Updated on August 19, 2016
Originally published on 4/19/15. Re-published to new blog 8/19/16.
NOTE: This is a post I put up on my old blog last year right before I released my first EP. I re-read this entry today and it still holds a lot of truth as far as explaining my experience and journey through music and life and stuff. Also, I will probably be re-visiting these topics in upcoming posts so I figured it was worth publishing again on this new website. You’ll laugh! You’ll cry! You’ll be like “Katrina, you should update your blog more than once a year!” and I’ll be like “Ok. I’ll do that.” And hopefully I will.
I’ve wanted to pursue music for a long time. Ever since I heard the first piano riff of Gavin DeGraw’s Chariot ten years ago, the “I want to do that” switch in my brain triggered and I haven’t been able to turn it off since. I remember it vividly, because it was a weekend my dad had come to pick me up from boarding school for a day away from that beautiful-yet-isolated ranch in Arizona. We made a stop at Walmart in Prescott (the nearest city, an hour away) and I was thrilled to find the CD with “that one song” I’d heard on the radio. This was back in 2004. Wifi was still sketchy and not provided in the dormitories, laptop DVD players were what we had to work with since TVs weren’t allowed, and I had pretty much worn out my The Wedding Singer DVD by that time. New entertainment was a blessing and as necessary as a 36-pack of Ramen from Costco. As soon as my dad dropped me off that day, I had that CD unwrapped and in the boom box. I skipped the first song and stopped at the second as the piano riff struck me. Hearing Chariot for the first time was a turning point, as corny as it sounds. It was the first time I really realized that songwriting was something I could do.
Piano: The Beginning
I had taken piano lessons with two teachers when I was younger, around the ages of 8 and 10. The first teacher was strict and compared my lackluster drive to other students, so I quit. Because, fuck that. I was eight. My focus was drawing, stuffed animal parties, and climbing trees. I didn’t care that I couldn’t play a concerto or Hot Cross Buns or whatever. My second teacher scotch-taped my pinky so it wouldn’t stick up. Update: I am now much better at piano and my pinky still sticks up. That was not so much a requirement of the craft than it was a petty form correction. My 10-year-old self found those sorts of corrections annoying, so I quit. Well, not entirely. I still subjected my family to HOURS upon HOURS of trying to sight read the first page of “My Heart Will Go On” as well as some simple classical pieces (i.e. the ones in C major). It was a hobby, but not yet a calling, and I really sucked at it.
High School Angst
The calling came in high school after sophomore year, around the time I discovered Gavin DeGraw and that piano-driven music could be rock ‘n’ roll (which I really should have known because I lived and breathed Barry Manilow growing up, but I digress.) It was also around the time that my parents were finalizing their divorce. Every child of divorce knows that it’s weird. Things change big-time, it’s sad, scary, but also somewhat exciting because, hey, less heated disagreements and all that stuff. But at the time, it felt like my world was ending and I wasn’t even around to watch it burn. I got updates by phone, but I was still a gutted when I went home on the weekends and saw how empty my childhood home was and how well my cats were adjusting to not living with German Shepherds anymore. I didn’t really feel like I was part of that life change, and in turn I became very isolated. I didn’t really want to talk to anyone, and my parents were having a hard enough time that I took it upon myself to act like I was fine. These attempts had varying success rates, but over time I became pretty good at reeling in my emotions. Except for that one time I flipped a desk in my dorm room. Like, literally. Flipped it. I was at the very, very, VERY least in need of an outlet. Maybe some therapy, but I never would have admitted it. I’m nothing if not stubborn at all the wrong times.
Theater: My Friend/My Foe
Theater had always been my go-to creative place and was pretty much my saving grace during high school. I’d been involved since I was very young doing summer musical programs. One year, I even got a solo! I got to sing the intro of “Send in the Clowns”. Then, in an exhilarating, artistic manner, I was literally run over by a herd of clowns. Like, the directors encouraged “stomping”. I was beyond thrilled at my solo debut, and I wore those clown shoe-shaped bruises like a badge of honor.
Flash forward to late high school, and theater became… hard. I had worked myself into having a phobia about showing my feelings. How weird is that? No, but really. I had done theater (and wanted to do theater) for nearly my ENTIRE life and suddenly it had become my enemy. I didn’t want people to see me sad, I wanted to retain this facade of “look at her, she’s kooky and doing just fine”. In many ways, I am still this “kooky person doing just fine.” It’s accurate most of the time, but, you know. Sometimes I’m a “kooky person who needs a hug.” It’s just about finding that balance.
Being honest with my emotions was hard. I would freeze at lines and even asked my dad not to come to a play because I decided the material wasn’t something I wanted him to see. Despite the growing fear I had, I got the lead in the Spring musical junior year (Annie in Annie Get Your Gun, it was a blast!) but there was a kissing scene and I would have rather jumped in a pool of piranhas and rogue used band-aids than have rehearsed it. Unfortunately, the school did not offer that as an option. When it finally came time to rehearse, our director (after several attempts at patience, I was really being a diva) made us go outside in the dark to “get it over with”. Afterward, I was so nervous and shaky that I didn’t realize there was a step down. I simultaneously fell on my face and twisted my ankle. Luckily, one of my friends was hiding in the bushes around the corner and came to console me (i.e. laugh at with me) when I was given a moment to walk it off. After all was said and done, keeping up with theater through high school was probably the one thing that saved me from turning to stone. It forced me out of the comfort bubble I was gravitating toward and reminded me who I really was, even though that flame was flickering a bit. The one thing with theater, though, was that it wasn’t my words. I mean, you put yourself in a role and bring what you have to it, but there was so much bubbling up to my surface that couldn’t be released by just reciting lines. I had to go deeper.
Songwriting: Humble (and Nerve-Wracked) Beginnings
I wrote my first song on the piano in the school’s chapel. Not a lot of people went up there regularly so it was a good place to get some alone time at a school where “alone time” was mostly confined to time you spent in the bathroom. That “alone time” wasn’t always guaranteed, however, because some people didn’t grasp the idea of “privacy” when they “just had to brush their teeth real quick”. Anyways, it was a simple song. I couldn’t play it for you today if I tried. I don’t think I wrote it down anywhere. The subject matter was pensive and sad (essentially the same as what I’m writing now) and I was terrified to play it for anyone. I wasn’t even sure it was a real song. It was words and chords, but did it… qualify? I tried out for the school talent show with it, got in, chickened out. That was junior year. Senior year went a little smoother.
I wrote another song. Still simple, nice, a little corny. I wrote it for my speech that all seniors had to give during their senior year. It was met with positive feedback, and I was both petrified and pleased. It was more difficult than I had ever anticipated to play my own music in front of people, but I did it and it was a pretty big deal. I’d always been a little nervous before theater productions, but this was real stage fright. It was exhilarating. Addicting. I even got to play it with my friend at graduation. We were pretty much the coolest.
The College Years
By then, I was hooked. I wanted to do this. People were like, nah, don’t, that’s hard. And I was like, yeah, you’re totes right, brosef. I’m gonna go get my degree. So I did. I dabbled in music while I studied Communications at Chapman University in Orange, California. I frequented the pretty grand pianos in the music school and subjected unwitting friends to long, impromptu shows that they may or may not have wanted. But actually performing instilled a lot of general fear and lots of rejection to supplement. It was during this time that I found out that I didn’t really fear rejection. It wasn’t the worst thing. I tried out for talent shows and didn’t get them, and it was almost a relief. Eventually, I was like, wait… maybe I’m afraid of success. I think that’s more the case. It’s scary because even at the very, very lowest level of success, it means people hear your songs. My songs were really personal and I was afraid of sharing my feelings. This made me terrified at the smallest bit of success in the only thing that I’ve ever wanted to succeed at. Oddly enough, I think this is a really, really common thing. Luckily, I don’t really worry about that too much anymore.
Towards the end of college, most of my friends were preparing for their moves to Los Angeles. A lot of them were in film or digital arts or something pertaining to something that LA was good for, so LA was the perfect place for them to build their careers. I, on the other hand, had some reservations. Sure, I could probably get a job at a PR agency or something (someone remind me to post a blog about the time I interviewed for an internship at one of those. Fucking hilarious story.) but the music bug still hadn’t left me, and one thing was for sure: I did NOT want to pursue music in LA. Music is already a cut-throat industry, and strategically speaking it would have been a good move, but at the time I knew it wasn’t for me. So, after a random 24-hour trip to Seattle in February 2010 (for a Jack’s Mannequin concert), I decided I liked Seattle and, in June 2010, I packed up my borrowed Ford Taurus with a keyboard, guitar, and maybe, like, a few clothes, and drove up the West Coast.
Seattle: The Best Dumb Thing I Ever Did
This was a dumb idea. It was a great idea, but it was also a really dumb idea. I had less than $1000 in my bank account, and I only had that much thanks to charitable donations from family members, a refund for part of my overpaid tuition, and a few savings bonds I didn’t even know existed until I was about to leave. I had set up a summer sublease on Craigslist with a UW student who happened to have went to high school with a guy I knew at college. Small world, yo. If that’s not a sign, I don’t know what is. (Note for my smart-ass friends: I know what a sign is. Don’t send me a Wikipedia link. We all know you’re funny.)
Luckily, I got a job pretty quickly (Safeway Deli on Capitol Hill. I was there for six months. Let us never speak of this again.) and soon made friends in the music scene (shoutout to 254MochaCharlie!) who showed me the ropes. It was an amazingly exciting time. I finally felt like I was taking control of my life, that the world was my oyster, that things were gonna happen! And then something happened. I realized that leaving everything I knew behind to an uncertain world of rent, union dues, small paychecks, bigger paychecks, layoffs, no paychecks, still rent, and increasing internal struggles was juuuuuust enough to set off one’s crippling anxiety. And it did. And, after many many episodes and sleepless nights and even worse mornings, I realized that I have an anxiety disorder.
Don’t Worry, I’m Totally Fine Even Though I’m FREAKING OUT
So I went to the discount counseling service near my house because I could afford it (almost), and because I thought I could use a little help (“Finally!” the audience exclaims in unison). I met with a really nice new therapist working on her clinic hours, and we starting discussing why I was the way I was, and my issues with abandonment and trust and stuff like that. I really had hope and thought, hey, maybe I can get over this in a matter of months! And then I showed up to the office one day to find my meeting had been cancelled and that “Someone should have called you, we’re so sorry. Let’s set up another appointment.” I showed up two weeks later for that appointment. It was cancelled. I hadn’t been called. And that’s when I just decided to stop having abandonment issues and laugh about everything because that situation was ironic and hilarious. I did try to go to another non-discount counselor about a year later, but maxing out my credit card for an hour of “I’m going to ignore what you are saying and just tell you to search for your inner peace” mumbo-jumbo caused me WAY more anxiety than it could have ever cured.
Since then, I’ve just gone the natural route: self-care, calling it a Netflix night if I need to, getting plenty of Vitamin D, and exercising when I’m not injured from exercising. I’ve gotten out of high-stress situations (shitty jobs being the biggest culprit) and have finally found a balance that allows me the decompression time I need to function. Anxiety is a really weird thing. You have good days, bad days, and days you think are good but then something sets you off. I’d probably get to do so much more if I didn’t have to deal with it, but I find the busier I am, the happier I am, so if anything it really jump-starts my work ethic. I’m learning to cater to it without letting it inhibit my quality of life too much, and in doing so I’m starting to feel like myself again. I know it’ll always be there, but I’m determined to not let it define me and control me. (*insert Katy Perry’s song “Roar”*)
Music has been the one thing that’s always helped my anxiety. If there’s a situation really weighing me down, I sit down at my piano, play a bit, cry a bit, maybe write a song about it, and then I feel better. Writing a song is basically turning a beast into something pretty; it’s something I can use to show my demons in a non-threatening way, and it’s the only tried-and-true thing that has continued to persevere. There have been times that I’ve fallen away from songwriting, and it’s those times that have been the roughest.
I’ve tried recording a few times, but I just wasn’t ready. I lacked confidence and, on a different spectrum, I wasn’t ready to part with my words. I knew as soon as my songs were recorded, they’d be free to take on a million different meanings, and that, my dear friend, is intimidating. Sending something you hold dear out in the world is giving it permission to change, and if you read a few chapters/paragraphs back, I have issues with abandonment (that I’ve totally given up and am fully recovered so shhhhhh….). But I’ve recently learned that it’s not about keeping these things to yourself. It’s about sharing. It’s about finding that connection. The more I open up and share these songs, the better I feel, and the more I realize that not everything is as scary as I make it up to be.
Recording Nothing Safe Out Here (Shameless plug: Out April 21st on Bandcamp!) was a huge part of (and was largely inspired by) recovering and trying to find balance in my life. A year ago, I had no plans to record. I had no funds, no band, and didn’t really feel up for the crowd funding route just yet (though, never say never.) My friend Jeremy Westfall mentioned that his friend, Andrew Bloom, had recently gotten his degree in audio engineering and was looking to build his portfolio. Of course, I volunteered as tribute. Why not? At the very least, I’d get some more experience and more demos to add to my poor, neglected Bandcamp page. At the very most, I’d have an awesome experience and makes something I could be proud of with rad people. The outcome? I’ll give you one guess.
After we had a plan of action, Andrew brought guitarist Anthony Klimek and drummer Brad Robinson into the equation. We had our first full-band practice in my cluttered (to put it lightly) apartment and I think I was dumbfounded the entire time, though I tried to be cool. What the hell was happening? Drums? Bass? Guitar? Piano? My songs? What? I was on a high for days. It was like finding a Christmas present I wanted 10 years ago randomly in the mail. I had no idea how it happened, but I was happy it finally arrived.
Three days ago I received my very first order of CDs. The artwork is a gorgeous design by my friend Omar Gonzalez, a fellow Chapman Alum. The music is a gorgeous collaboration of myself and three of the most talented musicians I could have ever have wished to work with. I still don’t really know how it happened, but I’m so glad it did. I’ve never been more proud of a single thing I’ve been part of, and it’s crazy to think that one little CD could hold so much meaning for me. It’s those nights in my decrepit Capitol Hill apartment 4 years ago when I wrote sad songs while looking out on the city lights and wondering how the hell I got there. It’s the struggle I had through the anxiety that I still can’t logically explain or justify that made me question my aspirations for waaaay too long. It’s the thousands of disappointments over the last few years that have somehow been beautifully wrapped up into one thing that came together perfectly.
And sometimes all you need is one thing to come together perfectly.
I’m really excited to release the album this week. Where will it go from here? I don’t know. At the very least, I’ve had an awesome experience and made something I’m really proud of with rad people. At the very most, I’ll get to do it again sometime soon.
Updated on August 19, 2016
I’m trying this new thing called “not waiting 2 years between blog posts”, so here goes nothing. Well, next to nothing, but not nothing, because it is something. But, it’s not that big of a something, so, it’s kind of nothing, but not. Anyway, here goes next to nothing but not nothing because it’s something.
It all started at about 11am. I was hungry, so I popped my small, portion-controlled, delectably home-prepared lunch into my work’s antique (vintage?) microwave and waited the allotted time it takes for a vintage microwave (5 minutes) to do the work a modern microwave can do in less time (about 1.5 minutes). I consider the extra wait a tax for being granted the privilege of using a true original, perhaps the last of its kind, when most of its brethren have fallen to the ages and returned to the dust from whence they came. (In all seriousness, if someone from work sees this, just know that I appreciate having a microwave. It’s nice. I guess. I mean, we could upgrade, but it’s still okay and I appreciate it.) After 5 minutes, I ate my lunch. But, as the prophecy foretold, around 1pm I was hungry again. Oh no! Whatever was I to do?
Well, I had a $10 credit on UBEReats for signing up for UBEReats so, clearly, I would do that. I scoured the app for about 10 minutes because choices are hard, but eventually I decided on a Cuban sandwich, a beet salad, and chips from a nearby restaurant. Palms sweaty, adrenaline rising, I clicked the “Order” button. Then my wait began. I waited. And I waited. Order confirmed! Yay! Wait. Wait.
As I watched my phone anxiously, I received a phone call from an unknown Bellevue number. I spent a few years in my early twenties being hounded by creditors (I kind of spaced on paying some bills, lesson learned) and, because of that, I am now hesitant to answer unfamiliar numbers, so I let it go to voicemail. No voicemail. Phew. Not today, Sallie Mae. But, soon, a second Bellevue number called, and I had a sneaking suspicion it was about my 2nd lunch. A voicemail confirmed this. Turns out, my driver’s app had malfunctioned and he was now twenty miles from the restaurant. They needed to cancel my order and I needed to re-place it so another driver could pick it up. This system is awfully flawed, I thought. And I thought right. It is very flawed. So they cancelled it, and I re-placed it. Then I waited.
And finally, my order showed up and there’s really no climax to this story. Boy, was I excited! It was a really big sandwich, so I only had half with the salad. Saved the other half and chips for later! Well, maybe. Because of the driver snafu, I’m pretty sure my order was sitting there for awhile so the salad was kind of warm and the sandwich was kind of room temperature. I haven’t tried the chips, but they will probably be okay.
Verdict: I don’t feel so good. I’m not sure if it’s because a.) I’m super paranoid about room-temperature lunch meat and I’m being a hypochondriac b.) there was actually a reason to be paranoid about that room temperature lunch meat, or c.) maybe I wasn’t all that hungry hungry and should have stuck with 1.5 lunches rather than the full two. Either way, it was delicious, but I probably won’t be using UBEReats again. It’s too much of a hassle. I’m not even going to put my referral code on this blog because, even if you used it and I got credit from it, I probably wouldn’t want to use it. Why, you ask? Because the microwave was faster and less of a headache. I guess the elders really do know their stuff. I’ll just bring a slightly larger small, portion-controlled, delectably home-prepared lunch next time.
This has been “not waiting 2 years between blog posts” with Katrina.
PS Okay here’s my referral code because it can get you $10 off but rest assured I will not use any credit I receive. CODE: eats-p45f4 (EDIT: Who am I kidding? If free food is available I will not let it go to waste, but I won’t be happy about it.(yes I will, thank you (but I won’t (maybe just a little))))
Updated on August 2, 2016
While I wrap my head around the fact that it’s already August (seriously, what?), I thought I’d write a quick update post before we’re all sporting Uggs and toting around pumpkin spice everything (though I can’t say I’m not SUPER excited for both of those things).
As you probably know, my new EP Where This Began was released three months ago today(!), and and it’s doing well! It has been accepted to Pandora Radio and is now streaming on there which is really neat, and it’s also available on iTunes, Amazon Music, and Spotify. Unfortunately I had to pull back a bit on promoting it after its release due to some health issues (anxiety and a bum shoulder put a damper on just about everything), but I have good reason to believe things are on the up and up. As far as live shows, I will probably be taking the rest of the summer off until I’m all healed up, but I look forward to getting the ball rolling again in the fall.
During this musical break, I’ve had time to focus on some other creative projects such as writing (yay!), learning web & graphic design (yay!), and even podcasting (yay!), all endeavors that I should be able to share with you later this year. Otherwise, I’ve just been trying to get out and enjoy the sunshine while it’s here! I got a new standup paddleboard that I use as much as possible (yes, it does actually help with my shoulder! Bonus!), and I’m slowly getting back into hiking. I actually started a new blog about my outdoor experiences titled Wanderer Adventurer Etc. in order to try and encourage me to get out more. So far, it’s working! I’ve been on two hikes in the last week and my legs hate/love me for it.
Well, that’s about all the excitement happening at Katrina Charles HQ. I hope you all enjoy the rest of your summer, and I can’t wait to see you in in the fall! 🙂