A lot of the songs on Kat Edmonson's new album, Way Down Low, have a timeless sound, due in part to her own timeless-sounding voice. But she isn't above revealing her influences: The song "Champagne," she admits, was crafted with a particular American songsmith in mind.
"I was trying to write a song like Cole Porter," Edmonson tells NPR's Melissa Block. "Me and a million other people are trying to write a song like Cole Porter."
A Texas native, the 28-year-old Edmondson began composing music at a young age.
"The first song that I remember writing in its entirety was when I was 9 years old," Edmonson says. "I wrote it on a bus, on a field trip. It was called 'Mystery Man,' and in retrospect, it was the beginning of my exploration of what it was like to have a man in your life, because I didn't. I grew up with my mom; it was just the two of us. Although I was writing from the perspective of that being a boyfriend, it had very much to do with my father."
Sing a song about a mystery man
When God made him, I think he had a plan
to fool all the girls like he did me
Never did ask him to leave me be
Oh, why'd he go away?
Mystery man, come back to me someday
Making Life More Like The Movies
While her mother worked long hours, musicals on VHS tapes would entertain little Kat.
"I would watch Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Danny Kaye," Edmonson says. "And there would always be some kind of romance happening, and there was always some scene where [they] go to a nightclub and some performer would come out. And it was always some famous performer like The Andrews Sisters or Louis Armstrong. And I actually thought that's what it meant to get older. My idea of what adulthood looked like. At some point, I had to face the fact that it wasn't and it was a little disappointing. And that gave me impetus to try and make life like that."
If she wanted to, Edmonson could belt out a song, but, as she says, "I'm really in love with the subtler side of things. I often employ subtlety and nuance in my voice. But I really do anticipate that I will start singing — belting, if you will."
But less Judy Garland, more doo-wop.
"When I tend to belt, it kind of reminds me of like a more '60s girl doo-wop kind of belting," Edmonson says. "Recently, I did experience a little bit of that when I sang 'Hopelessly Blue' on the album. We actually hadn't planned on recording it, and I was just nervous as all get out to lay down some tracks that I wasn't really comfortable singing. But it worked out, and I realized it was a new place in my voice that I could develop."
Edmonson got funding to put the album together from Kickstarter, asking listeners to contribute to the project. In the video introduction, Edmonson demonstrated that she'd do about anything to get the album made: give dog pedicures, shovel snow, fix someone's sink.
"I thought there would be some humor in that without looking too terribly desperate," she says, laughing. "I think it's really fantastic. Where I didn't like it too much initially — and maybe that was my pride — it's an entirely viable way to raise money. The industry is so different now. And, to boot, [I] get to know my fan base a little bit better and what they liked. What an affirmation of support; it was over 350 people, and it just felt like a tidal wave of love when it all went down and I was able to fund the record. It was a great opportunity to give back and thank them."