Cover Story: Front Woman
Kate Voegele might have stolen Hollywood’s heart, but the actress-slash-pop-star is still Midwest every step of the way.
Her new album title says “Gravity Happens,” but you’d never know it by Midwest native Kate Voegele’s rapid rise to Hollywood stardom. Though she packed her bags for LA just two years ago, the popular singer/songwriter/actress/free-spirit—who will pause in STL this month with Natasha Bedingfield’s “Less Is More Tour”—has already experienced success in both music and TV (as a recurring character on the CW’s “One Tree Hill”), leaving no doubt that she is on the fast track. However, not so surprisingly, she’s quick to own that she is still “Ohio” at heart; as they say, Cleveland rocks.
Oddly enough, the story of Voegele’s rise to fame reads much like the far-fetched plot of an oft-guilty pleasure-serving teen drama. An unlikely series of events defined by a number of recurring highs, the 24-year-old songstress’ career has only just premiered—and already young fans are so sucked in, you’d think they were following a TV love triangle. Like, say, that of Chase, Alex and Mia, the latter of whom she’s been playing on “One Tree Hill” for the past four seasons.
An Ohio-bred musician, Voegele was practically thrust into the CW’s notoriously angst-ridden spotlight (that has ignited A-list stars like Michelle Williams and Katie Holmes) following an audition her manager merely mentioned to her, and which she attended, “Ya know, for the heck of it.” She had already recorded her first album, 2007’s “Don’t Look Away” (composed of what she now calls “great grassroots stuff”) under the MySpace Records label—making her at least partially qualified for the planned four-episode part that called for a singer-slash-actress. Still, it seemed a long shot.
“I never had [an acting] coach, and it was the first acting I had ever done,” Voegele admits. “But it actually came really naturally to me. I concluded that a really good way to go about it was to just be the character, rather than be too methodic about it—to bring things from my own life to Mia, rather than try to act like her, if that makes sense.”
It made perfect sense to “One Tree Hill” producer Mark Schwahn, whose hunch about a green talent proved true and resulted in a golden platform for Voegele’s first love, made less temporary as a result of great fan support. She joined the cast in the midst of the series’ fifth season as Mia Catalano (a young artist who signed with central character Peyton Sawyer’s record label)—whose lyrical sound pulled from Voegele’s own songbook, and whose free-spirited nature Voegele likens to her own.
“[Mia’s] friendly, she likes everybody and she’s very casual,” Voegele says. “I love that she’s very non-pretentious; I’m like that as well.” Ironic, considering the show’s popular theme song, in which Gavin DeGraw holds, “I Don‘t Want To Be Anything Other Than Me.”
A more recent song debut was Voegele’s own “Heart in Chains,” which she performed on the season eight finale (made part of the plot that played out the day before our interview). Not so coincidentally, it was on the same day her third album, “Gravity Happens,” dropped.
And it read like a milestone. Seeing her in her element, singing her heart out onstage before excited fans (even if they were placed on marks and cued to scream), few would believe Voegele was once a timid high schooler who preferred to keep her guitar playing—a passion from the time she picked up the instrument at age 15—a secret because “it was cooler to play on the soccer team.” Luckily, her father intervened.
“My dad snuck up to my room, took the demos that I was writing and played them for people around Cleveland,” Voegele recalls. “I was really mad at him until he started getting me gigs. I started getting booked as the opening act around Cleveland, and the radio stations started paying attention and were excited. I don’t know what it would have taken for me to go out there and get that myself. I needed that push, and it really helped me gain confidence to see that positive response so early.”
TAKING DOWN WALLS
Those who have followed her work can claim witness to the fact that her confidence continues to grow with time, especially in her songwriting. “I was never someone who was comfortable showing my feelings; so, when I first started writing, I wasn’t as close to it,” Voegele explains. “I didn’t want people to know I was writing about my own life.”
But, for “Gravity Happens,” the walls came down. “This record is definitely the most honest I’ve ever been with my writing and my performance… it’s one of those things where you can’t help but be inspired by your own life and the people in your life,” she admits. “I think it makes it so much more relatable if you can be as straightforward as possible. And it’s kind of fun being able to put out there exactly what it is that I want to say.”
In one album highlight, “Sandcastles,” the lyrics, “I don’t have a plan at all, but I got this six-string religion” point to the “craziness” associated with growing up and finding comfort in music. “It’s probably my favorite song on the album,” Voegele professes. “The idea came about while I was on the beach watching some kids make sandcastles; it was at a time in my life when I had to make some pretty tough decisions about my career, and I was thinking that what they were doing looked a lot easier. Ultimately, what got me through that time was music.”
And it’s safe to say she wasn’t tuned into a Top 40 station. “I grew up with my dad playing me James Taylor songs before bed every night,” she recalls. “I’ve always loved classic songwriters like Carole King, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, and one of my favorite artists is Patty Griffin— she is just an unbelievable singer and songwriter. Hers was one of the first records I bought when I started playing guitar. It’s just her and her guitar; she can really make the magic happen with just those two ingredients.”
For Voegele, the same recipe—paired with life lessons learned in Cleveland—has spelled success. “I grew up in a community where people helped each other out because it was nice, without expecting anything in return,” she says. “That spirit taught me that being a musician should be about giving people something to make their day better, to inspire them.”
It would only seem appropriate that Voegele is currently serving up “pockets full of sunshine” across the US as the opening act on Natasha Bedingfield’s tour. As much as her life has imitated her art and vice versa, it’s safe to assume it’s only a matter of time before she graduates to headliner.
Mia’s days as a background singer and keyboard player expired long ago, of course, but the real-life musician and artist at heart is up for whatever the future holds. “I just want to be making music and making a living being creative,” Voegele concludes. “I hope to be making a lot of people smile.”
Kate Voegele midwest
Kate Voegele is sill a midwesterner at heart
Kate voegele midwest
Kate voegele midwest
Kate Voegele midwest
Kate Voegele midwest
Photo credit: Photos by Erin Shimazu; Cover photo by Christy Kurtz