I am so excited to make a return trip to my beloved home. When I toured in 2016 I looked at it as a chance of a lifetime to do this. I had no idea I’d be making the trip again and again.
I am going a little later this year and planning around the wonderful folks in Washington (near Newcastle) for their first ever UkeFest. Then I had to search around for a few more dates to make the most of my time.
I have a really lovely variety of pubs, house concerts, and uke events to balance out the tour.
There is no right way to work the music business anymore and I feel honoured to be making a tour that really connects with people where they are.
I will be mostly staying in people’s homes and exploring with friends and soon to be friends.
As i did in 2016 I am carving out some time to write and hope to return with new songs for whatever the next project will be.
Katy Vernon puts the ‘U.K.’ in ukuleleRandy Vanderwood
In 2017, Vernon’s life was in disarray. She had recently left her job, quit drinking, and been diagnosed with depression. Amid all that emotional upheaval, she left Minnesota for a six-week run of shows in the U.K.—and began writing the best songs of her life.
“I started to get help for my depression, and I resolved to not drink to numb my feelings and self-medicate,” Vernon says now. “I allowed myself to really work through all that stuff that I was suppressing. I thought that I was really self-aware. I had written all these songs about feelings and being present—Present is literally the name of my last album. I’d done a lot of work on myself, but I was kind of missing the big picture, which was that there was something wrong with me that could be fixed, or at least helped.”
Vernon, who was born and raised in South London and moved to Minnesota when she was 21, brought that newfound sense of clarity with her as she ventured back home to the U.K. “I was really, really scared to do it,” she says of the trip. “I knew it would be a lot of time by myself, which as a newly sober person I didn’t really trust myself 100 percent with. Also, it was in the U.K., where you can find alcohol everywhere you turn. But I went with the encouragement of my husband, who said, ‘Go for it. You love music. You love playing. It will be an adventure.’ So, I just jumped on a plane and did it.”
Performing at two large-scale ukulele festivals inspired Vernon to develop a new style of playing and to challenge herself as a songwriter, developing techniques that she would use to write the songs that would eventually form Suit of Hearts, her third and best solo record.
“I was so happy to be there and playing, but I felt so intimidated. These were the best ukulele players in the world,” says Vernon. “I set myself the task of throwing everything I knew about songwriting out the window, and just trying to start over. I tried to write with all new chords, nothing I had done before. And a lot of grief and stress poured out of me. I knew I wanted to write my way out of that. I knew I wanted to write a happy album that would cheer me up, even though I had to dig deep in order to get there. I wanted to make myself feel better and see that light at the end of the tunnel.”
Intimate and unguarded, the songs on Suit of Hearts transform sad memories into happier moments. “Home” offers a glimpse of someone who feels like they don’t belong anywhere, feeling homesick for a place that doesn’t exist anymore, while “In Your Shoes (For Daisy)” offers support and encouragement to her daughters.
For Vernon, who has been an orphan for 30 years, the trip to the U.K. also took on a personal significance. With her cousin as a guide, she took a sightseeing tour of Wales, visiting the places where her mom grew up and locations that were important to her.
“I went back to the hospice where my mom died. That was the last place I saw her. I was 12 years old,” Vernon says. “But I was asked to put on a concert there. It was my first time walking back in that building. And there were all kinds of sad memories. But I was there to put on a concert for young people going through terminal illnesses, so I had to check my own issues at the door and not bring them in with me. So I sang, and it was a really lovely event. And that really changed my memory of the place. Those kinds of experiences are so good, to push yourself through and create a happier memory out of somewhere.”
Vernon threads layers of her mom’s speaking voice, from a long-lost interview with her on the BBC program Panorama, into the song “Somebody’s Daughter’s Daughter,” a way for the singer to have her mother personally involved in an album that drew so much inspiration from her.
“I sat on the same beach that my cousin was telling me was my mom’s favorite beach,” Vernon says. “And it was such a powerful moment, of realizing both the end and the beginning of my mom’s life, and all this stuff that I didn’t know about her. How joyful that all was for me. ‘Somebody’s Daughter’s Daughter’ was inspired by that day at the seaside. Because I thought, as lost and lonely as I feel, I did come from a family. There is a heritage there, I just didn’t grow up with it and I didn’t know it. And I felt really British, and connected to the land. And I realized that I’m not this broken, rubbish person. I came from something nice, I’m lucky enough to have a happy, healthy family myself. There’s a lot to celebrate.”
And Suit of Hearts is indeed celebratory, even hopeful despite the songs’ fractured origins, with lyrics focused on reassembling a life from its broken fragments. As Vernon sings on the title track: “You wear your suit of hearts/You tear yourself apart/But you’re not broken/Just a little rearranged/And none of us get out of here/Without a little change.” Vernon acknowledges the flaws and failures of her past, while rejoicing in the fact that she has changed her life—and her music—in a positive way.
“The little throwaway line I have in my Twitter bio says, ‘Singer of sad songs on a happy instrument,’” Vernon says. “It took me a while to even realize what that meant to me. And I think I was always a little embarrassed or insecure about how heart-on-my-sleeve I was about grief or any of those things that were difficult to sing about. But the more that I think about it, I’m the happy instrument. I’ve always loved singing and dancing and being a goofball, so that balances out this sad, kind of intense stuff I want to write about.”
Though a full band backed her in the studio, and the Laurel String Quartet and the Prairie Fire Lady Choir also appear on the album, Vernon proudly asserts that Suit of Hearts is first and foremost a ukulele record.
“In the past, I thought that I would be taken more seriously if I played at least half my songs on guitar,” Vernon says with a laugh. “But I realized that’s really silly. It’s still me. And I want people to realize that you can still front a band with a ukulele and it doesn’t have to be this twee, cutesy thing. It can really rock.”
Katy Vernon With: Dan Israel & Band, Tori Evans, the Laurels String Quartet, and the Prairie Fire Lady Choir Where: Parkway Theater When: 8 p.m. Sat. March 23 Tickets: $10/$15; more info here
The CD release party is THIS SATURDAY March 23rd at the Parkway Theater in South Minnepolis. The doors open at 7 for anyone who wants to snag a seat and also help me film a new music video for the title track.Then the music starts at 8pm with Tori Evans. Dan Israel full band, then The Prairie Fire Lady Choir at 9pm, then my band. We will play a few songs for fun and then for the first and only time, play the enbtire record through as recorded with all of the special guests.These include the incredibe Jenny Russ, The Laurel Strings quartet, and the Prairie Fire Lady Choir. This record was a big, bold, ballsy undertaking and would not have been halfway as ambitous without help and support from everyone.
I hope some of you can make it . Katy #SuitOfHearts
It’s been a year and a half since I launched my kickstarter and now thanks to supporters I have finished the record. The record is off to be mastered.
I wrote some of these songs in my darkest months. Literally working out lyrics and melodies while crying in the shower. I spent months pouring myself into trying to find positives and motivation to keep going.
Listening to it now and hearing that hope and drive to overcome things is incredibly moving and I hope that comes across to listeners.
Now more than ever I believe we need to lift each other up in kindness and that starts with yourself.
Thanks to Clay Williams, Simon Husbands, Chris McAtee, Reed Pagel, Paul Odegaard, Laurel Strings, Prairie Fire Lady Choir, Jenny Russ, and of course incredible producer Kevin Bowe.
The end is in sight. It’s been a full year since I launched and completed my Kickstarter project to make a new album ‘Suit Of Hearts’. I had some very frustrating delays but that is all in the rear view now and the music is sounding amazing.
Most band members have wrapped up their parts. This includes all the key players of my band in addition to the wonderful trumpet player Paul Odegaard, who is now also playing most live shows with us.
Next up is the well regarded string section the ‘Laurel String Quartet’ they have played with many musicians I admire, including Jeremy Messersmith.
They go into the studio next Sunday to play on three songs.
For the first time I actually sat down to co-write the string arraignments it was an interesting and rewarding project. I have always heard additional parts in my head but never had the support and guidance to get them down on paper (computer!).
It has been great to have that support from my co-producer Kevin Bowe.
So it should all be wrapped up and pressed by the end of the year.
I plan to release a few songs ealry in the year and then I am looking ahead to a Spring release. I want to have a celebration that hopefully avoids the deepest dark days of winter!
Yours gratefully, Katy ️
Ps: if you are local please consider coming to UkeFest this Sunday Oct 7, at the Hook and Ladder. Starts at 6pm.
We are almost coming up to a year since I launched my Kickstarter! Some people use Kickstarter when they have all the recording done and just need that last push to pay for manufacturing, packaging, and marketing. I didn’t wait for that! I knew that without help I wouldn’t be able to even step foot in a studio and therefore would sit on these songs and not make the record I could hear so clearly in my mind. I am beyond grateful to have been able to do this.
Someone asked me this weekend how things were coming together and I was so excited to be able to say we are 2/3 of the way there. I also told them that I can hear myself getting happier on this record! The songs literally show how far I’ve come and reflect the journey of the last couple of years from despair to joy! Wowser! The band went in and recorded this month and all that remains now are all the added parts. Strings (I hope to use the famed Laurel Strings Quartet) trumpet (Paul Odegaard), a choir, and each individual band member will polish up and add parts too.
Also here is the album launch T-Shirt design (By Jon Hunt) I will make these later this year : )
Several cool shows coming up.. First this!!
HAZELFEST!!! Come along to Hazelfest this coming Saturday, August 4th. I am super excited to be on the main stage!! Whoot Whoot!! I did an interview with David Campbell (Formerly with The Current, now at Hazeldon). We talked about why I was always interested in the event and how it feels to finally be a part of it!! I’m so looking forward to it. I will also be there at the Dissonance table so come say hi. Bring the family. Here is the link. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cIa6Mr3IFVQ&t=201s
Also, please come along to the only full length full band show we have left for this summer. Vieux Carre, Saturday August 11th. 9pm.
I wanted to check in and let you know that by the end of this month we should have all basic tracks done. This is waaaaaaaaayyyyyyy behind the schedule I set for myself (and you all), but as much as I like to control things, I just can’t. Being in a band is fun, but juggling 6 different family schedules is like juggling cats!
So here we are, and I know the record won’t be finished by the end of August as I’d hoped. That makes me sad, but please know that it WILL happen. It’s sounding great.
So, the good news is that the arrangments of the songs are truly unlike anything I have ever recorded before. It’s a crazy ambitous record and the band have worked up super tasty parts.
There are still many recording sessions to be done, but things will start to move quicker once these basic tracks are complete.
Thank you for believing in me and thank you for your patience.
If you are in town this weekend and want to see the band play, we will be at the Harriet Bandshell this Sunday (Fathers Day) at 5:30pm. Free show, and a real treat to be on that stage.
I get so caught up in keeping up that sometimes I forget to take a moment to reflect. The past two weeks have been an incredible ride.
Ukefest was bigger and better than ever at its new home. The stunning ‘Hook and Ladder’ theater. We raised $1,200 for both Arc GTC and The Minnesota Music Coalition and had a really sucesful Open Mic! Lots of great stuff to build upon next year. Thank you to WCCo morning news crew for always supporting this show and huge unrepayable thanks to all of the perfomers.
Then the week after that I was able to achieve a couple of music dreams, one of which I have had as long as I’ve lived in MN!
Last Saturday night I was invited to play a house concert and I initially turned it down as it was the night of my Brits ABBA show. But then the host told me it would be with Dan Wilson! Grammy winning writer of hits with Adele, Dixie Chicks, and more. I couldn’t turn it down and rearranged my schedule. Big shout out to the ABBA crew for being patient with me and huge thanks to Tomy and Shaun for making it happen. It was a magical night. Sadly I had to run out of there like ‘Disco Cinderella’ to make it to Brits, but Dan was so kind and said he loved hearing me sing!! Swoon!
The Abba show was amazing. I just adore playing these songs and I guess practice pays off because I am now able to sing and dance like a loon without totally collapsing : )
Then on Sunday I opened a show for my longtime musical influence and all round impressive songwrter, Adam Levy! I have listened to his records on repeat for as long as I’ve lived in MN. The entire weekend was a lesson in how to control my nerves and step up to the moment.
This business is always about the next gig, the next record, the next big thing… but I never ever want to forget to take a moment to look at what I have been able to do and savour and appreciate that moment.
196 people have already pledged support so that I can make my next record.
That is mind boggling and my favourite part is that the majority of them are $10 or $25 pledges (more is amazing too of course) which means people are pre-purchasing the music by allowing me to make it, and THAT is the new music industry!
No record labels are kicking down the doors of middle aged mothers in the burbs. Singing should not be a reality show, contact sport.
Songs come from real life experience, and the fact that there is an audience for that makes me feel like everything I’m doing has some small meaning in this crazy world.
The last two shows I have played I told people about this project. I let people take CDs home and pledge on their own time and hopefully feel inspired by the music they heard to help me make an album that will expand upon the songs and make something truly special.
The campaign took a huge leap after each show and i want to thank you all so much for that!!
I have been asked to play a show the night of Sept 23rd and that will wrap up this time in my life so nicely. Instead of it being anything to do with my big ask, it will actually be a fundraiser for Hurricane relief.
I can’t think of a better way to close this campaign than by focusing outwards on others.
Thank you all for the kind words, the social shares, and every single pledge. All the best, katy