Aside from the brief period of time when she wanted to be a professional basketball player, Kaitlyn Williams has always wanted to be a working musician. The singer-songwriter, who has lived in Denver her whole life, discovered her love of music when she started taking piano lessons in the first grade. She began writing her own songs soon after, in protest of her piano teacher’s strictly classical instruction. From there she tried to learn any instrument she could get her hands on, including violin, clarinet and guitar, which she taught herself in high school.
But, she explains, “the band program just wasn’t as good as the choir program, and I loved to sing. I was always into singing and always writing my own songs, and that was kind of the push in the right direction to focus on choir. My choir teacher told me to take voice lessons, and then I got into an opera program for college, and that’s how it all started.”
For two years of college at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, Williams studied opera before switching her major to jazz studies. It was during this time that she learned music notation, which allowed her to share the music in her head with others and start her first band.
A variety of musical experiences and inspirations contribute to Williams’s eclectic sound, which she best describes as a “mutt.”
“I love Stevie Wonder, I love India.Arie, and Sara Bareilles was a huge inspiration, especially being a keys player,” Williams says. “She was a huge influence for me just in terms of listening to a female who played the keys and was writing her own songs. Anything with keyboard and good vocals, a focus on soul and R&B... Even though I’m writing a lot of pop music now, a lot of my harmonies still stem from jazz and soul.
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“I kind of feel like a dog at a shelter,” she adds. “You ask, ‘What type of dog is this?,’ and they say, ‘Mutt.’ And you’re like, ‘No, really, what type of dog is it?,’ and they say, ‘Well maybe there’s some Lab, some terrier...’ So, yes, there’s some jazz and some pop, and there’s some R&B, and there’s definitely the singer-songwriter.”
Williams — who will play the Orpheus Music Festival in Glenwood Springs on August 10 and Mile High Spirits in Denver on August 15 — may not be hung up on defining the exact genre of her music, but she does want to make one thing clear: You can call her a pop singer, and she’ll wear the badge with pride.
“It’s kind of sad when people say bad things about pop music, because there’s a lot of genius that goes into trying to make something so simple but poignant and actually have it come across,” she explains. “I do feel like that’s important for me to say now in my career, because as time goes on, I don’t want people thinking that I’m becoming more and more ‘pop’ or something negative like that, when my roots are still in so many different genres of amazing music that have nothing to do with the boring, can’t-listen-to-it pop. I like pop music, and I have no shame in saying it. Being from jazz school, and being around so many jazz heads saying, ‘Oh, that’s like child’s play’ — I’d like to see [them] do that child’s play.”
Williams’s debut album, Sunset, proves that pop music is anything but child’s play. It took four years for her to perfect the eight-song LP, which she released this past January. In addition to providing the vocals, Williams played all of the acoustic guitar, most of the piano and some of the synths on the record. She started writing the songs for it while she was still at school in Indiana, inspired by college relationships, heartbreak and the natural beauty of the Midwest countryside, especially the sunsets. When asked about the meaning behind the album’s title and title track, Williams says, “My mom used to always tell me that no matter how bad a day was, another day comes — and I feel like a sunset is a great representation of that.”
The album’s tunes range from breezy electro-pop to soulful R&B to country-tinged folk. Williams compares building the tracks from her original recordings to creating a painting from a sketch: “The song was there, but we’re putting layers on top of it to make it the painting that it is. You can have just the canvas, but you need the colors and the details, and that’s where drums were added, synths, sometimes crazy vocals from my friends, little party things, or a voicemail from my boyfriend — all sorts of things. But it was a whole year’s worth of that, just putting in little layers and me saying, ‘I like that, I don’t really like that.’”
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Having performed at several Colorado mainstays, including Red Rocks Amphitheatre and the 1STBANK Center, as well as winning Best Pop Artist for 2018-2019 at the 303 Awards, Williams is well on her way to establishing herself within Denver’s music community. She’s also shared the stage with many other local acts, such as Kayla Marque, Dayton Stone and the Undertones, Hunter James and Ramakhandra.
Now, Williams has begun to take her show on the road. In March, she did a mini-tour of the Midwest and came back exhausted and convinced she wouldn’t want to tour again. But then she booked a two-week tour of the West Coast that completely changed her outlook.
After playing seven shows between Taos and Seattle, Williams says, “I loved it. I took my whole band with me, and I booked the whole thing, and it was so hard to do. It took so many hours of my life, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It was the coolest thing to be able to take the record that came out in January and take it everywhere.”
Kaitlyn Williams plays Orpheus Fest on Saturday, August 10, at Two Rivers Park in Glenwood Springs. For more information go to orpheusfest.com. She also plays Mile High Spirits at 2201 Lawrence Street on Thursday, August 15. For more information, go to drinkmhs.com.