It's tough to classify ASCAP singer-songwriter Kat Edmonson. In another age, this Austinite might have been called a "jazz chanteuse" due to her understated vocal delivery and the many Tin Pan Alley songs in her repertoire. The fact that Edmonson's lamplit 2012 album Way Down Low hit #3 on the Billboard Jazz Albums chart only reinforces the jazz connection. But the album is rich in folk and vintage pop textures, too, and once the Lyle Lovett duet "Long Way Home" pops up, all attempts at pigeonholing Edmonson fade away. What's clear from listening to Way Down Low is that Edmonson is drawn to great songs, regardless of style. And this time around, she even wrote a few of her own. I asked Kat to expound on her unique way with a song.
Your voice has this way of investing worlds of emotion without an ounce of melodrama. How'd you develop your singing style?
I learned how to sing by watching and listening to masters like Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire and Danny Kaye sing in old movie musicals. They knew the art of expressing the sentiment of a scene while making it look entirely effortless. I just recently went to a Tony Bennett concert. He may be one of the remaining few who has mastered this. My intention is to get to the truth of what the lyrics of a song are emoting and what the melody is trying to evoke. I think in real life, what is understated is often most profound.
Way Down Low marks your recorded songwriting debut. Did recording the original tunes feel any different than the dozens of cover tunes you've recorded in the past?
Recording my originals did not feel different from recording other people's songs because regardless of what I am recording my objective is to get to the heart of the matter as quickly as possible. Actually, I think I approach performing my own songs as though I am trying to interpret them...almost like they are not my own songs.
The vocal phrasing, songwriting and production on Way Down Low are all so understated, so spare. What's important to you about leaving space in your music?
As my main goal is to reach the truth in my art form, I revel in the space, as the space is very vulnerable. One cannot hide in the space. I like for the emotions to be exposed. I like for the players to be exposed. It's not scary to have that space if the players, the engineering, the arrangements and the songs are all in top form.
Your first album Take to the Sky placed jazz and pop standards alongside more modern covers. Do you find that there were any things that all these classics had in common?
Yes! Good music is good music in any style. That was the point I was trying to make with my first record. A good song is a good song is a good song. Of course, I am attracted to certain styles but my loyalty is not to genre or style but to good writing.
Way Down Low is doing phenomenally well, both critically and sales-wise. What were your own goals for the success of the album while you were making it? And have they been met yet?
My goals for the success of this album were somewhat different from the goal of the last album. When I released Take to the Sky, I was extremely hungry for exposure and hoped that the album would create opportunities to travel. I still felt that way in regards to Way Down Low but, more so, my goal was to write and perform really strong material as I was the one writing it and producing it this go-round. I am really happy with how everything turned out and consider the album a success. I am so grateful that people are embracing Way Down Low.
Whistling, mouth trumpet, beatboxing. Which non-verbal vocal technique is your favorite and why?
Mouth trumpet. I am always trying to mimic a horn when I sing.
Visit Kat Edmonson on the web at www.katedmonson.com