Portland-based, Kate Davis, opened her heart to music at age five when she touched a violin for the first time. The rest is history. Her debut, indie-rock record, Trophy, is a testament to her pure adoration for music, both the musical process and what it offers you as a human. Trophy will be released November 8th. Below, Kate discusses what music has and will always mean to her, including the incredibly beautiful vulnerability that writing and releasing music offers.
MFL: From what I have read, music has been a mainstay in your life from the moment you could pick up an instrument to play it. Has your relationship with music changed or oscillated at all over time and if so, how?
Kate Davis (KD): My relationship with music has always been solid. It’s the anchor which everything else in life revolves around. The most difficult time in my life musically was when I was still finding my artist voice. I was developing as a writer and was involved in musical projects that didn’t; resonate. It’s really hard to sing and play music that doesn’t feel right or reflect your POV. I’m fortunate now that the music I listen to for fun and the music I make lives within the same world. There is true balance in life… 🙂
MFL: When did the thought of creating your own record cross your mind and when did it start to become a reality?
KD: I had been trying to make my own record for YEARS. When I was a kid I recorded a lot with my dad who was a hobbyist engineer. Mostly dorky and obscure jazz standards. Post college I was tangled up in some funky career stuff that made it impossible for me to record or release any of my own songs. Because of this I laid low and wrote until I felt like I had the right material. I looked for the right people to make the music with and finally, in 2017, I was able to record an album that I was very proud of. It took a long time, but I am grateful to have had all of the life experiences and obstacles that ultimately shaped this record (and myself) into where we’re at now!
MFL: Where did you grow up and did that have any influence on your musical upbringings?
KD: I was lucky to have been relocated to a suburb of Portland, OR as a 10 year old. I was a young violin player and played in an amazing youth orchestra called PYP. My high school had a very good music program, and I had mentors in PDX who encouraged and hired me to play around town as a bass player and singer. I had so much playing opportunity and kind teachers always suggesting new music to learn and listen to. I was exposed to all different genres and was able to develop a very individualized ear. Portland is such a nurturing arts town that I was able to thrive musically as a teenager. I have a lot of gratitude for the teachers who helped me along the way.
MFL: What is the story behind the title of your debut album, Trophy?
KD: The album title comes from the song, “Trophy.” The song felt different from the rest – a strange departure from my existing songs. When I was recording the album, “Trophy” took on a life of its own. The album’s producer, Tim Bright, and I really ran with it. Having had to wait so long to make my debut album, the triumphant feeling of completing something after so many years really aligned with the songs themes. It’s a dark perspective on doing whatever it takes to win or possess something, but I do have a deep sense of pride for being able to reemerge with a record that feels so personal and deliberate.
MFL: I dance and choreograph and there is a certain level of vulnerability that comes with sharing something that has come from within you. Where do you stand with this as a musician, especially now that you are releasing your own record?
KD: I feel vulnerable when I write a song and it exists as a skeleton. Being able to produce these songs, live with them for some time, and make intentional moves towards completion can shift that feeling into empowerment. I am so used to people wanting me to do something else that I have worked on tuning out the critics. I make stuff and there’s no reason to feel bashful or deterred from doing so. These songs tell stories through my own perspective – some of the experiences are not ones I have lived. But at a certain point you set them free. They take on lives of their own and you move on. I think vulnerability keeps you focused and dedicated which can only lead to meaningful work. It’s a part of the process but I have learned to embrace its shape shifting.
MFL: Who were some of the most influential musicians to you as you were growing up and do you still find yourself inspired by their music?
KD: When I was a kid I was obsessed with classical music. There are composers like Mahler, Brahms, Barber, and Vaughan Williams, that I still return to for inspiration. In high school I was deeply moved by the flexibility of the great jazz singers, but at the same time was inspired by the songwriting of Emily Haines and Annie Clark. In college I discovered Jeff Buckley and didn’t talk to anyone for two months. All of the music I have loved throughout my life are still great loves. My taste in music has never changed. I go back to all of my early influences often to remind myself why I love music. I discover new favorites all the time and have a feeling that like everything else I’ve picked up over the years, I’ll hold on to these too, forever.
MFL: Your album comes out in a little over a month. What kind of feelings or thoughts are bouncing around in your head as release date gets closer?
KD: I feel so liberated letting this music out into the world – song by song. I have waited so long for this. It gives me satisfaction and a buzz knowing that I get to keep writing and recording. I live for this experience.