Ukulele Songbird – Singer of sad songs on a happy instrument
Katy Vernon is a Minneapolis / St. Paul based singer songwriter. She grew up in London, England and has been writing and singing as long as she can remember. It’s served as an outlet to write about serious personal issues, these include the loss of both her mother and father when she was a child, and also a way to tap into the natural joy that singing brings out in her.
Looking for a new way to find her voice led a singer of sad songs to a happy instrument. Katy always poured herself into her lyrics but sometimes found it difficult to share some of her most personal subject matter with an audience. Despite her inclination towards the melancholy, Katy has always been a natural entertainer. Seeking that balance of musicality and expression led her to the ukulele. Not as simply a novelty toy or even as the increasingly popular jam band instrument, this little Hawaiian guitar opened up Katy’s songwriting and allowed her to take herself a little less seriously and in turn got her taking her music career a lot more seriously.
“After my mom passed away, it became a more serious outlet for me. Instead of journaling, I would write songs,” Vernon said. “You either want to scream or you just want to sing.”
She pours not only her grief, but also her dreams and desires into her songs and used that as a way to communicate and connect. “There’s nothing much that beats that feeling of singing a personal song and seeing how it can translate to another person”. This has taken many forms as Katy has grown as a writer, from people dealing with loss, to people with other challenges and struggles. Rather than shy away from that feeling of exposing her inner most feelings, she has worked in the past few years to explore that further. “I always felt a slight sense of over indulgence, or embarrassment to be that open, that miserable! In front of people, I think it’s a very English thing to try to and pretend everything is fine, but that’s just a part of who I am, and the kind of connection I want to have with the world. I wear my heart on my sleeve, take it or leave it!”
She eventually moved to the US after meeting her future American husband on a train from Amsterdam to Berlin. This was a chance to start over. A chance to choose family and happiness and re-invent her life. The very definition of an American dream!
She spent the first few years getting to know Minneapolis and playing with several bands. Most notably as lead singer of ‘The Camdens’ with another English transplant, Scott Walker. During this time Katy wrote many of the bands songs. One of those was nominated for ‘Song of the year’ at the Minnesota Music Awards.
In 2010 Katy picked up a ukulele and this led to a whole new direction for her writing and performing. This was a turning point after a lengthy break from performing while she started a family. It was also the beginning of her embrace of taking the central role in a band as more than a vocalist. Learning how to play a new instrument and performing solo re-charged her in every way.
“As soon as I started to play around on it I started writing. The song “Five O’Clock” was the first one I wrote. After years of staring sadly in frustration at my guitar I realised I just needed to play a different instrument! Now I like to switch back and forth between guitar and uke and it helps give the songs a different feel from each other.”
In 2012 Katy put together a band and released her debut solo cd ‘Before I Forget’. This was both a tribute to her parents, but also an embrace of the new found joy of playing woth a band.
in 2015 Katy released ‘Present’. This expanded on the band sound and included a more pop and rock direction on some songs. This came as a result of gigging a LOT and exploring a fuller and more collaborative sound.
In 2016 Katy made her biggest musical journey by taking the plunge into a 6 week UK tour. This was bookended with two large Ukulele festivals and a couple of dozen other shows in between. Including pubs, clubs, house shows, and even a houseboat session!!
Katy also carved out 9 days in Brighton to take a mental and creative break and wrote a new record. Buoyed by this inspiration and encouragement Katy launched a successful Kickstarter campaign at the Minnesota State Fair and went on to record 2019’s ‘Suit Of Hearts’.
Suit of Hearts: I wear my heart on my sleeve. These past two years I have made myself vulnerable and opened myself up in ways both internal and publicly that make me feel like I am wearing an entire suit of hearts…..