Q&A With Katie Armiger
At an age when most high school students are thinking about dates, football games and, well, dates, Katie Armiger was thinking about music. When she was 14, Armiger won the top prize at a Houston radio station’s talent contest, receiving a trip to Nashville to record some demo tracks. The tracks led to her signing with Cold River Records and became the core of her first album, a self-titled disc released when she was 15.
Released earlier this year, Armiger’s fourth album – Fall Into Me – is being hailed as the singer/songwriter’s transition into young adulthood. Having co-written every track on the album, Armiger has been praised for displaying an ever-growing maturity through songs about romances good and bad, relationships and, of course, breakups.
Talking with Armiger on the phone really is like chatting with the all-American girl next door. Smart, enthusiastic and friendly, Armiger is so down-to-earth that one has to be reminded that she’s worked with many of Nashville’s A-list songwriters and has opened for some of the biggest names in country music, including Brad Paisley, Dierks Bentley, Eli Young Band, Darius Rucker and Little Big Town.
But what might really set her apart from her Nashville contemporaries is that at the age of 21, Armiger knows exactly who she is, where she is going and how she is going to get there.
You released your first album when you were 15. How did that go over with your high school friends?
My really good friends knew I was going to Nashville and recording, but I didn’t tell a lot of people in my school, only my close friends.
What point in your life do you consider to be the moment everything changed? Was it when you won the local talent competition or signing with Cold River Records?
I would say the first time I went to Nashville would be the really big tipping point. I went there to make demos and meet with some producers and being in that environment was definitely life-changing.
What surprised you the most about that first trip?
The creative process was the most surprising. I started writing with different people. Previously I had just written in notebooks. It was totally different.
What was different about the creative process when you first started writing with other people? Were you in the same room? Did they look at your songs and then make additions and changes?
A bit of all of that. I would go in to a write and sometimes I would have everything that I wanted to say written down. Other times I would just be hearing a melody and I would try to play it to the best of my abilities so they would get what I was hearing in my head. When I was going back and forth from Texas to Nashville a lot of times we would just make musical recordings. I would go home and really connect with the music and write whatever lyrics I thought went along with it.
When you begin writing a song, do you have a subject in mind, such as a person, event or feeling or is it more along the lines of matching words with music and then a subject or theme eventually emerges?
I typically have a subject in mind. It can always change when you’re in a write. Everybody has a direction that they’re thinking of going. You bounce the ideas off of each other and [it] changes. Typically, I will go in there and have a certain direction.
What do you think makes you different from other young ladies chasing the dream in Nashville?
Growing up in Texas and being a songwriter, I was pretty well-rounded. I listened to a ton of country but I also listened to everything else. Country music has always been in my background, but when you listen to my music, it’s such a blend. I feel that a lot of times you listen to other people’s albums, people try to be one or the other. It’s really traditional or it’s pop country – they think that they have to do that. When you listen to my albums, I feel like at least I tried to make a really good blend of traditional and modern. I don’t try to have a certain sound for the entire album.
Now that you’re in the thick of things, so to speak, four albums behind you and a few years in Nashville – do you find divisions among people, such as artists saying they’re strictly traditional or sticking up for one sound or another?
You definitely run across people like that. In my opinion I don’t agree with that. I think country music is country music. There have always been different artists. If every artist sounded the exact same, why would we have so many?
When artists [say], “You’re not country because you don’t sing about this…” [and] I’m like, “Look, I grew up in Texas, I’ve been around country.” Regardless, even if I didn’t grow up in Texas, if I grew up somewhere just listening to country and being influenced by it, you can be a country artist. It doesn’t matter.
You released your first album when you were 15. Being a minor at that time, did you make all the business decisions and sign contracts or was that left up your parents?
Actually, they did not. My parents were very supportive but they also wanted it to be wholeheartedly my decision. I was emancipated for legal reasons when I was younger so I could sign everything. So I could be aware that it was my responsibility.
You were making decisions that would affect your life’s course while at an age that others are barely feeling out what it means to be a teenager. Looking back at your teenage years, were you a very driven person who already knew what you wanted to do?
Definitely. I love singing and I think at that age – 14 or 15 – you don’t know what you’re in for. It is a really tough industry, especially for a young female trying to get people to take you seriously and to think it’s not just a hobby or that you just want to become famous. I love singing, that’s still what I love and that’s what I’m in it for.
Do you still sing just to please yourself? Say, when you’re home alone, do you find yourself singing a song you heard on the radio?
I do and I annoy anybody that’s around me. I won’t even realize I’m humming or singing something and I’ll be singing at the top of my lungs [while] walking around, picking up things in my house and I don’t even know it.
What’s a song you like to sing that is not your own?
Hmmm… What have I been singing this week? It changes every day. I was in the gym today and heard a Selena Gomez song and I’ve been singing that all day.
Since moving to Nashville you’ve met artists that you listened to while growing up. Were you able to keep a professional attitude when meeting them, or were there moments you acted more like a fan?
I’ve only ever been a fan girl around Martina [McBride]. I’ve met tons of other artists and was completely polite and friendly. But her, I was unable to speak. She was the only artist that I ever asked for an autograph. I was 16.
Let’s talk about something a bit more recent. You appeared at ACM Experience in Las Vegas a few weeks ago with Jewel and several other artists. What was that like for you?
It was a blast being in Vegas with all the other artists and industry folks to celebrate the ACM. Any award show is always a blast. So often throughout the year we’re scattered everywhere [because of] touring. It’s a week to see your friends and hang out. Everybody’s all in one place.
Let’s talk about the live show. How big a band do you have traveling with you?
It depends on the show. If it’s acoustic, I will have two guitar players travel. For the road it’s four to five band members.
Are you doing small jaunts – two or three weeks – or are you slotting months at a time?
You try to go out for a few days, come back for a few days, go out … come back … You don’t want to get burned out. You don’t want to be on the road and go, “Oh, my God. I want to go home.” But it’s perfect when it’s three or four days, come home and see your friends and family and then go back out. Traveling on a bus you have a kitchen, a television, a bed.
Do you follow any routines for taking care of your voice on show days?
Warm-ups, making sure I’ve done exercises … You don’t want to go out there cold. I also try not to speak. There are so many times throughout the day when you have to talk. At least an hour before the show I really try to not say anything. And I apologize to people for that.
How about after the performance? Any warm-downs?
I would say it’s typically the same, to kind of limit my speaking. Typically, I’ll do a meet-and-greet where I’ll just be talking. If I have shows back-to-back I don’t want to overuse my voice.
As a young lady in country music, is there a character on ABC’s “Nashville” that strikes pretty close to home, one you can identify with?
I watched a few episodes. I think I don’t actually know her name on the show … Scarlett O’Connor (Clare Bowen). She started out not really knowing anything. She’s super green. And you can tell she’s gaining confidence and really believing in herself. I would say she’s one of the stronger characters on the show because she does show such an evolution of character.
What could you tell a girl just arriving in Nashville to seek her fortune?
It’s always a cliché to say, “Just keep going at it.” But cliches always have a bit of truth because it is definitely tough. I would say the best thing you can hope for is to find a really great circle of people that are very supportive of you and your music. If you come across somebody who says they’re absolutely going to make you a star … always be a little hesitant. The best thing you can hope for in this industry is somebody being honest and saying they completely believe in you and your talent but we’re going to give it the best shot we can and keep going at it.
But those people who always promise they’re going to make you a superstar, always be a little bit wary.
Upcoming shows for Katie Armiger include Jacksonville, N.C., with Craig Morgan at the American Legion/Onslow Fairgrounds May 11; Detroit at Comerica Park for the 99.5 WYCD Downtown Hoedown May 31; Boston at The Boston Waterfront June 2 and the Porterfield Country Festival in Porterfield, Wis., June 13. For more information, please visit Armiger’s website, Facebook page, Twitter feed and YouTube channel.