Last month I introduced you to local singer Steve Hawk. This month there are no April fool’s jokes when it comes to the talented Kristen Beard. As with many local artists, I met her at the former Keynote Café that was located in Jeanette, PA. I have heard her play many times and always look forward to when I hear her next. Kristen is the youngest person I’ve interviewed in the short time that Humble Beginnings has been a series. But no matter your age, there is always a story that tells how you got to where you are today. Here is the story that Kristen so graciously chose to share with me.
Even though Kristen started taking piano lessons in kindergarten, she didn’t have any aspirations when she was younger of being a performer. That changed in her senior year in high school. One of her friends knew from the school choir that she sang and could play the piano. Kristen hadn’t told many people that she also could play the guitar. Her friend was a regular at the Keynote Café so he convinced Kristen to come with him and also to perform a song with him. Jill, the owner, pulled Kristen aside after the performance and asked her where else she was performing. Jill was surprised at Kristen’s response that it was her very first time performing. This initial experience at the Keynote made Kristen realize that she really liked performing.
Kristen credits her high school friend group with giving her the push that she needed to start performing. Kristen claims that she was a terrible singer until she started to take voice lessons in high school. Having heard her perform several times, it is hard for me to believe. But if it’s true, then her vocal coach did a great job. Even though Kristen had no aspirations of being a performer when she was younger, she did want to be music major in college. After graduating high school, she attended a year at Seton Hill as music major then did a brief stint at Eastern Kentucky.
Kristen primarily plays the guitar, piano and bass guitar when performing. But she confesses that she loves to collect different instruments and try to learn how to play them. At her parent’s house she had an entire room just dedicated to her instrument collection. In addition to her go to instruments, she can play the accordion, harmonica, mandolin, ukulele, and harp and recently picked up a banjo that she is now trying to learn. Being modest in the interview she said that’s all she knew how to play like it was a bad thing. She had me impressed at bass, guitar and piano.
One of Kristen’s early musical influences was singer Christina Grimmie. Grimmie sang a lot of the songs that Kristen liked at the time and she also played the piano. The combination of singing and piano really clicked with Kristen. There were other artists that sang and played guitar, but not as many that played piano. Kristen also loved Grimmie’s style and the unique spins that Grimmie would put on songs that gave them her own personal feel. Kristen does write her own songs but also enjoys doing covers. Just like Grimmie, Kristen puts her own spin on the covers she performs because she wants them to not sound like the original, but to sound like herself. Like most musicians, Kristen listens to a variety of music genres like classic rock, metal, indie, EDM, punk and singer/songwriter to name just a few. To her it’s important to have a diverse collection of music to enjoy and to get inspiration. Some artists that are on her playlists are Fleetwood Mac, Lana Del Rey, Metallica and Grateful Dead.
Putting Kristen on the spot, I asked the question that no one likes to answer, “Who do you think you sound like or who do others compare you to?” One person that she mentioned was Adele not because their voices are similar but because a lot of Adele’s music is piano intensive. Kristen struggled to think of a comparison, but finally said that her vocal range and style is a lot like Amy Lee of Evanescence fame, but again said that their voices aren’t the same. With Kristen’s desire to be unique, not having someone that she sounds like is in her favor. Her goal is that when people hear her perform, they don’t think of someone else, but instead immediately think of her.
Kristen has played a lot of solo gigs. The first group she started playing with originally was jazz band, The Moment. During the time she played with them, they released an album together, but they aren’t performing together any longer. Since then she has started playing with The Whelming Waters in December 2019. Soon after she joined them, they had a show at the Thunderbird Café in February 2020. Unfortunately since COVID raised its head in March 2020, they have not practiced or performed together. But when things return to normal, she is ready to start again.
Kristen finds that her inspiration for writing songs comes from her day-to-day life and emotions. She laughed that she did write a song just for her dogs that like most pet owners are a big part of her life. Writing music is her therapy and helps her to get her emotions out, even if she never plays the song for anyone. She finds writing and playing music therapeutic. A lot of the songs she writes are instrumental only as she feels that they don’t need lyrics to express the emotions she is trying to convey.
An experience that Kristen told me about was a gig that she had at a sports bar with The Moment. She wasn’t sure why they were hired to do the gig, as the bar was not what anyone would consider an improvisational jazz band atmosphere or crowd. But as with most bands, if you are getting paid to play a gig, you take the job. A good way through the evening, a lady came up to them, beer in hand, and asked if they just played the same song over and over all night long. So they decided that they could do some covers to finish the night. One of the songs that they decided to play was “House of the Rising Sun”. After a couple covers, the same lady came up again and said “You should do that again, you know play ‘House of the Rising Animals’.” To this day they still joke around with each other about playing ‘House of the Rising Animals’.
To wind up the interview I asked Kristen what her advice would be for any up and coming musicians. She recommends that people do what feels right for them. But more importantly ignore the ‘What ifs”. You know, ‘What if they hate me’, ‘What if they don’t like my style’, ‘What if I am not good enough’, ‘What if…’ Kristen said that she psyched herself out of performing for a long time because of the ‘What ifs’. She recommends you perform because you want to and you do it to make yourself happy, not with the ultimate goal of making others happy. She also says to be true to yourself and play the music that you want to play. These are pretty profound words of wisdom for someone who is just at the beginning of her musical journey.
During COVID Kristen has taken the opportunity to do a ton of practicing. Once things start to get back to normal, she is looking forward to start playing more shows as a solo performer and to start playing on a more frequent basis. She also is looking forward to making new connections and doing more collaboration with other musicians.
I enjoyed the time I had interviewing Kristen and am also looking forward to when things get back to normal with the music scene. Kristen is definitely one of the artists that are on my list of people I will be checking out.