Steamboat high grad Kathleen signs record deal with Warner Records
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Growing up in Steamboat Springs, Kathleen Brady Ross was always singing.
She recalls being a 7-year-old on a summer camp trip to the pool, singing a song she’d made up to her counselor — the song cut short by another camper’s struggle to stay above water, and the counselor rushing to help.
She remembers teachers’ reminders of “We’re taking a test now, so let’s pause the singing,” and her own surprised response: “Oh, I didn’t even notice I was singing.”
Ross — who went by Katie as a child — participated in theater and choirs through middle school. She skied with Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, swam and played volleyball, tennis and lacrosse, but around the time she got to Steamboat Springs High School, she realized, “I don’t really want to do (the sports) anymore — I just want to write songs.”
And she did. As her friends became Olympians and professional athletes, Ross applied the same work ethic toward her music. Inspired by Carole King, James Taylor, Elton John, Van Morrison, The Eagles and Jackson Browne, she sang in choirs, acted in school plays and attended Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp several times. She taught herself piano and guitar, with a few formal lessons sprinkled along the way.
“Being surrounded by hard-working kids achieving big things — that sort of skill set easily translates into anything,” Ross said.
At Ross’ graduation ceremony in 2012, she sang her original song “Sailing Ships” to a standing ovation. Her next stop was University of Colorado Boulder. She considered applying to music conservatory, but she didn’t because she wasn’t classically trained.
“It’s a huge hurdle to go into a conservatory being self-taught,” Ross daid. “I would have had to know theory and specialize in an instrument.”
Instead, considering her affection for movies, she took some film classes, her favorites being the ones culminating in papers. Once the cameras and lenses came out, Ross realized her aversion to the technical side of film and quickly found the poetry track of the creative writing major.
“It fostered a love of words and how to work with words and how every word matters,” she said. “It taught me how to workshop.”
In 2016, as a college senior, Ross — performing under the name Kate Brady — was selected from a pool of 14,000 entries to be one of five finalists to perform at L.A.’s The Troubadour as part of the Guitar Center Singer-Songwriter artist discovery program. With a performance of “August,” and “Sailing Ships,” she won the grand prize: a four-song EP and studio time with Grammy Award-winning producer Ariel Rechtshaid, a mentoring songwriting session with City and Colour, a performance slot on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, a cash prize and more.
After graduating from CU, Ross headed west to Los Angeles, where she became friends with a crew of singers and songwriters, and for two years, spent days on end in group writing sessions meant to grow songs to pitch to pop stars.
“It felt like the grad school of songwriting,” she said. While she found the writing sessions an interesting way to learn, the process was also defeating, with “almost 100 percent of the songs going nowhere,” she said. At the same time, she was babysitting, teaching music lessons, doing vocal work for commercials on a freelance basis and selling suitcases.
“I learned so much, but it was kind of breaking me,” Ross said. She reconsidered her reasons for moving to L.A. and realized she didn’t want to be writing for pop singers — she wanted to be writing songs to sing herself. And with that clarity, Ross was moving forward.
“I suddenly felt really confident again,” Ross said. “It was like, ‘I’m an artist, and this is what I’m doing,’ and that attracts really good people.”
Over the past six months, Ross — now known as Kathleen — built up her team. She found a booking agent, who led her to her lawyers, who led her to a selection of managers, where she found her perfect managerial match: Ethan Schiff, CEO of Backbeat Management.
“They’re so great, they’re the best,” Ross said. “(Ethan) totally gets it when I need to just go to Joshua Tree for a few days and figure out a song.”
From there, Ross and the team met with representatives of Warner Records (formerly Warner Bros. Records), which has been undergoing a radical company-wide revamp in the past year, with new leadership, new offices and an overhaul of the artist roster. After a whirlwind of conversations, meetings and negotiations — which proceeded extra quickly due to Ross’ sizable stockpile of songs already written — the deal was done.
On Tuesday, Ross announced she’d signed with the label, becoming one of more than 30 new artists with the company.
“Everyone’s really energized,” she said. “Basically, I guarantee (Warner Records) a couple albums, and they help me build out the art and the marketing and help get the songs heard. I’m happy.
“I’m very in charge of my art, which a lot of artists surprisingly aren’t,” she added. “Everyone on my team trusts my vision a lot, and they trust me as a person.”
The deal also means Ross will be able to focus exclusively on her music.
“If I’m working seven jobs and trying to write songs, it’s hard to put my brain all toward music, and (the songs) don’t turn out how I want,” she said.
Ross’ album reflects her life in that it’s centered on the environment. Growing up in Steamboat, raised by a park ranger/ski instructor mom and a dad who valued the outdoors, alongside a sister who’d end up studying ecology, “everything is nature-based, and climate-focused to its core,” Ross said.
“It’s a difficult balance in art — you don’t want to be preachy or ostracize,” she noted. “I want to be delicate about presenting that, and let everyone feel included.”
Ross describes the collection of songs expected to be on the album as an eclectic mix. Some songs are high-energy poppy with synthesizers; some are quieter, accompanied only by guitar; some are love songs; some are commentary; and some are experimental. A personal favorite of Ross’ is “Asking the Aspens.”
Over the next year and a half or so, songs will be released as EPs and singles — “little peppers of songs coming out,” in Ross’ words — to gauge audience response, which will determine details about upcoming concert dates and tours.
“I’m excited to play these songs live, and see what people resonate with best,” she said. “It’s so informative.”
The team has also taken the first steps of putting music videos together, which will follow Ross’ vision of lots of surrealist visuals and “dreamy, crazy colors.”
Ross and her team celebrated the partnership with a champagne toast, and of course, the ceremonial signing of the Warner Records wall, which all artists with the label sign. Alongside Warner Records CEO and Co-Chairman Aaron Bay-Schuck, COO and Co-Chairman Tom Corson, Executive Vice-President of Artist and Repertoire Nate Albert and her manager Ethan Schiff, Ross added her name right next to Regina Spektor’s, whose music she’d been listening to on the way over.
“It’s important, I think, to say, had I gotten signed 10 years ago, or five, it wouldn’t have been right. I wouldn’t have been as clear-minded about my direction, and I would have been squished by it,” Ross reflected. “But now, I’m ready to work with a label. I’m stoked. It feels good, it feels right.”
And even in the midst of all the excitement of Ross’ debut album, she’s already writing songs for the next one.
Julia Ben-Asher is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.
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