunch of different stuff, but that EP was definitely Sara Bareilles.
Matt: Very cool, so how long have you been writing music?
Kat: I started probably when I was about fifteen, so at least ten years. I don’t necessarily think—and I think this a good thing—I don’t necessarily think I’m any good at it.
Kat: Well I think it’s really fair to be able to say that I need help to make it into what I want it to be, because I like to grab other people and say, “Hey I wrote this thing, what can I do to make it better?” So, sure it’s been a long time, but I don’t think you ever truly feel like you’re any good. I hope not. Maybe it’s just me, I don’t know.
Matt: Well I think it’s typical for artists, or anyone who works on anything artistically to play down their stuff a little bit. It’s just natural because you never think you’re as good as others think you are. But I think collaborations are very important. In fact, a lot of people that I’ve spoken to, especially recently, they always talk about who they brought in to work on this or that. Music is very collaborative and those kinds of influences can only help you.
Kat: Oh yeah, because we all hear something a certain way and then somebody else listens to it and they hear it totally different than how you heard it.
Matt: Yeah, because they might just go, “Oh, well I hear this, so why don’t you just do this?”
Kat: A brand new set of ears are really crucial. I love collaborating with people; that’s just my background as an artist. I’m a big believer in other people making things better, and other people making you look like a better artist.
Matt: And I think especially when you’re not looking for a specific sound, but a mixture of sounds, that makes perfect sense.
Matt: So tell us about the title track on the EP, “Survivor”. What is that song about and where did the actual writing of it, lyrically, come from?
Kat: So the entire album came post-breakup, which of course sounds so dramatic but it really wasn’t. It was just what was influencing me at the time. I happened to stumble into this producer who was like “let’s write some songs”, and every time we had a writing session, the breakup was the main thing that came up. So, I had written two other songs—“Survirvor” was actually the last song that we wrote for the EP—and I had just been talking to my dad and my stepmom (who had been hearing all these songs as works-in-progress), and my stepmom said to me, “Why don’t you have a song about being strong? That’s really who you are, so why haven’t you done that?” And I was like, “You’re right!” See, I’m a feminist and I really believe in empowering women, so as much as I enjoy singing about the “feels”—as I lovingly put it—all the time, I really wanted to have a song that was like, “Okay, I had my heart broken, and was sad, but now I’m fine. Look at how fine I am!” And so it became this track that I really fell in love with, about being powerful.
Matt: And I think there are so many songs about breakups where it’s like, “Woe is me, I’m so sad…”, which is perfectly natural, but it’s nice to hear something from the side of it that: “This ended and I’m okay, and this is why I’m okay.”
Kat: Yeah, and if you listen to the EP backwards, like if you start with “Broken Heart Breaking”, you can kind of see that storyline happen, where it’s like, “Wow, I’m sad; this is over, and that stinks.” And then “Where to find Me” is still like, “okay, moving on, doing fine, and when you figure yourself out you’re gonna realize that I’m fine.” And then “Survivor” is just like, “who needs you!” So I think that’s just the journey of healing in general, but honestly writing that song was so fun and exciting, and it turned out to be this song that people both love and relate to. I mean, my best friend’s mother-in-law is a breast cancer survivor and she has this survivor group who get together and listen to the song every week when they have these little groups, and that’s just amazing to me! …That people are relating to the song on a larger scale than I even imagined.
Matt: Of course, and yeah it’s hard to imagine what people take from the work you do. Until they tell you, you have no idea. So it’s nice to hear that from them because it energizes you to do more.
Matt: My next question, in regards to the EP and in regard to he full-length you mentioned, is are these three songs also going to be featured on the full-length? Or is it going to be all brand new tracks for that?
Kat: They’re actually not going to be featured. There is a chance that we’ll re-imagine “Survivor”, but I am kind of leaning toward not putting them in there. We’re in the early stages of working on this album right now—we started in the beginning of September, so it’s really only been a couple of weeks—but so far we’re coming up with so many great things that I just don’t think we’ll need to. We’re actually stepping away from that sound a little bit, so while it could be re-imagined I’m just excited to have eleven new tracks and have them be different. So I don’t think so.
Matt: And does that full-length have a title yet, or are you still working on that?
Kat: It does not have a title yet, no.
Matt: Well I guess that’s another thing to ask; since the EP was called the Survivor EP based on the title track and also on the theme of that record, when you write music do you often think about what you’re calling it or do you come up with the song first and then name it after the fact?
Kat: I usually come up with the song first and then figure out a name. I’m REALLY not good at going the other way; I’ve tried going the other way, and then I just feel so boxed in that I can’t actually come up with anything. So yeah, I usually name it afterwards.
Matt: The next thing I wanted to ask goes back to how long you’ve been working on this stuff. How long have you been singing for? What’s your training like? Give us some background there.
Kat: So it’s actually a huge joke in my family that my parents say I learned how to sing before I learned how to talk. (I had to have been really annoying! I’m sure there are millions of videos of me as a baby where everyone’s telling me to sing constantly.) So yeah, I’ve been singing forever. I started training when I was twelve. I was originally training for musical theater. I went to school for theater, so I don’t like to say “classically trained” because I didn’t train for opera or anything, but I have been training for a long time — so kind of. My vocal background is pretty lengthy, it’s been a long time coming.
Matt: Gotcha. So have you always wanted to be a solo musician? Did you ever want to be in a full band or do any other kind of music? Obviously you’re in this pop genre, which is sometimes the best place to be because it’s the most “open”; pop can go in so many different directions. But have there ever been any other styles of music you were interested in?
Kat: Yeah, I listened to a lot of rock and alternative rock when I was younger, so I don’t like to say the word “emo” but… yeah, emo. Taking Back Sunday is still in my top five favorite bands. But at the same time, it’s also Hanson?… It really doesn’t make a ton of sense. But I listened to a lot of that, a lot of Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin and Relient K and stuff like that. I was in a band in high school for a little while. I don’t know that we were any good, but I was in a band. Still though, I kind of always wanted to be “me”. Like I always imagined myself as a solo artist. And, truth be told, this is something I wanted to do as a little kid, which I kind of let go of as I got older! That’s why I got into musical theater, because it was still an avenue of performance, but it didn’t seem like it would be as challenging to do it. It was like “that makes sense; that’s a good career path.” And then, when the opportunity came back up for me to pursue music, it was a no-brainer. It was like, “that’s what you’ve always wanted to do, so just give it a shot.” It’s basically always been in my head, though, the solo act thing… not Mariah Carey, but solo act.
Matt: Well it’s funny you mentioned Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin. I actually saw the newest version of his band, Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, when they opened for Weezer. And since he’s been in so many bands over the years I didn’t remember his actual name! So they were playing and I’m enjoying their brand of dance/pop music, and then suddenly they start playing “Deep Blue” … which is like my favorite song—
Kat: —Great song!
Matt: …And I just lost it. I was like, “Oh my God I can’t believe it.”
Kat: You realized it was him!
Matt: Yeah, and also that’s a song where, like, if I ever want to cry for any reason, I just put it on.
Kat: Well that’s how I feel about “Konstantine”, which he also wrote. “Konstantine” is my favorite song of all time. Actually, my band in high school did “Dark Blue” in a Battle of the Bands or something (because it was like 2006 and it was super popular). And another thing about Andrew McMahon is that when he was in Jack’s Mannequin he was going through leukemia.
Kat: So it’s just like, you listen to that one album, it’s just… so intense. But it’s beautiful too; lyrically, it’s incredible.
Matt: Yeah for sure, and also since you mentioned Taking Back Sunday, one of the things I always liked about them is that they had the same intensity in their music. And even when they were doing lighter stuff, or slower stuff, as well as faster/heavier stuff, it always had the same passion and intensity. My favorite album by Taking Back Sunday, because I got into them kind of late, was Louder Now.
Kat: Really?! That’s your favorite one? It’s a good one.
Matt: Right, but everyone always likes the older stuff.
Kat: The older stuff is great.
Matt: And I love it too, but there’s something about Louder Now and that era of Taking Back Sunday, and that sound—-
Kat: —They were really dark then.
Matt: Yeah, and that’s what pulled me in. I mean, I did get into that in late high school / early college (the “dark” time, as I like to call it).
Kat: Yeah, well the thing is, I tend to love more intense music… any level of intensity, though especially in the lyrics and in the melodic line. I’m so into that, and Taking Back Sunday has absolutely always had that. Same with Brand New—I was always a Brand New fan. If you listen to anything off Deja Entendu, you’re basically sitting in a chair crying. But I mean, it’s incredible. It’s great music and you don’t really find that the same way in other genres, which is interesting. It’s like I said earlier, it’s the songs with lots of feels.
Matt: Yeah and especially with Taking Back Sunday—going back to them just briefly—-“Error operator” [from Louder Now] is another one of those songs with passion and intensity, all that stuff. I think that’s something that bands of the early to mid 2000s did really well.
Kat: So well.
Matt: Actually Taking Back Sunday has a new album out and I have not heard it yet.
Kat: Neither have I, but I really need to hear it.
Matt: But I’m also hesitant. See, my other podcast that I do (the Crash Chords Podcast), is a weekly album review show where me and two co-hosts review & analyze an album for up to two hours. Sometimes we’ll have guests & listeners and they’ll pick an album, but otherwise it’s just the three of us taking turns picking albums, and on my turn I was thinking of picking that [Spoilers… he did. See this week’s episode: CCP Ep. #215: Tidal Wave by Taking Back Sunday]. But I haven’t really listened to them a whole lot since those early days; I’ve kind of taken a break from them. I’m hesitant it won’t hold up in my mind, but that said I’ve always loved their style, so as long as their style’s generally the same I feel like I’ll still like it.
Kat: Well I haven’t heard it yet either, but I feel like because John Nolan is back in the band — which, by the way, that reunion tour was incredible. I’ve seen them a bunch of times and I have this compulsive thing where I have to wait for artists after shows; it’s really embarrassing, and not okay, but I HAVE to wait. But it was just phenomenal because they played all of Tell All Your Friends, which is one of my favorite albums, so if [Tidal Wave] sounds anything remotely like how they sound when they’re together, it should be something. They played stuff off Louder Now as well, but the difference between Fred and Eddie being gone and John Nolan being back in the group is insane. They just mesh on such a different level because they’ve been together since they were fifteen. It’s just bound to happen.
Matt: So shifting away from influences and your background, talking a little about what else you’re into that also might influence your music, do you have any hobbies? Is there anything else that you do besides writing and recording music?
Kat: Yeah so I think the main one for me, although I always feel weird calling this a hobby, is acting. I actually haven’t done any acting in the past year, just because I’ve been focused on the music aspect. But it’s a huge thing that I love, so even if I’m not in a show, I’m seeing friends in shows, or I’m seeing live theater, or I’m doing something like that. It’s a huge thing for me, and really inspirational for me in all aspects. And honestly, whenever I answer a question like this, I feel like a huge nerd. Like, “Oh, I like to go to shows, I like music, and reading books… and staying at home!” I’m very much a homebody, I truly am. But if I’m not busy—and I’m busy, like most people, 95% of the time—I’m somehow involved in art or some other medium. I also draw cartoons and do stuff like that in my spare time.
Matt: Hey, that’s awesome. I think having multiple artistic outlets is important. I mean, you honestly sound just like my wife; she is both a musician and an actress, so it’s like, when you’re not working on one you’re working on the other, you know?
Kat: Yeah it feels non-stop, that’s why I’m saying that calling it a hobby is kind of weird, because it doesn’t feel like that. It just feels like one more avenue of this thing I was gonna do, and that I’m really passionate about, and that I love. I also listen to a ton of show tunes, like constantly.
Matt: Do you have a favorite musical?
Kat: Rent is my favorite musical. It’s such a great show, and I was fortunate enough to be in it in college, and it was amazing. I joke around that my acting career has just been downhill since then. [Laughter] That was the peak for me; I played Maureen, which was a dream role for me since I was fourteen. I was so excited about it. But yeah, Rent is my favorite, and also who isn’t in love with Hamilton right now? [Lin-Manuel Miranda] has completely reshaped theater and its importance in mainstream culture. I mean, I’m sure your wife has discussed this at length if she’s into theater, but anyway, it’s an incredible thing to see, to see something that a lot of people didn’t care about suddenly become popular. All of a sudden the jocks that I went to high school with are posting photos that they won tickets to the show. So it’s very cool for me, but Rent’s probably the #1.
Matt: Yeah, speaking of Hamilton, me and my wife got to see Hamilton because we had an inside scoop at The Public Theater before it went to Broadway. So someone who was working on the show said, “Do you have tickets for this? No? OK, get them.” And we got them like six months in advance and ended up going for Valentine’s Day, the last February before it went to Broadway. And I was blown away by it. Like, I grew up liking musicals but I was someone who really didn’t listen to musicals. Like I like them—I like Sweeney Todd, I love Grease, and I like Rocky Horror Picture Show—but besides probably Rocky Horror I didn’t really listen to the soundtracks.
Kat: Yeah, they’re hard to listen to if you’re not into it.
Matt: But with Hamilton, well, A) I’m a history nerd, B) I’m just a nerd, and C) I’m very into indi hip-hop; I’ve been listening to a lot of it over the last 4-5 years. And so, going to see that show was just the perfect mesh of everything.
Kat: …Of everything you care about, right? And yeah, I’m also a history nerd, so I felt the same way. I was like, “It’s so accurate!”
Matt: Yeah and of course I understand the minor changes they made to the history just to make it work for the format, but the music was incredible. I caught a ton of the references and there are so many more, both towards musical theater, hip-hop and everything else. And then, getting to meet Lin very briefly after — because this was when it was still at the Public — I said, “Thank you for making a musical for me, like specifically for me.” It’s one of those things that has absolutely changed the face of musical theater, because it shows that you can do a musical that no one thought they ever wanted and prove to them that they want it, AND make them go crazy for it. Who knew they wanted a musical about Hamilton? And Aaron Burr!
Kat: Yeah, who knew!
Matt: …And then, of course, having it told in a genre that’s less frequently used as a total run for a show, a show that not only works, but that works well and that people who don’t even listen to hip-hop or R&B are clamoring for.
Kat: It’s incredible, and the levels of genre that he uses in every song are insane to me. The first time I listened to it was honestly just mouth-open at every single song. I wrote a thesis my senior year of college about mainstream theater and about how Broadway is never going to be able to be something completely original, or that can incorporate incredible works of new artists because you’re going to have to sell it to the family visiting from Arkansas that only watches reality TV and that don’t care about theater. And that’s fine, but what you end up with is all these jukebox musicals, and for me, personally, I don’t want to see Sister Act the musical. And I don’t care whether people like it or not, it’s almost insulting to me. And really, up until then, you had — honestly, Book of Mormon is the only original thing that has lasted, and really it’s based on a TV show anyway! You know, it’s based on an episode of South Park. So frankly, I didn’t think it was possible, but then you have this guy coming in—who, by the way is already so successful in theater—who said, “You know what, I’m gonna write this thing that’s going to teach people something, and then it’s going to show them that theater can be valuable for everyone, and that it can be new and exciting and worth listening to for everybody.” And it blows my mind to see how it’s just opened up theater on so many levels, and that excites me. (Speaking as I am, you would think that I know Lin, but I think he has that effect on everyone.)
Matt: For sure, and he’s so open on Twitter and with just about everything. One of my favorite moments with him was very recently: in New York ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic had just passed through, and I unfortunately didn’t get to see him, but ever since I was a kid I’ve loved parody, and that’s kind of what introduced me to some rap music. While I knew some of the stuff from the 90s, [‘Weird Al’] would always parody rap songs because he can rap as well. So he got me into that. But anyway, he’s performing in New York, and he’s closing his show with his song “Yoda”, and he’s doing some crowd-work and he’s like, “alright… everybody!”… (and everybody sings the chorus to “Yoda”). And then he goes, “OK, now just Lin-Manuel Miranda…” And Lin runs out onstage, sings the chorus, and runs away. And everyone loses it.
Kat: Oh my God! That’s so awesome, that’s the perfect combination of it. Lin’s everywhere too right now; he’s slowly taking over the planet and I’m over here freaking out because he’s essentially a theater baby! He’s immersed in the hype. To me it’s like if someone found Sondheim for the first time that wasn’t in a theater, and everyone’s like, “Hey, do you want to come on every single late night TV show and talk about Into the Woods?” To me, that’s what it is. And it’s like, yes, talk about it! Everyone should discuss it because it’s great. And [show tunes] are just as good as any kind of music, if not better. I think show tunes get such a bad rap, because people hear that word and they’re like, “Oh is this only gonna be “Don’t Rain On My Parade”? Because I can’t do that if that’s what it’s gonna be.”
Matt: Well I think “show tunes”, as a name, has a stigma because people assume that show tunes are a genre when they’re not.
Kat: They’re not.
Matt: “Show tunes” is just a qualifier for songs that are from shows; they can be any genre.
Kat: Yeah, and that’s what I’ve always loved about the “rock” musical. I mean, between Rent and Aida and Jesus Christ Superstar, all of those shows that aren’t spoken, but they’re just great rock-based music. And when you think about it, in the 70s the majority of those shows had songs on the radio. I mean Hair has so many #1 hits from it. And that just doesn’t happen anymore. People just equate show tunes with something that they’re not, and they’re really down on it. It’s really exciting that this genre of music that I’ve loved my whole life is finally getting recognition from a lot of people.
Matt: Yeah, and I think it really shows that you can really write a musical about anything, and while certain things haven’t worked, I feel it’s less about the content and more about the quality of the content, or who’s checking it, or just timing. But I think Hamilton was part quality and part “right time”.
Kat: It was totally the right time, especially with the political state of the world right now. Like, if he had released this after an election, I don’t think it would have been as popular. But it happens to be right before something so serious is happening in the U.S. that people realize, “oh… elections have always been intense.” Like, this isn’t new. So it’s the perfect climate for it.
Matt: Yeah, one of my favorite moments the first time I saw Hamilton was the rap battle between Jefferson and Hamilton, which was, you know, essentially a debate was turned into a rap battle. And that was a brilliant way to do it. I think that—and I don’t want to bore a section of my listeners if they’re not into Hamilton by rambling endlessly on about it, although I could—but the final point that I want to make is that this was just a perfect concoction of right music, right time, and right cast. I mean the choices in the original cast—I had seen Leslie Odom Jr. playing a character actor for years and years, but I had no idea the dude could sing. Getting to see him hop on that stage was unbelievable.
Kat: His range is unbelievable, ugh!
Matt: You know, I used to joke that “One Sung Glory” [front Rent] used to be my favorite karaoke song to sing. Like who, as a white dude, who’s kind of influenced by rock and roll, and who has a heart of gold, doesn’t want to sing that song?
Kat: Everybody wants to sing that song!
Matt: And now that’s been replaced by “Wait for It” [from Hamilton]. That’s my new “One Sung Glory because it’s got that same feel and passion to it.
Kat: It’s so good. Yeah the music’s incredible — and yes, sorry to everyone who’s not a Hamilton fan; that’s definitely a good point that we got a little lost on this topic, which is fine.
Matt: Hey, that’s what this podcast is for.
Kat: But it really is true that if you’re into music, then hearing the Hamilton soundtrack is so exciting. I’m not kidding when I say that Lin touched on every genre, maybe with the exception of bluegrass. He found a way to incorporate everything. I personally didn’t expect to hear a song that’s got Thomas Jefferson, Reggae, and Hip-hop. What’s happening?! What is going on?!”
Matt: I think it speaks to our times too, because there’s a lot of fusion going on right now. Like, on my other podcast, we try to talk about the state of the music industry as well as reviewing an album, and every time we bring up genres we just go down a rabbit hole, because you can over-genrefy everything. So the fact that this is just a mesh of everything makes it more exciting, and — to bring it back around to YOU, and your career—
Kat: Here we go. [Laughter].
Matt: —and how the 3-song EP had a mesh of genres, what are you looking towards for the new full-length album in saying you want it to be a variety of sounds and influences?
Kat: Well I know the big ones for me are blues, R&B, and southern rock. I kept telling my producer, “I want early Alicia Keys, Joss Stone, Aretha Franklin, and Bonnie Raitt to all just make a baby.” That’s the sound, which—well obviously that can’t happen, but it was just a sound that I’ve never touched on before. I think the EP is very pop-driven, which is fine; that was the goal. That’s where I knew that was headed. But I really want this album to be a little more soulful than the other stuff was. When I do my shows, I tend to do a bunch of covers. There are so many songs that I love and so many songs that I want to sing. I do Aretha Franklin, Sam Smith, Bonnie Raitt, and KT Tunstall. Just stuff that when you listen to it together, you’re like “Oh this goes together”, even if you didn’t really expect it to necessarily. So for me, I find myself to be a very soulful person, musically — it’s like I said earlier, I tend to listen to things that are pretty intense. So, I love stuff with a strong bass line and some really delicious piano parts and a strong overdrive guitar… I love that! So, those are really the big influences, and honestly what we’re coming up with may well be turning into its own thing, as much as I originally wanted it to be R&B-driven. That’s not necessarily happening, and I’m really okay with that. It sounds cool so far. Like I said, it’s early yet, so I can’t even say it’s not becoming that because it may. But it’s a very cool feel right now. It’s different.
Matt: And we were talking earlier about how the EP has a narrative that’s essentially that: if you listen to it backwards it’s the heartbreak towards the ‘getting okay’. Do you have an intent for a narrative for the full-length, or are you just waiting to see where it lands?
Kat: Honestly I don’t have an idea for a narrative. I feel like it’s just going to tell its own story, even to me… which is kind of exciting in an odd way. It does make me a little uncomfortable because obviously with the EP I knew what the focus was and obviously what it would end up being about. Sometimes that’s a lot easier. But unlike that EP that I wrote three years ago, I’m not heartbroken now; I’m fine. Everything’s going great! And I know a lot of artists who’d think, “Well what do you write about when everything’s going okay?!” That’s the real question.
Matt: Yeah I hear all the time that it’s easier to write when you’re upset than when you’re happy. Do you find that that’s the case, that it comes more naturally when there’s some kind of drama or sadness to latch onto?
Kat: Yeah I actually joke around all the time that I’m super dramatic as a person and so, while I’d like to be able to say that I’m really chill about everything, I’m not. But then of course, I am an actor, so that’s usually the case. But I do find it easier to channel sadness. It’s a catalyst for writing. I do a couple of things when I get upset. I journal. Sometimes those journals turn into poems, which then turn into songs. Sometimes I just sit at the piano and play sad chords and see how they sound, and then all of a sudden I have a song out of it. So while it always depends, strong emotions are generally easier to create from. It is very hard for me, when happy, to sit down and write a song, and then not think, “…Wow that sounds awful, I’m not using that for anything.”
Kat: It probably isn’t the case, but it’s just because I’m used to writing sadder stuff. So it’s an interesting journey for me right now, going into the studio and sitting with my producer, saying, “Great, so what are we gonna do?” … “Let’s just mess around until we find something. And if it works, great. And if it doesn’t, that’s fine too.” Right now, we are taking one of the songs that was going to be on the EP but that we didn’t put on there, and we’re re-imagining that. I’m really excited about that because although it was one of my favorites, it just didn’t fit where we were going at the time. It’s fun to look back at the EP three years later and just see what might come of playing around with that.
Matt: Absolutely. So when you’re writing and working with your producer, do you find that music comes to you first and then you put some lyrics over it, or do you come up with a lyrical idea and then put a melody to it?
Kat: So I’m best at lyrics, I think. I’m best at melody and lyrics, that’s just what comes easiest to me. I don’t consider myself a strong musician (in the sense of playing, that is). Obviously the voice is an instrument, but what I mean by that is if you put me in a room with someone who’s going to come up with some music idea, I can write over that. That’s the easiest way for me to work. We haven’t done a ton of that lately, though. Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been looking over my old stuff. My producer’s been saying, “Okay, what songs do you already have? Let’s hear them and see how we can play around with them.” So that’s been kind of cool. We’ve been working on some other stuff that I wrote alone (because I co-wrote the EP; I didn’t write that by myself). But we’ve been working on a song—we actually worked on it today for a few hours—that I wrote by myself, and it’s just been fun to watch that become more than just some chords on a piano. This incredible female musician I was working with today sat down with a guitar and said, “Great, we’re just gonna add these things over it.” So, definitely for me I need some kind of a basis to start, melodically and lyrically. That’s why I usually just start with chords first.
Matt: And then what instruments do you use for writing music? What instrument do you feel you can play on your own, comfortably?
Kat: Piano is probably the biggest one. That’s what I write on. I am learning the guitar right now, and also I can play super basic ukulele, because everybody went through that phase I think. If you’re a woman in your early twenties, a couple years ago you were like, “Ukulele’s cool!” I happen to love it, I think it’s a great instrument. But yeah, piano for me is really the only thing that I can create with.
Matt: Okay, if you like ukulele music I actually recommend an artist who I’ve interviewed on this podcast previously, named Grace Kendall. She was part of the wizard rock scene when that was bigger—it’s still around, like Harry Potter-based music—but she started doing solo stuff and she has an album out on Bandcamp called Little Songs. It’s a very personal record, and it’s all ukulele music and I highly recommend it.
Kat: Oh I’m SO into that, I will definitely listen to that! Also, anything Harry Potter-based is fine with me.
Matt: Yeah she used to be in a wizard rock band called Snidget, which was also just her, and she wrote all the music for that too. (I confess, I’m kind of a poser in that I’ve only seen the movies, I’ve never read the books.)
Kat: They’re great! If it makes you feel any better, I only read them recently, so I’m not judging. (Everybody else listening might be judging, but I’m not judging.)
Matt: Oh for sure they are, it’s fine.
Kat: Doesn’t everyone yell at you about that? Everyone’s like, “You haven’t read the book….?” like you’re a monster, it’s awful!
Matt: It’s funny, speaking of snooty nerdery, that’s kind of why I started both podcasts on Crash Chords, is because I’m just a really big music nerd. I’m the only one of my friends to be able to say aloud, and survive, that I don’t like Led Zeppelin.
Kat: Me neither!
Matt: And it’s not because I think they’re bad musicians, because that’s obviously not the case. They are incredible musicians.
Kat: Of course.
Matt: But you know, I like “Heartbreaker”, I like “Stairway to Heaven”, I like the big hits…
Kat: …But you’re not going to listen to them by yourself.
Matt: Never. But everyone yells at me, “How can you not like Led Zeppelin? That’s not possible.”
Kat: Because you don’t, and that’s okay. Like, I don’t like Pink Floyd.
Matt: They’re okay, but I’m not a die-hard fan.
Kat: They’re take it or leave it for me, really. Like, I don’t really care, I’m not invested, and I’m fine with that. I’m also one of those people—and I both hate and love this about myself—that if some people love something, a lot, musically, then I kind of have to hate it first.
Kat: I either have to find it on my own or learn to like it. But, like, I hated Nirvana forever. Like, HATED. I was so sick of hearing about Nirvana when everyone else was so obsessed. I feel the same way about 2Pac; I’m just sick of hearing about him. But the fact is: if I listen… I like it! So maybe the Pink Floyd/Zeppelin thing is just snobbery in the end.
Matt: It’s funny, I had a similar reaction to the movie Forrest Gump.
Kat: Yeah, it’s not that good!
Matt: And I’ve never seen it, but everyone kept saying, “How can you not see it?” So now, on principle, I’ve never watched Forrest Gump.
Kat: It’s really not that good… I mean, it’s good, but you know. That’s why I didn’t see Zoolander until fairly recently. Everyone had been quoting it for years and telling me how great it was. And then I saw it and was like, “You know, it was good, but I don’t think it was the best comedy of its era; I think you guys need to calm down a little about that.”
Matt: I think hype can kind of hurt things. For me, I think I try not to get too wrapped up in hype, especially when it comes to music. I try to think outside that. Especially when reviewing an album every week, I can’t get caught up in it. But I’ve had similar feelings. Like with Katy Perry, I hated her on the principal that “Hot n Cold” would always get stuck in my head. I heard it literally everywhere, as if the song was haunting me.
Kat: I heard it today, hah!
Matt: So I resisted it for a long time, but then once Prism came out and I started hearing more of her stuff, I was like, you know what? I really can’t hate this.
Kat: She’s good. Also, early Katy Perry was great.
Matt: Well also, she was a solo acoustic act before she became a pop star.
Kat: She was Christian music artist!
Matt: And I had no idea about that until I looked for it.
Kat: Which of course makes no sense.
Matt: None. But I actually do like her stuff now. Do I consider it the highest quality pop music? No, not by any means.
Kat: Of course not, it’s basic. I mean, almost every pop song is the same. It’s a four-chord progression. And it’s usually C, G, Em, and D. Typically. That’s it, and you can put it in whatever order you want, and beef it up however you want, but that’s typically the chord progression. That’s why every pop song feels the same to a certain extent, and that’s why people enjoy pop, because it sounds familiar to them no matter what. It’s those four chords, and it’s the lyrics, but what makes Katy Perry so good is the fact that she’s got these lyrics that don’t really matter. Like, none of it’s really important, but you constantly sing along to it and they’re all great summer jams you can hang onto. You’re singing about shorts and ice cream and random stuff, but it’s catchy and you can’t stop thinking about it.
Matt: Yeah, it’s like when we were talking before about the versatility of pop music and how you can kind of work anything into it, well I’m noticing more and more of that in mainstream pop as well. There’s a song called “Starboy” by The Weekend, feat. Daft Punk, and although I’m a huge Daft Punk fan I was avoiding it for awhile just because the other stuff by The Weekend is pretty basic R&B and pop, and pretty straight forward… but then after I heard the song everywhere, I checked it out and it’s an interesting song. You can tell where Daft Punk’s influence is, where the instrumentation and even the flow is concerned, but then you can absolutely tell what specifically is The Weekend. It’s an interest flow from verse to chorus, where it feels almost relentless and yet not (because it does change it up), but I highly recommend giving it a listen.
Kat: I definitely will. I’ve been meaning to look it up because I keep hearing that it’s great and somehow have just not heard it yet. But I think you’re right, pop music is really shifting. Especially in the past year it feels like people have been incorporating so many other kinds of music. You’re hearing a ton of reggae influence in pop right now, and though it’s not necessarily at the forefront of these songs, you can hear it in the rhythm tracks. It’s shifting it without taking away the “pop” element. And then the R&B influence in pop has been happening more and more really since Adele. And if you listen to that Ariana Grande album—which, by the way, is phenomenal—it has all of that influence in there too. So pop isn’t necessarily Katy Perry anymore…
I actually heard “Just Dance” by Lady Gaga yesterday, and I was in the car with my mom and I said to her, “This was Gaga’s first hit, and if you listen to it it’s so different compared to what she writes now.” And Lady Gaga’s a genius because she really played the industry to her benefit. I think Taylor Swift did the same thing. They both said, “This is the kind of music I want to create, but no one will listen to me if I start with that. So I’m going to give them exactly what they think I should be doing, and then I’m gonna hit them with something incredible that I could’ve done to begin with but that would’ve been forgettable.” And it’s changing the face of pop completely, so I couldn’t agree with you more. And it’s cool to watch it, especially for someone like me who really likes everything with the exception of metal… I can now say I can use all of those influences in my own music without veering away from my genre.
Matt: For sure. I mean look at what Beyoncé did last year with the Visual Album [self-titled BEYONCÉ]. The fact that it was all her, that it was released overnight without announcement, and just this idea of tackling hip-hop—much heavier hip-hop than she’d done before, and with important social messages—she never could’ve released that at the beginning of her career. But now because she’s got this industry standard (she’s the queen of pop essentially), she was able to release that and people really took to it. Even me… although I always liked her stuff, that album has become my favorite of what she’s put out because you can feel how different it is.
Kat: It’s unreal. And the thing is, YouTube has changed everything musically. Because now you have artists who I respect on a serious level—because like I said earlier, I don’t consider myself capable of this—where it’s just a dude creating these incredible songs alone. And they’re so creative, and there’s people who are turning them out weekly, if not daily. So the creativity that is being fostered on that website (granted, it’s not all good)… but what you see is result of a big change: artists just can’t keep up, you no longer have a year to make an album like you used to. And record company’s don’t care either. Since all that stuff on social media exists, they won’t care unless you can churn something out like that, because there are millions of people who can.
Matt: For sure, and I’ve always said that when talking about social media and YouTube especially, music has never been better and never been worse at the exact same time. Because on one hand, everyone has access now. Think about what we’re doing here, in this conversation, talking about something you’re so passionate about. Just being able to put yourself and your music out there without a giant record label was impossible beforehand. Even the fact that I have an audience (that I assume listen to my biweekly show), and an audience that might never have heard of you before, well, after our conversation (and us repeatedly mentioning your EP & forthcoming record) they might seek out your music, and listen to it, and come back to you.
Kat: It’s amazing. I mean, I wouldn’t have anything out there if not for the internet, because I’m not signed. If it wasn’t the way it is now, it would be impossible, or at the very least a pipe dream. It’s why I really didn’t think it was possible to do it until the past few years, and then I was like, “What an incredible opportunity that I’ve always wanted!”, and now with the state of the world, the internet, etc., it’s doable. I can get my stuff on iTunes and I can get my stuff on SoundCloud, and there are all these ways for people to listen to it that simply weren’t available when we were kids. You get awesome music from people that you’d otherwise never hear. You’d never know about them because it’s just some kid in Oregon who’s like, “Hey, I play the accordion and have this drum machine…” All these things you don’t expect.
Matt: Exactly. So, in wrapping up the interview, I always like to ask an artist, especially artists who are kind of doing it on their own, what they would recommend to an aspiring artists. And I know it’s a cliché question, but I feel independent artists really know how to answer these questions, better than, say—
Kat: —Right, no pressure. Hah!
Matt: [Laughter] Of course, no pressure. But if there were something that you could have known when you started working on acting or music that you didn’t have, but that you would give as a gift to someone now, i.e., “here’s what you should do to try and get things started”, what would it be?
Kat: Yeah, honestly—and this might sound cliché as well—but you need to form your team around you. Until I really decided to let go of having control over all of it, nothing happened. It was overwhelming and frankly stifling to try and do it by myself. My dad is actually my manager, and he happens to be incredible as a manager. And I’m not just saying that for him—shoutout dad!—but genuinely, I could not do this until he said to me, “I’m behind you, I’m going to help.” Because most artists, I think, don’t have a business brain. And at the end of the day, as much as we would all like to believe it’s about creating, it’s not. It’s a business. It really is that simple, but it took me a really long time to accept that: that nobody cares about the art you create unless you have the business behind you, pushing it. So I needed someone to teach me that, and to teach me that basically everything in life and about being an adult is a business… if you’re being real about it. So I had to get a team. I have a PR team now, I have a producer that I trust. My producer in Nashville was somebody that I trusted that was on my team that, still, if I called him tomorrow I know would be back on the team and have my back. So you really have to work with people you trust. But you can also never take for granted that you will always be able to trust them. (Of course I’m not saying that anyone has done anything on my end…)
Matt: Look out dad, she’s watching you….
Kat: [Laughter] But it is important to be careful and realistic. Me having my little ‘artist’ heart, I want to believe that everybody I work with is going to be awesome no matter what. And a huge thing too is that every decision you make—or at least every decision I’ve made—I’ve tried to make with the idea in mind that I’ve already made it. Like, if you’ve already made it in the business, that would probably change the decisions you were making at the time. For one thing, you’re not going to work with a certain person that would write a tell-all book about you in the future. So you need to make decisions pretending like, “This album I’m going to release will get a Grammy and I’m going to be amazing and everyone’s going to love it.” And not only because that is how you should approach anything, but also from a business sense you have to look at it that way otherwise you’re going to make silly mistakes that will come back and bite you.
Matt: Sure. I think that’s very sound advice—
Kat: —It’s a little heavy, but…
Matt: A little heavy, but that’s okay. If I may say so myself, I hope you win a Grammy because I think your music is fantastic.
Kat: Thank you!
Matt: You know what it is, I listen to a lot of pop music—like I said, I review music—and there’s plenty of it out there and there’s a lot of stuff that’s only okay, but I find the stuff like Sara Bareilles and The Weekend and these bands that are trying something different—newer Beyoncé, and newer Taylor Swift—this is where this industry is going, instead of this giant pop machine. And you definitely sound like someone who can contribute and even help grow that because of the versatility in your sound and voice.
Kat: Thank you so much!
Matt: So I’m very excited about the full-length record; please let me know when it’s out and let’s chat again.
Kat: I definitely will. It’ll hopefully be in the Spring, and I definitely hope we can chat again!
Matt: Excellent, well I appreciate you for your patience in this interview. Thank you for taking the time to come on the show. This was a blast.
Kat: This was fun, take care Matt!
Matt: Take care, Kat!