Categories and genres are necessary evils in the music industry, and some are more misleading than others.
Kayte Grace doesn’t seem to have strong feelings either way about how she’s been classified: as one of, if not the only, black female alt-country singer/songwriters in the business.
“It’s weird, I guess, because I don’t think a ton about genre when I write,” Grace says. “Things just sort of come out, and I try to have each song be whatever it needs to sound like.
“I do know that I was watching the Country Music Association Awards last year, and there wasn’t really anyone who looked like me,” she adds with a laugh.
Early on, Grace didn’t really sound like anyone you’d typically see on the CMA Awards, either. When she started writing songs on a small acoustic guitar that she purchased at a Linens ’n Things store circa 2008, her material was, as Grace puts it, “more universally singer/songwriter than country.”
“Some of the music that I began to discover in college had really simple chord progressions, and maybe that dictated it a little bit,” she recalls.
Things changed when she started to frequent a music venue on the Columbia University campus.
“I was listening to all of these students and friends, and a lot of them were playing folky music,” Grace says. “I think sometimes if I listen to something for a long time, whatever I write next will have remnants of that. But over time, I also realized [country] kind of fits my voice. I also enjoy songs that tell stories, which is what I love about country music.”
Grace traces the story of a romantic relationship in her latest project: Set Fire to Separate Lives, 22 songs spread over five EPs. She says the first EP, Chapter 1: Say Yes, “is about when you’re first starting out, when everything’s twinkly and magical and so full of possibility.”
“[Set Fire] was recorded at Grand Street Recording, which is in [Brooklyn, N.Y.],” says Grace, who splits her time between Silver Spring, Md., and New York City. “We recorded 22 songs in 50 hours — five 10-hour days, and I would just bring different musician friends with me each day. … [Some] songs were ones I had written a year or two ago and we had been playing on tours, [and others] were completely new, so we were arranging and exploring things on the spot.”
About six months ago, Grace began to embrace the “pay what you like” music-distribution model, and that’s how she’s offering “All’s Not Spoken,” her latest single.
“I like the idea of giving people the freedom to contribute however much they want,” says Grace, whose main source of income through her music has been college performances. “It’s cool because I just want as many people as possible to hear the music, so even if it means downloading it for free, that’s totally fine. Some people opt to pay a little extra. So I think anything that encourages people to get their hands on some music is fine by me, and so far that’s been working pretty well.”
— By Chris M. Junior
Kayte Grace on tour (schedule subject to change):
* Oct 12: Colby Sawyer College — New London, N.H.
* Nov. 5: Harrisburg Area Community College — Harrisburg, Pa.
* Dec. 9: Alvernia University — Reading, Pa.