Supergirl Pro Concert Series: Katelyn Tarver
LA-based, Georgia-born singer, songwriter, sometime actress and your new favourite pop star Katelyn Tarver has been involved with music since the tender age of 13. She’s appeared on TV talent shows (American Juniors), released a debut album at the age of 15 (Wonderful Crazy), independently-funded her own EPs, collaborated with dance producers (Lost Kings, Fareoh and BASTION), and, in the shape of the forthcoming Tired Eyes EP, has managed to create a collection of pin-sharp, effervescent and emotionally-engaged pop music that crystallizes everything that’s gone before. Lead by the day-glo Weekend Millionaires – a delicious, tongue-in-cheek dissection of the LA lifestyle she observes and is also complicit in – its five tracks are the perfect introduction to an observational songwriter who can turn the ups and downs of the human condition into hugely melodic pop gold. Despite that tender age, it’s been a long road to this point of finally working out who Katelyn Tarver, the artist, actually is. “I’m just excited to be releasing music and putting it out, whatever that looks like,” she says, excitedly. “I want to stay committed to putting music out. I love performing and connecting with people.”
Growing up in South Georgia, Tarver’s house was an eclectic mix of Christian MOR (her mum loved Amy Grant), singer-songwriters (her dad would play James Taylor and Eric Clapton songs on his guitar after work) and, thanks to her and her sister, big pop divas like Whitney and Celine. Once she got to Middle School, those influences crashed head on with chart-friendly pop (“I was obsessed with N’Sync”), which then lead to a real turning point. “That’s when I remember really falling in love with music, like seeing an arena concert was the coolest thing I’d ever seen in my entire life,” she laughs. “I was in love with that.” In fact, seeing those big arena shows sparked a fire inside of her. “I was just a shy kid taking gymnastics lessons living in a really small town where no one pursued a career in singing. My mum put me in dance lessons from the age of three and I remember her telling me that the teacher said, ‘there’s no way Katelyn is going to do the recital, she’s too shy, she’s not going to do it’. Then on the day of the recital I was just on stage hitting all the moves and I came out of my shell. I feel like that’s always been a part of me.”
This ability to come to life on stage found its obvious outlet in the rise of TV talent shows, with Tarver successfully auditioning for American Idol spin-off, American Juniors, at the age of 13. Luckily, she’d already had some experience of talent shows at that point. “I’d performed in my town’s local onion festival,” she says. “No, literally, that’s what it’s called.” While prestigious, obviously, it was American Juniors that lead to a move to LA for the summer for her and her family. “It was nice because it gave me a boost of confidence.” That confidence continued to rise, with her debut album, Wonderful Crazy, arriving two years later, which in turn lead to a number of live shows, including support slots for the then up and coming, Jonas Brothers. Tarver eventually signed with the same management, which resulted in a more permanent move to LA and a side-step into acting. Recurring roles in Big Time Rush and No Ordinary Family followed, but music, and that desire to perform, was always bubbling away in the background.
Having moved management companies a couple of times with little results, Tarver released a new, independently-created EP in 2011, the tellingly-titled A Little More Free. “By that point I’d got more of grip on who I was,” she says. “I realised I had to push myself and figure out what I wanted to say. In the beginning of 2011 I was completely on my own and I had this fire under me of like ‘I’m going to put something out’.” Writing sessions in Nashville helped flesh out the EP, with that new mind-set of taking risks fuelling what followed. The EP got her signed to Universal in the UK, which lead to a studio session with pop goliath, Wayne Wilkins (Beyoncé, Leona Lewis). It was during that session they wrote Crazy Stupid Love, a song that would eventually give UK pop darling Cheryl Cole her fourth number 1 single. Keen to keep momentum moving on her own project, Tarver went into the studio with Childish Gambino collaborator Ludwig Göransson, ostensibly to record a new album. Fuelled by the intoxicating lure of the LA lifestyle, the pair came up with the immaculate Weekend Millionaires (“all the young fools, we’re starving in Bel Air”), a pulsating deconstruction of the American dream. “I wrote it from experience of observing friends and LA culture, and how it makes you crazy,” she says.
Once again, however, Tarver found herself in limbo. With an album’s worth of songs finished she had to answer that familiar question of ‘what happens now?’. “When 2015 rolled around I had another one of those thoughts of like ‘I’m going to put this out, I’m going to do this on my own’. And I did. I put Weekend Millionaires on Soundcloud, unmastered, and emailed loads of people and asked them to tweet about it.” The reaction was huge, resulting in over 600,000 Spotify streams, half a millions Soundcloud plays and coverage from the likes of The Guardian, Just Jared and Idolator. The song’s obvious brilliance is matched on the forthcoming Tired Eyes EP by the throbbing, BURNS-produced Hate To Tell You, an ode to dealing with idiot men in LA bars (“I don’t want to know / what kind of car you drive” she sighs at one point), and the gently pulsing gem, What Do We Know Now. A sort of anti-hindsight anthem, it’s a song that dismisses the idea that you’re supposed to have all the answers as you get older. Those three delicately-constructed bangers are balanced out by two gorgeous ballads, both written in Nashville. “You Don’t Know came about through wanting to be left alone and not have anyone try to cheer you up,” she says of the EP’s centrepiece. “I really wanted to tap into that feeling of not being okay and letting that emotion sit there.” The stripped back, Love Me Again, meanwhile, is a lilting dissection of what makes a relationship work.
The Tired Eyes EP – so-named because of its mix of being both cynical and hopeful – represents an artist in full bloom. Raised on a mixture of emotionally-lead singer-songwriters and big, bold pop stars, Tarver has created songs that encapsulate both ends of that spectrum, fuelled by her long journey in the music industry. The time feels right, finally, for her to fully step into the spotlight.
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