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Enjoying Success On The Other Side
Kate Voegele
I think I've also benefited a lot from keeping an open mind about the whole thing. I'm not dead set on one particular thing right now and I think that has kept my opportunities wide open. - Kate Voegele
by Matt Mrowicki
 [Chorus and Verse] Kate Voegele
Kate Voegele

In the year or so since Kate Voegele released her debut EP, The Other Side, the talented singer/songwriter has enjoyed success around her local music scene in Cleveland, Ohio. In addition to holding the CD release party at her city's Hard Rock Cafe, and performing around other local venues, she's had her first single "Top of the World" featured on WBWC 83.3 radio in Cleveland and been invited to perform at numerous showcases and benefits.

All of this would be an impressive start for any new musician learning the ropes of her hometown scene and looking to build a long-term career in music. Balancing the pressure of the music biz along with the rigors of high school is even more noteworthy.

The 17-year-old Voegele has garnered a lot of attention due to the maturity and accomplishment of her songwriting, which increases her chances for long-term success in an industry that can often be dismissive of the female folk diva of the moment. The steps she has taken to assemble a strong backing band, which includes her dad Will Voegele sharing acoustic guitar duties, and building a relationship with the industry, indicates that her career development is well underway, and can only intensify as she focuses more on it in the years ahead.

She has already shared the stage with nationally-recognized performers, including John Mayer, Aimee Mann and Patty Griffin, with whom her music is often favorable compared.

Recently, Voegele participated in a record-label showcase in Los Angeles and the Pure Tone showcase in Cleveland.  Plans are also in the works for MTV's seminal reality show "The Real World" to license The Other Side. With all of this going on, Chorus and Verse spoke with Voegele about her perceptions of the music biz, its perceptions of her, and where she hopes it will all take her from here.

Kate Voegele

Let’s start off by looking forward. In March, you’re going to be performing an unofficial showcase at South By Southwest, in Austin, Texas. What are your feelings about being a part of this festival, and do you have any specifics about when and where you’ll be playing?

I'm thrilled to be playing SXSW this March. I've always heard so much about it and I'm definitely looking forward to being a part of the Women in Rock showcase.

In general, it sounds like the industry has been very receptive to your music. The Kings Of A&R website highlighted your music a little while ago, and your single, “Top of the World,” has been getting radio airplay. What’s been the secret to not only getting recognized and standing out in the music biz, but also getting the opportunities presented to you so that you can take advantage of them?

I think there have been a number of different things that have helped me get to this point. First of all, my family and friends have been incredibly supportive, not to mention my high school as well. Publicity and getting my name out there have also been major issues, all of which I owe to Mike Farley for his dedicated distribution of my material.

I think I've also benefited a lot from keeping an open mind about the whole thing.  I'm not dead set on one particular thing right now and I think that has kept my opportunities wide open.

A lot of your press focuses on the fact that your songwriting is so accomplished, especially for a sixteen or seventeen-year-old. Does it bother you at all that people are surprised that someone so young would be able to write interesting and engaging songs? Have you found that your age has been a plus for you, or something that you need to overcome when getting people to want to work with you?

Both. I think that there are major advantages and disadvantages to being a seventeen-year-old songwriter in the music industry. It's sometimes hard when people who are surprised at my songwriting question how many problems a high schooler really has and if someone my age could write as insightfully as someone older.

I also think it has major advantages, though. Since I'm only a junior in high school, I still have a lot of time to get my career going. A lot of people don't even start until they're out of college, so I think I've got a pretty good head start.

Many young female artists tend to get forced into one of two boxes, either the sensitive, folksy singer/songwriter type, or the sex-kittenish pop diva. How conscious are you of your image, and have you found that people are surprised when they do see you perform and your style isn’t fitting into one of the typical molds?

I think a lot of times young female artists do feel like they have to fit in one of those stereotypical images, and it ends up changing the way they really are and making their material seem "manufactured." I don't think I fall directly into either category, but I think I definitely identify more with a folksy singer/songwriter genre. It's the art that's so important to me in my music. I also try to write within a wide range of "styles" so as to change it up and not just fit that archetypal folky girl-with-a-guitar mold.

Back to your songwriting for a moment. What are the themes you find yourself addressing in your writing, and do you find yourself more comfortable writing autobiographically, or in the third person?

I guess it depends on the song. A lot of times, songwriting is a release for me, so it's relatively autobiographical because it's most often a reflection of my feelings. However, sometimes I find myself writing in third person for something new or just because it seems to fit the idea of the song a lot better.

Kate Voegele

Are you always writing, filling up notebooks with ideas and phrases here and there and putting them together in songs later on? Or, do you just sit alone with your guitar somewhere and play around with thoughts until something coherent comes together?

I do both! I've got probably four different notebooks full of all kinds of random ideas that I go back to when I'm stuck on a particular song. Every song is different, because sometimes it stems from an idea that's two-years-old that I never did anything with, and sometimes it's something I was humming while playing around with a new chord progression.

I think the biggest thing for me with songwriting is that it can't be forced.  It sounds kinda dumb, but it has to just sort of come to me.  Otherwise, it's really not my best work.

Your five-song EP The Other Side, was released in Summer 2003. Have you continued to write new material over the past several months, and do you anticipate any additional recording, or putting out a full-length album, at any point in the near future?

I've definitely been writing new material since The Other Side was released. On top of all the stuff that never even made it onto the CD are at least 30 new songs I've written over the last few months. My dad and I put together a small amount of this new stuff on a four-song demo a couple months ago, but there's still so much more I'd like to do with it.

I'd definitely love to put out a full length album sometime soon, so I guess I'll just be on the lookout for whatever opportunities like that come my way.

The Other Side was released at a party held at the Hard Rock Café in your native Cleveland, where you’re performed other gigs recently as well. Talk about the local Cleveland scene a bit. What are some of the other rooms that you’ve played, and which venues have been the most supportive of original music?

The Cleveland scene has actually been pretty good for emerging artists. Hard Rock is always really welcoming and an awesome venue to play here. Over the summer, the Tower City Amphitheatre was really generous in giving me a spot on the second stage at Taste of Cleveland and Sprite Liquid Mix tour. I also played a benefit for the American Cancer Society at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the fall, which was another really supportive place to play. Last fall, I also opened for the Bangles at the Second City Comedy Club, which not only had great sound and acoustics, but also very supportive. I recently played both the Odeon and the Beachland Ballroom Tavern. Both of these being places that a lot of singer/songwriters I respect have played, I found them equally supportive of original artists.

Kate Voegele

Do you feel the Cleveland music scene has the resources to allow you to break out on a regional or national level? Where you see the next logical step being as you expand your touring area?

I think the Cleveland scene has substantial resources. So far, it's been [serving] me really well. I recently did a songwriter showcase program for Crooked River Groove at CCC, which was a great way to expose local artists.

I think, though, I'm not quite sure what the next step will be. I think that this summer will give me a lot of time to really get my name out there and continue to play out live. I'm also hoping to do some more studio recording sometime in the near future and possibly tour outside Cleveland if the opportunity arises.

You’re playing gigs with a full-band these days. Can you introduce readers to your band mates, and how long you’ve all been playing together?

My band and I have actually only been playing together since the middle of last summer. They're all really cool guys who are extremely talented and fun to work with.

My dad, Will Voegele, actually plays acoustic guitar (along with me) in my band which has really been a blast. He's played guitar since high school and has taught me everything I know about guitar and songwriting. He also gets a kick out of the fact that he's pretty much double the age of any other member of the band and is the only, as Fox 8 news called him, "older gentlemen" in the group.

My electric guitarist, Sam Getz, is incredibly talented and is 20 years old. He plays in his own blues band and also in a band called Cactus 12. Both my drummer, 18-year-old Mike Gould, and bassist, 18-year-old Phil Palumbo, also play in Cactus 12. On keyboards is 23-year-old Andy Sorenson, both an extremely talented musician and long-time friend of our family.

Why do you feel you’ve been drawn to an acoustic guitar, rather than playing an electric? Do you own an electric or ever play plugged-in, and do you consider that an option for building on your sound, or adding something different to the mix, in the future?

I own both types of guitars and I think it took me a while to feel out which I was most drawn to. I think my personal taste in music has something to do with my preference for the acoustic guitar, because I've always been a big fan of very organic songwriting, like that of Patty Griffin on the Living With Ghosts album.  My guitar is acoustic/electric, so I almost always play plugged in.

Though I definitely find myself writing most often on the acoustic guitar, I like to play electric live on select songs, too. I think it helps to expand my sound and style and also allows for new ideas to come about.

On that note, what is your favorite acoustic guitar when performing? Are you a “guitar girl,” that loves to talk about instruments and explore music shops, or can you pretty much pick up anything that’s lying around and play with it?

I'm not much of an expert yet, but from what I've played, I think the most quality guitar make is by Taylor. There's something about the warmth of the sound and the low action on the bridge that makes it not only easy to play, but the best sound you can get. I learned to play guitar on my dad's baby Taylor, and he actually got a Taylor 614C a couple years ago that I used to play when I did solo stuff rather than with the band. Just this past Christmas, I got a Taylor 414 with a really gorgeous cedar wood satin finish that I'm totally in love with, so I'd have to say that it's the best make I've come across.

What’s the future hold for you over the next several years? What do you see as the timeline for doing more touring and expanding your exposure within the music industry? What’s in the works for the rest of 2004 that fans should look out for?

I've been given so many awesome opportunities, so I'm really excited to see what the future will bring. I'm hoping to do a lot more live touring over the summer, and to hopefully get some dates both in and out of Cleveland. I'm hoping that stuff I do this summer will be a catalyst for some other possibilities, but I'm just taking it all one day at a time and seeing what happens.

For 2004, I'll hopefully be able to record some more material, maybe even a full-length CD. For now, I'm so excited to be able to be doing this and am really looking forward to seeing where it takes me in the future.

[ Website: www.katevoegele.com ]

Matt Mrowicki
Matt Mrowicki [[email protected]], is an Internet entrepreneur and owner of Chorus and Verse. In 2002, he founded Impression Technologies LLC (www.imprtech.com) a digital design company offering website development, graphic design, online marketing, social media and technology consulting. He has been interviewed on topics ranging from how bands can best use their websites for promoting their music to current trends in social media. He has successfully launched over 100 websites and branding projects for clients and continues to develop new online opportunities and promote effective uses of technology and online media.
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