Kathryn Rose Wood is a New Orleans-based songwriter, instrumentalist and clinical music therapist by way of Oahu's shores and Pennsylvania's hills. Former bandleader/guitarist of Social Set (RnB/Pop, New Orleans) and co-lead vocalist for Gravy Flavored Kisses (Blues/Rock, New Orleans), Kathryn has been writing music almost as long as she has been on earth as an outlet for expression, connection and healing. Moving forward on her newest musical journey as a solo artist, she is documenting her stories and ruminations of a personal nature with the rich musical landscapes reflective of storied songwriters past.
Though only recently performing solo, Kathryn Rose Wood has already been featured by American Songwriter Magazine as their website’s Daily Discovery (Feb. 11, 2016) for her song “Lullaby (to Preston).” She has also landed the honor of hosting and curating a weekly songwriter series, "Lilith in Loa," at the International House Hotel New Orleans on the strength of her original compositions, occurring every Thursday evening in the city. With such recognition, there’s no telling just where the future will take Kathryn and her compositions.
How Music has Impacted Kathryn's Life
Describe your music in three words.
Hopeful, sincere, reflective
What music reminds you of home? Where is home?
I grew up in Pennsylvania, but I consider Louisiana to be my home. I've never felt more comfortable and fully alive until I got here eight years ago. That said, I found some amazing music since I've been here, local and otherwise. Certainly hearing local greats like Brian Blade (‘Second Home’ from Mama Rosa album comes to mind) and John Rankin remind me of home, but even artists I've discovered here that are from elsewhere are in that number - Michael Kiwanuka, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Rubblebucket to name a few.
Who are some of your musical influences?
Many! I refused to listen to any other music than R&B until I was almost in college, so my initial musical journey started with Lauryn Hill, Brandy, Musiq Soulchild, Chaka Kahn - lots of soul music. Now I count more in that number - Mason Jennings, Liz Longley, Emily King, Michael Kiwanuka (again!) - to name a few.
After hearing you sing and play guitar on multiple occasions, it seems you appreciate the art of storytelling using music as a medium. Is this an accurate assumption? Would you share with us your creative process as it relates to writing your music?
Definitely an accurate assumption! As I get older, my songwriting becomes more dependent on inspiration as opposed to the practice sitting down and putting pen to paper. I used to only force myself to write; it was great to get into the habit, but I often left unhappy with what I produced.
Right now, I'm trying to find a healthy mix. I had a whole a lot of emotional inspiration after a tumultuous 2015, but lately it seems I'm stagnant again. I find that collaborating with other writers, experienced or amateur, helps inspire me most. Maybe something doesn't necessarily come out of our collaboration, but it provides ideas later down the road. I also just love people’s stories (as you can tell), so it makes the sometimes-frustrating writing process more positively stimulating; connecting with others through my favorite mode of communication: music!
We understand you tragically lost your younger brother, Preston, last year to suicide. Tell us a little bit about Preston. How has music helped you cope with Preston’s loss? How does music provide you with hope for the future as a survivor of suicide loss?
Preston was a funny, hard-working kid. He was also pretty emotionally stoic, starting around his preteen years and continuing until he passed away. Unfortunately, there is a lot about Preston that my family and I won't ever know, but his story is not unlike many other young adult men who are taught to choose silence over speaking, toughness over vulnerability, anger over sadness.
I spent a long time trying to push music out of my life for the first few months after Preston died. I just did not want to feel anymore, and music has been my primary tool for emotional coping - it made sense to push music out of my life, at the time. That didn't last long though. By fall of 2015, I was writing constantly, alone and with others, and no matter what I started out writing, almost every song was facing the concept of grief from a suicide, my own subsequent depression, loss of relationships, triggering of traumas and emotional ruin in the aftermath of such dark events. I am ultimately grateful for the music as it allowed me to not only reflect, but connect with others who were and are feeling similarly.
I have the most hope in knowing that when I have struggled before, music has helped me to feel relief and comfort, to provoke introspection and honesty, or provide encouragement. I have learned enough by now to know that if, and when, more difficult times come, to make music the pinnacle of my focus rather than a burden.
We read your article titled ‘For When You Want a Lullaby: An Essay on Loss’ which has been published by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) along with multiple other mental health organizations. What is the message you hope to convey to others with this incredibly powerful personal testament as a survivor of suicide loss?
My main message is one of solidarity. I, of course, wanted to discuss Preston’s story and the importance of asking for help when needed - not feeling like a burden, worthless, ‘dead weight.’ But I also felt the need to communicate the effects a loved one’s suicide has on those they may have loved. I’ve had that conversation with several folks (some of whom have considered suicide in the past), and how understanding the impact of taking their lives would subsequently send their loved ones reeling, perhaps to also contemplating suicide, helped prevent them from ultimately taking their lives. I understand that at a certain point of depression, you don’t have the energy to care about those who care for you anymore (and trust me, I have been there), but sometimes it's the weight of their love for you that can prevent you from harming yourself.
We understand you currently work as a clinical music therapist with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra’s ‘Soul Strings’ Quartet providing music therapy sessions to special needs children and adults at local facilities such as St. Michael’s Special School and the Arc of Greater New Orleans. Tell us what this experience is like for you. How do you feel these sessions and the music y’all provide positively impact these individuals?
Well, I know for a fact that music therapy makes positive, long-term changes thanks to the wealth of research available on the field - in addition to my personal observations and experiences. I’ve been working as a music therapist since 2010, and though I’m fairly young in the game, have spent time with a large variety of populations. Music therapy is very fluid and adaptive, and the techniques are easily altered to meet the client on their level, regardless of ability or disability. It is also goal-oriented, and session plans are tailored to the client’s specific needs.
It is really special to be able to share a common love for music in a way that is therapeutic beyond an emotional level and help others improve their lives through music. I’m able to incorporate instrument play to strengthen motor skills, music games to work on academic functions, singing and songwriting to work on speech development, and communication skills...the opportunities are numerous. I especially love the program with the LPO because the string quartet brings a fresh dynamic to sessions and helps peak interest of the clients; rather than me coming in with just a guitar every week, the quartet is able to introduce the clients to new instruments, musical ideas, and interpersonal dynamics through their performance. And, ohhh, how the clients love questioning the instrumentalists about their instruments - and lives! It’s a win-win for everyone involved.
To learn more about the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra’s ‘Soul Strings’ music therapy sessions, click here.
You currently have been hosting a weekly acoustic series on Thursdays at the LOA Bar in the International House Hotel titled ‘Lilith in Loa’ which we have been lucky enough to attend on more than one occasion. Tell us a little bit about this weekly set. Who participates in this series with you? What is it like working with such an array of local female talent?
The vision of the Lilith in Loa Songwriter Series at Loa Bar in the International House Hotel is to celebrate a diverse wealth of songwriting talent in New Orleans and beyond in an intimate environment; a setting that encourages full focus on the songs gracing the stage, and the songwriters doing the storytelling. With the muse of femininity as inspiration, musical reminiscences of songwriters such as Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Sade and Roberta Flack are displayed in the fresh, creative talent of emerging homegrown singer-songwriters.
Every week features a new guest to the Lilith in Loa series – whether a prolific songwriter with a professional background or an up-and-coming artist stepping out of the shadows. I host the series and start the show with a short solo set, at which point my guest of the week will perform their own solo set. Before the night is over, we join together onstage and perform an assortment of duets that the guest has chosen for the show - often songs that were influential to their musical development, significant to pivotal moments in their life, and so on. The Lilith in Loa audience member can always expect to leave the showcase inspired by the writers and invigorated by the musical soul sharing at the series.
I’ve had such fun working on this series. I’ve dreamed of being part of a collaborative songwriting scene, much like that of Nashville and Los Angeles, for years, but the opportunities in New Orleans tend to be limited; particularly when moving beyond your immediate musical friend circle. With Lilith in Loa, I get the opportunity to bring musically-inspirational women (and sometimes men!) onto a beautiful stage in a room that is meant for storytelling - and make sure the story is heard at its rawest form. But then I, selfishly, get the chance to collaborate with these folks and learn more as a songwriter (and hopefully, vice versa!). This series is certainly a dream, and as each week progresses, I find more folks, local and otherwise, who seem to feel the same!
See WWL news coverage of ‘Lilith in Loa’ here.
What does the future look like for Kathryn Rose Wood as a budding singer-songwriter out of New Orleans? Do you currently have any upcoming projects planned?
Well, in addition to continuing with Lilith in Loa, I’ve got a few irons in the fire. Most notably, I’m working on a record to be released sometime before mid-2017 - my first solo album, ever. The album features many of the songs I wrote amidst the grief process from Preston’s death and musically marks various points of the grief, and eventual depression that took hold in the months following. I haven’t felt a real calling before to put out an album, I just recorded because I love it. But with this record (‘In the Ashes’), I kept hearing this voice inside me that told me this album isn’t mine. There is a greater purpose for all the songs I wrote in such dark and then hopeful times; perhaps there are others who need to hear them as much as I needed to write them. So, for now, that project is getting the majority of my musical focus and energy. I am anxious to release it, but also want to be as careful as possible - something I am proud of years later, that holds up over time with its message and production.
One last little fun zinger: You’re belting out a jam in the shower, selecting a song on a jukebox, or cruising down the streets of NOLA on a beautiful sunny day, what is your song of choice?
Oh, man, this is tough! I’ve got so many ‘rock out’ choices I lean towards, but let’s go with ‘Outta My Head’ by 90’s rock trio Fastball. It’s not necessarily a favorite song, and I don’t even know all the words, but I’ve been waking up everyday with the opening verse in my mind for nearly a month now. ‘Sometimes I feel like I am drunk behind the wheel..wheel of possibility, wherever it may rooooll.’ 🙂