Kate Bass - Songs of the Open Road
Kate Bass Photo Four by Daniel Welch

In recent years singer and songwriter Kate Bass had the opportunity to return to her personal roots and her career roots and it brought back special feelings for her. Most recently in July of this year (2017), Bass returned to perform in Alaska where she grew up listening to music ranging from Beethoven to The Beatles and a time when the animated film The Little Mermaid served as one of her early inspirations to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming a singer.

“Alaska was a particularly special tour for me, because it's my home, and I'm very proud to be from such an amazing place. I hadn’t been back in about five years, after my family moved out of state, so it was even more emotional for me because of that. The community out there is very strong, so I saw a lot of very special people from my past, and it really felt like the homecoming I was dreaming of having. My mother even flew out to surprise me. It was a very special moment getting to perform the song "Denali" in Alaska, since I wrote it about missing Alaska and wondering how I could ever find my way back there,” says Kate Bass.

Reflecting upon her childhood she says, “Alaska is one of the most beautiful places that I have been to in the world. There are vast amounts of wilderness, with big towering mountains and I grew up in Anchorage right on the coast. At least a couple of times a week you would be driving on a highway on the edge of the Pacific Ocean and on the other side there would be a mountain. It is really beautiful there.

Kate Bass Photo Two by Daniel Welch“It is a surprisingly cultured place. There are a lot of people who move up there. Very interesting kinds of people move to frontier areas like Alaska. Both of my parents were musical, although they weren’t professional musicians. It was an important part of my family’s dynamic, enjoying music together.

My parents made sure that my sister and I had music lessons (from the time that) we were very little kids. I took the flute and she took the violin. I always wanted to be a singer. As I got a little bit older my parents put me into private voice lessons and that was when I was in junior high.

Growing up in a place like Alaska that is beautiful and has that much nature it was an interesting balance having that much access to wilderness and also wanting to have more access than I did to the cultural institutions that are in the lower 48th (latitude) of the United States and in other parts of the world.  I know for instance in a lot of places like Norway they have this beautiful natural wilderness and there also is a lot of funding for the arts, which you didn’t have quite as much of in Alaska. We did the best that we could going to the local Opera company and the local symphony concerts and whatever performances would come to town. Some Broadway tours would come through Alaska once a year and they were great, but I think I always wanted more.  That is why I ended up moving from Alaska to New York City, as soon as I was old enough to go to music school,” says Bass.  

Continuing she says, “I remember seeing some of these national tours of these musicals come into Alaska and I was completely (enamored) with the glamor of it all, the costumes, the music and the acting. I was bit by the bug when I was a little kid, but I think around junior high is when I decided that was the career that I wanted.

I remember that we had an exchange student from Siberia whose dad happened to be a really incredible Jazz pianist. His family ended up immigrating to Alaska. We got to know them and he taught me how to sing Jazz. That’s how I learned Jazz. I remember in high school driving to my summer job listening to Carmen McRae and Ella Fitzgerald. He would make me mixed tapes to learn it.

I feel like I have this I had this background of inspiration of all of these different styles, but I always knew I wanted to be a singer. I don’t think that I really ever identified what kind of a singer that I wanted to be, but pretty much from as early as I can remember I wanted to sing.”

Kate Bass moved to New York City when she was eighteen years old to attend Mannes School of Music from which she graduated with a Bachelor’s and a Master’s Degree in Classical voice. That move however, did not happen as smoothly as she had hoped.

She says, “It is an interesting story.  In my senior year of high school I was the lead in the high school musical and at the time I thought I was very successful. I was a bit over confident in my planning for college.  I knew that I wanted to go to music school. I had known for my whole life that I wanted to be a performer and a musician and I only applied to four schools. In my youthful overconfidence I thought that Mannes was going to be my backup school and that I would have my choice of all four schools. I didn’t get through the pre-screening round for the Manhattan School of Music. I didn’t even get past the taped audition round. At one of the other schools I didn’t get a callback and I got rejected from another one. I found myself rejected from everywhere that I had applied and my last choice school was my last audition. I went to New York City with my mother for the audition and I remember it was back in the day when they would post the callbacks on the wall with the list of names after you had your auditions.

I stayed with my mom at a hotel called the Wellington Hotel and it was near Carnegie Hall. I had my audition and I thought it was okay. When we went to look at the callback list my name wasn’t on it. That was my last choice and that was the last school. I was completely (shattered).  I will never forget how it felt going back to the hotel with my poor mom. She was so sweet and I am sure she was heartbroken for me too. In my mind I remember everything. I remember standing outside the Wellington Hotel watching all of these people walk by on Seventh Avenue and Fifty-Seventh Street. I remember thinking all of these adults in their normal clothes walking to their jobs and going about their normal lives, they have everything that I can’t have, because I can’t even get into a college. I can’t even have my dream of going to New York City. I was so devastated. 

I remember my mom was so sweet, she got me a lesson with one of the teachers at Mannes and Ruth was very supportive of me. She said you didn’t have a great audition, but if you audition again next year hopefully things will be different. She presented the possibility of me taking night classes out of their extension division, while I prepared for my audition. I guess my dream for New York was strong enough that I decided I was going to do it.

For my first year in New York City I was just taking night classes at music school hoping that the next year I could just get into music school in order to try and pursue a career as a singer. The reason I am telling that whole story is it must have been four years ago at this point or maybe five I booked my first principal role in an Off-Broadway show singing Josephine in HMS Pinafore at New York City Centre, which is a theater that is literally around the corner from the Wellington Hotel. It was one of the greatest moments of my life getting to walk past the Wellington every day to go to this very large Off-Broadway theater in which I was making my principal debut. I was walking past thinking about Kate standing outside that hotel thinking her dream was shattered.

I don’t think a lot of kids plan for rejection when you go into performing arts. I didn’t know it was going to be that hard. I am thankful for it and it informed the rest of my life.”

As for whether or not moving from Alaska to New York City was a culture shock for her, Bass says, “It was a culture shock, but I think when you are eighteen your view of the world and your perception of the culture that you exist in is different than it is when you are an adult. As a kid every single wall in my bedroom had pictures of New York City. I was obsessed with it and I wanted to live there so badly. I wanted to be a performer and I had wanted to go there on a couple of school trips kind of things.  By the time that I moved to New York I had prepared myself and the young actress in me had convinced myself that I belonged there and that was the place for me. It wasn’t until a bit later that I started realizing how much Alaska was a part of me and how much I missed the nature, the fresh air and the different pace of life. For the first couple of years in New York City I was just this high school girl living out her dream and really excited about everything. There was culture shock, but it took longer to set in than I think that a lot of people would expect.”

The conversation turns to talking about Kate Bass’s current album Songs of the Open Road. This is her second full album, in addition to a five track EP she released in 2016. The evolution from one album to the other was significant, as she says that her ex-husband to whom she refers as “a really amazing guitarist,” served as co-writer for the songs on the first record.

“He would come up with some chords and we would jam together. He was a large influence on that first album. The second album was after my divorce and I had time over the past couple of years to figure out how to write music entirely on my own and not being a great guitarist it was at first a pretty daunting task. I tend to write all of my songs now on the piano. Kate Bass Performance Photo

I am trying to incorporate more of all of the genres that I sing into my songwriting style now. There is a song called “Carlsbad Caverns,” on this album and it is inspired by (Giovanni Pierluigi da) Palestrina and by early Renaissance vocal music. I was trying to do some songs in a Folk style, in a Jazz style and in a Pop style whereas my first album was a little more informed from just Jazz and Folk. I would now say I have tried to branch out and tried to explore more genres that way,” she says.

In describing this collection of songs Kate Bass says, “Every song is extremely personal in nature. If we were having cocktails and we weren’t having an interview I could tell you stories about each person and each situation that the song is about. This is the most autobiographical album I have ever worked on (she laughs). It is pretty much here is my heart open, take it and I hope you don’t judge me too much for it.

I moved to LA from New York City about a year and one-half ago. I was coming out of a complicated and difficult relationship. It wasn’t working and I moved out here alone. He stayed back in New York and we tried to stay together. It was a long and painful breakup. The way that I chose to move here is I got rid of most of my stuff and I packed a little red Volkswagen Golf with everything, with my whole life.  I took the first half of my road trip with my mother and the second half I did completely alone.  I wrote all of these songs in the different places that I went through.  That is why they all have different names of locations.  

The whole experience was extremely cathartic. I moved across the country and I started this new life. I had lived in New York for thirteen years. I love New York and I still go back there often. I needed something new. I needed to go back west. I missed my home for a long time. Even though LA isn’t Alaska there are mountains and ocean and fresh air and plants. It was extremely cathartic to take some very painful moments in my life and make music out of them.

I don’t think that I ever expected I would be a songwriter. I never knew that I could write at all. It is such an amazing feeling to hear a song and to know that I remember every moment of writing each song. I remember what I was going through and where I was sitting and what the weather was like on that day. It is such a cool experience.”

“Blink,” is a great song that talks about the person that you are in the relationship with or that person not wanting to work at the relationship or not being fully invested in it and you finally had enough. It is not until you are walking out the door they say, wait a minute I can do this, I really can.

“The song “Blink,” was my first attempt at a straight ahead Pop song. I had gone through a number of breakups over the last couple of years that involved too little too late. I always thought that was (just something) that people said, but then there were a couple of moments in my life when there were a couple of different men that I had been with and I was wanting things to progress. They were very hesitant about things progressing and then as soon as I turned my back and said alright, this isn’t what I want it to be I have got to leave all of a sudden they would want to make things work.  It is very frustrating for anybody, as to why did you come back now that it is too late? They had all of this time to try and now it is too late.

I had been in New York right after a pretty painful breakup and one of my good friends that I was staying with said wouldn’t it be cool if you wrote a song about this concept and we were talking about how people can come and go in your life at the blink of an eye. I took that as a challenge. It was my first Pop song.

A scout for a Pop based TV show had come to one of my shows in LA and he really liked my music, but he told me that he wanted me to submit something for the show that was mainstream Pop. I realized at the time that I didn’t have anything and everything I had was super Jazz based. “Blink,” was my first study on a Pop song, a Pop breakup song (she chuckles).  It’s like that Joni Mitchell song (and then she sings) “Don’t it always seem to go / That you don’t know what you’ve got / ‘Till it’s gone…” (From “Big Yellow Taxi”). (Laughing she says) I feel like that has been the story of my life over the past couple of years.

“Pasadena,” is a beautiful song and it sends a strong message that Kate Bass may very well be one of the best vocalists on the music scene today.

“I wrote Pasadena when I first moved here,” she explains, before continuing, “I am still not exactly sure what I was thinking when I wrote it. I realized that life is a lot easier for me in California than it was in New York City. I think the song started about me and saying that the things that you think you want aren’t always the things that you want. I was thinking about relationships, but also about life. The things that are in front of you are these obvious things and yet we like to overcomplicate everything and we are stuck in fear and overanalyzing and living in what we think we should have or what we are supposed to want or that we think we deserve. It seems like life is a lot easier if you just let things happen in the easy natural manner that they do. That is the closest explanation that I can think of for that song. I am sure there were some conscious influences for that song.”

The song “Sedona,” as one might suspect takes its name from Sedona, Arizona, a place that Kate Bass has visited a few times both as an adult and as a child, when her grandfather lived there.

“Sedona is a place that I associate with childhood, freedom and it is so beautiful there. It is an amazing place with these beautiful bright red rock formations everywhere. Not only is it a naturally, stunningly beautiful place, but it has become this big destination point for people who are into new age, metaphysical, hippie kind of stuff, because they believe that there are these energy vortexes in these places. It seems a little out there to me. It attracts a lot of let’s say very interesting characters. It is always interesting to go to Sedona and it has a very funny vibe. Because of these hippie types that go out there you meet some interesting and friendly people,” she says.

In recent years Kate Bass has visited Sedona twice and both times were when relationships had come to an end. She says the first of those two trips was when she was moving to California.

She retells the story, “There was a thunderstorm and (people who) were hiking on this rock had to run to find shelter. I am such an Alaskan I call mountains rocks.  I had this deeper conversation about life, faith and what have you with this older person from Colorado.

When I went back to Sedona the second time I had this conversation with a friend of mine, while I was going through a breakup and she said to me exactly what I said in the song, life is going to be fine. Whatever you want is going to find its way to you and you just have to be open to it. I found it interesting that both times that I went to Sedona I had this exact same experience of someone reminding me that it is all going to be okay. When you go through a breakup you think that you are never going to meet someone again or this is the one chance and I am going to be alone forever. That was a moment of positivity that I had.” 

Bass gives a nod to Gregory Uhlmann and Tim Carr whose contributions to the album were instrumental (no pun intended, well maybe).

“Greg is a guitarist that I met when I needed somebody for a performance that I did at the Hotel Café here in LA. A friend of mine knew him. Both of them are such incredibly versatile musicians. When I initially planned this album I thought I was going to be hiring out a whole band with all of these different instruments and Greg said why don’t we try layering it. Greg and Tim were starting a production company. They are both incredibly talented singers and songwriters in their own right and they have great voices. In fact, there are a couple of songs on the album with vocal harmonies and the three of us recorded them standing in front of a microphone. Tim who plays drums worked with me in mixing all of these weird sounds. On one of the songs Tim is banging on all of these different bowls and a table. I think there is even a can of rocks. He had a coffee canister that he filled with little tiny rocks and he is shaking it. We spent about two weeks in the studio together, just coming up with all of this random stuff and interesting arrangements. A lot of it is because of them. I had an idea of some of the arrangements and how I wanted them to go, but it was a perfect example of getting together with two other musicians and their input was just invaluable for this album,” she says.  

As far as what type of audience the album Songs of the Open Road will appeal to Kate Bass says, “I would like to think it will appeal to anyone who is still trying to figure out what the hell we are looking for. I feel that the people who reach out to me the most about this album tend to tell me that recently they have gone through some kind of loss. My dream would be that my songwriting style would appeal to people with a Classical background, but that it would also appeal to people who like Pop music. I know I am not Radiohead or something, so I don’t know how Indie or avant-garde my stuff is, but I would hope that it (appeals to) people who appreciate honest music.

People ask me all of the time who do you sound like and what is your style? One of the things that I have always prided myself on is I haven’t wanted to choose a style. I just want to be me. You are never going to find your own voice if you keep doing impressions of somebody else.

My own father when he heard my album thought I was sad or lonely and actually I am not at all. I tried to explain to him that no matter how interesting life can be and how many things are going on in life I find that as an artist and as a songwriter the stuff that inspires me the most is feeling very badly about heartbreak. It is the easiest and quickest inspiration. I guess that is why most of literature, art, music and drama are all about love stories or breakup stories or murders that are related to love.

Every time I have my heart broken I say well at least I can pour myself a glass of whiskey and write some songs about it (she laughs).

Kate Bass and Songs of the Open Road is a musical experience that you do not want to miss, so surf on over and give a listen to her music here and then plunk down your dollars and be the first one to tell your friends about this fabulous album.

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Top two photos of Kate Bass were taken by Daniel Welch and are protected by copyright  ©  The bottom photo is from the Kate Bass live performance at Center Stage Opera of Best of Broadway II and her performance of the song "Girl In  14G." All photos are protected by copyright ©  All Rights Reserved

This interview by Joe Montague  published July 24, 2017 is protected by copyright © and is the property of Riveting Riffs Magazine All Rights Reserved.  All photos are the the property of  Kate Bass  and all  are protected by copyright © All Rights Reserved. This interview may not be reproduced in print or on the internet or through any other means without the written permission of Riveting Riffs Magazine, All Rights Reserved