Interview | Katie Cole: “I don’t think you really ever know where a song is going to end up.”

Photo by Catie Laffoon

Katie Cole recently released her full-length debut album, Lay It All Down, which was recorded in Los Angeles and produced by Howard Willing. Its lead single, “We Started a Fire,” was released in 2013, and the hook was grand. Let’s have a listen.

A few weeks ago, we chatted with Katie over the phone about Lay It All Down, working with Kris Kristofferson, meeting Howard Willing, songwriting in Nashville, moving to Los Angeles, and genre labeling. Enjoy, and purchase Lay It All Down here.

On releasing a full-length record

I released two EPs and my plan was to release another EP, and I started one of those Kickstarter things, and I was looking to release five or six songs, but I just had so many songs. So, I thought, “you may as well spend a little bit more time while you’ve got the studio and track a full album.” Which took longer…and even longer! (laughs) And I feel that some of my fans hate me, even though I know they don’t — I know they get it. 

On fans discovering music via social media

I think that there are so many ways to find music. To me, the best fans are made by going out and doing live shows and engaging with them in that setting. But, sometimes they can’t come out and find you that way, so they find you at random through social media, or through a friend of a friend. I hate to say how important social media is, but it just is.

On writing in Nashville

I’ve been going to Nashville on and off for about two and a half years now. I’m trying to get over there now every other month. It’s such an important community for anyone who’s a songwriter. When I moved to Los Angeles, I started to get to know a lot of the local artists, and then I started to dig my heels into the songwriting community in Los Angeles, and obviously there are tons and tons of songwriters in Los Angeles. But, I started to see the importance in Nashville — so many people around the nation and around the world producing songs in Nashville. 

On writing songs in general

I write for the songs. When I write, I just try to write the best thing possible at that moment. I don’t think you really ever know where a song is going to end up. You should absolutely put everything into a song — that’s the way I look at it. Lyric writing to me — I’m not obsessed with it, but the best lyrics should show the listener what is going on, so they can paint the picture themselves. I try not to write too many songs that are too narrative. I’d rather a song reach as many people as possible, so I try to leave out the “I love you, or I feel this way, or I think this way…”

Photo by Priscilla Witte

On working with Kris Kristofferson

My producer managed to reel in Kris to put some backing vocals on “Penelope.” When I wrote that song, I did imagine that it would be a song that he would sing, but I never thought that anyone would be a guest vocalist on it. But, I got very, very fortunate. It was very brief working with him. Howard Willing, my producer, was engineering a record for Kris at the time, with producer Don Was, who is ridiculously talented. It was of those situations where Howard asked Don first, and then asked Kris if it would be something he would be interested in singing on. So, he sat down and listened to the song a few times and said, “This is great. Who wrote this?” And Howard said, “Kate Cole did.” It happened so quickly. It’s still so exciting to talk about it, because I have an icon singing on one of my tracks. It’s one of those bucket list things as a songwriter. A very lucky scenario.

On moving to Los Angeles from Australia

I was in Australia, and I was an artist playing live music in clubs five nights a week or so, and writing music during the day. I was writing more for pop artists and European artists and people who were coming off Australian Idol and things like that. I was having…not issues with my career…but so many people who I wanted to work with were in California. And I always kind of thought that was where I was going to end up. It was luck meets preparation. I had released an EP in Australia, and I had started to write my next album, and Howard Willing actually reached out to me and basically told me to come to L.A. And I really didn’t think it was him at first, but we started talking, and we started to plan when I would come over to record. He was really impressed with me as an artist, with me as a songwriter. He’s worked with everyone from Sheryl Crow to Smashing Pumpkins, so he was always on my list of someone to work with. So, when you get that call, you just go. No waiting for the right time; the right time is then. (laughs)

On her song “Hearts Don’t Bend,” which opens Lay It All Down

It was actually written during one of my trips to Nashville. I think I got home from a few sessions, and I had that title in my head, and I thought I could write a really good story around it. I traveled to Nashville to write with all these amazing songwriters, and of course I wrote that on my own in the basement of the place I was staying in. (laughs) None of this is glamorous. (laughing) 

I think a floodgate just opened, and I absolutely think on a record — your first couple of songs should absolutely set the tone for what you’re trying to say. I think my favorite song on the album is “Lay It All Down,” but “Hearts Don’t Bend” hits you all of a sudden and picks you up in a good way. It gives you a good kick in the butt, I think. It’s definitely one of my favorite songs to play live. It’s a good opener. I couldn’t say no to it! (laughs)

On genres being applied to her music

My whole career I’ve been described as too country or not country enough or too pop or something like it. And to me, well, you can call it whatever you want — that’s not my job. You can say singer-songwriter with flavors of country, or the more pop side of country. I don’t know. I’m happy with the songs, and the plan is to simply keep going.

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