Classic Kiwi Country, Sellaband's Katie Thompson

When I was in my twenties I worshiped at the altar of funk. James Brown, Tower Of Power, Ohio Players…you get the picture. If they marketed action figures of funk musicians my toy box would have looked like the line-up at an Oakland barbeque and funk fest. From my perspective, country music was completely of, by andย  for sequined, cowboy-hatted shit-kickers who lived in trailers with two cars parked on cement blocks in the front yard. If anyone had told me that The Ohio Players’ wardrobe wasย  as ridiculous as Porter Wagoner’s there would have been trouble.

But as a musician who earned the daily bread by making club crowds of many persuasions happy, I found myself in playing situations that didn’t always correspond with my personal tastes. That didn’t prevent me from being a smart ass and when a customer would request a country song, my witty answer would be, “Sure, what country?” Thankfully I grew out of my bias to discover that there was crappy music to be ridiculed in every genre and, as I gained further wisdom, great music to be cherished as well.

Over the years and during the time I managed The Band’s old haunt, Shangri La, I had the pleasure of getting to know and appreciate the work of some great rock musicians who had one foot planted firmly in a cowboy boot at some time in their career. I can also say that standing on the stage of the Grand Old Opry and playing to the 4,000 fans who fill the concert hall was one of the big thrills and chills of my playing career. Patsy Cline, Hank Williams and Johnny Cash have become as firmly ensconced in my iPod as my erstwhile funk gods and I feel no sense of disloyalty shuffling between What Is Hip and Your Cheating Heart.

Katie Thompson

Katie Thompson

There is an up and coming young country artist on Sellaband who answers my “Sure, what country?” dumb-ass question with a vengeance. Katie Thompson is a classic country singer/song writer from what is probably Nashville’s most remote satellite, New Zealand. Katie exhibits her own sense of style, opting for cocktail dresses over blue jeans as she leads her accomplished band through a repertoire of classic country tempered by her Kiwi upbringing.

Katie’s three original tracks on her Sellaband profile page indicate that she has the potential of becoming a household name not only in New Zealand but anywhere that hosts “Electric Slide” night. When she reaches the budgetary goal of $50,000 Katie will have the opportunity to go into the studio with the right people and the right toys to create an album worthy of her honest approach to writing and singing. Her vocal delivery is intimate in the vein of classic story tellers like Emmy Lou Harris and Patsy Cline. Katie doesn’t deal in pyrotechnics or phony gospel riffing. She just tells a story as if she were talking over the back fence and her fresh sincerity is her most engaging quality.

Tall Poppy is written and sung with the voice of a typical young person battling the slings and arrows of peer pressure as she develops a sense of self worth in a cruel world. The story, while common to anyone who hasn’t been raised by wolves, is nevertheless a persecution unique to each individual. Everyone coming of age in the world of schoolyard, fashion, teen dances and the required accoutrements associated with being “cool” has moments when they feel themselves too tall, too short, too skinny, too fat, too stupid or too smart to be considered acceptable by their peers. Katie’s angst laden lyrics ride over a deceptively cheerful rhythmic track but the darkness of the chord progression brings clearly into focus the pain of wanting to be accepted . The guitar playing on this as well as all three of Katie’s Sellaband tracks is not only well executed but tasteful and most importantly, relevant to the song.

Tall Poppy

Tall Poppy

Monteiths On Tap is a bit of fun and could very well be the hook that lands the big fish for Katie. One can quibble about product placement or the political correctness of glorifying the imbibement ( I think I just invented a word) all the way to the steps of their favorite house of worship, but what is a good old country song if not a paean of praise for either fast cars, faster trucks, loyal dogs and good beer? New Zealand’s Monteiths Brewery has stepped up to the plate in supporting Katie’s Sellaband journey and well they should. Who can say how many Monteiths empties land in the recycling bin the morning after one of Katie’s appearances at a pub pouring the “liquid gold?” Wonderful resonator guitar work on this track, while the feel of the rhythm section never strays from the “sawdust on the floor” vibe that just begs for another round.

The third track on Katie’s Sellaband profile is an introspectively dark recitativo of bittersweet goodbyes. The emotion of the song, as in the case of Tall Poppy, is one to which any listener can easily relate. I don’t like to repeat myself but here again the guitar work provides a perfect sense of yearning to Katie’s wrenching story. Katie’s song writing skills, while well down the path of becoming memorable, could do with a bit of soul searching here. She has great instincts and her topic choice is right on the money. But some of her lyrics, while not being brazenly cliche, could be more intimately powerful with a tweak here and there.

Song writing is an exercise in telling a story or conveying an emotion that can be related to by the broadest possible cross section of an audience. This is what makes a song popular, and why bother to put music before the public if popularity is not the desired result.The magic of masterful song writing lies in the ability of the writer to say something in a way that is familiar yet original. When Bob Dylan sings “The answer is blowin’ in the wind” we say to ourselves “Well of course it is. Who didn’t know that!” But inside we all know that we could never have come up with such a simple way to state the obvious. Economy and eloquence are bought and paid for in currency represented by reams of discarded lyric sheets.

Katie Thompson is deep in the process of honing her craft and this can be a critical phase in the development of a young writer. Staring at a page of lyrics with the unbiased eye of a supreme court justice and knowing what will go on an album and what will better serve as kindling for the grill is not a skill that comes easily. That process marks the difference between great songs that remain relevant for generations and about a gazillion MP3s on Myspace.

When Katie reaches her $50,000 budget on Sellaband, New Zealand, with a population of 4.3 million, will have cornered what might be the highest degree of success per capita on the internet crowd sourcing platform.ย  Katie Thompson’s success combined with Sellaband Hip-Hopper Maitreya will have made a strong showing for New Zealanders.ย  And with Katie’s Sellaband release, I’ll no longer be asking “Sure, what country?”

4 Responses to “Classic Kiwi Country, Sellaband's Katie Thompson”

  • Pieps

    GO Katie GO !!! ๐Ÿ˜€ ๐Ÿ˜€ ๐Ÿ˜€
    Nice reading Pete ๐Ÿ˜‰

    HAVE FUN !!! yours Pieps

  • I love me some Katie!!!! Great article Pete! As a native of Texas, it is so nice to hear some country music that really tickles my ears and stands out from the crowd, I think Katie does just that!

  • Article does justice to Katie’s songs and talent. I hope the voters in the RaboIdol contest feel the same and help her to win the 10,000 NZ$ to make her SellaBand album come a lot closer again.

  • Jay Kaimal

    Excellent write up on a true Kiwi classic in the making –

    We will be watching .. and listening !!