Interview: NWMS chats with Katie Kuffel

Local singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Katie Kuffel, brings her folk/blues/electronic amalgamation to the Beery House on Sunday, May 26th, kicking off a series of live shows to push her new album Take It Up.  She was kind enough to take up a few questions.


NWMS:  Are you from Seattle?  If not, where did you grow up and when did you arrive here?

Katie Kuffel:  I was born and raised on Bainbridge Island, actually. After graduating high school, I went to college for a year in San Francisco, then transferred to study in Portland, then dropped out to pursue music in Seattle around 2014 and have been here ever since.

NWMS:  Was the cello your first instrument?  How many years did you study it?

Katie Kuffel:  The cello was my first instrument! I was introduced to it in 1st grade during a music class show and tell, then was able to start playing when I was 8. As far as formal study goes, I had about 10 years of lessons, then branched off to play other kinds of music besides classical. Overall I’ve been playing it around 17 years.

NWMS:  When did you begin to write songs on the family piano?  What were some of your earliest efforts?

Katie Kuffel:  I started writing songs as early as 9 or 10 on my cello, then when we received a piano from my aunt when I was 11 or 12, I would play on it and try to figure out melodies I knew.

I started taking piano lessons when I was 14 I think from a very wonderful teacher named Anne Pell who encouraged my creativity and helped me craft songs that I brought to our lessons. I don’t think I would be making music today if it wasn’t for her and all the support she gave me throughout high school.

NWMS:  You still have the piano you played as a child.  What are your favorite stories of moving it from place to place?

Katie Kuffel:  I live in Wallingford now, but when I first moved the piano from Bainbridge to my Central District apartment (with the help of some Seattle musicians like Gabriel Wolfchild, Arthur James, and Isaac Castillo), we were waiting in line for the ferry and opened up the back of the van, started playing, and singing together. We drew a small crowd, and it was just a really happy memory for me.

That being said, we then had to move the beast up a flight of stairs, tip it on its side to fit through the door, and move it into my small bedroom in a shared apartment. We ended up calling more friends for help, haha. It was moved a second time over a year ago to my current home (thankfully on the first floor).

I specifically asked a new set of people to help me. I’m pretty sure you can only cash in the piano move favor once!

NWMS:  What are your best, worst, and oddest stories of playing live, both in Seattle and elsewhere?

Katie Kuffel:  When I first started playing shows in Seattle, one of my earliest gigs was at a place in Georgetown that I’m pretty sure doesn’t exist anymore. I was inexperienced, didn’t know anything about sound systems, and the sound person didn’t show until like an hour after I was supposed to play. But while we were waiting, someone’s basset hound wandered on to the stage and just sat there. Still my best opener to this date.

I think when you’re a musician that gigs a lot, you get a pretty thick skin for what would be considered “weird.” I’ve played in bar corners, on roofs, on boats, backyards, in barns, on floats, for weddings, for fundraisers, for parties, to one person, to hundreds of people, I’ve had folks come on stage, start dancing wildly, yell things, sing things. I’ve had the power go out, and I’ve had a lightning storm almost cancel an outdoor festival. Music is one big mass of experiences that’s become my normal.

NWMS:  Where did you record your album, and who else worked on it with you?

Katie Kuffel:  My last album Take It Up was recorded at Nickerson Studios at SPU by two sound engineering grads named Cody Kilpatrick and Hunter Wrath. I had almost no money to make this album happen, and they were able to hook us up with the studio for just about nothing, since they had access through the school.

Besides that, some amazing, local Seattle musicians were on this album with me. Jon Robinson on bass, Jordan Wiegert on drums, Arthur James on guitar, Lana McMullen on vocals and guitar, David Kelly on vocals, and Kale Lotton on sax. Huge collaborative effort, and I’m thankful to know such genuine and talented folks.

NWMS:  How many instruments do you play total, and which do you consider your strongest?

Katie Kuffel:  My main instruments are voice, cello, and piano. For the music I write, I think my singing and piano work are strongest, but when I’m playing with other people, or for more technical works, cello is my go-to. I also dabble on banjo, and ukulele.

NWMS:  I was impressed by your harmony vocal parts.  How do you go about writing those, and who do you get to sing along with you?

Katie Kuffel:  So Lana McMullen and David Kelly were the main harmonizers when I was dubbing over myself. For a lot of songs, harmonies were co-written when we were first getting together to practice the pieces for performance. I will say, Lana McMullen has one of the best ears for harmonies I’ve ever come across, and she had extra influence on a lot of the parts.

NWMS:  Who’s in your performing band right now?

Katie Kuffel:  My main bandmates are my friends Jon Robinson (bass) and Jordan Wiegert (drums). We tour as a trio, and have been playing together about two years now. They were really influential in helping me shape my sound to where it is today, and I think pushed me to be a better musician. We sometimes bring Kale Lotton or Arthur James in on local live shows, however.

NWMS:  What are your plans for the future?

Katie Kuffel:  I do creative work full time. I want to continue pursuing music, and have it grow to be a more viable way for me to make a living here in Seattle. I don’t see myself moving away from here, but I do hope to tour more, write a ton more music, and connect with a lot more people through that music.

I want to stretch the genres I write for, and feel proud of what I make. I still have a lot to learn as far as the business side of music is concerned, so I hope to grow and become a more confident creator in that area. I have some solo songs in the works, as well as full band songs to share with the world.


Andrew Hamlin

Andrew Hamlin likes to photograph shoes and write about dog shit. He was born and raised in Seattle, Washington, where he resides today. He attended the Evergreen State College, where he wrote and edited arts coverage for the Cooper Point Journal. He is the film critic for the Northwest Asian Weekly, and he’s published arts coverage and criticism in the San Diego Reader, Village Voice, Seattle Times, Seattle Weekly, Goldmine, and other publications. He misses Helen Wiggin. Hamlin’s website is https://andrewhamlin.org.