As a songwriter, Kat McDowell is unafraid of letting her inner-self shine through. The Japan born, New Zealand raised, world traveler since birth, allows the influences of her experiences to sit heavily on her optimistic style of pop rock. She’s performed pretty much everywhere in the world, including the stages of Australian music festivals and the trash dumps of Nicaragua, allowing the people and cultures she witnessed to have an affect on her heart and, by association, her music. You can hear her subtle hopefulness and persuasive calls for courage in every track on her first US release, Rise Above, which is available now on iTunes. She’s a prolific and smart writer that infuses her emotional journey into each and every lyric, allowing listeners a safe place to connect and gather their own thoughts, and her love of that aspect of music runs rampant in everything she does.
We had a chance to chat with her before her show at the iconic WitzEnd in Venice this Saturday, November 8th, a show to celebrate the release of her newest venture. Check out the interview below and then take a listen to her stellar EP, Rise Above, the first chance you get.
LA local? Head on out to her show this Saturday:
You’ve been writing and performing for a long time and across the world. What first inspired you to begin exploring music and performing?
I was seven and was listening to tapes and CD’s my parents had. There was a live tape of a Japanese Folk Singer and I just imagined what her show would be like and decided this was what I wanted to do!
What artists have most influences your songwriting style and sound?
I LOVE Jon Foreman from Switchfoot and John Rzeznik from the Goo Goo Dolls as songwriters. I love a lot of other songwriters too but these two were very influential in my teens!
So much of your new album, Rise Above, possesses a positive and hopeful message. What were some themes that you explored while writing this album?
The last album “Hope in you” was an album I wrote as I was grieving what had happened with the Earthquake and Tsunami in Japan (my birth country) and the Earthquake which devastated Christchurch in NZ (The country I was raised in).
I feel like “Rise Above” is coming out of those ashes. All the pain and hurt and brokenness can birth something incredibly beautiful and strong. Touring Japan last year and visiting my friends in the Tsunami hit areas and seeing ground zero where the Atomic Bomb hit in Hiroshima for the first time gave me a lot of hope for how strong people can be.
What do you hope your listeners will take away from Rise Above?
I know that every person faces challenges, loss, heartache, rejection. Life isn’t easy, but there is a lot of beauty to be discovered even in the pain. I hope this album will lift people who need encouraging, and also just be a fun album to listen to!
How do you feel this release is different from your previous releases?
It feels like the most.. me! at least me right now. I feel way more confident and secure in who I am where for the last ten years I have wavered at times.. But it takes getting lost to find yourself again! I am most proud of this album out of anything I have created so far and I am really happy I can say that. That I still feel like I am growing as a songwriter and a musician and a performer!
What is your songwriting process like and what experiences influence you the most?
I usually start with the guitar or piano and have melodies in my head. I am inspired by people’s stories and my own experiences.
A conversation I had with a girl who broke up with her fiance one month before her wedding inspired “A reason to walk away”. “Hopeful” was inspired by coming to LA with nothing but a dream and meeting so many other dreamers here!! But I was surprised at how run down some of the places were here. Coming from Tokyo I was surprised at all the half-working neon signs on shops and thought “Why would you not fix your sign?! It’s the first thing people see!!”
You’ve performed all over the world, what stands out as one of your all-time favorite performances?
AHHH!! I have so many but…
One week was particularly memorable.
My friend Brad Corrigan who is the drummer for the band Dispatch invited me down to play music for children at a school inside a dump in Nicaragua. Over 2000 people live and work there and many children are born there too. Meeting these kids and seeing the light in their eyes was an eye opening experience for me. Brad also took me to a Love Light and Melody home where some of these girls are living and I spent a week getting to know these precious little princesses and playing music for them. There was a little girl “Dianna” who melted my heart! You might notice there’s a song called Dianna on the album. 😉
4 days later I was back in Japan playing at an Embassy charity event for one of Japan’s princesses. The whole experience made me realise how it was even more of an honour to play for the little princesses in Nicaragua. I was humbled by the realization that we are all equally precious and important to God.
FYI Brad Corrigan is working on a film about this community called Ileana’s Smile and it will come out next year!
What shows or artists have you seen live that have had an effect on you? What was it about those shows?
I was totally blown away by my first Coldplay concert! I also cried at U2 and I LOVE Switchfoot live too! There’s something so special about bands just putting everything in to their show and it’s so awesome when you have great special effects and great lighting, sound etc.. The whole experience is so amazing and the thing I love about these three bands is that I also felt a spiritual connection at their concerts. More than just a live show, my heart was moved!
My favourite show this year was a Jason Mraz and Raining Jane Concert!
I LOVE Jason Mraz and the thing I admire about him so much is the ability to entertain completely on his own, no special effects, just him on stage is enough to captivate and entertain and to me that is just incredible!
You’re celebrating the release of your new EP with this show at the WitzEnd. What is most exciting about this night for you?
I LOVE getting to play with a band and I am super excited because even though I have played a few shows in the US now, this is my first proper local show here in LA! This is very exciting and also nerve wrecking because it’s home turf.
What do you hope people take away from your show?
That they will feel like they were just as much part of the show as anybody on stage.
I like to keep it fun and light hearted even though a lot of my songs are about some pretty deep things.
Now that the EP is out, what’s up next for you?
I am still hoping to make some music videos for the songs on the album! I want these songs heard to as many people as possible!! And also just getting back in to the studio and songwriting, planning tours for next year.
This music life keeps me busy 24/7 so I never run out of stuff to do!
If you had to pick three songs to throw on a Jukebox while out with friends, which songs would you pick?
I Want You Back – Jackson 5
Burn – Ellie Goulding
Geek in the Pink – Jason Mraz
Did you check out Kat’s Music? Let me know what you think in the comments below or by tweeting @JukeboxMixtape!