BY FRAN PETITO
The Music of Kate Mills is like taking a drive with Dan Fogelberg, Brandi Carlile, Linda Rondstadt, and Grace Potter through Southern California. Kate is a storyteller whose lyrics and emotional perspective are uniquely informed by schooling and a career in social work. “Many of the things I loved about social work are also why I love music,” she says. “In both, it’s about creating a space where it’s okay to feel whatever we’re feeling; a space for us to acknowledge and embrace our whole selves, even the parts that are challenging. Both create connection. With music, I feel like I can contribute more genuinely to that conversation.”
The New York City-based artist spent years living in the shadows of her dreams, working in a safe job as a social worker.
Today, however, Kate steps forward with assured artistry, releasing a debut album that captures the warmth and orchestrations of her beloved era of 1970s Laurel Canyon singers-songwriters, while being enhanced by today’s crisp modern production standards.
“I have always been scared to say music is what I was meant to do,” confesses singer-songwriter Kate Mills. “This collection of songs, and this past year, has been revelatory for me to embrace a natural part of who I am.”
Kate has previously issued the debut EP, Little Bird (2013). She’s garnered critical accolades from outlets such as Acoustic Music Scene, Women’s International Music Network, and All About That Music. Kate has been a semi-finalist in the UK Songwriter Competition and a semi-finalist in the International Songwriting Competition. In addition, she recently conducted a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund her upcoming full-length.
As a performing artist, Kate has gigged around the country at venerated venues, house concerts, colleges, and festivals. Select highlights include Hotel Cafe in LA, Cutting Room in NYC, Montauk Music Festival, ASCAP’s “I Create Music Conference,” Ladybug Festival, NJ Folk Festival, SouthEast Regional Folk Alliance, and Musikfest.
Kate was born and grew up in Philly. She caught the performance bug early on, and, by age 9, was entrancing audiences in theater performances. Her debut was in front of 900 people as “Gretel” in The Sound Of Music. Kate went onto to enjoy multiple musical theater opportunities, including appearing alongside Debbie Gibson at the Merriam Theater in Philadelphia, and a performance at the Philadelphia Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Her earliest music memories are of listening to Amy Grant. “I was sure she was going to have me sing on a Christmas album,” Kate recalls, laughing. She would go onto write songs during middle school and high school, but, as she grew older, Kate felt shoehorned into a more practical life path. She went onto prestigious University of Pennsylvania where she earned a Master’s Degree in Social Work. Though Kate eventually moved away from a career in social work, her time and study in the field made an indelible impression.
Kate’s album captures character-building times of life. “After spending some time thinking about the themes of each of the songs, it seems a common thread is the idea of ‘reckoning.’ Often with one’s self, but also with grief and love,” she says. During the past 5 years Kate has a lot to reckon with, both good and bad. In that time, she got married to her husband Joey, and she was also diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis which led to multiple hospital stays over the past few years.
Select album highlights include “Honest Mistakes,” “Outrun The Night,” and “Fall Apart.” “Honest Mistakes” opens ethereally, enveloping you in a warm space of atmospherics and spacey, chiming guitars. “Honest Mistakes,” is the first single to be released from the upcoming full-length album. The song is masterfully dynamic—intimate and personal during the storytelling verses and expressively layered during the choruses. Conceptually, it’s a song about good people making not-so-good life decisions, and grappling with feelings of regret. Here, Kate poetically weaves in various observational stories from her life.
One emotional centerpiece of the album is the anthemic pop-rock track “Outrun The Night.” The song opens with an instantly familiar chant, and then segues into moody and confessional verses before taking off into the soaring emotionality of the chorus. Within the song, Kate combines impressionistic images of a desert drive with personally confessional lyrics. “This song is about the fact that we all have shadows—we all can be monsters—and we can’t hide; we have deal with those aspects of ourselves,” she explains.
“No Yellow Brick Road” is Kate’s Plan B song, addressing her time studying social work. It’s a delicate and sweetly sincere country-tinged track replete with golden harmony vocals and winsome pedal steel. “I joke at live shows that it’s my ode to student debt,” Kate says. The boldly vulnerable “Fall Apart” boasts Kate’s most rousing lyrics and richly impassioned vocals, revealing the desire we all feel sometimes just to be a mess. “That song is about giving ourselves space to feel all of our emotions, even when they aren’t pleasant,” Kate clarifies. “Fall Apart” was written after a bad flare-up from Ulcerative Colitis that landed Kate in the hospital.
Her album was produced by Joey Secchiaroli who also played bass and appears as one of the harmony voices on the recordings. Outside of the recording studio, Kate and Joey are husband and wife. “He was the cute guitarist in the band,” Kate laughs, recalling their first encounter, which, of course, took place at a live show.
These days Kate is actively performing and recording, pursuing the life she desired but struggled to embrace. “I think a big part of the message of the songs and my journey from social work to music is not being afraid of who you are, or your dreams, or even the complex feelings we all have,” she says. “There is doubt, uncertainty, and there are no guarantees, but there is no way around it, only through it. We can’t hide and be afraid.”