4326 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles (Silver Lake) 323-664-1011
"Ever since I came to California, things have been great. If you ever dream, you should come here. Come to L.A."
—"California," from the album Stronger, by Kate Earl
Kate Earl has a case of the yawns. With her crazy schedule, who could blame her? Between running around after her 2-year-old son, Hank, promoting her latest album, Stronger, preparing for a tour with Passenger and performing at a showcase for television executives all in one day, it's a miracle that the singer-songwriter hasn't collapsed from fatigue. Yet, aside from the few yawns that occur when we first sit down to talk, Kate becomes completely energized and animated when we start discussing her two babies, Hank and Stronger, which was released last month and named for the strength she's gained from being a mother.
"I would have shied away from the album title because it's been used, but, for me, it had such meaning and truth to it," she shares. "I couldn't think of a better word for what I've become because of my son, so I just claimed it."
We are at one of Kate's favorite restaurants, Malo, so I decide to try her usual drink order, the House Margarita, as we take a seat in their candlelit cantina area. The walls are covered in vibrant red wallpaper, shiny black tiles and wood panels, giving the room a sleek and sensual vibe. Usually Kate gets the Ceviche, but if she's really hungry she orders the Ground Beef and Pickle Tacos or the Potato Tacos. She raves about the various salsas (burnt habanero cream, verde) that Malo offers as well.
Kate also tells me that the restaurant is located just down the street from a Vons grocery store, a site where Charlie Chaplin had his first studios.
|Kate Earl at Malo|
"It's so cool, that's where they had giant light boxes where he would shoot," she says. "I love these pieces of Hollywood history. Old Hollywood was right here."
Surrounded by Tinsel Town history in Silver Lake and her neighborhood of Los Feliz, Kate commonly frequents stores like Skylight Books and some of the vintage clothing shops on Vermont and Hillhurst Avenues. She also likes taking Hank to the Americana at Brand in Glendale, so he can go to the playground and watch the giant water fountain, while she picks up some items.
"The trendier things," she admits. "To pick up something fresh and affordable, I do like H&M and Forever 21. I'm not ashamed to say it. I've been noticing lately, though, that my favorite clothes are hand me downs from my friends. I love closet trading and clothing swaps because. Not only are you getting something free and it's eco-friendly and responsible to be re-using, but the love from your friends are in their clothes, you're wrapped in their care, and the clothes take on a new life with your personality. I'm as excited about proper designers as anyone else, but I don't think you need to be so fancy. Fashion shouldn't be so serious, it should be fun and individual."
Having lived all over the city, from Santa Monica and Manhattan Beach to Burbank and Laurel Canyon, Kate has come to appreciate Los Feliz for a several reasons.
"The walkability. I put Hank in the stroller or we just walk, and anything we want is right there. It just suits me," she says. "One of the biggest things that keeps me here is Griffith Park, being able to feel like I'm in the outdoors even though I'm really in the city. The views and the rollings hills – it's romantic. If I'm exercising regularly, we get to the park about five days a week. If I'm really training, I do a four-mile run, but I break it up halfway because he can't stand to be in the jogging stroller that long. I'll run my two miles up to the Fern Dell entry, and across from Trails Café there's a nice park, so he gets out, does his thing and then naps on the way home. At the end of the four miles, is when we get back, I'll park him in the stroller in the house and catch up on work, write some music or do whatever I need to do that requires my complete attention."
Life in Los Angeles is definitely a far cry from Kate's childhood in Chugiak, Alaska, where she learned how to play the piano at 4 and started honing her singing chops on her family's karaoke machine.
"I had the opportunity to really practice my belting on the karaoke machine without feeling funny. Between that and the experience I had singing in choir in my hometown church – learning about harmonies and being exposed to classic music in so many genres – it's quite an eclectic experience when you consider that I was out in the middle of nowhere," she says with a smile. "I had the 1920s through '50s music from my father, the ballroom music from my Filipino relatives that loved to dance, the whole Top 40 karaoke list, the '70s influence from my older brothers, my love of the gospel music that I discovered at church and then going to the library and stumbling across things that had been donated. I was so lucky to discover all of this."
"And then there were my own discoveries, like Fiona Apple and Lauryn Hill," Kate continues. "I was an intern at KRUA, the University of Alaska's radio station. I opened up Fiona Apple and Lauryn Hill out of the packages to be put in rotation while I was working there. To see these amazing, strong, vocal women speak their minds and sing their asses off, it was life changing. That's when I started to know that this was what I was going to do, that it could be done."
Kate picked up guitar around age 17 and eventually went to bible school in Santa Barbara, Calif. in 2004. Once she made the move to Los Angeles, she was signed to Record Collection and her first album, Fate Is the Hunter, released in 2005. Garnering critical praise and TV placement for songs from her debut and her 2009 self-titled album on Universal Republic, Kate still felt that something was missing. She then took time off to have Hank, became inspired by motherhood and was signed to Downtown Records. She also found a writing collaborator in label mate, Brett Dennen.
Kate turned to other Californian musicians for the recording of Stronger, including Alex Greenwald, Sean Hurley, Victor Indrizzo and Blake Mills, whom she met when they were both on Record Collection.
"[We met] when he was 17-years-old accompanying me on tour, back when Dawes was called Simon Dawes. We've grown up together, and that's really a theme for this record – the camaraderie of musicians and being a community that hasn't just jumped into this out of nowhere. We've all been at this forever and are supportive of one another," she tells. "There were a lot of high fives during the making of the record. I'm just really proud of the authenticity of the record, that we all are seasoned writers, musicians and performers who chose to be a little tribe for six days in Santa Monica and create this world that's obviously inspired by Fleetwood Mac."
The group recorded Stronger at the Village, the famed studios where legends from the Doors and the Eagles to Crosby, Stills and Nash and, indeed, Fleetwood Mac have done albums.
"I'm proud that I made this album in the same room that Fleetwood Mac made their music, that I sat in front of the same board. I Instagrammed the tiles in the bathroom," Kate confesses. "The folks at the studio said that Stevie Nicks designed the bathroom there, and there were these heart-shaped tiles. I was just imagining that hopefully one day, I will have such stories under my belt, that I was part of a movement, a time when people were supportive of one another, wanting to just be inspired and be given to a scenario to make them the best they could be. There's a certain spirit to this kind of music that I hope comes across."
Stronger's first single, "One Woman Army," successfully captures that spirit. It's also her message to Hank, that she is always willing to play the many roles that a single mother must fill in her child's life. I ask Kate about the impact of her own mother on the inspiration of the song as well.
"We had a family business, and inside the album cover is a photo of my house. The photo was taken from the property that our gas station is on, it's shared property. So when I think about what my mother must have gone through and experienced to carry her matriarchy in the family as well as stay tender with us and include us in the business in a way that gave us the attention we needed, it helped me understand that I can make what I do a family business too. It doesn't have to be segregated, it doesn't have to be one or the other," she reflects. "I can balance it all, and I can include him in a way that will inspire to him one day. It's such a gift that I was shown that [by her own mother]."
Hank makes an appearance in the video for "One Woman Army," and Kate is already instilling an appreciation for all types of music in him.
"I like to sing 'Stay Awake' from Mary Poppins, 'Dream a Little Dream of Me" by the Mamas and the Papas, 'I'm Beginning to See the Light' by Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald and a couple of my own songs to him," she says. "There's one that I haven't released yet called 'All to Myself' about him, having him all to myself, that I sing him to sleep with."
When Kate takes time for herself, her favorite way to unwind is a hot bath.
"For some reason, and this is going to sound hippie-dippie, but I like crystal work, so I'll put crystals in my bath and drops of different tinctures and herbs. My bathtub can look pretty messy when I'm done," she laughs. "It can look like a raccoon was collecting shiny objects and making a nest in my bathtub, but that's something that truly resets me. I'll burn sage and 10 candles of different colors for different chakras, I'll really get into it and play music that's soothing and timeless."
Kate loves Pandora, and she has Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty and Nick Drake stations.
"But it's not all old school. I like Florence + the Machine, Feist, Frank Ocean, Prince, André 3000, Miike Snow and Muse," she lists. "It's just all over the place."
She admires one artist so much that Hank's middle name, Wonder, is in his honor.
"I actually met Stevie Wonder; it was incredible. I busted into his greenroom, told him about Hank's name and said, 'Can I hug you?' He said, 'Oh, come here,'" she recalls with a grin. "I feel like I saw the man behind the curtain because he wasn't wearing his glasses and I saw him. I really saw his face. It was incredible! First of all, shaking his hand, his fingers are like tentacles. They're so dextrous, they're truly his eyes. And the way that he touched me and knew me in that handshake. As I was hugging him I said thank you for all that you've given to us through the years, but I realize that it isn't so much that he's given, it's that he's brought us in, he's accepted us. Hugging him was like embracing space, he was a vacuum a void of possibility, and by void I'm saying this grand expansive possibility was in him, and that's the kind of place that he speaks, writes and sings from. I can't believe in a touch that I was able to catch that, but I am so blessed that I was able to grasp that through a hug. It taught me so much. In a lot of my career I've faced my songs thinking what do I need to do to them, and I feel like in that hug with Stevie Wonder it was more like get out of the way, just let them come through or fall into them. I'm excited to continue to write with that knowledge."
As we wrap up our conversation, she excitedly tells me that she's going to see another of her musical heroes, Lauryn Hill, perform later in the evening. Kate has come a long way from interning at the radio station where she was so profoundly touched by Hill's music, and she hopes that Stronger gives listeners something to latch onto as well.
"The songs take on personal experiences and things that weren't so easy. I talk about selling my family heirlooms so I can pay rent. We all do what we need to do to get by, and I think that it's something that we've been talking about so much in the past few years. This country has been in an upheaval of a time, and I feel like I'm more of an adult than I ever have been," she says. "Really, it's about growing up and not being afraid, learning to roll with the punches. I hope that they can see my sense of humor in it. I hope that it's a validating, empowering and inspiring album."
Stronger is currently available. For more information, visit thekateearl.com.