An Interview with Katie Cole

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It’s Christmas morning. I hope that you’ve been spending your time relaxing with the ones you love, exchanging presents and remembering to be thankful for all that you have amidst this pandemic. Yes, it’s true, 2020 has been nothing short of a dumpster fire, but we’ve still got a lot to be thankful for. In the case of us music nerds, we’ve got…music. So, hopefully Santa left you some analog treasures under the tree this year.

For our special Christmas edition of Vinyl Writer Interviews, I’ve chosen to interview Katie Cole. I could have went a lot of ways with my pick for today, but I chose Katie for a few simple reasons. First, her music is awesome. Second, her interview was really good. Third, and most importantly, her gratitude for what she has shines through throughout the interview. Sure, she’s proud of her work, but throughout the interview, she consistently took the time to express gratitude for those that have helped her along the way and for all that she has. These days, that’s a pretty rare thing. More importantly, on Christmas morning, it’s nothing short of appropriate, if not essential.

Truth be told, I only discovered the music of Katie Cole within the last year or so, through her work with the Smashing Pumpkins. At the end of the day though, it doesn’t matter what path takes you to the music you love, all that matters is that you get there. The road of musical exploration has no set route. That’s what makes it fun. All that said, if you would like to check out the music of Katie Cole, you can head over to her Bandcamp here, and grab her most recent studio effort, The Things That Break Pt. 1. Also, you might want to head over to her website here to learn more about what else she’s got going on. OK. That’s it for me, for now. Merry Christmas. Enjoy.

Andrew:
Katie, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. It’s been a weird year, hasn’t it? What have you been doing to pass the time?

Katie:
End of 2019 I was tasked with helping to arrange the BGV’s for the next Smashing Pumpkins album. So, I was in the studio Jan & Feb with the Smashing Pumpkins. The year started out with such potential, and momentum before it all came to a grinding halt for anyone with a touring, or recording career. So, it quickly shifted to being a balance of songwriting, demo-ing, online concerts and trying not to annoy my cats too much, as I’m home all the time. Hahah.

Andrew:
Tell us a bit about your backstory. What are your musical origins so to speak?

Katie:
I started playing live as a professional at age 15/16. But the origins of my musical upbringing are wayyyyy earlier. Both my parents were very musical people. My Dad was more on the Classical side and my Mum was the Rock ‘n’ Roll encyclopedia of music. I grew up with Chopin, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Aretha, Peggy Lee and Led Zeppelin all at once. Both my sister and I showed an aptitude for music especially singing. My sister attended a music school (I didn’t. I can’t read or write music. Actually, I’m not certain if my sister can either. I think we both just have a really good memory). It was just a thing our whole family did. I just thought everyone listened to music all the time, watched concerts like Woodstock with their Mum, pausing the VCR to focus on a guitar solo. It was an unconscious love until it became a conscious choice in my teens.

Andrew:
As an artist, who are some artists that have had the most influence on you?

Katie:
Vocally- I want to say Aretha Franklin, Annie Lennox, Chris Cornell, Stevie Wonder. Musically- The Beatles, The Beatles, The Beatles…It’s hard to compare bands and songwriting as The Beatles are the origin story to most music that I love. Early teens I loved a lot of Rock like Metallica, Skunk Anansie and Van Halen, probably because it’s very visceral and you just have a gut reaction to the emotion. As I got into my later teens and began playing live shows, I started to really love story tellers like Sheryl Crow, Alanis, Bjork & Jeff Buckley. Really eclectic, I know. Haha. But I grew up with so many styles of music that mixing these artists together made sense to me.

Andrew:
Early in your career, you were a song writer for the likes of Gloria Gaynor and other dance related artists. How did you get started as a songwriter?

Katie:
I had always intended to be an artist, but I suppose I’m on of those people that is an ‘artist’ because I’m a ‘songwriter.’ It has never been about being famous, seen or heard. More about having something to say. Dance and Club music is very immediate. When I started writing Dance music, it was for the UK, and for release throughout Europe. I was also writing for some Australian Idol contestants and writing toplines (the melody, vocal and lyrics) for tracks for labels in UK, Belgium and Germany amongst others including a song released by Gloria Gaynor. Some songs I wrote and demoed entirely, and shared credit with the final production team. 100% of nothing is nothing. So I was happy to share. I had a top-30 in Belgium. Woo hoo. Hahah. Writing anything catchy and melodic with soaring moments has been something I have had a knack for. It was never my intention to do Dance music, but I fell into it. And honestly, getting credit for hits and songs I’ve written never came full circle back to me from those days. It was around that that I started to write what would unknowingly be my first US album.

Andrew:
You opened for and played bass with the Smashing Pumpkins in 2015 and 2016, and you’ve been playing keys, as well as singing backup with them since 2018. How did you get the gig, and what has it been like working with them?

Katie:
I applied online and sent in my resume. I’m kidding. Hahhaha. No, it was a mutual connection. My producer Howard Willing has been a long time collaborator with the Smashing Pumpkins for almost 20 years since their Machina and Adore albums. Billy Corgan was aware of who I was through that connection, and it began as me opening up a single show for him in Chicago in 2014. The following year was when I was asked to open up the first leg of the ‘In Plainsong’ tour. This morphed into me playing bass during their set. So, essentially doing double-duty. The crowds really embraced me, and when I was asked back again the following year to play bass, I jumped at the chance. This was when the original drummer, Jimmy Chamberlin, came back to play and original guitarist, James Iha, joined a few of the shows too. So, as far as Rock history is concerned, I was on stage with the band when they sort of reunited. Really amazing shows. The theatre shows turned into arena shows in 2018, playing sold out at Madison Square Garden and Wembley UK. And then in 2019, we played European shows and festivals that had audiences 50,000-100,000 strong. An ocean of people. This relationship has been amazing, and I’m so grateful to be embraced by the band and their amazing fans. So many of them support my music too. It’s just incredible.

Andrew:
You’ve got several solo albums out. My favorite is Melodiem. What was the inspiration behind that album?

Katie:
I essentially made Lost Inside a Moment and Melodiem at the same time. Both were written in Australia before I moved to the USA except for the song ‘Matter of Time.’ Both were partially recorded back and forth between Oz and USA. Lost Inside a Moment had a couple of songs that landed on UK radio, so you could say this was the more pop EP of the two. But Melodiem had some songs like ‘Long Road’ that I still go back to today and listen to. This was the more experiential one. Another song of mine, ‘Gravity’ was recorded at the same time. I opted to released the first EP, then Gravity, then Melodiem. I broke up releases, as I was a new artist trying to build a fan base. And that seemed like a good strategy. It’s funny that I progressed forward to release an album to come back to EP’s and singles. The market has changed so dramatically over the last couple of years.

Andrew:
Kris Kristofferson appeared on your 2014 album, Lay It All Down. What was it like getting to work with Kris?

Katie:
What an incredible thing. It was kind of a miracle in a way. My Producer, Howard Willing, was engineering an album for Kris Kristofferson with legendary producer Don Was. I know…amazing combination right there. I didn’t realize what an incredible songwriting history Kris has. I mean, I wish I’d had a fairy god mother of songwriting that sat me down, and explained that outside of Lennon/McCartney, Kris Kristofferson, Bob Dylan, Mac Davis and Willie Nelson were some of the most influential songwriters of all time. Would have saved me a lot time. Hahah. But Howard asked Kris if there happened to be time during his recording, would he be willing to sing on a song of mine called ‘Penelope.’ Howard, being a smart guy also realistically called me and explained, “This may not happen.” He explained that this was a long shot based on having time free in the studio. So I knew, this was going to be 50/50 thing at best. At BEST. But one night, during Kristofferson’s recording session, Howard texted me a photo of Kris holding the lyrics to my song. I just about died. Howard said he loved the song and drove off after the session humming the song. I died again. I was not there to meet him, and that part is a true shame. But this very slim chance of the heavens parting happened. At this point in my life, I had toured and sung on a Glen Campbell album, and now Kris Kristofferson had sung on mine. This was definitely an ‘a-ha’ moment for me that amazing things truly can happen.

Andrew:
Your last studio effort was in 2018, with the release of Things That Break PT1. What do you remember about the recording of that album?

Katie:
Are you sitting down? Sit down. No, really. This is a long story ‘cause I have to go back to 2016 to start this answer. I was on the second leg of the ‘In Plainsong’ Smashing Pumpkins tour. This tour was substantially bigger than the first leg the prior year. I was also singing a couple of songs lead vocals. So, it was also a platform. Within 2 weeks of the tour, I knew I had a lot more eyes on me, and people wanting to know who I was. I was getting an extremely strong feeling. Like a voice in my head. A really loud voice. Think about the way Guy Fieri would talk about a deep fried burrito. “Flavor town!” Hahahah. Yeah, that loud. So, I knew I had to do something to engage fans, earn their attention, and introduce them to my music. So, I launched a crowdfunding effort. It was immediately successful and although crowdfunding is a lot of work, it’s one of the only ways an independent artist can make albums. So, after the tour was finished, I now had songs to write, and an album to make. It took much longer to make than expected, and as you know did not come out until 2018. Not all because of songs or studios, but a lot came down to the fact that the particular crowdfunding site I used only paid me 50% of my goal amount once I reached it. And was scheduled to pay out the remainder once all tasks and rewards were completed – when the recordings were done. Something they failed to disclose when I signed up. So, this threw a spanner into the works. But I found a temporary solution. I had to. A creative person always finds a way to do things. Fast forward to recording…finally.

Howard and I did about 6-12 months of pre-production before walking into Blackbird Studio. This meant me writing, rewriting, demo-ing songs sometimes several times ’til they were ‘right.’ What do I remember about recording this project? Everything. It was the first album (I recorded 11 songs in total, but released 5 as an EP to begin with) that I took every opportunity to make these songs exactly what I wanted them to be. No corners cut, no regrets, no doubts. Every song was fleshed out. Every lyric was deliberate, and every part played in the studio was already thought through before stepping foot into the studio. Incredible musicians like Fred Eltringham, Jimmie Lee Sloas, Tim Pierce, Kris Donegan, Tim Lauer, Ilya Toshinskiy brought their musicianship to the table. Some of these people were in the studio for the intense 2 days that we tracked. Other sessions were done after the fact in smaller studios and rooms. Gospel vocals were tracked towards the end of vocal arrangements I wrote for them. But their voices…oh my God. Amazing. I’m truly proud of the way this album was put together, and since then, only want to treat recording my material with this level of detail and respect.

Andrew:
You’re also working with Smashing Pumpkins again for their upcoming tour, and album cycle for their new record, Cyr. Tell us more about that.

Katie:
The Smashing Pumpkins were slated to do a summer stadium tour with with Guns N’ Roses. This was going to be huge. But sadly COVID came and COVID-ed that all up!! But with my Smashing Pumpkins always working on new music, this year was no exception. After I worked through BGV arrangements, and tracked the parts in Nashville earlier in 2020 with Billy, myself and Sierra Swan, my part was done…so I thought. The songs started to get released as of August, and the reception was really positive. It’s a very different sound for the band, and forward-thinking in a lot of ways. Much like Billy Corgan. Once he’s achieved something or stepped foot somewhere, he rarely repeats himself. Aside from being a touring musician with the band, I had worked with Corgan on his solo album Cotillions in 2019. And he knew I was inventive vocally, and liked the way we sang together. So, when I was brought in to collaborate on this album, it was huge compliment. I was then asked to self-film some footage for the first official music video for the album of the same name Cyr. So, there I was now seen and heard on this album. What an amazing moment. They have continued to roll out singles leading up to the album release this past November. Oh, did I mention it’s a 20 song album? Yeah…so it was a huge project to be involved in!

Smashing Pumpkins: Beacon Theatre on April 5th, 2016 — jill.is

Andrew:
My understanding is that during the pandemic, you’ve been doing monthly online concerts on Stage It, since March. How have the shows been going? What’s the response been?

Katie:
Yep. After my first few shows were canceled in March, I was watching everyone on FB and IG go live and broadcast mini random concerts. But most early concerts I saw from acquaintances were somewhat void of a concert experience….which, let’s face it…is part of the reason you love a show. A vibe, good sound, interaction without distraction. Although, no one can help with the interaction part, I did launch my first of what would be a monthly concert series on the platform Stage It. Mostly themed shows like 80’s Soul, Movie songs, Ladies of Song…I went all out to change up the style, tempo and vibe. Fans deserve real shows. And they may not want to hear me play all my songs every single month. I wanted to entertain and inspire, not wear them out. So, I made these shows as mostly fan requests. Stage It also provides great sound, a huge chat window, so fans can shoutout, and chat amongst themselves and tipping on screen. It’s a fun way to be online without the whim to click another page on Facebook, or swipe away on Instagram. I love the site and after 10 shows, I’ll continue to do more shows there in 2021. I’m certain.

Andrew:
Shifting gears now. In your opinion, COVID-19 aside, what’s the state of the industry? With the never-ending barrage of social media, and constant squeeze from big business, is it harder or easier for artists to succeed these days?

Katie:
Honestly, it’s challenging to answer this mid-pandemic. We are not through this. Touring has halted dramatically. I can say prior to COVID, it was becoming a more level playing field for Indie artists vs major label artists. But there are always going to be gatekeepers that control a very big part of the industry, or why one artist succeeds and not another. It’s not just about talent or a hit song. It takes tens of thousands to go to Country radio to promote an artist, but it costs millions to go to Pop/national radio in America. So it’s not for everyone. It’s not for most. And you cannot have an enormous hit without being part of that giant machine. You just can’t. But you can build your career based on fans. Whether you’re an influencer on FB or IG or have great numbers on YouTube, Spotify and Apple Music, fans can decide if they like you. And if you’re numbers spike in the right ways, companies like Spotify will notice. And as a result, you may get an ‘add’ to an editorial playlist with an enormous follower base. Fans can drive your career for you, but you still need to master some or all social outlets to do this. If it’s not a major label doing the ground work with advertising, fans have to do it for you with grass roots sharing. Takes longer, but it can be done.

Right now, it’s devastating for anyone in a creative field that either solely, or partially relies on touring/live or performance to showcase work. Live shows and theatre showcase a performance in a way that online can NEVER do. You get to have an emotional and personal experience. This cannot be replicated in any other way, truly. The feel of the floor, the smell of a room, the lighting on the stage. The bad meal you ate after, the photos you took. So, during COVID times…it’s impossible to discuss the future. If an artist is truly creative, they will find a way to create. If you have a passion or a story to tell, you’ll find a way to tell it. If you can adapt and turn your creativity into something new, you’ll be successful. I try to focus on what I can do. And I don’t wait for anyone. But then again, that’s how I’ve always been.

Andrew:
What are a few albums that mean the most to you, and why?

Katie:
1) The Beatles – Revolver. Because the songs are so good. ‘Eleanor Rigby’ through to ‘Tomorrow Never Knows.’ Come on!!

2) The Beatles – Rubber Soul. Because almost all the songs are up-tempo and hits.

3) Eurythmics – Touch. I love Annie Lennox. her voice is masterful. She uses every part masculine or feminine. Can be angelic or absolutely scary. But every song on this she sings with intention and power. I’ve probably listened to Be Yourself Tonight more, but this particular album is one I come back to often.

4) Sheryl Crow – Self Titled. I just love her. The narratives on this album are really broad but familiar. She really wails on a lot of these songs. And you hear her voice which is technically capable of anything…really strain in the right emotional ways. She was one of the first vocalists that helped me to see that the right vocal performance isn’t always perfect. It just comes across as real, and therefore feels right. I listened to this album a lot when I was first starting to write songs. So, she was an early touchstone of a strong woman writing, and playing the types of songs I wanted to write.

Things That Break Pt. 1 | Katie Cole

Andrew:
Are you into vinyl? Tapes? CDs? Or are you all digital now? Where do you like to shop for music?

Katie:
No vinyl. I have thought about it many times. When I should start. I do love vinyl so much. The way it feels. I grew up with it and my mum had a huge collection. Like massive. But leaving Australia to move to America made me really aware of the things I own (or collect) and why I am keeping them. They are just things, after all. Spending a lot of time on tour makes you even more aware that a large suitcase, and a guitar is about all I need. I’m not very good at collecting anything anymore. If I love an album- it’s on Spotify. Or if I know how to play a song I’m dying to hear, I’ll play it, record it for YouTube or add it to an online show. I’m more interested in collecting memories.

Andrew:
It’s been a weird year, but we’ve still seen a lot of great music released in 2020. What are some of your must have albums of the year 2020?

Katie:
I haven’t listened to a lot of entire albums this year. I’ll be honest about that. Full albums seems like a luxury to release that only established artists could deliver this year. Without the ability to tour to promote it, etc. Many Indie and Country artists opted to released singles or acoustic EP’s. So, it was hard to dig through this to find entire albums I felt inspired to listen to. That said, Sam Smith’s Love Goes was great. I enjoyed a lot of songs from Taylor Swift’s folklore, Chris Stapleton’s Starting Over delivered some more good beardness. Only heard a few songs off Margo Price’s That’s how Rumors Get Started, but they were great. Her best yet imo. And of course, go listen to the Smashing Pumpkins Cyr. Yes I worked on it…but it’s an incredible album. A saga really.

I have to literally sit down, and listen to a lot more material that has been released this year. I am aware. But it felt I spent so much of this year trying to survive, then trying to navigate my own career. This year came with a lot of anxiety. And listening to new music when you’re anxious isn’t my strong point. I’d rather go back to familiar friends. Stax Records, the 60’s and Glam Rock. Just something my heart can recognize, and forget the troubles of the day to. I’m sure I’m not alone in this.

Andrew:
Last question. You’ve had a great career, with hopefully a long way to go yet. That said, looking back, what are some of your proudest and fondest memories as a musician? What advice would you have for young musicians trying to get their start today?

Katie:
There are some many moments I have literally had almost out of body experiences asking myself, “How did I get here?” It’s truly hard to narrow down these moments. Opening up for Glen Campbell. My first show opening up for Billy Corgan. Playing on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert at the Ed Sullivan Theatre. Playing Madison Square Garden. Releasing Things that Break Pt. 1 and seeing it for sale in the arenas I was playing at with the Smashing Pumpkins. The list is enormous. I am so grateful and also aware of each moment I get to spend playing my music.

My biggest advice to musicians today is really two main points. First, is use your creativity in every aspect of your career. Not just musically. If you can be adaptive in your thought processes, or can change gears when needed, you’ll survive this crazy career. Second point of advice is gratitude. You might have talent or the songs, or great hair. Haha. Whatever it is you have, you still do not achieve success in this type of career on your own. It’s still either a team around you, or the fans you build that will carry you, or elevate you. Acknowledge these people, give them credit and basically…be a nice person, and a grateful for what you have. This career might be yours, but it is not all about you.

Interested in checking out the music of Katie Cole? Check out the link below:

Dig this interview? Check out the full catalog of Vinyl Writer Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interviews

About Post Author

Andrew Daly

Andrew has always felt himself to be a "jack of all trades, master of none" type of person. With an immense passion for music, a disposition for writing, and an eagerness to teach and share both, Andrew decided to found Vinyl Writer in 2019 as a freelance column under the column Stories from the Stacks. Over time, the column grew into a website which now features contributors who further the cause of sharing both a love of music and the art of journalism with the world through articles and interviews. While Andrew enjoys running the website, his real passion lies in teaching and facilitating others to do what they do best, and giving them the opportunity to explore their passions in the process.
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