These days Alaska is more well known for producing fuel and unforgettable vice-presidential candidates than pop stars. But The Last Frontier State has produced a few pop chanteuses: Jewel and Amerie both have roots up north. Now we can add another to the list: singer/songwriter Kate Earl.
The soft-spoken musician moved from Alaska to California to pursue her education (and a boyfriend who also made the move), but she recalls to CBS Local her start in Alaska as a toddler who was fascinated with the family piano.
“I was really, really small. I remember being shorter than the piano and reaching over my head, trying to feel out the keys and the keys being so wide that my hand had a hard time reaching across,” Earl says. “So, two or three. I started playing by ear at three and then I started lessons at four but I didn’t take to the very well. I played by ear so well [that] I would be impatient with learning how to read music. I still don’t read music.”
Earl released a few previous songs and albums, but none quite captured her like her latest, Stronger. She’s penned an album of romantic-meets-wistful songs infused with a certain California sensibility, with assists from collaborators Brett Dennen, Blake Mills (Fiona Apple, Norah Jones) and one track written for her by Miike Snow’s Andrew Wyatt. Earl tells us her first single, “One Woman Army,” was prompted by her overwhelming feelings for that special someone.
“It was definitely inspired by my son and written to him…But the highest form of songwriting in my opinion is the oldies because they are so easily related to by any person of any age with any experience, any background. Those songs are crafted so masterfully that everyone relates to them. I was inspired by Motown in a way, or even country does this [and] folk music does it as well, to write a song that identified with more than just one experience, more than just my own. I really wanted to reach as many people as I could. It could have been just for a mom, like I am. Or it could have been for a woman who wants to stand by her man. Or a woman who is a part of sisterhood…representing the strength of love and the courage of love.”
“If the litmus test is that you cry when you write it and hear it back, that would probably have to do with how we picked it,” Earl laughs, explaining how the track became her single. “I was so proud of the journey of venturing into single motherhood…Obviously, as a mother my son is the most important thing ever so to find a way to communicate that and not leave anyone else out was really monumental for me.”
The rest of Stronger tackles love as well, painting vibrant pictures with inspirations that Earl characterizes as a “sultry, Canyon kind of feeling.” From “I Don’t Want To Be Alone Tonight” (about exactly what you think it’s about) to tackling the annoying break up in “Not The End of the World” to falling for the wrong person against your better senses with “Wicked Love.”
When Earl writes, she prefers the analog method: journals.
“I bring composition books with me everywhere. I actually have one right there,” Earl says, gesturing across the room. “They’re just the ones you get a the dollar store…I think emotionally writing is a movement that is like a dance that lets something out, but that’s for me personally. Some people are like, ‘Ah, I don’t have the patience to write. I need to type!’ That’s just my method, using a pen most of the time.”
Earl’s latest work comes along at a time when female voices are prevalent in culture — in a year marked by landmark and critically lauded releases from singer/songwriters all over the music spectrum including Taylor Swift, P!nk, Norah Jones, Fiona Apple, Marina & the Diamonds and Ellie Goulding. One has to wonder if it’s more than a coincidence; if perhaps there’s something in the air.
“I kind of wonder if, based on hearing one come up in a time and space, that the others start to pipe up, [thinking] ‘Oh, I’ve got that to offer too in my way,'” Earl says. “And we all feed off of each other and we’re all perpetuating this energy of using The Voice in a very strong, feminine way. I’m really, really happy it’s happening and I’m glad to be a part of it.”
-Courtney E. Smith, CBS Local