Quick Q and A with Katherine Rondeau

Katherine Rondeau has a powerful voice and stage presence.  Joy emanates as she invites the audience to experience the songs along with her which makes for a warm and appreciative community from the first note to the last.  Katherine’s latest recording Unfortunate Point of View has been favorably received by press, DJs and music lovers alike.

You can find out more about Katherine on her website.

Here’s a video of Katherine playing “Unfortunate Point of View.”

Katherine will be opening for Bill Staines at the me&thee in Marblehead, MA on April 5, 2019.

You’re a Jersey girl.  What can you tell me about your growing up years and what kind of music you gravitated to?

 As a kid, my family had a very small record collection, and we listened to the same five or six of them constantly. Peter, Paul, and Mary were my introduction to trad music on songs like “Polly Von,” and to Bob Dylan’s work. We are a family of singers, and every weekend the neighbors were “treated” to us singing along as we did chores and yard work. In the 90s that resurgence of female artists like Shawn Colvin, Joan Osborne, and Sheryl Crow really engaged me as well.

Did you participate in any kind of organized music programs or take music lessons or were you totally self-educated?  

 I am extremely fortunate to have been born with a pretty strong vocal ability. I was always in the school choir and plays and was also in All-Shore and All-State choir in high school. Those daily exercises and practices really helped me develop my voice, and my dynamics as an alto whose primary role in a choir is to blend in, which is not in my usual nature!

Your voice is such a powerful instrument in and of itself.  Do you have any musical role models?

As a girl, my absolute top influence as a vocalist was Mary Travers. As a powerful alto who could take the lead and hold her own harmonizing with two men, she was someone I always looked up to, and I memorized every note she sang! I was also influenced by Melanie Safka – there is a passion and strength in her singing that captivated me as a kid. I even covered her song “Leftover Wine” on my 2016 release New Hope Chateau.

You’ve been active in the Philadelphia music scene since 2015.  Did you routinely go to open mics to play before people and try out your songs?

Absolutely! When I thought about entering the folk music scene back in 2015, I had no idea what I was doing. But having a background in research (hard-earned through many years in graduate school) I did a very specific search for listening rooms that had open mics and used local opening acts. The open mics at Godfrey Daniels, Steel City, and the Philadelphia Folksong Society are great learning laboratories – plus a small spot called the Malelani Café in Philly that has been supporting local folk musicians for many years.

Let’s discuss songwriting.  What led you to tackle writing your own songs?  Are you a disciplined writer? Do you give yourself deadlines and how can you tell when you’re done with a song?

I truly love songwriting, but it’s a very new pursuit for me. I did some singing and playing through my college years, but always doing covers. Then marriage, my day job, and grad school took over all my waking hours for the next 15+ years. It wasn’t until a maelstrom of life-changing events in 2014 that I dusted off my guitar and started to play some of the songs that had always been favorites of mine…but as much as I loved them, emotionally they left me flat. I had so many feelings inside me to express, and it drove me to start writing (and crying) and writing some more.

I’m not a very disciplined writer, but I am an extremely active idea-haver, so I am always writing notes and recording snippets that come to mind and then going back to them when I’m in songwriting mode. I do enjoy having deadlines for songwriting, and it’s been a great help to be part of different songwriting circles that drive me to complete new songs in time to share them and get feedback. I’ve also participated in a few “February Album Writing Month” events which have encouraged me to develop several songs I’ve gone on to record. I work on a new song until it gets to the point where I am driven to play the same version over and over because I like it so much.

Your newest recording, Unfortunate Point of View, includes seven original songs.  I want to ask about the origins of “Natchez Trace.”  It’s one of those haunting songs that sticks with you.  Good choice to have Eric Lee on fiddle too!

“Natchez Trace” was born out of a long wait for a breakfast table at the Loveless Café in Nashville! After learning there was a 2-hour wait, we left to go somewhere else – and right outside the Loveless there was a sign pointing to the “Natchez Trace.” It was such a compelling name, I checked it out and learned it was a many-thousands-year-old land path (400+ miles long!) that had been carved out first by migrating animals and then by people. I knew I wanted to write a song about it, and it evoked in my mind the site for a juicy murder ballad. It’s also my most-researched song…there are a lot of specific, accurate details in it. Eric Lee’s fiddle adds such a strong mixture of mournfulness and danger – it was so great to work with him in the studio!

The title track is another evocative song with fantastic cello accompaniment by Michael G. Ronstadt.  To me, it’s an atmospheric song that packs a punch, if you know what I mean.  

This is one of my favorite songs, I’m so glad it resonated with you! The true inspiration for the song is pretty unbelievable but suffice it to say it is definitely not based on my personal experience. It’s also a pretty good representation of my favorite kind of song…one with simple lyrics and structure that come together to form a compelling whole. I produced the entire album myself, and this song was the absolute last to be finished – it was so important to me that it have just the sound I wanted (and even a little banjo!). There is a lot of “air” in the song, and it’s in a unique time signature (verses in 7/4 and chorus in 4/4). Michael’s graceful, delicate cello helps drive it forward beautifully – he’s featured on several tracks on the album, and I feel very fortunate about that.

Your choice of covers on this album is quite interesting: Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Phil Ochs, and Canned Heat.  Umm…..wait a second!  Canned Heat?! 😉  “Let’s Work Together” isn’t a commonly covered song in the acoustic music world, is it? What prompted you to learn that song and play it?

That song has played in my house for many years because I am (sorry New Englanders) a Philadelphia Eagles fan! As you may know, up until 2018 that was often a pretty painful thing to be – and one of the few things that kept my Eagles spirit alive was regular viewing of the movie “Invincible,” about a local Philly schoolteacher who ended up playing for the Eagles for several years after passing an open try-out. “Let’s Work Together’ is a pivotal song in the movie, it’s also a great singalong, and it’s a positive protest song with a message that is truly universal. I really like the arrangement, it’s a bit of a blues-grass approach which has been really well received!

What’s next for Katherine Rondeau?

I have to admit I am in pure enjoyment mode at the moment – making Unfortunate Point of View was such an amazing experience, and it has been so rewarding to see it being so well-received on the Folk DJ and NACC charts! I’m hoping to get back in the studio this fall – right now I’m contemplating an all-women’s music project including songs from a few “classic” female folk artists, trad songs with a strong woman’s perspective, and of course some of my own compositions.

As much as I love creating music, performing live is my favorite thing to do!!!! I have had such a warm welcome from the folk community over the past few years, and I want to return the favor by sharing my music the way I think it’s shared best – face-to-face. Over the past year I’ve been touring in great venues and house concerts from Massachusetts to Alabama (and plenty in between), frequently with guitarist extraordinaire Eric Lambert. I mostly want to keep making and sharing my music and making new friends along the way!

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