Following the release of her debut studio album, “Black Trees,” Julie Kathryn will be performing at the Kelly Writer’s House today, Oct. 24 at 6 p.m. in “A Song Symposium on Joni Mitchell.” Her soft alto voice and romantic pop sound make “Black Trees” worth a listen. In our interview with Julie Kathryn, we talked college, relationships and, of course, music.
Street: How did you first get started in music? Julie Kathryn: I grew up in upstate New York, and I’ve always been really musical, but I was really shy about performing for a long time. I sang every day on my way to school, and my dad taught me to sing and I took piano lessons. I taught myself how to play guitar when I was a teenager. But I was really scared to play for people. I went to college. I went to Cornell, and I studied psychology. I really became involved in helping people. That’s what I did for the next couple of years. I worked as a social worker. I was still playing music, but I didn’t do it constantly. I was more concerned with helping people. Kind of what happened was, I realized doing that kind of work that: if I could do that, I could play my songs for people, too, so I kind of realized I could do it by believing in myself. So that’s kind of what happened.
Street: How has your experience been with getting your music out there? JK: Basically, as I mentioned before, I was working as a social worker. I was a musician at night and a social worker in the day. In the last couple of years, it really felt natural. This is my first full–length album and the first chance to put all my energy into my music. It’s really exciting. What’s really exciting about releasing music today is that you can put music online without having a label or any of that stuff like before.
Street: Do you think working as a social worker has influenced your songwriting or the kind of music you do? Has it been a strong influence in your work? JK: In a way, it has. I think that being a social worker… has helped me to be in touch with my emotions, you know, really channel my own emotion on another level. As a songwriter and a performer, that’s kind of where I’m coming from.
Street: Your musical style has been described as “Audrey Hepburn meets Joni Mitchell,” but how would you describe your own music? JK: First of all, a couple of people have said it, and I’m really flattered, you know, being compared to people who inspire you. Basically speaking, I’m really a hybrid of different styles. “Americana” is a label that people have used to describe my music, whether it’s accurate or not. I think more of it being “singer–songwriter Americana.” I kind of have a lot of different vibes. If you’ve heard the album, I think it’s some way of just finding my way as an artist.
Street: What’s the inspiration of your debut album, “Black Trees”? JK: The overall idea of the album was kind of melancholy. The main track, “Black Trees,” you know—I don’t know if you have, but I think most people have, like, a relationship that they never really got over. Even though they moved on, there’s, like, the one person who really shaped them. The whole album, named after that single, is about that relationship. Obviously, it’s really nostalgic. The image of the black trees on the side is a metaphor of that relationship being that, you know, it’s a beautiful image, but obviously the relationship ended.
Street: Are you performing in Philadelphia anytime soon? JK: I’ll be in for the Kelly Writer’s House on October 24. The event is a Joni Mitchell tribute, so there’ll be a different focus. Maybe I’ll come back to Philadelphia in November or December to have my own show.
Street: Where do you see your music taking you in the future? JK: I write music all the time. I never stop writing. I’m trying to write 20 new songs, so I have a lot to do for when I go back to the studio. I think next year I’m definitely going to be recording. I love being in the studio. It’s so fun. Like I said, I’ll have a lot of new stuff. I also will probably be touring. I haven’t worked it out yet, but I’ll definitely be on the road this year playing as much as humanly possible. This weekend I’ll be opening for a guy named Mark Sexton, singer–songwriter. I’m a huge fan of his, and I’m going to be playing a show with him. I’ll definitely be taking as many gigs as I can.
Street: Did you have a high school superlative? JK: I don’t think so [laughs]. But if I had had one, it would have been possibly, like, “nerdiest” or something [laughs].
Street: What were you doing when you were 18? JK: When I was 18 I was a freshman at Cornell, and I was obsessed with Ani DeFranco.
Street: Were you in a sorority at Cornell? JK: Yes. I was in Kappa Kappa Gamma.
Street: When was the last time you came to Philadelphia? JK: I was there in ’08 campaigning for Obama. I loved being there. I was going door to door morning to night. I remember that I loved being there, and that I wanted to come back.
Street: What’s the best concert you’ve ever been to? JK: Boy, that’s such a toss–up, but it’s kind of a tie—I have to say. Two of my favorites are really different. I’ve seen The National a couple times recently. Another person I’ve seen a couple times lately is Brandi Carlile. She’s an amazing songwriter. I look up to her a lot. She’s a great singer, great songwriter. As a musician, I really look up to her.
Street: What are some other musicians that have inspired your music? JK: Bob Dylan, as a songwriter, is the biggest for me. When I was a teenager, I think the first album I really got into was “Desire.” Classic songwriters are the kinds of people I look up to.
Street: Do you enjoy the songwriting aspect to making your music, or does it take precedence over performing? JK: I don’t know. It’s funny because I really think it’s about the song. If the material is good and the performer is in the moment, then it’s a great show. I think someone can have an amazing voice and be a great musician and if the songs aren’t special, I don’t remember the performer.