Katie Oates knows how to sing. She’s been singing for as long as she can remember. But finding her own voice, that’s another story.
The daughter of a preacher, she belted hymns from her crib as a toddler to wake up her parents. But her childhood peers soon taught her it wasn’t “cool” to sing loudly or express her emotions freely, so for many years she sang only when alone.
“I think it’s a common adolescent experience, unfortunately,” Katie laments. “We let people/society/institutions bully us out of being who we really are in all of our strangeness. We give up what makes us unique, so we can fit in.” Even after she began singing in public again in high school and for many years afterward, Katie sang what someone else told her to sing. “Don’t get me wrong. I had many great experiences in the choirs, musical theatre and singing groups that I auditioned for and joined. I sang arias with orchestras, solos with gospel choirs, and leads in musical theatre. Those were enjoyable, valuable experiences, but if I am being completely honest, I have to admit I played it safe. Having someone else’s permission to sing helped me deal with my self-doubt. But constantly seeking approval and permission from others slowly suffocated me over time. I grew increasingly frustrated and unhappy and didn’t know why.”
Although she recorded and produced a cd of classical and folk songs in 2012 (Going Over Home), the 2016 release of her 5-song EP, Something True, marks a watershed moment for Katie. These are songs excavated from Katie’s own heart: composed and sung fully by her. “I am finally speaking in my own voice—with all the rewards and dangers that can involve.”
Katie’s songwriting and performing are noticeably influenced by musical theatre. Her songs directly address the listeners, inviting them into a shared emotion through story, metaphor, rhythm and melody: What do you do when you reach rock bottom (“Laughter through Tears”)? How do you describe the thrill of getting lost in a song (“Play Me”)? Why do we all have this inchoate longing for more (“Never Enough”)? What’s the perfect response—that we usually only think of later—to a bully (“Keep on Talking”)? And how to convey the desire we all have for deep connections with people we love most—and the pain we feel because we so rarely achieve that connection (“Something True”).
Katie has been performing and reworking her original songs for several years—collaborating with and learning from a number of established artists. Legendary folk singer and activist Si Kahn (and mentor to Katie) says:
Katie Oates doesn’t just wear her heart on her sleeve, but in her music. Few people I know have made as remarkable a transition from trained singer of classical opera to passionate performer of her own original songs, which she does with elegant grace and energetic poise. Katie's music inspires, entertains, troubles and lifts us, makes us laugh and breaks our hearts. She’s as good a person as she is an artist: intelligent and humane, sincere and real to the core. Listen, listen, listen.
The EP and most of the songs for the full cd were recorded by singer/songwriter Chris Rosser (Free Planet Radio, bass player for jazz singer Lizz Wright) who also played a variety of instruments for this EP and a full 12-song cd of original songs (including full band versions of the EP songs) that is planned for release in spring of 2017. Nashville singer/songwriter Sally Barris, who mentored Katie through the songwriting and recording process, says:
Katie Oates's EP is a magical blend of simple production and stellar vocal performances. Chris Rosser (recording engineer) has created the perfect space for Katie’s strong and subtle vocals to shine. Listeners will appreciate the top-notch production quality as well as the high level of songwriting. Whether it’s a song like "Something True" that calls you to open your heart or a funky, smart song like "Keep on Talking," Katie has something to say, and you’re going to want to hear it!
Katie hopes listeners will be entertained by the songs and want to share them with others, but she also hopes the songs will encourage listeners to find their own unique voice as well. “We tend to reduce people—even our understanding of the world around us—to simple caricatures. It makes things easier in the day-to-day, but I think doing that flattens our experience of life. We lose the complexity of the people and things we think we understand, and we fail to see all the connections we have with people and ideas that are seemingly foreign. I think we crave the connection we get from hearing the funny, odd, poignant, limitless diversity of other people’s stories. Music distills those connections into five minutes of emotionally-packed sound and language. None of us connect with all music genres or all varieties of people, but I think we make the world a better place when we attempt to discover the best in ourselves and dare to share our own unique perspectives authentically with others. That’s my journey. I hope you’ll join me.”