New York City-based artist Kate Mills has 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 “Honest Mistakes”, the first single from her upcoming full-length album.
I got the chance to talk with Kate about how she first got into making and performing music, her musical influences, her upcoming album and so much more! Keep reading to see what she had to say!
Tell me a little bit about how you first got into making and performing music.
I have been performing music since I was a kid, just in different settings. I started out doing musical theater when I was about 9. That’s where I really caught the bug for singing and performing. I was president of my high school theater club, and for a long time my biggest dream was to be on Broadway. But even as a young teenager, I found a lot of joy and creative expression in writing, whether it was songs, plays or short stories. My church youth group was one of my first outlets for sharing my own material. As I got older, the writing and performing sides of me continued to merge, so being a singer/songwriter feels very natural.
Was there a specific moment or person that made you realize that music is what you wanted to pursue professionally?
Well, this has been a VERY gradual realization for me. I think for a very long time, even back as far as high school now that I think about it, I always wanted to be a musician. I remember getting teary-eyed seeing one of my favorite artists perform at the time. I had this ache in my heart and I thought, “That’s what I want to do!” That still happens when I go see artists I love actually! But for a long time, I was really afraid to pursue it. It felt unrealistic, and foolish. I was still always writing and performing in a band or something like that, but all while I was studying to be a social worker, or working as one. I sort of held being a musician as a wish. But almost like a vine, music kept creeping into whatever I was doing and taking over. I feel like it’s really only been the past year or two that I’ve stopped worrying about whether or not I was “meant” to be a musician, or whether it would “work out” and have actually started to own that I AM one – I’m already doing it!
I’m always genuinely curious about what artists want to convey with their music. Your current sound would generally be classified as Americana, but if you had to describe it without using genre names, how would you describe it?
Oh, good question! Sonically, I would describe it as natural, and warm sounding. Conceptually, I want to convey courage and honest reflection. A recurring theme of the songs on the upcoming album seems to be reckoning with the good and hard parts of life. Both within ourselves, and being brave enough to acknowledge we all have good and bad in us, but also grappling with the good and hard life circumstances that come our way.
Going off of that, who are some of your musical influences?
I’m pretty heavily influenced by some of the classic singer-songwriters or the 70’s, like Dan Fogelberg, Linda Ronstadt, and Carole King. But some current inspirations include Brandi Carlile, Grace Potter, Dawes, and of course, Sara Bareilles.
Let’s talk about your new single “Honest Mistakes”, which I absolutely love. What inspired that song?
I’m so glad you love it! I had written down a few lyrical ideas but didn’t know quite what to do with them. The song really came together about a year and a half ago when a close family member of mine was sentenced to several years in prison. He is a good person whom I love and care about deeply, but he made a series of very poor decisions that got him into trouble. I wrote this song as I was grappling with the idea of good people making bad choices. In doing so, it became a song about empathy – seeing myself in his position and recognizing my own demons that trip me up.
What was the songwriting process like for this song specifically?
This song came together very gradually. I had the hook line written, “I’ve lived my life in such a way that I can’t afford to make even honest mistakes,” but I wasn’t sure where to go with it until some things happened in my family life. For a while, it was this slow, folksy ballad that felt pretty sad and depressing. As we were prepping to record it, I met with my producer (who is also my husband) and he really helped me tweak the song so it flowed a bit better, and made it so it wasn’t such a downer haha.
Something I’ve always been curious with songwriting is how topics come to mind. Did you know you wanted to write about going into the song session that birthed “Honest Mistakes” or did it just come about organically?
This song came about pretty organically. The idea came, but then it took a while to develop it. That’s how it is with a lot of my songs. The concept kind of has to marinate in my brain for a while before I know what I’m really trying to say with the song. And then, after I got the skeleton of the song down on paper, there was a fair amount of re-writing to really refine and hone in on what I wanted to communicate and how to do that musically.
Was there any major changes to “Honest Mistakes“ that happened once you got into the recording studio, whether it be in the lyrics or something sonically?
A lot of the major changes, like changing the tempo and groove of the song, came before recording, in the pre-production sessions. It’s funny though – I thought I had a pretty clear idea of what it was going to sound like in the end, and it turned out quite different than that! Each layer of instrumentation added something unique and almost unexpected. Each player really brought their own voice to each instrument in a way that I couldn’t have predicted before we got to the studio. I think that’s part of what makes this song feel so special and authentic.
I know you also have a full-length album in the works. Anything you can tease about it? When is it expected to come out?
I do have a full-length album coming out! It’s going to be called Each Bittersweet Drop and will be out February 14th, so mark your calendars! I’ll be posting more teasers and updates on my social media pages and to my email list. You can get a little secret preview on my website!
What are some music industry-related goals or benchmarks that you’re aiming to reach in the next couple of years?
I want to sell out Bowery Ballroom in NYC, and play the Troubador in LA! Those have been some big goal-posts for me for a while. I’d love to have my songs used in a movie, or tv show. I get excited about combining my art with the vision of other creatives in different fields. I also want to find creative ways to use the message of these songs to connect with fans and listeners in a deeper, more meaningful way.
Lastly, we’re called Talk Nerdy With Us because we all have an inner nerd so what is something that you’re currently nerding out about?
I’ve usually got a revolving door of things I’m nerding out about at any given moment!. I just got back from a trip to France, which re-ignited my love of history. I am so fascinated by how people used to live, and how the cultural, technological, political influences of any particular time period shape the worldview of the people who lived in it. Dan Carlin’s “Hard Core History” podcast is great for this! (and great for long drives while on tour, since each episode is about 3 hours long).
Another, totally different nerdy obsession of mine recently has been Cheers. Yep, the tv show from the 80’s 🙂