A couple of months ago the son and I were walking the pier in Manhattan Beach when we heard an absolutely angelic sound.
It was coming from about, oh, 20 steps up the plank, along the left railing. Now, I’ve walked myriad piers in my three years as a Californian, and oftentimes those steps have been accompanied by singers of different levels. Some sound like Eddie Vedder, some sound like Sister Sledge, some sound like a frog eating cabbage. This, though, was different. The voice belonged to a young woman in a green winter jacket and jeans, and despite the wind and the chatter and the crashing of waves, it absolutely just soared.
Anyhow, we threw a couple of bucks into her guitar case, and between songs raved to her about her talent. She introduced herself as Katherine Terrien, then handed me a card. Emmett, who’s 10, knows exactly how my thinking goes on these things …
“Quaz?” he said.
“Quaz,” I said.
And here we are.
I don’t know for certain whether Katherine Terrien is destined for stardom. Hell, so many things have to break this way and that way. What I do know, however, is she’s a special type of talent, and if musical ability+eagerness+glow=success, she’ll go a long way.
In the meantime, one can follow Katherine on Instagram here, Twitter here and YouTube here. I love introducing new talents, and today’s Quaz Q&A may well feature the most talented fresh face to grace this space.
Katherine Terrien, don’t forget us when you’re headlining Staples Center. You’re the 311th Quaz …
JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, Katherine, so a few months ago I’m walking with my son up the pier at Manhattan Beach and I hear this lovely singing voice—and it’s you. And, truly, you have a beautiful, haunting voice. But I wonder, what is it to be singing on a street, or a pier, or any public place where the majority of people walk by, talking, sorta ignoring you? Is it fun? Is it depressing at times? What are you thinking about? What are you seeing?
KATHERINE TERRIEN: It’s so fun! For me it’s never depressing. On the contrary, if I’m having a really bad day, that usually pulls me out of it pretty quickly. There are definitely people who just walk right by and don’t listen, but that’s just to be expected. It’s actually more enjoyable for me to busk (a term used for street performing) than it is to play in a loud bar somewhere. You end up playing for all sorts of different people of all ages and backgrounds.
I’ve had so many people come up to me telling me I’ve made their night or made them cry (hopefully in a good way) and you know, that’s incredible to me. To be able to do something I enjoy and have other people enjoy it just as much is an amazing thing. The kids are my favorite, though. Children will walk by and start interpretive dancing to my songs or start dancing all crazy. They have the best time and they don’t care who sees. It’s the funniest, most special part about what I get to witness. It’s one of the biggest reasons why I do what I do.
J.P.: Along those lines—because I’ve never asked anyone this—are there ways to make more money as a street musician? What I mean is, do certain songs lend themselves to coin? Is there a way to position your open guitar case? If people give a ton, do you take most out so it doesn’t seem like people have given a ton? Or do a bunch of bills lying there inspire more people to give?
K.T.: I’m almost certain there are, but I don’t really concern myself with that too much. The most important thing to me is making connections with people so they remember me and want to follow the progression of my music. I try and make my music as accessible as possible, so I try and advertise my social media sites and ways to download everything I’ve recorded so far for free. That’s my main motive behind busking. The money is definitely helpful and I appreciate everything people have given me, but I really couldn’t give any tips to people wanting to know how to make more. Be nice and play good music, I guess. Haha. That being said, I do play love songs closer to sunset, but that’s mainly because I think it makes the atmosphere prettier. I love the idea of my music being the back drop to someone’s romantic moment. It makes me feel happy and a part of something bigger.
J.P.: I know you’re from Seattle, I know you moved to LA last year—but who are you? How did this happen? When did you know singing was your thing? Who guided you into the career? Did you have your lightbulb, this-is-what-I-need-to-do moment?
K.T.: So, I have really supportive parents. When I was 19 (I’m 24 now) I wanted to make sure I had a back up plan in case music didn’t “work out,” so I went to college for a year. During that yea, I was working two jobs (about 50 hours a week) and I was going to school full time. I had zero time for music and although I loved what I was doing, I loved music more. I mean, I knew I wanted to sing since I could talk. My parents from the very beginning told me I should just focus on music and forget about college for now. Not the stereotypical thing parents usually say. I was rebellious though and I went to college anyway. It wasn’t for me. At least not for what I wanted to do at that moment.
The lightbulb moment was kind of like a dimmer switch. The light got brighter slowly until the tail end of 2015 when it went full blast. I just remember having everything be so clear. All the hesitancy was gone and I knew I was ready to give everything I had to music. I jumped on Craigslist and took the second place I found on there and immediately moved a few weeks later. Not the best decision, because the person renting the closet-sized room I was living in ended up being insane and was a huge headache, but I met one of my best friends there and it ended up working out. Maybe be a little more careful about who you live with would be my only advice.
J.P.: You posted a YouTube introductory video last year about moving to LA to make your dreams come true. But what does that mean in 2017? What I mean is—albums don’t really sell; music has gone painfully electronic; there are precious few original bands; flat pop reigns. So what do you want? What do you see as your dream?
K.T.: I want to be best friends with Taylor Swift. Haha
I guess I want to be well known. I want to have a huge platform for my music and my voice to be heard. I have a lot of other interests besides music that I would love to have a good way of getting the word out about. So “making it” to me looks like being able to have the time and resources to make a difference in the world the way that I want to. I want to constantly be learning and changing and striving to be better for myself and the world around me, so I intend to utilize the tools we’ve been given in this day and age. Yes, albums don’t sell as much, but I’d rather give the music I have now away for free and gain a following that’s gonna last throughout my career. The world changes. You can either wish things were the way they used to be and just stand still or you can grow alongside it and see the good parts and change with it. Despite being human and getting frustrated with certain things about technology or the way we interact, I will always try and do the latter.
J.P.: So on your Facebook page you noted that you worked as a server at The Keg Steakhouse and Bar and Red Robin. I love, love, love restaurant gig stories. So, gotta ask—grossest, weirdest things you saw at the restaurants? Or worst customer stories. Katherine, gimme something.
K.T.: I hate to disappoint, but I don’t really have any juicy stories. A lot of people were super rude and they acted entitled, but nothing that really stood out. Which I guess is the weirdest thing in itself. That should stand out, but working in food service that’s almost normal. You become pretty jaded to it.
I work one day at a cafe now and that’s pretty much all I can handle anymore. I’ve had a handful of people yell at me for their food being cold after they’ve gone to the bathroom for too long or sat there not eating it cause they’re playing on their phones. You know, that sort of ridiculousness, but nothing really stands out. One thing I will say though, and this is to all those parents out there, I get that being a parent is super tiring and all you want is a moment to yourself, but please, when your kid wants attention and is looking to you for it, please please please don’t just throw an iPad or your phone in front of them. That was probably the most heartbreaking thing I saw every day I worked at Red Robin and I still see it a lot everywhere I go.
J.P.: You have a REALLY unique sound and style. Where’s that from? What music were you exposed to as a kid? Who are your musical role models?
K.T.: Honestly, I didn’t listen to a lot of music growing up. When I was a kid my parents had a tendency of buying soundtracks to movies they liked, so I ended up listening to a lot of random songs by artists either super obscure or incredibly overplayed or I listened to movie scores. Which I still listen to today. There’s something magical about music like that. When I did start listening to “regular” music in my mid-teens, I listened to a lot of country music, but the most influential artists for me are Passenger (he has amazing lyrics) and Taylor Swift. Her evolution in her music career is something so inspirational to me.
J.P.: I love hearing song origin stories. So “Brother Brother”—how did you come up with it? Why? How long did it take to write? And what’s your general songwriting process?
K.T.: That song I wrote pretty quickly. I think it probably took me less than an hour to write the lyrics and then over time I probably changed some things, but it was a pretty quick process. That song was just about life to me. My life specifically (obviously), because it had elements of a lot of things that made me who I am. My parents, my brother, my sister who passed away before I was born, my best friend back home, relationships, heartache, love, etc. It came out as my story and then also what I kind of live by, which is just a constant want and need to progress and to become better than I was yesterday.
J.P.: One thing I know a lot of up-and-coming singers struggle with is the desire to play originals vs. an audience’s desire to hear covers. Like, if I’m listening to Katherine Terrien’s eight-song set, and I don’t know her music, I probably need an Ella Fitzgerald or Whitney Houston or Taylor Swift tune tossed in there. Do you face this? Is it annoying?
K.T.: I probably should struggle with this, but I don’t because I end up playing all originals most of the time. I should probably start playing more covers though. I think it’d probably be smart. Haha.
J.P.: How do you survive, financially? Is it all music all the time? Do you have a side gig? I’ll be your nervous Jewish mother—“Katherine, are you eating OK?”
K.T.: I make most of my money with music. As I mentioned earlier, I work one day a week at a cafe, but I’m leaving that job soon, so I guess music will be my only income. At least for the summer. I’m by no means well off, but I’m not starving either… although I do have terrible eating habits, but that is not necessarily to do with lack of funds, more just a lack of time. I just forget to eat sometimes. Sorry, Mom.
J.P.: Greatest moment of your musical career? Lowest?
K.T.: Oooh, that’s a tough one. I think the lowest were just the times in the past when I’ve doubted myself or when I was making excuses for myself not pursuing my dreams. On the flip side, the highlight was probably when I decided to stop making excuses for myself, got in my car and drove to a state where I didn’t know anyone with $200 left in my bank account and I just decided to make it work. I realized right then and there that there will never be perfect moments to go after the things you want. You just gotta do it and see where it takes you.
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH KATHERINE TERRIEN:
• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: By the time I took my first plane ride I was 22 and wasn’t really afraid anymore, so I guess not. My first plane ride was in a little Cessna with my friend Carly who’s a pilot and all I remember from that experience was me thinking (and probably saying out loud), “Damn, I really want to do this too.” Someday, maybe. I’d love to learn how to fly.
• Rank in order (favorite to least): Bruno Mars, “La La Land,” the Manhattan Beach Pier, red delicious apples, the number 33, Ken Griffey, Jr., the smell of cotton candy, breakdancing, Stephen A. Smith, poker, Holiday Inn: 1. Manhattan Beach Pier (I’ve met so many amazing people there); 2. La La Land; 3. 33 (3 is my favorite number, so since there’s two of them that’s even better); 4. Poker, if we’re talking Texas Holdem poker. I just learned how to play!; 5. Breakdancing is so cool! I wanna learn; 6. Bruno Mars is incredible! Love him!; 7. Holiday Inn reminds me of all the Holiday Inn Expresses my family and I used to stay in. Good times; 8. Apples, but not red delicious. I’m a honey crisp kinda girl; 9 and 10. Hmm, so I’ve heard of Ken Griffey Jr. but I don’t really know anything about him. I think he plays basebal l… and I have no idea who Stephen A. Smith is. I’m assuming they both have something to do with sports, which I’ve never been interested in, so I guess they’re both pretty on par with each other for me. I’m sure they’re lovely people though and they’d probably make it higher on the list if I knew who they were. Haha; 11. The smell of cotton candy is too sweet for me. I don’t really like it.
• How did you meet your boyfriend?: I met him on the Manhattan Beach Pier. I was playing music one afternoon there and he had been taking a nap on the sand below. He came up because he heard an angel singing (or so I like to tell myself) and we started talking. It was a Friday night and neither one of us had anything planned, so we ended up hanging out the entire rest of the day until about 3 in the morning. We walked along the beach, I met his parents on accident cause I needed to use their bathroom, we went to dinner, we lit sparklers on the beach and ate ice cream sandwiches, we lied down in the sand and looked at the lack of stars in the sky, and then we walked to our cars and played music on the curbside for another hour or so. We ended the night with a goodnight kiss. It was a movie type scene for sure. That was two weeks after I moved to California and I had promised myself to not get involved with anyone cause I wanted to focus on music. We started dating almost immediately and that was almost 1 1/2 years ago. Oops. Haha.
• What does the Red Robin kitchen smell like?: Old grease and dying happiness.
• Three memories from your senior prom?: I was home schooled, but I did go to an old friend’s prom. Hmm … three things? 1. I got a terrible invitation two days before his prom. He sent me a text and it said something like, “Heeeeey, I know this is suuuuper late and kinda lame, but do u want to got to prom this saterday?” Yeah, spelling errors included. Good thing we were just friends, cause that would not have flown if I liked him; 2. I had a strapless dress that didn’t fit right (there weren’t a lot of choices two days before prom); 3. And we went to the EMP (Experience Music Project) in Seattle. It was moderately fun.
• I’m pretty sure Zach Wheeler isn’t gonna work out for the Mets’ rotation. Your thoughts?: Sure, why not? Lol
• What’s the best line you’ve ever written?: All of them … at the time that they were written.
• Would you rather spend 50 minutes singing completely naked in front of 100,000 people at the Oklahoma State Fair or spend the next six months having to devote five hours per day to turning Donald Trump’s speeches into songs for his presidential reelection efforts?: I guess the latter, so I could have control over the songs and then have a helping hand in botching his reelection.
• What’s the strangest/most memorably odd venue you’ve played?: Probably a music venue out in the middle of nowhere in North Carolina. There were probably only 15 to 20 people in the little venue with nothing but farms around it and they were all over the age of 60, but they were the most attentive and interactive audience I’ve probably ever had and it’s still my favorite show to this day. They were so sweet. I’m looking forward to playing for them again someday.