Spotlight On…Kat Edmonson

Kat Edmonson inhabits a unique musical world. She hails from Texas, has headlined Austin City Limits, and she’s performed extensively with Lyle Lovett, but you’d be wrong to pigeonhole her as a country singer. Come to think of it, you’d be wrong to pigeonhole Kat at all.

The songs she writes nimbly genre-hop, encompassing mid-century pop, bossa nova, and jazz. She’s covered Brian Wilson, the Cardigans, and the Cure, but she’s equally comfortable in the realm of jazz standards (dig her swinging “Mountain Greenery” in Woody Allen’s latest film, Café Society). In fact, the first time I heard Kat in person was with the EarRegulars at Winter Jazzfest last year. Her rendition of “The Very Thought of You” was earnestly sweet, but not cloying, thanks to her keenly intelligent interpretation. The audience, myself included, was spellbound.

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The gals of DUCHESS in the studio with Kat.

Imagine, then, my delight when Kat contacted DUCHESS to sing some backgrounds on her upcoming release for Sony Masterworks. Amy, Melissa, and I had such a great time with Kat in the studio that we invited her to be our special guest for our upcoming variety hour at Jazz Standard next week…and she accepted! So, if you haven’t done so already, get your tickets now for what promises to be a hilarious, happy, swinging night of music and laughs on Wednesday, November 30.

And, to tide you over until then, here’s Kat’s Spotlight On… interview. Thank you, Kat! See you next week!

Who or what inspired you to pursue a life in music?
I identified myself as a singer as early as I can remember. As a child, I would sit and watch Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly on the screen and I knew that one day I would be up there with them. It never occurred to me until much later that I wouldn’t actually get to work beside them but the spirit of what they did lives on in my heart.

In the course of your musical development, what has come most naturally to you? What has been the most challenging?
Writing songs has been most natural for me. I never stopped to consider what it took to write a song or the right way to write a song until I became an adult. I started as a child in a primitive way by sounding out my feelings through melody and words that seemed to ring true. It was almost as though I was pulling the music out of the air. It’s perhaps more painstaking of a process now but only because I am much more exacting in the way I write. I can’t settle for anything less than the truth. Otherwise, I have no way to gauge whether my work is good or not.

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Kat singing in Woody Allen’s “Café Society.”

I never thought I’d feel this way but accepting the sound of my voice has become the most challenging thing. I always loved my voice until fairly recently when people began to criticize it harshly in articles and reviews. After that, I began dreading hearing myself and singing in front of audiences became excruciating for me at times. It’s been a very difficult process but I am working through it and I’ve learned about myself in the process. I’ve learned how to love this voice no matter what other people think of it. My voice is my voice and I don’t need anyone’s permission to sing. And I have no choice but to sing. It’s what I’m called to do.

How do you choose your repertoire? What makes you decide to sing a particular song?
Often times, I will hear a song and think, “boy, I wish I had written that” and that makes me want to sing it.

If you were to choose another profession, what would it be?
I would be an actor. Incidentally, I am currently in acting school at The William Esper Studio in Manhattan and I love it. I’m also learning how to tap dance which is some of the most fun I’ve ever had. I think screen-writing could be cool. I could also see myself being a food-writer because I love reading about food so much! When I was a kid, I wanted to be a jingle-writer but that’s not such a big profession these days. I think it would be fun to write greeting cards!

kat_edmonson_2609679bWhat’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received, on or off the bandstand?
Be yourself. I’d heard that so many different times in my life when I didn’t know what it meant. I know now. It means be yourself at all costs. Be yourself when the people who support you the most don’t understand what you are doing. Be yourself when YOU don’t even understand what you are doing. Follow that calling in your heart even if you can barely hear it amidst all the other noise and be yourself. It’s always the way to go.

Fun fact:
I have a predilection for old people and the sort things they like. I’m talking about elderly people and the kinds of activities, interests, and places that most of my peers consider boring and has-been. And nothing bores me more than trends. If I see a whole bunch of people going in one direction, my natural reaction is to go the other way, probably even in spite of myself! I just love exploring and discovering things on my own. At heart, I’m a quirky old lady and happily so.