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Posted March 5, 2015 by Jeff in Tunes
 
 

Kat Edmonson: Music from an inspired place

Kat Edmonson photo by Robert Ascroft
Kat Edmonson photo by Robert Ascroft

Recorded with Grammy-nominated producer Mitchell Froom in his Los Angeles studio, Kat Edmonson’s major label debut has received high praise. The album comes in the wake of her highly acclaimed 2012 release, Way Down Low, a record that was featured on several major year-end “Best of 2012” lists including Downbeat Magazine, WNYC Soundcheck’s “Best Live Performances” and Daytrotter’s “Best Sessions of 2012.” Edmonson, who has a girlish voice, worked with Froom on pop arrangements that sound like they came straight out of the American songbook. Three dates into an extensive tour, Edmonson spoke to us via phone.

You grew up in Texas. Talk about your upbringing.
I was born in Houston. My mom is very musical. I would hear her singing along with the radio. She often sang me lullabies. I was curious at a very young age and inclined to sing myself. She showed me old musicals at a very young age and I began to learn the music in those movies as well. I was tuned in to the oldies station. That’s where the majority of my musical education came from. I listened to it for like 18 years. I learned pretty much every song on the station.

Have you always had such a distinctive voice?
Yeah, I have.

Who was your favorite female singer?
I loved Karen Carpenter. I loved Judy Garland. I thought Peggy Lee sounded really good as did Doris Day. I was very picky about female singers because I admired a lot of men singers with big robust voices who could sing deeply. I wanted to do the same. I wasn’t into higher trills. I only grew to like those later on. I knew I had a small voice and I sounded like a girl. And actually, upon hearing Carly Simon, I completely fell in love with her voice. I thought she was a guy [at first] and when I found out it was a woman, I was in awe of the possibility that a woman could have such a sound. I instantly learned all of her repertoire.

What made you audition for American Idol?
I had no idea how to become a working musician. I didn’t know anyone who was doing it and I didn’t study music. I wasn’t intimidated at the thought of trying out for a television show. It intrigued me. I figured I would line up. I wouldn’t have fit. I wouldn’t have enjoyed it. It’s a lot of hype. It’s reality TV and you’re encouraged to ham it up. It felt far removed from anything musical. I was uncomfortable the entire time. In retrospect, it certainly wasn’t going to be a girl from Texas that would win that show.

You were on the Austin scene for a few years before releasing any music.
It was very roundabout. I wasn’t sure how to do it and in the meantime I was just working and trying to support myself. When I decided not to finish school I decided, “If I’m not going to get a degree in something, I’m going to start today.” I went home and answered some ads in the paper for people looking for singers. I started doing a songwriting session with someone who wanted a female singer to perform with. Once we got some songs together, we took them to an open mic night. At the first one, they offered me a resident night. I had a Friday night spot for a solid amount of time. I was still working as a cocktail waitress and in real estate to make ends meet. One of my customers at the bar where I worked mentioned that he was a jazz player and that there was open mic night every Monday. I waited in line to sit in. I wasn’t a welcomed sight to anyone. The last thing they wanted to do was listen to a female sing some standards. I waited for three or four hours and went on at one o’clock. The guy running the jam asked me to come back. Every week he asked me to come back. He was a booking agent in Austin and got me some gigs. I was networking and I started sitting in on their gigs. In six months, I could quit my job and start singing. I was in heaven. I couldn’t believe it. It was a huge relief.

Any job I had prior to that, I wasn’t very good at. I had no dedication. My head was always in the clouds and I was thinking about songs.

You got a big break when you and Lyle Lovett performed the Christmas classic “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” together on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.” How did that collaboration come about?
His girlfriend April heard me one night at a wine bar where I sang regularly. She was there celebrating a friend’s birthday. She asked me if I wanted to get together. I told her what I had been up to. I had released my first record at that point. I started my own record company more or less. I was marketing myself and managing myself and immersing myself in the business. We got along swimmingly. She told Lyle about me and gave him my record. He reached out and asked me to sit in with him. We started playing together a lot. He’s been a great friend but also a mentor. I just mentioned him last night at my show and credited our fashion decision to Lyle and his large band. We haven’t always been so buttoned-up. He does a lot of things right and I very much admired him and how he operates.

Talk about working with Mitchell Froom on The Big Picture.
He was a blast. I love Mitchell and his production style. He has such an extensive knowledge of music and harmony and orchestration. I learned a lot from him. We worked every day for two-and-a-half months in California. It’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.

Your last album, Way Down Low, was highly praised. The New York Times hailed it as “fresh as a spring bouquet” and The Boston Globe called “one of the greatest vocal albums I’ve ever heard.” Did that put some pressure on you to deliver something of the same caliber with The Big Picture?
No. I was actually determined to do more if I could. There was no intimidation but I was extremely anxious to express a new side of myself and continue to grow and explore, which we did with this new record. I feel like we accomplished everything we set out to do. I sent Mitchell a number of demos before we started working together. He wanted to capture the joy he was hearing in the songs.

The arrangements here are great. Talk about what it was like working on the songs and doing some of the writing.
It was collaborative. I would say I had a lot of arrangements in place. Mitchell rearranged a lot of things and consulted with me on everything he was doing. I had a lot of input, but I didn’t want to get in his way. He’s a master. We did go toe-to-toe occasionally but I trust Mitchell and I know he’s taking care of me. It was a perfect time to just learn and soak up a lot of what he knows. He’s had years of experience and he alone is just a wonderful musician. I trusted him to see my vision through.

What was it like trying to bring a fresh perspective to the love song?
The only way I ever know how to do that is to be honest. If you’re telling the truth, it’s yours. That’s all. And make music from an inspired place. It’s not much different from when I was a kid and I would play pretend and allow any idea to come and not really judge it. That was important. You have to know that any kernel of an idea is a precious one.

It’s a matter of not letting anything get in the way and not doubting the process.

What’s next? What will the next album sound like?
I’m only starting to play with context. As far as the actual songs go, I have lots of songs that have yet to be recorded that I’ve written over time. I wouldn’t be surprised if I go in an entirely different direction. It just depends on where I am at that point in my life.

I think it’s great you’re getting your due after all this time.
Thank you. It’s been a pleasure. I would do it even without the kind of reception I’ve gotten. I just love it.

Upcoming 2015 Shows

March 6

March 7

March 13

March 14

Ogunquit, ME – Jonathan’s Restaurant

Ridgefield, CT – The Ridgefield Playhouse

Fall River, MA – Narrow Center For The Arts

North Adams, MA – MASS MoCA

 


Jeff

 
Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at jeff@whopperjaw.net.