Q&A: Katie Lynne Sharbaugh
Katie Lynne Sharbaugh is a Philadelphia-born singer-songwriter and soon-to-be Berklee graduate. WRBB’s Fenner Dreyfuss-Wells caught up with her to chat about songwriting, plans for the future, and the process of creating her latest project. The debut single “Nothing Left To Lose,” from her forthcoming two-part project Little Blue Beetle, is out now on all major streaming platforms.
Fenner Dreyfuss-Wells: How does it feel to be putting out the first piece of this project to the whole world?
Katie Lynne Sharbaugh: I am so impatient. Honestly, I want everyone to hear it right now, because this project is like my child. This project is like a work of heart completely. And we worked so hard on it. It took us almost a year. So, I’m just so excited for everyone to hear it. And even just for me, just to have it out there. It’s super personal. And I’m really proud of the work we’ve done. So yeah, I can’t wait.
You mentioned this project took almost a year. Can you tell me how the process started and about everything you’ve done so far?
Yeah, so how this all started was kind of on a whim, [my manager] Bernice met this guy named Micah through [the Berklee] A&R club, and they became friends. And they started talking and Micah told her about how he’s in this band [The Brazen Youth]. And they have this studio on a farm and they record there and he was like, “You should come, you should record some music.” And I was like, okay, let me just get an album together, because I’ve been writing for years, and I just didn’t have the resources really to make a big project like this. So in like two weeks, we kind of turned it all around, we were like, okay, we’re going, and we quarantined on the farm for about two weeks. And just we worked like nine to nine every day just pumping out music. And then after that we took another trip. And then we had our friend Charlie, who’s also in [The Brazen Youth] with Micah, mix and engineer everything and produce everything. And we had some guest artists come on and send stems in. And now we’re just doing promotion. So it takes a lot longer than you would think.
I know that the recording process for this album was pretty special and pretty important to the final product. Can you tell me what it was like out there in the studio and how that showed itself in the final product?
Absolutely. It was the perfect place to record, honestly, it was on this rustic little farm in Connecticut, in Old Lyme, Connecticut, and there were horses, which – I’m a horse girl. So that was perfect for me, it really set the scene. There were goats, chickens, dogs and everything. And we were just in the studio, very quaint, and – Charlie’s very innovative in the way he records things. So he would make us go into this barn, the real barn where all the farm stuff was kept, I guess. And he would just hang a microphone from the ceiling and have us play everything acoustic. So it was very DIY, kind of makeshift – we just used what was around us and it was kind of symbolic of who I am, seeing as I’m a horse girl and I spent summers in Ireland, so I love the country. And yeah, we just added a lot of random stuff that we found around too, we added a cowbell, Bernice had this wooden frog thing that she plays with a stick, you know what I’m talking about? We added that, we added tambourine. And yeah, it was supposed to be an electronic album, actually, believe it or not, but with all the musicians we had there it just kind of turned into a rock album. Yeah, a lot of the processes we did were really cool too, like for one of the songs we turned off all the lights in the studio and everyone had their flashlights out just waving to the song. So yeah, we really put a lot of work into our setting as well.
That’s so cool. Because I feel like it’s easy to think that a song is a song and it’s always going to sound the same, but those little tiny details probably make you perform the recording so differently.
Honestly, like I remember, when we were in the barn, when I told you he was hanging the microphone over, we were just playing an acoustic version. Also, we had someone’s phone out recording it on voice memos just to give it that extra homey touch. And that’s layered over the final master. But when we were performing that I literally teared up, I was crying because it was all coming to fruition. And these people are all just standing in a circle around me wishing, rooting for me, you know? And that’s a really special feeling. And that’s part of the magic of the farm. Honestly, I would totally recommend anyone go record there.
What do you think you learned from that recording process?
I think this sounds kind of cheesy, but I think the biggest thing I learned was just to really believe in what you’re making. Because I went into it thinking maybe this is too much to handle. Maybe two weeks is not enough time to get everything done. Like I’ve never done this before. And then I just walked in and within the first two hours, we made a song. And also it sounded completely different than what any of us had imagined. But it was my sound. Like, we had found my sound. Which I hadn’t really cultivated yet, at that point.
What is it like for you to write a song?
It’s not very methodical for me. Usually, something will just pop into my head where I’ll sit down and I’ll be noodling at the piano. And I’ll be like, oh, this sounds cool. It’s not like I sit and I think about what I want to say in the song. Or it’s unlikely that I would do that. But it’s really just talking. It’s talking to yourself. Basically. You’re just talking. You’re telling yourself how you feel, and you’re putting it on paper.
You make songwriting seem like a breeze, and you do seem to me like a pretty natural songwriter. Have you always had that experience? Or are there other things you’ve learned along the way that have made you feel like a natural songwriter?
I think the only reason I would think of myself that way is because I’ve been doing it for so long. People don’t realize how much of songwriting is just trial and error. And the fact is, there’s always going to be people that hate your songs, like – so what, you know? I’ve written so many bad songs, and that’s probably what’s made me better as a songwriter, you know, just tweaking them, figuring out what’s wrong with them. Why don’t people like it, you know? And that’s fine, because there’s always going to be a song that you don’t like, so – apply that logic to everyone else.
You’re graduating, I know. Are these your last couple of weeks at Berklee?
Yeah. Well, actually, I do have to do a summer semester to finish up some credits, but Berklee lets you walk before.
Oh, my gosh. How does that feel?
It’s scary. Because I don’t know what I’m doing. I think I’m gonna move to Nashville. But who knows? You know, I don’t really have anything planned, which I should, but – so it goes.
What’s drawing you to Nashville?
Well, first of all, because it’s a lot cheaper than Boston and New York and LA. But second of all, just because I’ve been making a lot of connections there recently. And people seem to like my music there. I think it’s a better scene for my music. Because you know, New York and LA are kind of more pop-y. That’s where the trend is going. So yeah, I think it would be a good fit.
I feel like you’re looking for more of a folky scene.
Kind of. I don’t even know what to call it. Because I think that my music is very nostalgic of different genres. Like even classic rock, on this album. There’s a lot of rock feel. There’s a lot of like weird musical theater vibes, people tell me a lot. I don’t know.
I want to hear more about the themes in your project. What is Little Blue Beetle to you? And what do you explore on the project?
The overarching theme of the album is, I guess, motion, and it’s kind of like a road trip. Each song is a period of my life, I guess, or tells a story about my life and it’s kind of in chronological order. So listening to the album is kind of supposed to be like a story. And a lot of the themes are just about growing up. You know, of course loving people, losing people, being in abusive relationships, that’s a big one.
And this single, specifically, the backstory is really funny. We were in Spain for our first year of college, and we all went drinking during the first week we were there, we went to the club, and then we went to the beach, and I left all my stuff with everyone else’s in the same pile, but mine was the only one that got stolen while we were at the beach, just like partying and having fun. And so the joke was that I had nothing left to lose. And that’s where the song title comes from. But after that, it kind of morphed into being a song about missing your ex. So I guess that’s really what it’s about. But the story behind it is really funny.
I would love to hear about one of your favorite moments from the project.
When we were recording the vocals for “Maybe We Want This,” which is the last song on the first EP, there’s this one part where it’s like the climax of the song. And it’s like, a big belt with a run going down. And I remember just being in the studio and seeing Bernice and Charlie and Micah and Aidan, my guitarist, vibing outside, and I’m just getting ready for this huge moment. And I know it’s just gonna be great. Like, it’s the best moment of the whole song. It’s so soulful. And I hit it. And I notice Bernice is filming me. And I nail it. And she gets it on video. And I don’t know, it was just a great moment, knowing that there’s so many people out there that really support me, and they want everyone else to know about it, you know? It’s a precious thing to have that kind of support in your life.