Me: I am sitting here in Starbucks, yet again – story of my life, with Katie Simone, singer extraordinaire, voice for hire.
Katie: (laughing) That’s right!
Me: That is right. Katie and I met through Dave, because all things come through Dave. Dave Sykut is my audio engineer. Katie is actually singing on my project and I believe the first time you’ve attempted Heavy Metal.
Katie: Heavy Metal of that nature, yes. When I was 15 I remember singing lots of Black Sabbath covers with a band I was in, if you want to call it a band.
Me: I mean, you can’t go wrong with Black Sabbath, though. You cannot go wrong with Black Sabbath.
Katie: No. So I’ve done that and I’ve done some hair metal in different bands but I’ve never actually done a metal project other than just dicking around like I was just saying. (laughing) I’m so eloquent. I don’t know how else to put it. (laughing)
Me: It works for me because that’s how I got into it, too! (laughing) Speaking of hair metal, the first time I got to see you live was actually Ridgemont High, which is your 80s cover band.
Me: That was really cool because it was right in my backyard, in Jergel’s and I was like “I cannot miss this show. I’m pretty sure Katie will never forgive me for missing a show in my backyard.” I must admit I’m a metalhead through and through. I don’t do pop or anything but I have to admit, I thoroughly enjoyed myself at that show.
Katie: Well, I’m glad. That’s the objective in a band like that, I mean in any band really in any style of music, is for people to enjoy themselves. But with the cover bands, and dance bands or whatever you want to call them, really your main objective is to get people dancing, drinking and having a good time. And if you’re good at what you do, that’s a bonus, but for the most part you can stand up there and belch into a microphone and as long as it’s in tune and to a beat, people will still enjoy it.
Me: And even sometimes not in tune…(laughing)
Katie: Yeah, exactly!
Me: I heard some of those bands. One of the reasons that you and I met is that you are actually a voice for hire and from what I understand fairly in demand as I recently dropped you off at a gig…(laughing)
What do you like doing better? Do you like doing the cover band.better? Do you like getting into other people’s projects better? Do you like doing the one-off gigs? Do you like doing the voice for hire?
Katie: I don’t really have a preference at all…
Me: “Just let me sing!”
Katie: Yeah, I mean I feel like every experience, every session or gig or whatever it is, has its own really cool aspects, has its own drawbacks. I just like to stay busy and I like to keep my creative muscles stretched out so to speak.
Me: Very important.
Katie: A lot of singers are afraid to jump outside of their preferred genres. I was never like that.
Me: I can tell. (laughing)
Katie: If you would look through my personal record collection, you would see everything from Madonna to Kate Bush to Black Sabbath to Cheap Trick to James Brown to Miles Davis, lots of classical. I have a huge variety of music that I treasure and hold very dear to my heart and just to listen to. I never let that escape me when it comes to actually singing and performing. I want to test all the waters. I think it keeps me sharp and keeps things exciting. Especially whenever I go to write my own stuff and do my own thing and especially as a teacher, too, working with young singers it’s very important for me to keep everything sharp. All aspects of music.
Me: Working on your own stuff – what a lovely little segue… (laughing) You are roughly in the middle of recording an album of originals?
Katie: I’d say actually closer to about seventy-five percent done.
Katie: I started working on a studio project with a couple friends of mine. Guitar player named Shawn Mazzei he’s been with Dan Bubien and the Delta Struts for about 4 years now and a drummer he knows Mark Pollera. We all got together at Joe Munroe’s studio and we put this blues thing together for whatever reason we were just trying to do this blues thing because it’s Pittsburgh. (laughing)
So we laid down some blues tracks and they were OK and then we realized that we wanted to do something different so that’s when we started writing the material that you came out to see a couple of weeks ago.
Me: That was an amazing show!
Katie: Thank you! That’s when we wrote about 5 or 6 new songs. I say “new” loosely because I wrote a couple of them a long, long, long, long time ago. I just brought them into the session and the guys breathed new life into the songs.
Me: From what you started with the song at the inception from how you envisioned it to how they ended up as you started layering the parts, and writing with different and adding different things – better than you expected? More than you expected? How did the version you heard in your head differ compare to the version you heard when it was done?
Katie: Every song that’s on this record is a complete 360 turn from what I had originally come up with and what I had in my head. Not even what I had in my head because I really didn’t know what life I wanted these songs to take on. When I write a song, I either sit down with a guitar or keyboard and come out with the structure and bones of the song. I’m not one of those songwriters who’s like extremely protective of my songs. I don’t know if you’ve ever worked with anybody like that – “This is the song, this is how it has to be. We have to stick within the black and white concept of this is the melody and this is the vibe of the song.” I’m very open minded. “Look, this is what I have, this is what I was thinking of this as a progression, I was kind of thinking of this melody, I’m maybe hearing like a Rolling Stones ‘Some Girls’ Ronnie-Woods-style guitar line in the background.” I’ll have these ideas in my head, but I’m not married to them and I’m certainly not offended when somebody who knows way more about structure and production than I do comes in and gives me an idea. And I’ve been really lucky with this particular record, especially with Joe Munroe, who I mentioned earlier, amazing musician, has some of the biggest ears I’ve ever, ever come across on a musician. He can just hear things that I never in a million years would have picked up on. He just comes up with these fantastic suggestions and I really, really trust him with anything I give him. A lot of these songs that I started out with were nothing really to write home about. The potential was there, but these guys especially Joe, turned them into something special. Way beyond my expectations for my own writing.
Me: Well darn. Now I really want to hear it. (laughing) So we’re looking at a release sometime early-ish next year?
Katie: That’s what I’m hoping for. I’ll be 29 in April and I’d like to…
Me: Dear God, she’s half my age. (laughing) Not literally half my age, but…
Katie: I was going to say, “What?”
Me: OK, I’m old, but not quite that old.
Katie: Like I said I’ll be 29 in April and I’d like to have a record out before I turn 30. It’s funny, I go through Facebook and I see people I went to high school with or friends I’ve had my whole life and they’re like like “I have my own house or I’m married and I have a kid” and which fine if those are people’s goals and stuff but my only goal is like I just want a record out before I’m 30. I don’t care if I have a ring on my finger or a deed to a house. I just want to have a record out. (laughing)
Me: And this is the important thing. One of the girls at work is constantly trying to set me up with various guys and I’m like “No. Music first”.
Me: All other priorities are ascendant. You have all of these things going on. You have work for hire, you have a ton of solo gigs, you do some solo gigs, you do some duos, you have Ridgemont High, you have your band doing your thing and on top of that you teach little kids, or I’m assuming little kids, how to sing. Let’s face it, we’re all musicians and we never grow up. (laughing)
Me: So I am still a little kid even though a good 20 years your senior. (laughing)
Katie: I’m the same way. I feel like I’m forever 8 years old. (laughing)
Me: How do you keep all of that straight? How do you manage not to go off the deep end when you’re doing 50 different projects a week?
Katie: How do I manage? Alcohol helps. (laughing) It’s actually a lot easier for me now than it was even 6 months ago. I’ve always been a workaholic where I just have to constantly keep going and do something, you know, hustle, hustle, hustle. That’s kind of been my entire life. I would always have a full-time job and would try to sing and gig as much as I possibly could. I’ve spent the greater part of the last 5 years in the Optical field, selling glasses, assisting optometrists and things like that. I was doing that full-time and I was trying to teach and perform and do all this stuff on top of all that. That put me off the deep end. I was like “I can’t do this. I need to pick one or the other, there’s no way I can do both.” So the optical gig went.
Me: Because who needs a day job?
Katie: Exactly! I was like “I don’t need a day job”. The best and worst decision I’ve ever made simultaneously. I quit when at a time where I was coming into the summertime and so gigs were not hard to come by. I was playing 3, 4, sometimes 5 nights a week and I’d be picking up afternoon gigs for business lunches and things like that. 11:00 in the morning hit time “OK I’m there.” I was bringing in slightly less than I would be from just the regular job that I quit. It’s not financially not necessarily the best situation be in, but emotionally I felt so much better because I didn’t have to freak out about having zero time at all to myself. I can actually do my thing, I can perform, I can teach and I still have time to nail prep on a Monday morning or I have time to go thrifting on a Thursday. I can actually fit in things that I like to do that keep me happy. It’s not that difficult anymore for me to juggle everything because I went through it way worse when I was trying to juggle an actual day gig, too.
Me: It’s really interesting because I’ve noticed this almost parallel journey with so many of the musicians that I know, all kind of going through the same thing: mind, body and spirit, all together. Not just doing the thing, but actually being a person and letting this be part of the complete person. How did you arrive at the decision that the money’s not as important as the whole person, as the artist, as the spiritual, the mental and the physical?
Katie: It was weighing on my shoulders for quite some time. I was completely miserable at my last job. It wasn’t even necessarily the job itself, it was a really bad work environment. It was really toxic and then I would be finishing out my shift and then I would be going to teach or going to a gig. I would just be miserable. I would be kind of quiet and not really wanting to associate with anybody and really trying to force myself out of it because I had to. I have to shift into the right frame of mind.
Me: Superstar mode
Katie: Exactly! It was just so hard to do it. It was just unbelievably hard to do it. I noticed, too, that it was affecting my performance and my creativity. I would be singing really inconsistently throughout a gig if I had a really bad day at work. I would notice “Oh, that was terrible! That was horribly out of pitch” I was just phoning it in just to really get by. I wasn’t writing…
Me: So you were sounding more like I sing. (laughing)
Katie: I was sounding like something that wasn’t me. I don’t know what it was, but I noticed a decline in my creativity and my performance ability. I was like, “I need to get away from this – I don’t care if I’m not as financially comfortable as I’m used to being. I can get by.” My music and my teaching can take care of the absolute minimum of what I need.
Me: If you had to pick one main inspiration: who is that one artist that you just really look up to?
Katie: I would say for me it’s a cross between Chrissie Hynde and Tom Petty.
Me: To be fair, Chrissie Hynde is kind of the female version of Tom Petty.
Katie: She is! Exactly! I think that’s why I always loved them so much. They’re like my music fairy godparents or something. Chrissie Hynde and Tom Petty – I grew up listening to them.
Me: Now we know the answer to the question “What happens when Chrissie Hynde and Tom Petty have a baby?” It’s Katie Simone! (laughing)
Katie: It’s me but only nowhere near as cool. (laughing)
Katie: Someday, I could only hope. I always really admired both of them for just staying true to themselves. They both gained popularity in the 80s when style over substance was kind of becoming the norm in the music industry and they never deviated away from their sound and their style. You had Aerosmith trying to be Motley Crue or whatever in the 80s. You never saw the Pretenders or the Heartbreakers doing anything like that.
Me: And to be honest one Motley Crue is enough.
Katie: Exactly, exactly! (laughing) Especially Tom Petty – I just really admire him as a person.
Me: And we’re just a little over the one-year anniversary of his death so may he rest in peace.
Katie: Yes! I thought he was so cool. The whole story behind the Hard Promises album – the album beforehand had done so well that the record company was like “We can charge $9.98 for this record and people will buy it.” At the time the original go-to price was $8.98 and he was like “No – this is not happening, you’re not going to try to clean up with my name just because you think you can.” He threatened to call the album 898, and finally the record company was like “You win, we’re not going to charge more for this album.”
Me: We need more people like that these days.
Katie: I know! What would Tom Petty do?
Me; What would Tom Petty do? That’s going to be the new go-to phrase. (laughing)
Coming back around to your original material, I saw you on stage because of course, I reviewed that gig. There is a tremendous, tremendous amount of energy that goes into those songs. Tremendous amount of energy. I was actually thinking to myself “This is awesome! This is like a blues-rock show with the energy of a metal show.” It’s just amazing. Was that intentional or is that something that just happens? (laughing)
Katie: It’s just what happens. I mean…I love those songs and I love the people that I play with and created those songs with. And there’s a certain vibe that washes over me when I’m singing these songs that I wrote and I’m performing them with people that I love and admire. I can’t explain it. I caught a couple of videos from the show. I’m so glad people took video because I couldn’t tell you one thing that happened. I was just so present in the moment of the performance that I really don’t remember anything about it. It’s a blessing and a curse. It really is! Thank God that we all have video cameras at our fingertips now in our phones so we can go back and relive the moment. It’s weird. It’s kind of an out-of-body experience. (laughing)
Me: When you go back and watch the videos – how does it feel when you’re like “Wow! I don’t remember doing that! Or I don’t remember that happening!”
Katie: It’s humbling. It’s a humbling experience! (laughing) I remember a couple of years ago I was singing with a band and the guitar player insisted that we film a show so we can look and see how much we sucked, basically.
Me: So the Monday morning reels… (laughing)
Katie: It’s good and it’s bad. It’s really cool to be able to relive what you thought you were feeling at the time. And it also brings in some self loathing like “Why do I do that with my arm when I’m hitting that note because I look so stupid like I’m having a stroke” or “Don’t wear your hair like because it makes your face look huge.” A lot of that.
Me: so the same thing we all do when we look in the mirror. (laughing)
Me: Last thoughts: KatieSimone.com, right? Album should be coming out soon-ish?
Katie: Early 2019.
Me: Early 2019 before the 29th birthday
Me: Your schedules and your gigs are on the website, correct?
Katie: Actually they’re up on Facebook – facebook.com/TheKatieSimone.
Me: THE Katie Simone – the ONE AND ONLY Katie Simone, Ladies and Gentlemen. (laughing)
Katie: They will be up on my website eventually, but I’m in the process of having the website redone. So for now, check out Facebook or Instagram.
Me: Thank you so much! Always a pleasure, always a pleasure to hang out with Katie. You guys should go to shows just so you can hang out with Katie – she’s THAT cool. Really. (laughing)
Katie: You’re too kind!
Me: Thank you so much and here’s to more awesome music!
Check out Katie: