When it comes to “Drive” – Kat Perkins is an expert. Maybe it’s because she grew up in the middle of nowhere in North Dakota – a town so small the population only recently went from unincorporated to 281. That meant a lot of things, including the nearest rock show was always hundreds of miles away. To get anywhere, a girl like Kat – literally and figuratively – had to have drive.
Soon after she stepped off the stage at her high school graduation, she went 600 miles east to Minneapolis, Minnesota – where her enormous talent and undeniable stage presence carved out a place for her on both the music and theater stages of the Twin Cities. Those who saw her as Columbia in Twin Cities’ hit production of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” are still talking about it. She drove many more miles to headline annually at Sturgis – where iron butts from across the country swarmed to rock out with her. A different kind of drive took her overseas where she proudly performs – as recently as Christmas – for our troops in the Middle East. In fact, it was a road-weary night on the way home from a USO show that Kat gave an impromptu performance around a piano in an airport in Amsterdam – a video went viral and Hollywood took notice.
A year later, she had not only been invited to audition for NBC’s ‘The Voice’ but went all the way to the top five where her coach Adam Levine said what many had said for weeks, “Kat Perkins is hands down one of the best singers we’ve ever had on The Voice.” But the conclusion of the show was hardly a dead end. She now travels across the country sharing with kids from elementary to high-school her unique message of remaining determined, courageous and following their dreams. Her first single “Fearless” hit #5 upon release on the iTunes charts – produced independently and by John Fields (Pink, Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez).
In the summer of 2015, Kat Perkins has just unleashed her debut solo album, ‘Drive.’ The album is a perfect blend of her influences from several musical genres including blues, pop ballads, and pop rock. Most importantly, ‘Drive’ reflects Kat Perkins as the eclectic artist she is at this moment in time.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down with Kat Perkins to discuss the creation of her debut solo album, ‘Drive,’ the challenges she faced along the way, her inspiring work with the youth of America, her upcoming children’s book and much more!
Last we last interviewed you, roughly a year ago, you just released your “Fearless” EP. (Read the previous interview -Click Here) The single ended up going to number five on the iTunes chart. Looking back, does that release have an even greater meaning to you now?
Absolutely. Even though I started out with the intention of it having a message, it has been incredible to see what the song has done for people. I hear so many stories about how it inspires someone to do something. It has become sort of a brand. I really can rely on the “Fearless” brand to be part of my thing and probably be part of my thing forever!
You just released your first full-length solo record. What were your goals or aspirations for this project when you started out?
Fifteen years ago, when I first started working in the industry and I was shopping around for labels and had a management thing going on in Nashville, people would always ask me, “What kind of record do you want to make?” I was 18 or 19 years old and I would say, “I just want to make a good record!” They would laugh and be like, “That’s funny. Seriously, everyone wants to do that. What genre?” I always wondered why we had to pigeonhole! I have a really broad interest in music. I love everything from blues to rock to metal. Everything! I always wondered why I couldn’t answer that question with, “I want to make a good record!” This time I was my own boss, so when I set out to make this record, I set out to make a good record! I wanted each song to be what it is and speak for itself. I didn’t want to pigeonhole myself in this project. That is why I am so proud of it and how it turned out!
What can you tell us about the approach to songwriting on this album and how these tunes came to life?
I stuck to what I know with this album and also called in an array of other talent to help me write and record it. I got to call on so many of my talented friends, especially in the Midwest where I am based out of, to help me with this thing. When it came to the writing, I wanted a whole bunch of different influences. I had all of these ideas that were flowing really fast but I couldn’t quite bring them to fruition myself. I was super honored to call on a bunch of my friends to help me take each song to bring them to life. We lived for the song and didn’t think about anything else!
What did you learn from collaborating with your fellow artists? Anything you will carry forth to future projects?
Hands down, I took a little something from working with each person and each song we ended up doing. I learned a lot, especially from my producer Eric Warner. He was really, really fresh to the scene. He really took this project under his wing and made it his baby. I learned more from him than I have learned in a long time. He created so many different sounds for these songs and took it from our brains to fruition. He got it out in the exact way I wanted to hear each song. I learned a lot about writing and a lot about melodies. I thought I knew a lot about melodies but I learned so much more and the little things that make a song great instead of just being good.
How much music did you write for the album and what made the particular tunes the ones you wanted to bring forward for your solo debut?
I had a hand in writing every song in some fashion. Only one tune was fully written by me as a solo writer. That song is called “When It’s Raining.” The other songs I chose just came naturally. I just let it be super organic. I hate using that word but it’s how I did it. It was like, “OK. Here’s an idea for what I would really like a song to be about. If it works for the record, great! If it doesn’t, that is totally fine and we will have a song we can pitch to someone else or whatever.” That is kind of how it happened. Suddenly, we had eight fantastic songs that I was super proud of and we moved forward to make them the best they could be. I feel so complete about it!
There are a lot of moving parts in bringing any album to life. What were some of the challenges you faced along the way?
There were two big challenges. The first was the simple fact that we were crazy busy doing tours and I do a lot of speaking at schools with my Fearless message. I have an anti-bullying campaign that is attached to that message that just blew up over the course of the last year. We ended up doing over 325 school presentations with over 30,000 students across the Midwest. That kept me so busy! I loved it but I was almost too busy to the point where we can’t finish. That was a huge challenge when it came to writing and recording. The second thing, I will be super honest with you, is something. I had a huge hang up about my performance. I really doubted myself in the studio a lot this time. I don’t know what it was. Maybe it was the pressure of creating my first solo record or I was simply burnt out. I don’t know. I felt a lot of pressure with the performance vocally, just simple vocals on the record. I ended up loving what happened! I needed to get back to the confident Kat that knows I can do this and I think this album proved to me that I can do this and I am ready to be a full blown artist.
You released “Drive” as the first single from the album. It’s a great choice! What can you tell us about the song?
I knew the release time was going to be right at the beginning of summer. I was really looking for something that captured the feeling of summer and made you grab your girlfriends or boyfriend, jump in the car and sing at the top of your lungs! I came from a very rural area in North Dakota, so one of the things we did in the summertime for fun was drive around. I found myself having a ton of fun on the road, so I really wanted to write a song about driving! I went to my friend Shelly, who lives in Nashville. We have been close for years. I met her in 2001 and I said, “Please help me take this idea to fruition!” She did! It is really a song about having fun and it is very different from “Fearless.” I wanted “Fearless” to have the message and be the deeper track of my singles. I wanted “Drive” to be that fun, carefree, summer song! The video for “Drive” is up now on Yahoo Music. It was my first on location video shoot ever! It was so much fun, so definitely check it out!
You have been doing tremendous work with your Fearless campaign. Tell us all about what you have going in that realm!
We are going to start up again this fall with what I call the Fearless campaign, which I also reference as the Dream It, Do It Outreach Program. We put together this presentation and took it into these schools, anywhere from pre-school to high schools. We talk about very important things like following your dreams, being involved in your community and, most importantly, being kind. That is the thing in the presentation that really started to give it momentum, an anti-bullying campaign, especially when it comes to social media. I started nonchalantly telling my stories about the negativity I experienced online during my time on “The Voice,” which came from Instagram, Twitter or comments on YouTube. Those stories sparked something within everyone to not only listen to me but allowed me to give them the tools to handle it if it happened to them and to let them nip it in the bud from the get-go. I was able to talk to them about how someone who is even older and out of school can be effected by the negativity. It is completely unnecessary and we really need to watch who we are as human beings when it comes to our online presence. It comes down to the question of, “What is our legacy when it comes to our personality and presence online?” They are using it more and more when it comes to job interviews and everything else. I was definitely vetted for something as simple as “The Voice.” They went through my entire social media presence to see what kind of person I was. It is a real thing! It became an effective presentation to inspire the kids to keep working hard but also to be kind.
Where can people learn more about the campaign?
Everything is on my website, www.katperkins.com, under the contact portion. We give you an overview of what we do in the school and if someone is interested in booking me, the info on how to do that is there as well.
Keeping with the theme of positivity, as an artist, what do you find most inspiring about being part of the music industry in this day and age?
Oh man, I think the most inspiring thing happening these days is that you can get your music out there and you don’t have to give it away for free. A lot of people do and I do as well. There are great companies like TuneCore, that I use for distribution, that help us get our music up on iTunes, Amazon and Google Play. All these different platforms help us to get our music in front of the masses. Looking back to 10 years ago, getting your stuff on iTunes seemed impossible. The leaps and bounds we have made with independent artists being able to distribute their music on a worldwide level is amazing. I absolutely love the fact we can do that! At the same time, that fuels the rest of the industry with getting shows, YouTube and all the other outlets. That can really further your career if you play your cards correctly. That has been a huge development in the past 10 years. I keep saying 10 years because I feel that is when I have worked the hardest at making a brand and getting it out there. Those are really good things that we now experience in the industry, especially as an independent artist.
Now you have your first solo record under your belt, where do you see yourself headed in the months and years to come?
We are actually already working on the next songs. We stayed in that creative mode even though we are touring really hard in support of the single, “Drive,” and the record. You can expect some new stuff coming this fall. We will probably just release it one song at a time. That is the way I prefer to do it. I will be keeping it diverse and interesting for my fans that span, literally, from preschool to 85 years old! The opportunity to do “The Voice” really expanded my fan base! As I said, the school program starts back up in September and at the same time I am in deep with writing a children’s book. The book is really focused on the young ones, from 0 to 4! Because of my nanny roots and reading out loud to children, I feel like I really have a grasp on this and I think I have a story that is interesting enough to capture in a book! The book is definitely going to be called “Dream It, Do It.” That was the motto I lived by during “The Voice” and I had it tattooed on my body. It is also something I always have the kids say back to me during the school presentations. I say, “If you can dream it, you can do it!” Then I say, “1-2-3 … ” and they scream back, “Dream it, do it!” The story is going to be about a girl who has big dreams and how she carries them through!
You certainly stay busy and keep it uber-eclectic! [laughs]
Yeah! [laughs] I call it casting lines!
Looking back, you have had a very unique career. Who is Kat Perkins as an artist at this point in time. Is that a clear picture to you or more of a moving target?
Oh man, it is definitely a moving target! I don’t think I have been able to put a finger on it since I was 3 years old! [laughs] I love it! I am so glad I live in the moment and it is all about what I am feeling right now. I get to have that freedom of creativity every day, every hour. I don’t regret a thing! Even if it is diverse and I get flack for that, especially in the industry for being a little bit too broad of an artist, that is exactly what I want! That is exactly what I want and I feel like I have been able to do that all my life and I will continue to do that! I have never done well with coloring inside the lines! I like to make my own lines and then color inside of those! [laughs]
That is a great way to put it. That is exactly what I love about you as an artist. You know there is a genuine authenticity no matter what the format. I appreciate that as a fan.
That is exactly the kind of feedback I love! Thank you for that because it is super honest and it is from my soul and the very tips of my toes. I am glad someone like you gets that!
Thanks again for your time today, Kat! Keep moving forward and we will spread the word!
Thank you, Jason!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.