INTERVIEW: NYC's Kathryn Gallagher
Kathryn Gallagher was one of the featured artists at 2016’s Mondo.NYC Festival, and after watching her set at The Delancey with her beautiful folk-pop vibes, anecdotes about her new puppy, songs she wrote about strangers at airports, and jamming on stage with her guitar and cajon player, we fell in love with her!
Kathryn will be performing at Concentus Music live in January in London, so we caught up with high spirited soul on her life in New York City and Los Angeles, her time on Broadway, how to take charge of your artistry, and some great life advice on how to control your own happiness!
You’re from New York then?
Kathryn: Yeah born and raised! I moved to LA for like ten years in the middle with my family, but this is my place!
Do you think growing up in New York was pivotal to your experience in being a musician and your artistry?
Kathryn: Oh my God yeah! When you grow up in New York, you’re exposed to everything. I think it was really interesting, but what probably most contributed was having the New York background, then moving to LA when I was 11, so I had a really stark contrast of this one place that’s packed with people and every different kind of person, and you learn about everyone and everything. And then in LA, it’s really different, because if you want to, you can see only the things you want to see, and it’s very isolated. So for me growing up, especially in Manhattan, Broadway musicals, walking down the street hearing buskers and hearing folk or hearing a drummer, you’re just exposed to everything. And then in LA, you really have to cultivate your own taste a little more.
How come you moved to LA then, was it a family decision?
Kathryn: My family moved and broke my heart!
And then you came back yourself ten years later?
Kathryn: Yeah! I just moved back here last year, I was doing a musical on Broadway called Spring Awakening, and we transferred to Broadway last year and that’s what made me move back. LA is really exciting though, there are lots of artists living in LA singing and writing. The scene is really great there but it’s harder to find.
So what’s performing on Broadway like compared to performing on the commercial scene?
Kathryn: Man they’re so different. There’s nothing like Broadway in the world. 8 shows a week, its hard, you’re tired, your body never really seems healthy, you’re barely holding on, but at the same time in a lot of ways in this career, it’s the most stable job you’re gonna get because it’s a schedule.
And what made you go into Broadway then, were you always into musical theatre?
Kathryn: Yeah, I did everything growing up, I was always doing musicals but then also doing gigs.
And this is your Broadway debut right? Did you go through that gruelling audition process for Broadway?
Kathryn: Well we had a really interesting journey. The production I was doing started in LA. We started in a 99 seat theatre and it wasn’t really supposed to go anywhere, but then that run sold out so we moved to a bigger theatre in LA and that sold out, and then we got an email for Broadway.
So it wasn’t even intended for Broadway?
Kathryn: Not at all! And when I first started doing the smaller production in LA, when the director called me I was like hey listen, I’m about to release a record, music is my priority right now, this is going to be tough but ok, I mean I was really hesitant to go back into theatre because I’ve been doing music exclusively for so long, but as soon as I started rehearsals I was like… Theatre is the best thing. It was cool to see how the fans of the show would travel over to my music and my music fans would go see the show and the worlds really combined so it was really exciting to see.
I always thought having a voice for Broadway and a voice for the commercial scene are so different, the training for both is so different, so its quite rare to find someone who’s voice works for both. How did you train your voice to make that change?
Kathryn: I’m a firm believer, that anyone, no matter what time of singing you’re doing, you should be training…not necessarily classically, but with a solid foundation in how your voice works, because even when you’re doing rock music and you’re belting and screaming, you’ve still gotta do like 70 shows a week on tour sometimes, so you have to work out that muscle, so for me the training in the same. For me I anyway have a really rock voice, so it was always how do I fit into musicals more than how do I fit into pop. And there’s a lot of really cool rock musicals getting written right now, and a lot of really cool places doing it. There’s a thirst and hunger for hearing more contemporary music and more contemporary voices on Broadway and theatre, so the show I did Spring Awakening was a rock musical so I was lucky I totally fit in.
So these experiences in New York and LA were so important to your career, would you recommend all emerging artists should be in a big city, is that vital to ‘make it’?
Kathryn: I think you should live wherever you feel like yourself. I spent a lot of time in the country too at my parents’ house. You know, wherever it is that makes you feel like you want to pick up a guitar and open a book or create something, that’s the place. Wherever you vibe.
So it doesn’t need to be where the business is?
Kathryn: I don’t think so. The business is on the internet. You can do it from behind your computer, from Twitter, from Instagram. I also think it’s really important for everyone in their life to travel.
Funny you mentioned the Internet, because you spoke in the TuneCore panel at Mondo. So you’re self released, and I wrote down this quote of yours - ‘Be the gatekeeper to your own success and your own money.’ Does this mean you’ve ruled out getting signed? Do you like having that self control?
Kathryn: Not necessarily, but I do like to have a hand in everything. I think as long as whoever you’re working with shares your vision, and as long as you know what your vision is before you let someone else decide for you, that’s really big for me. Before I would really hand the keys over to anybody, it’s very important for me to know who I am and for anyone to know who they are before inviting other people into the equation.
You had some really good advice for one of the emerging artists this morning, saying when you were in high school it was like, this person wants this element to sound like that, and someone else wants that, so you compromise to give everyone what they want but then everyone ends up being unhappy, and no one uses anything, can you expand on the advice you gave there?
Kathryn: The first question everybody asks you as an artist, who do you sound like? And at first I would get really stressed out because I didn’t think I sounded like anyone so I tried to maybe sound like this person and I’ll try and do this and then I’ll try and do all these other things that are working in the industry right now, because they’re “working” like, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” but that leads to not being happy with what you wanna do.
I feel music education really encourages that, they’re always saying you have to have an influence in your music. I did art in school and was always forced to have a “Reference” to my work and I was like no I’m painting what I want to paint!
Kathryn: Exactly! Like, no, this is “me.” And it’s still difficult with the way the industry works. People don’t wanna spend a lot of money on something that isn’t a sure success, but nothing is. Nothing is ever guaranteed. So I think that the most important thing is, is you can make yourself happy, and if you can create a product that you would listen to, and that makes you feel excited, makes you feel good, makes you feel honest to you, then at least one person is happy, and you’re the only person who’s happiness you can guarantee. And I think that if you vibe with something, there’s gonna be someone else in the world that does too.
You mentioned being an artist is like “having all the power in the world but also having none,” I interpreted that to mean, you have all the power to be who you wanna be but also none because the listeners may not like it, is that correct?
Kathryn: Exactly! Being an independent artist, or being any kind of artist, you’re really vulnerable. You take all of these thoughts, these feelings of like intimate experiences and you’re putting them into this package hoping that people like it, which is essentially hoping people like you enough to like sustain your life. And it’s a crazy idea!
Sounds kinda scary when you put it like that!
Kathryn: It’s kind of awful. And it’s the same with acting, you’re constantly putting yourself out there when 99.9 times you’re gonna get rejected in some way. But if you change the perspective on that, and if you know that the only person in the world whose happiness you have control over is you, then you might as well try and make yourself happy. Dress the way you wanna dress, say the things you wanna say, do the things you wanna do.
With those mottos, do you ever worry about reputation? Like offending this person here or burning bridges over there?
Kathryn: I used to, but the more I worried about it the more I fucked up. I don’t think you can really focus on that, I mean I think it’s really important to be a kind person and be really hard working.
But at the same time stand up for yourself if someone’s taking advantage?
Kathryn: Yeah! And it’s hard to fulfil all expectations of you all the time. So at the end of the day, figure out the top five things that make you feel good that are important to you, do those, treat everyone with kindness, work your ass off, and anything else… fuck it! You have no control over it. I think it’s really hard and I don’t do it enough, but focus only on the things you know you can control. Which is your own happiness, what you wear, what you say, how you feel.
That’s good general life advice, more than just for music!
Kathryn: I think music is life. This is such a dorky quote but ‘art imitates life, life imitates art.’ I think everything you do, in work, in life, it should all follow those kinda guidelines.
Kathryn will be flying all the way from NYC to London, playing at Concentus Music Live in JANUARY 18th at THE SOCIAL! Gig yet to be announced, but in the meanwhile check out our Concentus Music Live at the Roundhouse event this December!
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