Catch rising star Katie Pruitt on her way up
At the age of 27, Katie Pruitt is already working on album #2 and has landed herself on NPR’s “20 Artists to Watch”—and on the radar of such LGBTQ music luminaries as Brandi Carlile.
The Georgia-born and raised, Nashville-based singer/songwriter puts out powerful, vocally-driven songs that are impeccably written with dramatic and elegant narrative arcs. No topic is too revealing, from growing up gay in Georgia, to falling in love, skirting mental illness and toxic relationships, and balancing bravery and faith in the Christian South. Like many gay kids growing up in the South and attending Christian school, Pruitt struggled with where to put her feelings of selfhood and same-sex attraction and, luckily for us, those all went into her music. If you listen to only one fresh single today, check out Katie Pruitt's "Georgia." The song blew me away.
Katie Pruitt - Expectations youtu.be
Her latest album Expectations include songs that tell her story of coming out to her family, dating a woman with mental illness and trying to be a way to cure her, and the genuinely healthy relationship she found with her current girlfriend. Katie will be the opening act for the Wood Brothers on Feb. 23 at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts and I caught up with her before the much-awaited gig and discovered that along with her music, Katie Pruitt is similarly a joy: Natural, unaffected, and wildly talented as a singer, songwriter, and performer.
You're playing Scottsdale Center For the Performing Arts in support of the Wood Brothers.
Katie Pruitt: Yeah, I love the Wood Brothers. They're like dear friends of mine. And I went on tour with them in 2019, and they're just like, really the best people. So any time they ask me, I'm like, Yep, I will be there.
For somebody so young, you seem to know a lot of great music people and play with a lot of talented and established musicians like Brandi Carlile. How did you make that connection?
Katie: So I played this tornado benefit—a slew of really awful things that happened in 2020, but the tornado was definitely the first of those kind of daunting events. But out of that came benefit shows, and ... [the organizers] wanted local artists on that and I lived down the street, not too close, but still pretty close to the damage that the tornado did to Nashville. And so I was on that bill and I met Brandi that night super briefly. And she was super kind and during the whole pandemic she was reaching out to me. And she said some kind things about my record, which, you know, was super encouraging, especially in a time where no one could go outside your house, let alone play shows. So like having one of my heroes say those things was really comforting in a time that otherwise would be really depressing and discouraging. And then from there, I think we just kind of formed a friendship. And she asked me to play a couple of shows and open for her in Montana last year, which was awesome.
Katie Pruitt - My Mind’s A Ship (That’s Going Down) To Nashville With Love Tornado Relief youtu.be
So you live in Nashville but you come from Georgia.
Katie: I grew up north of the city of Atlanta, so it wasn't like rural Georgia, right? So, um, you know, like suburbs of Atlanta, that's probably why I don't I don't talk like I'm from the country, right?
And how did you discover your musicality?
Katie: My mom played guitar and she played at church, Catholic Church music isn't very fun, but it still has the basic chords, so I learned to harmonize and to play guitar in elementary school, middle school. I wasn't very good, and then I kind of pivoted from that to like ... I loved musicals, I loved the story arc of musicals and I was in a lot of them in middle school and I loved singing and performing. And then in high school, I kind of combined them both: the story arc of musicals, and then kind of picked up a guitar again in high school and started just covering basic songs, I guess what I was listening to in high school. Like, Dave Matthews Band and whatever was popular. I kind of just jammed with friends and covered a bunch of songs and I guess it became an escape mechanism, because I had a lot of questions about myself. I had an inkling that I might be gay, which obviously is true. I just wrote all these love songs, but I never really had a boyfriend in high school for obvious reasons. But it felt like a way for me to express myself that previously wasn't available to me. A way to sing what I felt without giving that away before I was ready. So high school was kind of where it formed. I had a little friend group that would cheer me on and learn my songs. I think that's super important for anybody who's cultivating a creative endeavor to have their friends be their first fans. And then from there, I just started playing live and kept going.
The album is really good, it's very sophisticated. It connects to a lineage of music, of great songwriters like Neil Young, who I imagine one of your heroes. But what's fresh for me and unique for me as a gay woman is just your truthfulness, in the song "Georgia," I thought it was fantastic the way that you really purposefully use the structure of the lyric: "My father would scream out and rage. He did not want a daughter who soul wasn't saved." How did you learn to write like that?
Katie: Lyrics kind of grabbed me first. Listening to Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, like how she's super descriptive and emotive with her lyric choices. I realized that words matter a lot and story arc matters. I wanted to honestly talk about my life experience that was very real and visceral to me, but I wanted to figure out how to use certain language to paint a picture for people, as I think I quickly learned after I came out that I was not the only one who felt like they were confined in a space that kind of made them feel like they couldn't be themselves. So I knew that that story wasn't a unique one, unfortunately. And I I just really thought it was important to be specific, which was hard sometimes and especially in a song like "Georgia." I had to have conversations with people in my life, so in that song, my parents, I had to kind of address those things before the album came out and really have some new conversations about how I felt at a certain point and that was hard and tears were shed, but it was and it is important to be honest with people. Otherwise you kind of just keep it to yourself and you just bottle it up a notch. That's no good.
Are your parents accepting of you now?
Katie: Yes, they're great. We were able to talk to each other and there were times when we didn't agree necessarily or they would say something that really hurt me, or I would say something — but we were able to communicate to each other. We worked through it and it took time.
I hope they are proud of your work and your songs. How do you write a love song? How does it come to you? Like, are you walking along and there's just a feeling you can't resolve? Is it something somebody said, is it a wish or a regret? I'm just so curious.
Katie: Oh, that's a good question. I think it's it's all those things. The thing you said that that kind of popped out at me was a feeling that's unresolved. I feel like any song is kind of like a conversation with yourself or with another person that you like. Specifically for me, like using mechanisms like picturing a scene, maybe a memory that I've experienced and like talking about, reflecting on memories is really useful. And then when you pick up your guitar you're talking about your life in a way that appeals to people through moments of uncertainty or moments of love or moments of joy or all of them at the same time.
It's not easy for young queer women to find or be in healthy relationships. How has it been for you?
Katie: I would say it was really hard, especially being young and in college. I definitely had crushes on my straight friends, like growing up and through college, for queer women in the south there's not a ton of options. But for me, the way it happened with my now almost six-year long relationship with my girlfriend—we met as roommates so we were friends first and we lived together. And then our friendship kind of developed into like a romantic relationship. So I haven't really been in the queer dating scene for a while. Somehow Dana and I have just been able to keep it up and we're best friends, and we both learn a lot from each other. So yeah, I would say I'm pretty lucky.
You've sung about mental health issues. As a touring artist how do you protect your own mental health, especially during a tough time like Covid?
Katie Pruitt: I can't stress the importance of therapy enough. I'm super emotional and like, I'm an empath. So I like feel very deeply. I cry a lot. For anyone, no matter who you are or whatever job you're in, the past couple of years especially have been hard. It's hard to take in the state of the world and then compartmentalize all that and still be able to find something to laugh about or smile about. Keeping very close friends close because I think having like a tight knit group of friends that you can be honest with about how you feel about the state of the world and talk about it, and not just bottle it all up inside is important. Music and writing songs was an escape mechanism from my real life, from my job as a server. But now that it's become a job having a record deal and actually having people give a shit about whatever I say, which is mind boggling to me, it has taken a lot of relearning and getting back to what I love about music and and making it that escape again because it's kind of hard when your escape becomes your job, you know? And I keep a lot of artist friends close and we talk about the ups and downs of the creative process.
Any little inkling about what your album number two is going to be like or about?
Katie: The first record is a lot about coming to terms with my sexuality, with my identity, because I wrote it when I was in my early 20s. And now I bought a house with my girlfriend and I'm in a longterm relationship. I'm just I'm in a different phase of my life. And instead of dreaming about playing music for a career, I am doing it. And that comes with different pressures and different obligations. And I guess it's sort of about now, you know, we just went through an entire pandemic and while I am personally a little sick of quarantine songs, it puts you in a different state of mind, you know, than I was when I wrote Expectations. The world is different now, and I'm different now. I hope it'll just be a little more mature and a little more observational. And still with that personal voice of like seeing the world through my eyes. I kind of can't help that part, but hopefully kind of zooming out a little bit.
Details and tickets for Katie's Scottsdale Feb. 23 gig are here. For Katie's upcoming national tour dates, go here.