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Local Listens: Kayte Grace

Welcome to Local Listens, where we profile some of our favorite Washington musicians. This week, we shine the spotlight on Kayte Grace.

After stumbling upon a cheap guitar for sale at Linens ’n Things, of all places, Silver Spring native Kayte Grace began her journey to becoming a singer/songwriter. Though just starting her music career, Grace carries herself like she’s been in the game for years. She realizes that there’s an ebb and flow in the music industry and that opportunities fade just as fast as they come.

Grace, 20, and her guitarist Kevin Plybon jumped into the recording studio shortly after Grace received close to 250,000 hits in two days on a YouTube video. She recognized it as a rare opportunity and decided to record something. She and Plybon laid down six songs in roughly seven hours and created their debut EP, Soaked You In. Though that seems like a hurried process, the EP sounds like a big-budget production.

Grace’s voice is more matured then her age might indicate—like Duffy’s, only Grace’s vibrato isn’t overbearing or obnoxious. She says the EP excavates love in all its forms.

Grace, a college student at Columbia University, had her share of good and bad interactions with men—which inspired her EP. “Uncomplicated” starts off lyrically in the manner of Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain,” with Grace singing, “First of all, this song’s not about you, it’s about someone else. And another thing, I’m thriving without you.” That track, along with “Thursday Night Love Song” and “Love Perfect,” can be streamed on Grace’s MySpace page.

Celebrate the release of Soaked You In with Grace and Plybon at Coffihouse in Merrifield on June 6. The show is free and starts at 8. In the meantime, learn more about Kayte Grace in our interview.

Name: Kayte Grace.

Age: 20.

Hometown: Silver Spring.

First song that made you want to play music:
“Once at camp, when I was about 15, a girl had a guitar and decided to share a song that she’d written. Everyone listened, enthralled. Before that, it had never occurred to me that I could just write music and captivate people with the story I told. I went home and wrote a song on the piano that night. It wasn’t very good, but I was hooked on the idea of crafting and performing my own music.”

First instrument:

Local spot to seek inspiration or write music:
“College Perk near the University of Maryland. There was a fire recently, and I don’t think it’s reopened yet. But it’s a great place with friendly musicians, interesting strangers, and an artsy-fartsy feel, and I think the zebra-stripe paint job outside makes me feel more creative.”

Best local venue:
“Jammin’ Java or Ebenezer’s Coffeehouse.”

Best bar to hear music:
“I’m 20. I’m not allowed in. Do not pass go, do not collect $200.”

Favorite local band other than yours:
“Tim Be Told.”

Best thing about Washington’s music scene:
“I’m definitely still getting my footing in the Washington scene. So far, I’ve found really friendly people, and I was excited to find out about the artist showcases that the Songwriters Association of Washington does at coffeehouses and venues all over the area. I’m playing at one at Mad City Coffee on August 15.”

Worst thing about Washington’s music scene:
“Accidentally signing up for open mikes at over-21 venues, waiting for my 11:30 PM slot, only to be turned away by the bouncer. Ouch.”

Craziest tour/show memory:
“Unknowingly playing at a venue on a night dedicated to comedians. I was introduced like this: ‘And next we have Kayte Grace. It’s her first time here, but I’m sure she’s very funny.’ I got onstage and said, ‘Do you guys mind if I just play some music?’ They laughed. I was serious.”

Finish this sentence: “When not making music, you can find me . . .”
“. . . cooking or watching the enchanting Alton Brown on Food Network, poking around a thrift store for cool purses, or sitting at Starbucks for hours getting philosophical with friends I’ve had since kindergarten.”

Rolling Stones or the Beatles?
“The Beatles.”

Digital download or hard copy?
“Hard copy.”

Rolling Stone or Spin?
Performing Songwriter. I love reading about other people’s creative processes and then being able to go listen to what they produced, knowing the story behind the music.”

Club show or festival?

What musicians, bands, and performers influence your music?
“Lauryn Hill, KT Tunstall, Citizen Cope, Ingrid Michaelson, Justin Nozuka, Jason Mraz, and random brilliant artists that I stumble upon on YouTube or MySpace.”

Why did you decide to pick up a guitar?
“I found one for $50 randomly on the floor in the corner of an aisle in Linens ’n Things. I went there to buy towels, but I left with so much more.”

Do you hope to have a backing band one day?
“I actually perform with Kevin Plybon, a great friend of mine and talented, classically trained guitarist. Although we’ve been performing together only since September, I think it’s our friendship that makes things flow so easily onstage. We’ve even started to communicate with little looks while we’re playing. It’s kind of like how twins can read each other’s thoughts. And he calls out the directions quite well on the way to venues while simultaneously deejaying a pre-show hype-up playlist consisting of everything from Ratatat to Tom Waits. When we’re at Columbia during the school year, our friend Hank Oliver plays the cajon (a little drum box that you sit on). I’d love to have a full backing band at some point. Kevin thinks eventually I should go electric. We’ll see.”

Because you’re also an actress, if you had to choose to be an actress or a musician, which would you pick?
“That’s a toughie. I’ve been acting on camera for more than ten years (Law & Order: SVU, The Wire, Gossip Girl, commercials, voice-overs), and each aspect of it is gratifying. From the last-minute call that I have to learn an eight-page script, master an accent, and be in New York tomorrow at noon, to building a character, to the four-hour bus ride to the city, to the 120-second audition, to the waiting, to the shoot, and finally to seeing the finished product—I love it all. The music has been such an adventure, though, and it’s empowering to forge a path for myself using the tools that are available to indie musicians now, such as the Internet for building fan base and spreading the music, or being able to go straight to distributors such as iTunes or CDBaby. I kind of avoided the question, didn’t I?”

Because you sing and act already, do you have plans on becoming a triple-threat singer, actress, and dancer?
“When I was younger, I took tap, jazz, ballet, and hip-hop lessons for years. I loved it. Now I stick more to foot stomping and dramatic gestures while I sing.”

What would be your dream lineup for a show?
“I’d love to see Citizen Cope, Lauryn Hill, and Ingrid Michaelson share a stage and play each other’s music. Whoa.”

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