Riveting Riffs Logo One  Katie Ferrara is a Dream Catcher
Katie Ferrara Photo One

 Not all buskers get a big breakthrough and not all artists who play in popular clubs make a lot of money or see their stars rise, but we think that Katie Ferrara will likely soon establish herself as an artist who can write her own ticket. The bubbly twenty-something year old singer, songwriter and guitarist has performed at clubs such as the House of Blues and the now departed Key Club, but she saw an opportunity to grow her fan base and her financial reserves more quickly by taking to the streets, breaking the mold of artists who usually start with being a street performer and then graduate to something else. However, her bold moves and her good business instincts opened up opportunities to perform in places such as New Zealand and Italy. Katie Ferrara took time out recently to talk to Riveting Riffs Magazine about her new EP titled Dream Catcher.

Dream Catcher is Ferrara’s third recording, being preceded by Naturally in 2013 and before that When Love Is Not Around in 2011.

“I started (putting together) Dream Catcher in March of 2015. I was looking for a producer and I was doing a lot of busking at the time. I think the song writing is a little bit more developed (than the previous two albums) and it is deeper. (In the beginning) I just wanted something to give to people. I think I am at the point in my career now when I am really starting to think about the marketing side and I (want) to be a better songwriter. I think the EP shows that progression in my artistry.

When I was starting out I didn’t know if I was going to make music my career. I was just kind of doing it and hoping something would happen. In the last couple of years I have put a lot of my time into my music and with this release I just put a lot of thought into it compared to the other ones,” says Ferrara.  

It is easy to get excited about Katie Ferrara’s music both because her songs and her vocals are very good. It is also easy to find yourself “pulling for” this young woman, because she is engaging, her conversation is interspersed with laughter and her tone is always enthusiastic.

Katie Ferrara Photo TwoWith the song “In Your Arms,” Katie Ferrara accompanies herself on acoustic guitar and her beautiful vocals flow effortlessly. Her phrasing is impeccable, yet subtle, her voice strong, never faltering.  She is like the female embodiment of Simon & Garfunkel meeting Indigo Girls, if you are looking for a melodic reference.

About the song “In Your Arms,” she says, “At the time I wrote it I was in a studio and I was thinking back on a relationship that didn’t work out and I wanted the general feeling of the song to be nostalgic. I thought about the highlights of that relationship and how I felt really safe and comfortable with that person. My sense of security was with that person. The image I have of that is being in somebody’s arms. Because I was traveling around a lot and playing in all of these different places, that person was like my sense of security in a way. I wanted the listeners to have that feeling of relaxation, feeling safe, calm and at ease with that song.”

Two of the songs from the EP were inspired by Ferrara’s own dreams and she explains, “Originally I was going to call the album Dreamcatcher, because of the dreamcatcher in my car,” but that is not where the inspiration came from, she explains, “I am a musician who is following her dreams and I am chasing after them. I feel like that whole year in 2015 when I was doing that busking I was trying to hold onto something I couldn’t see. I didn’t want to take a song title and make it the title of the album, because I have done that before. I really just was trying to think of a word or an image that represented the music,” and so she separated the word into Dream Catcher.

“The one song on the album that did stand out was “Jackets,” because “Jackets,” is about going after your dream and not wanting it to disappear and not letting anything stand in the way. I just felt like that title dream catcher who is chasing after their dream is pretty representative of the songs and the process of making the album,” she says.

Katie Ferrara’s vocals take on a sultry quality as “Jackets,” rolls out and on the chorus one is reminded of Paula Cole or perhaps Shawn Colvin. Ferrara’s songwriting and vocals are also just as strong as those artists.

What would you do if you knew you only had one day left in your life? Katie Ferrara answers that question with her song “One Wish,” a beautiful song that is uplifting, not brooding or sad. The message is pretty clear, “If I died tomorrow would you realize that you are beautiful from the inside. Live while you can, because you don’t know about that second chance.

“I was thinking about my grandparents who would tell me don’t get to be our age and not do what you want to do. You should go for what you want in life. I guess when I was writing that song that is what I made the decision to really go for. If I had one wish, I was writing down all of the possibilities. What if I had one wish what would I do with that? I wanted to write a song that would uplift people and inspire them. I did it to make myself happy, but also to keep myself going. I was inspired by, what would I do if I had one day left in my life?  How could I make the most out of my life if I didn’t have that much in the first place? That is relatable to a lot of people who don’t have a lot of time left and I think hearing something like this would inspire them,” says Katie Ferrara.  

Dream Catcher was mixed and engineered by Patrick Joseph and Katie Ferrara talks about that experience, “(The song) “In Your Arms,” is the first song that I recorded with him. It was just a lot of fun. I would go to the studio and we were friends. I felt the chemistry was good. We would just hang out and have some wine and I would sing into a mic (she laughs). It was great. It was very laid back and I really enjoyed working with him, because I felt like it was very collaborative. I didn’t just give him a song that I had written and then said you do whatever you want with it. I worked with producers before where I had no say in what I wanted. Patrick really listened to the type of production that I wanted, but he also was excited about the songs. For “Jackets,” he came up with the bassline and the drumbeat. I really, really like the drumbeat on “Jackets,” and he was excited about the song. When you are working with a producer who really likes you and your music you can tell. He would do a lot of prep work and he said these are my ideas for it. I enjoyed working with him,” she says.

Ferrara talks about bringing her songs to life, “Rhythm is important to me and the melody always comes to me beforehand. What I am trying to do now is get a lot of writing done beforehand. If I do that I am more likely to know what the song is about. Sometimes I will have melodies and chords and I will be playing the guitar and I will just hum something on top of the playing. That will start the song. Usually, I come up with the melodies first, but the best songs are when I think that I have a lyrical idea and then I start playing the guitar and I come up with the melody. I go from there.”

Katie Ferrara is a big fan of using open tunings for her guitar, “I like open tunings, because it allows me to open up musically. “One Wish,” for example, I wrote that song in open D and “Click of the Clock,” I wrote in open D. “Jackets,” wasn’t written in open tuning necessarily, I did tune the guitar two steps lower. Hearing a different sound from the instrument inspires me to sing a different way and it inspires me to come up with new rhythms. It is like playing on another instrument. I used to play piano a lot and then I stopped. I have this song “Hiding,” and I started it just because I was noodling around on the piano. The sound of it made me feel a certain way. If I pick up a guitar or a ukulele or if I picked up the bass or I play the piano, just hearing the sound of that note makes me think in a different way or it makes me feel something different. The same thing happens when I tune the guitar in another tuning, you just hear more.”  Katie Ferrara Photo Three

In 2015 Katie Ferrara entered a competition sponsored by Toyota, named Feeling the Street and she was one of the winners whisked off to New Zealand to perform in a music festival, for a bit of an adventure and for some songwriting with others.

“I really enjoyed putting myself out there and working with other people. For some people songwriting comes easy and for me it is all about opening yourself up to being vulnerable. All of the stuff we did on that road trip made me feel like I could overcome some of my fears. Bungee jumping was a big deal. I definitely conquered some fear from within by doing that. Having that pressure of having to write and then perform it at a festival made us all (become) a team. Entering myself in a competition forced me to go for what I wanted. I wanted to win this competition and I wanted to do anything that I can to make it happen. I told so many people about it. Every day I was telling people to vote for me online. I feel that with music in general that is what you have to be doing every day, you have to be hustling. Every day is like being in a competition,” she says, while laughing.

“In August of last year (2016) I played at the Ferrara buskerfest. They hold the festival every year at the end of August, so I applied to that in April and I heard from them in June. I flew over and I took my amp and guitar. I didn’t know anybody there and I showed up. I met up with Borja from the Feeling the Street band from the competition the year before.

Before I went to Italy I flew to London first and I played at the Troubadour. I tried busking on the South Bank, which you are really not supposed to do, you are supposed to get a permit to play there, but I got away with it (more laughter). A lot of these places you have to look up what the regulations are, because they do not allow amplification.

For the Buskers festival in Ferrara I flew into Bologna first and then I took a bus from Bologna to Ferrara. My last name is the name of the city in northern Italy, which is really crazy. I had always wanted to change my last name. A lot of people misspell it or they say (and she imitates various wrong pronunciations). Then I found out about this festival and I got really excited. I wanted to visit the city and play there. It was an adventure for me, because I had to teach myself some Italian when I was there. It ended up working out really well. The traveling on my own was not too difficult. I almost prefer traveling by myself, because you meet people along the way,” says Ferrara.

So why did Katie Ferrara start busking? We asked her to take us inside the world of a busker.  

“I started busking, because I was sick and tired of playing in Hollywood venues and not going anywhere with my music. I had to bring out all of these people, thirty, forty or fifty people and sell tickets and I did that for a while. I played the House of Blues and the Key Club and these big venues on the Sunset Strip. I got to a point when I needed to figure out a way to make money from music and I really want to build a following. I remember posting on Facebook I really want to do a farmers market tour. Wouldn’t that be cool if I just played a bunch of farmers markets, so I started thinking of different places where there is a need for music. I think musicians nowadays feel like they have to be like everybody else. I have to get signed to a label or I will just copy my friends where they are playing. If anything there are just too many musicians now and there are too many people trying to do the same thing, so how are you going to standout?

I had always passed by the Santa Monica promenade and I saw people performing up there. In 2014 I made this New Year’s resolution and I said I’m going to start performing there. I bought an amp and I started playing out on the promenade. I would go every Sunday and then I would take a picture and post it on Instagram and after a while I noticed that people were really catching on. They were like, oh this girl is doing something regular.  I think the problem before was that I wasn’t consistent with my music and I wasn’t doing consistent gigs. It is really hard to do that if you are not making money off of them.

It was cool, because I was meeting people (rather than) playing in a venue. When you are playing in a venue you are just playing to people who are drunk and only one type of person. When I was outside I was playing for families and kids, young people, teenagers. I was talking with them and they would take pictures with me. I thought this is a way better route to doing what I love doing than playing in a venue. I thought something needs to change. I wanted to sing and to put myself out there. The Santa Monica promenade was the place that I started busking and then I felt it was a little bit too crowded there. I would setup and there would be a break dancer next to me and it would be really loud, so I would have to move.

I thought why don’t I try looking for other places to play? I went to Burbank, because Burbank is closer to where I live in Eagle Rock. Burbank is a place that I would always pass by and I would see these performers playing the downtown area on Palm Avenue. I thought why don’t I try setting up there? I did one night and I made money, so I thought this would be my new spot and I started playing there. I (also) started playing farmers markets. There was one in Altadena and the one I like playing now is in Monrovia. I spent the last few years trying to build up markets to play at and I played different busking locations. I played in downtown LA near the LA Live area. I contacted the guy who organizes music there and I setup. I am always trying to find new places to play, because I find once you get settled in one place a bunch of people catch on and they start playing there, so I have to find a new place to go. That is the thing when you are a busker, it can either be super supportive or people are very territorial. You have to get to your spot early otherwise somebody else will take it. You don’t know how long that person is going to be in that spot and there are different regulations. In Santa Monica they are good, because you can only be in one spot for two hours and then you have to move 135 meters away from your original spot. In Burbank there are no rules at all and you can play as long as you want to, but then sometimes people just stay there forever and you don’t get your spot. It is really a pretty territorial profession I guess (more laughter),” she says.  

For those readers who question how promising a busking career can be, consider a sampling of artists who started their careers or who early in their careers took to the streets to perform, KT Tunstall, Rod Stewart, Tracy Chapman, Woody Guthrie, B.B. King, Janis Joplin and Beck. Add to that the fact that Katie Ferrara has an extraordinary voice, writes incredibly good songs and is a pretty fair guitarist and her future looks bright. In recent months Katie Ferrara's gig schedule has been filling up with tour offers, recording session invitations and more substantial gigs than she had been receiving before hitting the streets, as a performer.

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This interview by Joe Montague  published January 17th, 2017 is protected by copyright © and is the property of Riveting Riffs Magazine All Rights Reserved.  All photos are the the property of  Katie Ferrara unless otherwise indicated 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