The Rise & Fall of an Almost Famous Teenager - Epilouge

Epilogue

Here I sit on a park bench in my new city (I’ll get to that in a bit) waiting on my dog to get his annual shave for summer. I’m contemplating walking down the road to a thrift store. And I remember... I said I would tie up all the loose ends with this blog, so here I am. I apologize for the delay, I took a vacation. Better late that never, so here’goes...


The Feelings


After publishing all the parts to my blog, I felt a sense of release and pride and the serotonin hit I always get from writing something that means something. But I also felt guilty and a little insecure. What if X finds it and thinks I’m ungrateful? What if a mob of T Swizzle fans attack my Instagram? What if everyone in the industry that sees it thinks I’m just washed up seeking attention? Then I realized, well, not THAT many people are reading it and felt a bit better, to think that people reading my heart are mostly people with some context to know my heart, too. 


I did get a message or two defending Taylor Swift (lol, I really don’t care either way on that one.) I do have anxiety that telling my story of emotional affairs and manipulated feelings will blow back on me somehow. But that’s ok. I’m a writer. I’m used to the business of spilling my guts, come what may. 


It was my ultimate stake in the ground to say “I don’t have to care what these persons believes or feels about me anymore.” And yeah, I still do a little bit sometimes. When it comes to X, I still wish he used to love me. I still wish I hadn’t been so malleable. I still wish gratitude to people wasn’t wrapped up in pain and regret. I wonder if I am narcissistic for “playing the victim” in my writing, and then I remember that I know myself. I am sensitive. I am prideful. I’m artistic and type A. That’s true. But I am not the narcissist or the pity-seeker, or the whistle blower, I’m just a writer and I like to tell the truth. 

I am recovering from being gently gaslighted by the powerful people I thought were there to help me. It was always I that was wrong, crazy, or not good enough. No one else was ever the problem. So, when I say gaslighted, I mean, I truly lived under a rock where I was manipulated to believe I had no worth without the people around me. When cracks marred the facade- It was me. It was me. It was me. The label says my teeth are too crooked. X says lose weight, just get some Adderall so you can eat less and work more. It was me. My fault. Kate, you’re the problem. Kate, you’re broken. Kate, you’re fat. Kate, you’re ignorant. Kate, you’re just not commercially viable. Kate, you’re just too much. Kate, you’re just not enough. Kate, what is your illness anyway? You don’t look sick. Kate, it’s you. It’s you. It’s you. Even my family questioned me. Kate, are you trying hard enough? Aren’t you grateful? What are you doing, you’re losing everything. 


To all of those voices... you did your job well, because I believed you every single day. I wallowed out of bed trying so hard to be enough for everybody everyday, almost always failing miserably. 


Here’s the crux. I’m not enough. I’m 130 pounds of petite, dimpled, curvy, non-magazine-ready body. I’m a train beat Springsteen vibe, not a tempo smash. I’m a woman, not a product. I’m a wife, not a star-crossed lover. I’m a singer, not just a voice. I’m an artist, not a business. I’m a mediocre guitarist, but I don’t sling it around for decoration. Sometimes I show up without make up. Sometimes, I’m tipsy and swear words on Friday night. Sometimes, I’m front pew, tears streaming on Sunday. Do I love myself? Not yet. No, not quite yet. But do I believe fully that I deserve to love myself despite every “no” and every “you’re not enough”. I’m trying hard. Pursuing Christ and loving others better helps, so I am starting there. 


To everyone I directly or indirectly have written poorly of in my story: I hope you’re better now. I hope you’re happier now. And I hope I’m never your grief, only your lesson. We all deserve to get better! And I masked a lot of names strictly because I don’t believe anybody stays exactly the same. Everyone can change.


To every hero, villain, hand-holder, stepping stone, friend, foe, competitor, judge, or confidant in my Nashville story: THANK YOU. You all helped me in some way or another. Truly. 


What Now 


Zach and I put our house in Nashville up for rent 9 months after buying it because, last fall, on a chilly northern Colorado night, we fell in love with the idea of moving away from music city USA. We now live full time in Denver and I work in Nashville about every 6 weeks. In the interim and while there, I write songs for film and TV as Kate Bowen and in my venture with my producers, poplar. I have whittled down my creative time to that that really matters to me and that fuels me. I was advised to keep my move on the down-low because when you visit as frequently as I do, people barely notice. But why would I hide something that has really made a positive difference in my life? Cheap direct flights make the world go round. If you’ve gotta go, you’ve gotta go. There’s a lot more to it, but we had to go. The itch just couldn’t be scratched any other way. 


We almost chose Madison, Wisconsin, my favorite city in this great nation (for no other reason than I just feel perfectly at home when I’m there.) We chose Denver because 1) Zach’s family is here, 2) the Rockies make my husband happy, 3) Zach’s wage in tech is substantially better in Denver/ Boulder, which gives me the freedom to keep going after my dreams a little bit, while also funding our adventures. 


My family is still in Nashville. I miss them ALL the time. But, it’s really awesome to catch a plane for 3 or 4 days and spend all of that time in their home, really soaking it in while I’m there working. At this juncture, I can have both worlds. I’m very grateful. It might not last, but this phase is really cool. 


I am finally pursuing an education. I am aiming to get my BS in health science and my MA in psychology and counseling before I am 30. I also want to be a mom and write another book. I have very ambitious goals for the 2nd coming of my life and creativity. Often, I wonder if I can really have it all and stay active as a musician. I heard an amazing quote once on that. “You can have it all, just not all in the same day.” So, that’s my goal. To have it all, even if I can’t have it all at once. 


God is my first priority. Then my husband. Then my parents, brother, and living grandmas whom I’m very close to. Then my craft. Then whatever I pursue for work in addition.  


I do work currently. I work in a clinic in an early intervention autism program 30 hours a week as a behavior technician (ABA therapist.) After so many years in the commercial void, I really needed to help somebody. Music industry jobs and songwriting DON’T have to be subservient to the dollar and to the higher-ups, but they definitely became that for me. I know plenty of amazing writers who escape the muck, but I was certainly drowning in it. I needed something so different to reset. Luckily, my job is 30 hours, four days a week with tons of PTO, so getting my Nashville/family/co-writing fix is not a problem. 

I write songs- fewer, but often better- songs. I couldn’t stop if I tried, after all. 


In Closing 

To anyone who has followed this story, thank you so much. It means the world when a few people lend an ear. This has been for me, therapeutically, and for the hundreds of thousands who don’t speak up about how hard this path can be, but want to. I am nothing more than a parallel to a hundred thousand other artists, but I am also unique. I hope this sheds a little light. If you want to chase it, chase it... but guard your spirit, love with care, and listen to your deepest gut feelings always. But if it’s in you, please DO chase it... no matter what that looks like ♥️

Lastly, if you want a glimpse of where I am these days musically, this is my brand new EP, Waking Up From The American Dream.  


With all the love,


Kate 








The Rise and Fall of an Almost-Famous Teenager - A Blog Series - Part Four

The Rise and Fall of an Almost Famous Teenager - Part Four

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The Hard Work

Here I sit in a coffee shop this Saturday morning ready to spill my guts one final time in this storytelling. Like the last blog, I will break this one into sections of events that occurred concurrently, or in an overlapping time frame. So, let’s begin.

The Writing

After losing my record deal, it was abundantly clear the next step was for me to pursue a publishing deal. Though, in the beginning, the community doubted whether I could write without X holding my hand, I had blossomed into a good writer in my own right. Because I got to write with (and learn from) a lot of A-list writers during my record deal, I had an impressive portfolio (known as a “Schedule A”) of 100+ songs to show to a publisher and take into a deal. During the time between my record contract and pub deal, I was working multiple side jobs to get by, while still writing several times a week. It was during that season of hustling and wondering what was next that I got my first break - Reba McEntire wanted to record a song I had written years before at the age of 16 with Tommy Lee James. On the heels of that, I finally signed my first publishing deal.

I have to make it clear - the people who move to town from some flyover state and have a deal and a number one in a year are absolute unicorns - the exception, and far from the rule. Even with a big contract and big names attached to my material, it still took between 6 and 9 months to get a deal in ink. Getting a publishing deal is just as hard as a record deal, and just as hard to hang onto. In my case, my record deal practically fell into my lap, while my publishing deals have been hard-won. Ironically, I think I am a better writer than artist, but this isn’t an industry that makes objective sense on the whole. So, that said, I did sign a deal.

I feel I can speak somewhat freely about my first deal, because the company doesn’t exist anymore. I signed a two year deal with a company called Catch This Music. Because I have basically no filter with this stuff and don’t at all mind being candid, I’ll explain in inquiring minds what my first deal looked like: I received a
”draw” of $27,000 per year. That’s a recoupable salary that you pay back in the event that you make money from having songs recorded, but don’t owe back if not. I lived (and still live) pretty simply, so that was enough that I could get my first tiny apartment on the edge of town with my cat and dog. I wrote four or five sessions a week, which lasted anywhere from three to eight hours apiece. It was a sweet and simple time of my life, at least for the first year of my deal. I was one of four artists/writers signed, and I really loved and looked up to all the people I worked with. We traveled together, wrote together, dined together, and I was rapidly growing, learning, and gaining traction in my career.

However, the second year of my deal was not so idyllic. As I said, the company is now dissolved, and I could honestly see cracks that early on, though they eked by another couple of years. Besides the owner, I worked with two publishers/song pluggers I liked a lot. However, I got along with one of them better than the other. His name is Shawn. I walked in one day and he seemed upset and was packing up his office. I told him how sorry I was, but basically never saw the guy again. From then on, I got less and less feedback on my material (especially the more artistic songs) to the point that I heard back on a song maybe once a month. No more trips, no more fun camaraderie… just a slow fade to more and more commercial, bro-country material. For a company that started with Marcus Hummon, myself, and two other great writers (Chris Roberts and Autumn McEntire), watching the musical quality slide down the drain and everything progressive get shot down was incredibly disappointing, but it was obviously a money issue.

So, I could see the writing on the wall - that’s true. However, I had a lot of projects in the balance where artists might be cutting my songs and I was really trying to adapt. I didn’t want to cut things off prematurely and I didn’t want to be out of a job, so I was hoping to be renewed another year, even though I didn’t like the slow fade into mediocrity. But, that wasn’t the case. The company didn’t pick up my option, and sure enough, it was financial. In fact, the main takeaway quote from the meeting was “we wouldn’t have signed you for as much now as we did two years ago.” So, instead of keeping me on, they signed two new female writers whom were only paid about half as much as I’d been, which I know for a fact. One of those writers has gone on to be successful and also a great friend of mine. I don’t think it was fair to me to be replaced, nor to the new signings to be so poorly compensated.

This may just be venting, but publishers don’t usually respect the need to have side jobs and expect you to jump and any and every last minute write or sloppy-drunk networking session at Whiskey Jam… but that just doesn’t add up if you’re making 17k a year and being made to feel greedy if you feel like you need 27-30k to make it in a ever-more expensive town. The money side of that business is a disaster, and would be seriously aided by less greedy staffers, more patient investors, and FAIR compensation for songwriters on streaming platforms. End rant.

I got a second publishing deal almost immediately because of a connection through one of my favorite co-writers. My dear friend Melissa signed me to a small venture under the producer Jay Joyce. I was in that deal as recently as a year ago. For brevity’s sake, I will just say that I loved my collaborators and my publisher there, but because Jay wanted less to do with publishing and only to produce, that company also essentially dissolved after my 18 months of writing there. I got to make my record (which comes out next Friday!) during that time, and I also made great connections and friends. In some ways the end of that one hurt more because I really desired to stay and liked it creatively. Still, in some ways, it hurt less, because I had been through it before - and also, the blame was not falsely put on me as though I was the problem, the way that it was the first time around.

Now, I have been completely independent for a while and am loving it, because I am free to pursue what is called small licensing (basically, music used for film and advertisements, amongst other things) with my producers in our new project, p o p l a r. Life is very different, but I wouldn’t trade the years of honing my skills as a writer day in and day out on music row. I am still learning, but that was, proverbially, my “undergrad” in my craft. It was a master class everyday I am thankful and could just hug a list of co-writers a mile long right this minute because I appreciate their time.

The Loving

So, back to Zach. The fun stuff, I think with a grin. When we left off, he and I were falling in love. We met around the time I turned 17 and started dating when I turned 18. The year between was absolutely fraught with tension, as you can imagine, for both of us, for the people around us, and especially for me. I was pining after a guy who I wasn’t totally sure was mutually interested. Zach was involved with two other people during that year - a Midwestern sweetheart he met on the road, and then a photographer. I knew the photographer and even worked with her (and actually really liked her, despite my raging jealousy). Both of the relationships were short lived, but it was like pining after X all over again. Sometimes I wonder why God let the unrequited-older-bass-player-crush trope happen to me twice, but I actually know why. Though times of doubt and jealously were difficult for me while Zach was deciding if he could really see himself with someone as young and quirky as me, we kind of had this sacred, very old-timey period of “courting”. Before we ever even held hands, we might meet up at a bookstore, swap records, get tacos, text about our Myers Briggs types or our favorite songs from the 80’s. In a culture where people jump each other’s bones on the third date, it was pretty special to built this intimate friendship for nearly a year before ever kissing or even holding hands. He might’ve had his flirtations, but were were a bonded pair from the beginning. Finally, one night, we became a real couple and sealed things with a kiss (and then a bunch of kisses) on a hilltop next to the Cumberland river and the pedestrian bridge downtown. We haven’t gone without hearing each other’s voice every day since, and that was almost six years ago.

Was our relationship well received? By our family and closest friends, yes. Manager? Yes. A lot of people were really happy for us. BUT, the reason I said I had a love-hate relationship with the band he was in was because one member was a super huge thorn in our side. Once, I went out on the road to open a one-off show and this person got into a screaming match with Zach (who is extremely hard to provoke) about how he was stupid for being happy to see me and a whole host of other things. There had been bad sound at the show, after said person refused a proper soundcheck, and he was pissed that he was pissed, but Zach was in a good mood. Almost a fist fight over a good mood, and that’s a true story. The following day, the band backed me up, and did the most absolutely horrible set ever, because said person refused to practice or let the group properly practice the material.

Yes, I am partly just letting off steam by reliving that weekend, and maybe it’s gossipy and begrudging. But, it was significant. It was an indicative example of why, within a matter of months, Zach and I went public with our love, he left the group, and I detached from having the same manager to get some space from it all, among reasons related to my career. We couldn’t take the toxicity and contagious chips-on-shoulders and negativity in our social and work lives anymore. We are still dear friends with the lead guitarist and my old manager, but otherwise, we left the whole chapter in the dust. His last engagement with the band was the day before his 30th birthday and we drove all night to the Rockies afterwards and spent the day with his best friend Dan. It was symbolic of how we were moving on to a healthier time of life with people who saw our love, our value, and who chose to show us the same respect we show them. We haven’t looked back. I was bitter for a while, but now, I am mostly just thankful for the crazy circumstances that brought us together. And again, I’ll say, this was a long time ago, and I think everyone is somewhat different and healthier at this point. I sure hope so! We are.

The Sickness

I alluded to some health issues earlier, and for those of you who know me personally, you are aware that I have some. Namely, I have a autonomic nervous system dysfunction called Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome - POTS for short. I bring it up for several reasons. One, I think the unhealthy and stressful situations described in this blog series contributed to my acquiring this condition. Two, the illness severely impacted my ability and confidence around performing, which in turn impacted my goals and my career. And three, I truly and earnestly want to bring awareness to this condition. Anyone can get it at any age, but it is especially common in small-framed, caucasian women in their youth and childbearing years. I will describe some of the symptoms, because I know there are thousands of undiagnosed people who need that missing link to figure out what’s going on - it’s notoriously difficult to diagnose.

How did I know something was wrong? When I was 16, I was running and doing workout classes everyday, eating healthy, avoiding any kinds of drugs and alcohol that some teens pursue, and doing my best to live a full life, despite some stressful times (i.e, X, the label, sleep loss, travel, school, etc). However, my body just never quite felt right. I went through a phase around the time of puberty where I frequently felt dizzy, nervous, and nauseous, but I brushed it off as growing pains and body changes. I was always very private and didn’t want anything to be wrong. Over time, I got totally better. The weird phase just dissipated. But, at 16, it was back with a vengeance. Every time I was on stage - and mind you I’m not a super nervous performer at all - I would feel so awful. It was like my eyes would go blurry, then, black, then snowy and then back to normal again. Bile would rise to the back of my throat, but I’d force it down. My feet would feel like they weren’t under me. The strategy was always to keep singing through the feelings and wait until a musical break in the song where I could take a sip of water and discretely take some deep breaths.

One show in particular, I was high up on a stage and playing a longer acoustic set in Franklin, TN for a good crowd. It was a decent show and I did well. I remember that I looked really pretty that night, too, and I often struggled with feeling put together. It should have been so great. But I was just sure I was going to hit the deck and fall off that high stage, or have to run to the bathroom to be sick. I told my mom after that show that I knew my body was different. Another thing that worried her was that I was getting winded going up stairs. Mind you, I could run 4 miles without stopping. It didn’t compute. My eyes would go fuzzy on the stairs to our second level apartment and my heart would beat extremely slowly in these hard, pounding, loud, arrhythmic beats.

With my parent’s support, I started with my primary doctor and went on a journey to figure out what was really wrong. I was misdiagnosed with panic attacks, and I knew it wasn’t psychological. Though I feel clinical anxiety is totally valid and I am sometimes anxious, the symptoms were just not right. For months, I struggled to find a doctor who could figure it out, and had every test under the sun. All the while, the symptoms got worse. I would throw up if I didn’t eat, I would throw up if I ate too much. I couldn’t even perform on a stool without the fuzzy vision. Walking uphill totally wore me out. I pulled over once because I was too dizzy to drive home.

Finally, I was referred to a cardiologist. He diagnosed me in about 5 minutes by taking my vitals upon sitting, standing, and lying down. It was classic POTS - wild shifts in pulse and BP upon postural changes or under certain situations of stress. He put me on a beta blocker and told me to hydrate, eat lots of salt, and be as healthy as possible… and get this, he even encouraged me to “fill out” a little, because I was rather thin and being a little fuller-bodied would increase my blood volume. I still have flare-ups and days where I’m couch bound for an hour or two at a time. Skipping a meal or not drinking enough water can put me in bed with nausea and full body chills on the best of days. However, I consistently do very well. I have even started running again! Performing is also now possible for me, but I have to move around on stage to keep my blood flowing. All those times I felt so sick, it was because I was standing perfectly still with a guitar and a mic in front of me and my blood was draining to my feet and not my head, wreaking havoc on my vitals.

The two big take-aways from this - this illness has not defined me, but it has shaped my past. I have adapted my goals with my art to fit my body. It will never impact what I make, but I was comfortable letting it impact the scale I strive to perform on. Unexpectedly, it really validated my feelings of not wanting large-scale fame and nudged me to focus mostly on writing, creating, and seeing film and advertisement placements. However, I don’t let it rob me of the joy of performance. I make it work and am always happy to scratch the itch. Secondly, if you think you (or your child) have POTS, I’d be more than happy to point you to some great resources. If you don’t believe you’ve been diagnosed properly (with anything) or your meds/ treatment aren’t working… keep pushing. Someone will figure it out.

The Living

What was I doing in between the cracks? Well, I nannied as an on-call childcare provider for Vanderbilt doctors and professors. I worked two absolutely nightmarish serving jobs. I went to school to be a dental assistant, a field in which I ultimately never worked a single day. I got trained as a birth doula and helped deliver a baby in Masindi, Uganda on a 2-week medical mission trip. I went back to Africa again (thanks to the help of my second publisher Melissa). I went to Europe for work and fun. I worked two different remote writing jobs. I wrote a book. I moved literally 7 times to different houses and apartments as Zach and I navigated life and work. Most importantly, I grew up. I rediscovered my faith within the Anglican church (thanks to St. Patrick’s in Smyrna, TN). I grew to be best friends with my parents and grandparents. And on April 2nd 2016, I married my love and became Mrs. Bowen Morse. We are on a great adventure.

We are at the end of this chapter, but I am writing an epilogue - just as I wrote a prologue - to tie up all the loose ends and talk about my current journey in life and music.


With love,


Kate





Ella Mae Bowen – The Rise and Fall of an Almost-Famous Teenager - A Blog Series

Part 3 - Freedom in Love and Labels

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This is part 3 and part 3 has two parts in and of itself. I don’t think that it will be longer than other posts, but while these two sections of this part of my story happened concurrently, they deserve their own blog-within-the blog. There’s no need for much preface, but I will just say that I am predominately covering events from 2012-2014 when I was 16, 17, and 18.

Label, X, and Music Row

It’s logical to pick up where we left off… with the label. It’s the least juicy bit of this blog, but, hey. Maybe it’s interesting if it isn’t old news (like it is to me). Life at the label was like this: I had a stipend to live on, and with that I lived in a cheap suburb of Nashville an hour away at home with my parents. It afforded me a decent amount of independence to commute into the city, write, work, and hang out with friends. Mostly, my days were spent writing for my record, interspersed with playing writers’s rounds, going out for lunch with friends and acquaintances, and taking “pitch” meetings.

Those writing sessions were some of the best of my life. I look back on them with fondness, but also with a cringe-laden regret. The truth is (at least on paper) those were the best writing pairings of my life to this day, but I was so young and in such a hard place as a person, I feel in some ways that I squandered those writing sessions. It boiled down to two overarching experiences. One, I was welcomed with open arms by these incredible, legendary writers and encouraged to write what I really felt… which was really hard because I mostly felt things for X and talk of that wasn’t always appropriate. Or, two, I was discouraged from what I was authentically feeling (unrequited love, coming of age, difficult themes of loss and fear) and pushed into writing whatever was commercial. While that is a completely valid conquest for a new artist, my old-soul vibe combined with my young age caused many of my writing partners (i.e. superiors) to domineer me in sessions, from which I would walk away with absolute song-turds that I loathed singing in public.

Probably the most notable co-writer I ever had was a session with Kieth Urban. I feel like we hit it off but we didn’t walk away with an incredible song. I was trying to express a love song idea (about X) very awkwardly. We had a great day together, though, and if you are a fan, I have to say that he is everything you would hope him to be. He was a new dad then (via surrogate) and so in love with Nicole and his eldest daughter. Very open about his recovery years, his spirituality, etc. I was proud to spend time with him. — Keith gush over. :) — Probably my favorite co-writers, though, were the matriarch women in the industry. In particular, I had great experiences with Liz Rose, Lori McKenna, and Natalie Hemby. Those are household names in the songwriting world, so it might sound cliche, but they were genuine guiding lights for me. Welcoming but protective. Open but savvy. I am still learning from them from afar. Basically I am not successful enough at this point to get back in those rooms. Those calendars are controlled by publishers and interns and busy lives. I’ve accepted that. But I do wish those ladies could grab a coffee with me now… to see that, even though I wasn’t a commercial success, I got over X, I got out of my toxic deals, and I lead a happy life where I am still an avid writer. I may not get the satisfaction of them knowing that, but it would feel really good to me if they did. I honestly think they worried about me.

And on that note, to mention a snapshot of how X played into all of this, he was still my producer, but no longer my primary co-writer. And he hated it. In fact, he didn’t even like that I lived in Nashville, though Borchetta gave me no choice. Management and label made attempts to merge my South Carolina world with my Nashville world. Two of the worst sessions of my entire life were when they sent some of my favorite writers down to X’s studio to work with us. Liz Rose that I mentioned above was one. Liz and I were totally vibing on something and X was squashing it at every turn. It killed him not to be in control. It killed me, because I had this revered writer on my turf who was now likely having an awful experience. For me, it felt like my choices were only to anger my mentor-turned-crush, or alienate my favorite, matronly, wildly successful collaborator. It was paralyzing. Later came another similar experience with another producer that went even worse. I was becoming less of a person to X (and to many people at my label), and more like a pawn in a power-play. X did the same thing again in a session with Tom Douglas. And again in a session with Luke Laird. Honestly, those writers were my lifeline. The good ones were, at that point, the only part of the industry I felt safe, confident, and at home within. If any of you are reading this - Liz, Marcus, Lori, Tom, Natalie, Hillary… thank you. You are everything everyone hopes you are when they hear your songs on the radio.

So, let me get to it. Basically, Big Machine threw me a bone every now and again. Sing on this session, sing at this NASCAR event, do the Opry, go out for this placement, come film this YouTube special…. but it was little more than busy work. Two and a half years and I knew I was never going to radio and my record was never coming out. At that point, I really wanted to be a songwriter exclusively for a while. Some people approach that as a mere “plan B” after a failed deal, but for me, it was really all I cared about anyway. So, my manger Tracy and I reached out to Big Machine and called their bluff. In a nutshell, we told Scott I didn’t want to be there if he wasn’t going to help me and he said “well, we aren’t going to do anything with her.” So, I asked to be let out of my contract and they played it like that was a relief. It was for me, that’s for sure.

However, it was also something to mourn. I knew it meant my opportunities would change and dwindle and they did. Also, Borchetta’s lawyer went to work trying to keep my final 40k payout from me, which was my only source of income. In the end, he did the right thing and released it to me months later. I got his email driving and literally pulled off on the side of the road and thanked God because I needed the money really badly. And that is literally the end. My relationship with the A&R team continued, but only in the capacity that I was pitching songs as a writer. Chapter closed.

Life and Love

So, how did I go from my dysfunctional relationship with X to my healthy relationship with Zach? That’s the most direct and important question you can ask if you want to decipher the real core of my story. I joke that my life has been run by bass players: my dad, my first love, my label exec, and my husband. In regards to Daddy and Zach, though, it’s a good thing. So, without further ado, I’ll tell a bit of mine and Zach’s story, which is inter-spliced with details of my career right before and after I left my label.

I met Zach in a Green Hills apartment belonging to the singer of the band he played in. My manager had decided to begin also managing the front woman of the band he was in, and by band I don’t really mean a group, but that he played for an artist with a consistent band. This is a group I had a love-hate relationship with, so I’m not using names, but I’ll say that I think everyone, at this point in time, is good people whom I wish every success. It was an interesting dynamic. My manager, whom I loved dearly, brought on another female act. She’s a lot older than me and for every bit that I am the old-soul introspective, she’s a balls-to-the-wall rockstar with the beauty and smarts to back it up. However, I won’t say that it wasn’t difficult to feel “replaced”, and honestly I did. I was floundering and I was watching my manager/ last lifeline’s attention be sent in another direction.

Nevertheless, we all got along ok. I really like this female artist as a person and she was welcoming to me, even if we were competing for some of the same seats at the table. The interesting thing was, I was “ahead” in that I had this big contract and large-scale film placements, but she/they had years of touring and grassroots accolades. I had the benefit of more extensive writing experience, but I was never much of a performer. So, that’s why my manager thought it would be good for us to get to know each other. I could possibly write with this artist, but she could also show me the ways of the road. We embarked on a week-long tour of the southeast with those goals in mind.

That brings us back to the rehearsal where I first met Zach. It wasn’t love at first sight. He claims he thought I was cute, but in that “she’s too young for me” kind of way. I don’t really remember noticing him, but I thought his name was different because I had it confused with the guitarist’s. Zach handed me a pick, and afterwards, he sent me charts for a cover song we were performing together. Ironically, it was “Someone Like You” by Adele, which I would sit and cry listening to thinking about X (who was back with his girlfriend).

The first night we went out on tour, we played at a small university in North Carolina. I had my own room every night, and that night before the show, I actually had a huge argument with X. It was partially personal, because he was keeping his relationship from me, but also work related. I don’t remember all the details, but he basically said that he gave me most of his personal life and resented me for it… ironic, because I resented him, too, for completely taking over my entire life and controlling my career for the previous three years. I was literally crying in the hotel room floor in sheer frustration. I was praying. I wasn’t even in love anymore, I was just trapped in a cycle and a working relationship I couldn’t find my way out of. It was like standing in a dark room with my hand on the light switch, but so disoriented, I didn’t know how to turn it on. I literally prayed something to the effect of “God, end this misery for me. Just let me find my husband. If it’s never gonna be X, you have to spare me from this. It’s going to break me.”

In true teenage girl fashion, I wiped my tears, put on a dress, and got show ready. Maybe it’s the pictures, but I remember wearing a lace maxi-dress with a sweater on top and boots, along with my big, curly red hair I used to dye. I kid you not… that very night, I really noticed Zach for the first time. I had been around him a couple times, but I didn’t really see him until show time. He was always the one going out of the way to make sure I knew what was going on. He would set up my in-ear pack and my mic. He was the quietest of the bunch by far, but also the most helpful. At the end of the night, he was tearing down the stage while myself and a couple of the band members did the meet and greet line. We were in a college auditorium lobby with wooden swinging double doors that led into the performance hall. I kept casually breaking out of line to stare through the round windows in those doors to watch him tear down the stage. I can’t explain why I kept looking at him. He was quiet. Maybe even a little sad. The black sheep. So cute, though, with strong forearms peeking out of a flannel shirt and a few stray brown curls falling in his face. I was just instantly… in love. For the first real time.

The next week was full of van rides, a chit chat, awkward glances, and me sneaking looks his way anytime I could. I remember getting an Auto Trader (because I love cars) from a bookstore we stopped at and us looking at Jeeps together in the middle row of the 12 passenger van. That’s when we discovered we both loved and drove old Cherokees. Another incredible memory I have was that the whole band, myself, and our manager went to a nice dinner in the hotel one night, while Zach walked (in a storm) to an Indian restaurant he wanted to try. I sat up on the air conditioner unit in my hotel room after dinner watching for him in the rain, kind of worried about him in the lightning. Before he ever made it back, I saw fireworks go off in the distance over the rolling southern Virginia hills. Fireworks in the pouring rain. It was bizarre. Looking back, it was so symbolic. We were both experiencing storms in our lives, as well as deep loneliness and rejection. Though there were more storms to come before we got a happy ending, God sent along some fireworks… despite all odds.

We wouldn’t become a couple for almost a year and wouldn’t go public until even after that, but I was already in love with him, and he admits now that he was in love with me, too, in a subconscious way. But I know what you’re thinking… and it was everyone around us’ thought, too. I was turning on the edge of 17 and literally swapping an infatuation with one older musician for another. He was almost the same age, same instrument, same background as X… but strikingly different hearts, goals, and ways of treating people. While everyone would proceed to think I/we were crazy, I knew from the very beginning that this time, I wasn’t. I’ve told him before in a sappy card this: Some people fall in love and it takes their breath away. But for me - before him I couldn’t breathe, and now I can.

Here’s a song I wrote with my dear friends Melissa Fuller and Rachel Loy in the months I was falling for Zach.

And with that, I’ll leave you for a few days. I thought I might get a little further in this blog, but I don’t want to leave anything good out. In the next blog, I’ll talk about the early years of our relationship, the tension it caused, moving out on my own, and landing my first publishing deal. Look for Part 4 soon!

All my love,

Kate

  • First photo taken by Ryan Faucett


Ella Mae Bowen – The Rise and Fall of an Almost-Famous Teenager - A Blog Series

Part Two

The Machine

 

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It’s taken me a little while to write this one. I guess because I’ve been extremely busy with school, work, music, and family, but also because compared to the branded-in-my-brain emotional drama of Part One, some elements of this segment of the story are just a little bit fuzzy. That said, that is part of why I am writing this series… I’m beginning to forget things I don’t want to. Stories I want to remember someday, for better or worse. And though it might be a (slightly) less emotionally tumultuous part of my life compared to part one, this chapter of the story actually holds maybe the most pivotal moments and “did that really happen?” memories. So, without further ado…

 

Hero

 

This chapter starts with me getting a record deal and moving to Nashville, but how that happened deserves a little bit of backstory in and of itself. If you have followed my career (and have a good memory), you likely know that I “broke out” because of a cover of “Holding Out for a Hero” (made famous by Bonnie Tyler in 1984) which was featured in the 2011 Paramount, Craig Brewer- directed remake of Footloose. How did I go from small South Carolina stages, to working with X, all the way to 15 minutes of fame seemingly overnight?

 

Well, first off, it wasn’t overnight. It was about 7 years in the making and about 2 years very seriously in the making. However, the specific opportunity did happen very suddenly and over a matter of mere weeks. Here’s how. X had a manager and that manager took me to Nashville to meet with execs from Atlantic Records, whom sort of had “first choice” in signing me due to affiliations I won’t go into, basically courtesy. Atlantic flew in the head of the label to meet with me after an A&R rep responded even better than expected to my original material. (As a side note to aspiring artists, if any are reading, going straight to the top of the chain like that is not typical at all and only occurred because the person I was working with was already in a successful group.) This was like a movie sequence. You don’t just go from single-wide trailer to “this could be your single” that quickly, but that’s how it was going.

 

That said, Atlantic did not sign me. They could not figure out which genre I belonged to and they passed on my music. However, that was not until after a lengthy “courtship.” Sometimes labels “date” their potential signings. This includes listening to your material, wining, dining, showcases, etc. Their biggest holdup in to sign me or not to sign me was that they were not sure whether or not I could write songs without X in the room. Oh, was I ready to show them! So, writing songs for Atlantic by proxy meant several months of development at Warner Chappell Nashville – one of the fixtures on music row. Atlantic, you see, is huge in and of itself and home to many legends, but it is ultimately just a subsidiary of Warner Brothers.

 

During that time of writing, I met the woman who would later become my manager, Tracy. I still really care about her and owe her a lot. She was like a second mom for a while. Well, she heard that a music supervisor for the film Footloose (the legendary Anastasia Brown) was looking for a remake of “Holding Out for a Hero.” They were hoping for someone in their mid-twenties, a fresh female voice, to turn it into a heartfelt, earthy ballad. I was only 15, but X and I got together and turned the pitch around in 48 hours. Two weeks or so later, it was in the movie and going into post-production.

 

If you know anything about the music business or film supervision, you know that this is a one in a million moment. Hundreds on hundreds of female artists submitted versions of the same song and I landed it. It was a big moment, a big payday, and a pivotal moment that I probably wasn’t ready for. But ready or not – it was go time.

 

The Machine

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Atlantic passed, as I said, but with the momentum of “Hero”, which was briefly going  viral worldwide, I had to act fast to be signed to a label. I was not really ready to be signed, but in Nashville, you ultimately have to follow the buzz being created. It was barely even talked about. We just all knew that we needed to take the next step. I met with Warner Brothers, Sony, EMI, and Big Machine. Warner acted like they were going to sign me (they owned my Footloose song), but super weirdly and abruptly ghosted me. Like, the head of the label said “welcome to the family” and then never called again. He apologized in person to me about two years later. It was super strange. The other two labels passed on me, mostly because they “couldn’t sign any more females”, which is a whole other can of worms. Then there was Big Machine. They said yes.

 

If you aren’t familiar with Big Machine, you are likely familiar with their two figureheads - the head of the label, Scott Borchetta (of American Idol), and their flagship artist – Taylor Swift. Here’s how the meeting went down. I played two songs for Scott and the head of A & R, Allison (a really lovely woman who I still respect entirely. A bright spot in the whole journey, for sure) and they signed me on the spot. I mean, sure, there was paper work to do, but I was offered a deal at that table. My parents were waiting down the street at a Mexican restaurant and I ran in to tell them the news. It was an incredible day. Movie moment kind of stuff.  

 

Within a few months, it was basically demanded by the label (i.e. Scott) that my parents and I pick up and move closer to Nashville. My parents moved mountains to make that happen and I can’t thank them enough. I could write a whole other blog series on how much I love them and how patient they’ve been with me.

 

An incredible moment that sticks out to me about that meeting where I was offered a deal was something Allison said. I don’t remember exactly how she said it but it was basically  - Ella Mae, you have a light about you. You have that special thing we can’t ignore. That sentence has come to haunt me because of the bizarre paradigm that I think we all, young in the industry, fall prey to at some point. The big figures love your light. They know they need it. They know it’s special. But by God, they will put you through things that dim it, dull it, sully it, until you almost forget you can shine at all.

 

X was drawn to that light, so were my managers, and so were my fans. You know what that presence was? God’s grace. Innocence. Talent. Purity. Unabashed desire for art. I had about 99% of it intact back then. I still have God’s grace, but as for the rest I’d say I have about 15% of it left, with little bits I’ve given away strewn down music row hallways, Charleston cobblestones, and Midwestern highways. I’ve given pieces to collaborators, strangers, friends, crushes, and enemies. But isn’t that what an artist does? That said, the refueling years I’m in now are a welcome, blissfully different pace that is so good for the soul.  

 

What I Didn’t Know

 

Here’s what I didn’t know about the motivation to sign me: Scott Borchetta wanted to prove he could break another female artist. He wanted to know (and for everyone else to know) that Taylor wasn’t just his one in a million. That it wasn’t just her – it was what he saw and what he could do. I don’t doubt that they were impressed by me because I could sing and write and because of “Hero”, but in some ways I was a pawn from day one.

 

The other thing I didn’t know was that Scott was bitter that he didn’t get the rights to the Footloose soundtrack. He was beat out by Warner, who loaded it up with their own roster. My song was actually, by some miracle, the standout track, so by snagging me, he sort-of got the proverbial last word.

 

And here’s the other truly bizarre thing I didn’t know: Taylor Swift was incredibly upset that Scott would sign another gangly, 16 year old, curly headed, ink-pen-stained-handed girl with a guitar, because she liked being the only one and did not attempt to even pretend to be supportive to other female artists at that time. She only let male acts support her on tour, and was not aligned with any Nashville female artists until some years later.

 

Let me pause for a second. I realize that probably sounds incredibly jaded and a whole lot like mudslinging. To tell you the truth, I am a bit jaded. And I also am still so humbled by my experiences and lack so much confidence that I have trouble telling my friends, family, and the whole internet that a huge pop-star personally disliked me. Like, who am I to even be on that radar? I still feel these things. You can believe me or not, but I swear to you that I am telling the truth as I know it.

 

Speak Now

 

When Taylor toured in support of her album Speak Now, she did something very interesting. I can’t fully explain it without defeating the purpose of the identities I’ve tried to be cautious with. So, suffice it to say that she knew who I was close to and brought he/them closer to her. Word got around that I was close to this person, so she pulled him closer… possibly to pull us apart, spite me, or learn more about the music being made. There was more to it than that, and this is a bold claim, but it is credible from all that I know. I have to leave out a lot of the details here, but we’ll just say that the timing of these events was uncanny.

 

No Hunger Games for the Hungry

 

As I developed at Big Machine, another huge movie placement opportunity surfaced with the dawn of The Hunger Games series. I had read the books and love them. The soundtrack had a very similar sonic aesthetic to my previous placement and project, so it was a shoe in. Lightning did strike twice… or so I thought. A very strange thing happened. I submitted a song called Girl on Fire, which was said to be placed in the film. Then, I got word that T Bone Burnett wanted my voice on a different song, which I would be flown out to LA to sing on. You may not know who he is, but if you do, you realize that this was an absolute dream.

 

The first problem was that X did not want to be cut out of the production, and encouraged me to fight for the song of ours, rather than the song with T Bone. I was caught in the middle, but ultimately everyone agreed that it was worth it for me to follow my gut and go to LA. Even X couldn’t begrudge me that experience in the end. The trip was planned. I was so excited. This could be the moment that I worked with a real collaborator... one who was a legend. One who didn’t see me as a kid. One I didn’t have all this personal backstory with… but then it happened.

 

I got a call from my manager about two days before I was supposed to leave for LA. Scott had called and he and Taylor decided that instead of her song with The Civil Wars being included on the soundtrack along with my song, two of her songs would be included and none of mine. Yep. I was crushed. The blow to my pride was significant, but we’re also talking about the loss of my opportunity to work with a legendary producer, and what would’ve almost certainly been a six-figure payday. Gone - with little more than a snap of her fingers.

 

To add one more layer to the weirdness, that second song of hers that replaced mine was almost a verbatim rip-off of something X was involved in creatively. This is another area where I cannot say more, but suffice it to say two camps were globally non-impressed with T-Swizzle that day.

 

But, in a matter of weeks, there were more exciting things to do. I suppose I shook it off, as it were.

 

Big Moments

 

There were several monumental moments during my time at Big Machine that I have to pause my slight jadedness and say a huge thank you to God, my family, and my own strength for. I debuted on The Grand Ole Opry, where Emmylou Harris  introduced me and I got to share the stage with she and The Civil Wars - who debuted on the same night. I sang at two major NASCAR events. I shared stages and bands with Martina McBride, Rascal Flatts, Hunter Hayes, and so many more. I will admit that some of these memories have negative connotations because of things surrounding them, overtones of uncertainty, and who I chose to share some of those moments with. However, some of them were very special. My whole family came to see me at the Opry. NASCAR put me up in a room at the Wynn resort in Vegas with remote control curtains and a Jacuzzi tub for two, all to myself at 16.

 

In the end, I have to say that even Scott did mostly right by me. Taylor has probably forgotten all of this, why wouldn’t she? It was not all roses, but you have to understand I wouldn’t trade the good moments for the world… truly. In fact I don’t even know that I would have wanted to know how it would all go down in the end. As Garth said, I might have missed the dance.

 

There is so much more to tell… look for how I left the label, met my husband, moved out, worked a million jobs, and became a real songwriter in part three… coming soon.

 

If you’re reading this… man, I love y’all. Thanks for letting me use words to heal.

 

Love,

 

Kate

photo one courtesty of http://susanlloydphotography.com/

Ella Mae Bowen – The Rise and Fall of an Almost-Famous Teenager - A Blog Series



P A R T O N E

 My “X”

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The Lost Woman by Emma Visca

It’s funny how you just break down
Waiting on some sign
I pull up to the front of your driveway
With magic soaking my spine
Can you read my mind?
Can you read my mind?
The teenage queen, the loaded gun
The drop dead dream, the Chosen One
A southern drawl, the world unseen
A city wall and a trampoline
Oh well, I don’t mind, you don’t mind
’Cause I don’t shine if you don’t shine
Before you jump
Tell me what you find
When you read my mind

- The Killers

 

This blog is best read while listening to my Part One Playlist on Spotify.

Living your life is wading out in the ocean. All you have to do is walk out there, jumping over the occasional rough waves and keeping your head above water. Retracing those steps as a writer is like body-surfing back to land. The tide of your artistic integrity won’t be denied, so you’re being propelled back by a torrid current of nostalgia… only this time, you keep scraping the bottom of the ocean. And the bottom of the ocean is made of broken glass. You’re bleeding. The salt is burning your wounds. You’re embarrassed that you have so little control over who you used to be. But there’s no stopping until the shore, so you just have to ride it out. 

Let me start with two disclaimers: The first , which is very important to me, is that I mean only to tell my point of view in the most honest form, which is still professional and totally true. I aim to preserve as much of other’s integrity as I can with my writing (not that I assume the people it pertains to will ever see it, anyway.) My fears of my own truths blowing back on others has kept me quiet for a long time, but I’ve accepted that my story is no one’s but my own. I want it known that my writing is intended to heal… not to hurt. Maybe this time it’s my own healing. That’s valid, even when I don’t believe it. Second - this is a long blog and every word counts toward my true meaning. If you start it, please finish it, lest I be misconstrued.

So, without further preamble - the telling of it.

 

Boy Named X

When we last left off with the prologue, I revealed that I met a mentor when I was 11 years old. That’s true. When I was 11, I finished my first real country song entitled Cinderella Story and was introduced by a friend of a friend to an individual who became my first mentor and a very important figure in my story. For anonymity, that person will be referred to as X. That might sound foreboding, but it’s only for my own peace of mind.  This story is not all negative, but it has some difficult themes.

I met X on a summer evening with both of my parents in an above-garage studio down a long driveway in my hometown. In fact, X lived across the street from where I was born – a house we moved away from when I was 4, but that I remembered well. The landscape was a familiar one. A long row of trees grew up along the front of the property, which my mom remembered seeing X plant with his father when she would play with a toddler me in our yard. Small town Appalachia sure creates memories as thick as swampy summer nights, just like this one I’m talking about.

X was one of the most charming people my family and I had ever come across, and in that genuine way that you know is honest, but also in that dark horse kind of way that leaves you curious. I had never met anyone like X, because he was very striking and oozed the kind of cool that simply could not exist inside my current social sphere. It was frankly shocking to me at the time that X could have breathed the same air, drank from the same taps, listened to the same sermons, and had the same teachers as me. It was a miraculous worldliness for my young eyes to behold.

I sang my song with all the confidence I could muster. I used headphones for the first time outside of a karaoke booth in the Mall of Georgia. The song was recorded and the introduction was made. I was charmed. X was impressed by my maturity and somewhat by my voice and song, which was of course elementary by real songwriting standards, but good for what it was. That initial impression led X to provide contact information for me to send future songs, questions, or updates about my musical journey. He was impressed enough to want to know more, but would later say that he wanted to know I was serious about music as a path before committing any additional time from his busy schedule. X, you see, was and is a producer, in addition to a touring musician.

 

The Real Beginning

Let’s fast forward. You know how I said that at 13 I wanted to be a Naval JAG? Well, jump forward two years from my demo with X at age 11 and that was completely true. I was still singing, but I was involved in dozens of other activities, including stringent academics and Civil Air Patrol. That year, my parents agreed to put me in school in the larger town of Anderson (where we briefly lived) so that I could attend 8th grade a middle school that filtered into TL Hanna High School, which had the only Naval JROTC program in the Tri-County area then.

As a small but extremely pivotal side story, I fell ill on my first day of middle school in Anderson. As a result, I was too mortified to go back. My mom agreed to homeschool me until high school started. Deciding to homeschool meant I finished my work by lunch. Finishing my work by lunch meant playing outside all day, swinging in the hammock chair, riding my bike to the lake. That meant song ideas. They came so naturally, and with a frequency like never before. Mom, who thought a lot of my singing and also thought a lot of X from that meeting two years ago, encouraged me to get back in touch with him to send some of my current material.

Coincidentally, X would be performing nearby soon, a show which my parents and I planned to attend. I did contact him, and X quickly responded. He liked what I was working on (I had made one demo tape in Nashville between age 11 and 13 which is another story that did not really lead to anything more) and therefore, we planned to meet after the concert. We did meet, and even though my parents were right beside me, I felt like the coolest fourteen year old in the universe, backstage at a rock club.

 X said he wanted to work together. I thought X was so cool that I would have literally scrubbed the wheels of his tour bus with a toothbrush if it meant I could keep catching glimpses of his exciting life. Obviously, I was in. For the record, my parents were in, too. This meant recording could take place near home (a few hours away in a bigger coastal city where X had moved) rather than 6 hours away in Nashville. It also meant that their daughter would be creatively in the hands of someone local, upstanding, and with markedly Christian values, rather than someone in big-city Nashville we couldn’t trust. We struck up a deal. My parents and I would pay very little, X would keep co-publishing and master recordings, and we would work when X was off the road.

I don’t know how long it took for Civil Air Patrol, dance, and making straight A’s to phase out, but pretty quickly, they did. I had found a path and it was music. With someone to send my ideas to, my songbook and me became inseparable. Around this time, my dad lost his job in the Anderson area due to the market crash and some other factors that were out of his control. We moved back to Oconee County, where I finished half of 8th grade and went into the 9th.

 

The Work

Soon enough, X and I settled on a work pattern. I got one of the most primitive iPhones at his urging so that we could record song ideas in the voice memo app and send them to each other. We stockpiled 3 or 4 finished songs at a time, and when he would come home, I would commute 3 hours with a family member to stay at the studio a few days and record them all. I began losing a lot of sleep and a lot of extra-curricular activities to devote to these trips, as well as the long hours needed to finish this material and respond to his ideas when they came.

When we did get together to work, we worked for 3 days straight sleeping about 4 hours at a time. Whichever family member accompanied me typically stayed upstairs or nearby in X’s home studio, while I would nap on the studio couch or sun porch for a few hours, wake up and keep going. I practically lived on Redbull, chips, and herbal voice tea. I would go home and sleep for a whole day and night to recover. Obviously, this wasn’t healthy for me (or anyone) at 14 and 15 years old, but I was determined to handle it, and so I did. It contributed to stress induced health problems, but I will tell that story later on.

 This work continued throughout this story with a constant ebb and flow. If I failed to keep up, X would become distant. If I conjured up the strength to keep going past what was expected, I was highly praised for my efforts. That praise was addictive and made me feel like a legitimate artist, and so I pushed past my body’s boundaries to keep working towards my two greatest goals: making my songs come to life, while also making my parents, supporters, and new creative counter-part proud.

 

Becoming EMB

Perhaps you can sense how this part of my life completely submerged me emotionally, and if you can’t sense it, I’ll directly tell you… I was drowning. I was engulfed by the drive to create, but I was also engulfed in the constant battle of keeping up with X, keeping up with school, and still being, or at least pretending to be, a normal teenage girl. These were my proverbial Hannah Montana years. I was living the best of both worlds… except my life was on fire and I was falling asleep in Spanish class and I didn’t have a best friend, or anyone really, who could fully accept who I was at that point in time.

I was living a double life where I watched Hilary Duff movies and went to football games at my high school. Then, I would stay up all night with a 20-something year old semi- famous musician writing songs over the phone. I was also starting to headline small local venues. I was also on the verge of signing a recording contract. I was also missing days and weeks of school to go to Nashville. I was trading in my low-rise Hollister jeans for black skinny jeans before they were cool. I was explaining to my parents that I couldn’t do better than Bs and Cs, even though I used to win academic awards. The icing on the cake was that I literally had become someone else- Ella Mae Bowen.

X and a management contact of his initially encouraged me to change my name because Kate Bowen is both common, very normal sounding, not memorable. In music and in digital advertising, you want to be very singular – especially for being searched on the web and streaming platforms. Ella Mae is a family name. I picked it for myself and we all took a vote. That was that. Kate to my family. Kate at school. But to X, to management, and to Nashville, I became EMB.

That’s jumping around a little in the timeline, and perhaps I’m writing a little pedantically to avoid the parts of the story that I feel the most insecure and embarrassed about. I am too far in, I think, to quit.

 

Consequences of Creative Closeness

Here’s the gut-wrenching truth all the empaths out there can already infer. Over time, I knew I loved X. Not the way I love my husband, to be sure, but I didn’t have that kind of love for a frame of reference then. I loved him like another girl my age might’ve loved her poster of Zac Efron, only the page came to life, leapt from the wall, sat down on the bed and asked to stay up all night writing songs. Except also in this scenario, we were born on the same street and our life was unavoidably intertwined in this treacherously beautiful, productive, dangerous, wonderful bed of thorns. That’s how I loved X.

 And here’s the part that broke me in a way I am still piecing back together. X knew just how I felt. And to be crystal, crystal clear… he never laid a hand on me, he never pursued me, never let me in further than a lingering hug or two. He was a perfect specimen of professionalism in every tangible way, and that is often not how the story goes (just ask all the teen female musicians sharing their #MeToo stories). No, no. I am not that kind of victim. I am not sure if I even am a victim. I’m just a product of a series of choices.

What broke me was this: he used my feelings to elicit an emotional response to make me work harder, to keep me stirred up so that I would create “better”, more authentic art, and to keep as much creative control as he possibly could in my project. It worked… but what he, to this day, doesn’t know is that it almost killed me. He valued the work more than my emotional and physical health and I wasn’t self aware enough to say so.

To him, the music was paramount. To me, he was paramount. To everyone else, keeping whatever good mojo we had going without it falling apart was paramount. And to my parents? Well, my emotional well-being was paramount. But… I so fervently wanted to keep going that I told them I was okay every time they checked in. I lied to everyone, most of all myself. If I admitted how pitiful I was, I knew it would come to a screeching halt, so I just kept going and I just kept lying. Not to say that people didn’t know. Some inferred it, some I told outright… I even told X outright. Still, it was like an elephant in the room and we all just pretended it didn’t exist.

So, this is how it was for years. And please know that this “exposé” of sorts is not the reason for telling my story. In fact, it has been the chief reason I couldn’t tell my story for fear of stepping on toes or embarrassing myself beyond repair. I see it as a mountain I have to summit and the rest will be bumpy, but more downhill from here. Thus, I’ll continue the climb.

 

What’s On Me

I have to take blame for several things in this completely unhealthy, one-sided emotional affair. One, I would not ask for help. Two, I would not give up hope that he would someday feel the same way. And, three, I pushed people away that tried to come between us, even if it was better for me creatively to put them there (other collaborators, in particular.) However, a couple snapshots illustrate why this situation was so confusing for me and why my feelings were not completely insane. I wrote out three, but decided only to include one. Some things should just remain memories.

 

The birthday girl.

There was one instance where X spent his birthday back home. It falls near a holiday, and he was dating a girl seriously at this time who came in town to meet the parents. Naturally, their romance destroyed me on the daily, but it was the kind of torture I had become completely accustomed to. Pain can be addictive. Honestly, you can’t blame a grown man for dating someone just because a desperate teen who he professionally spends time with exists in his life. I tried hard to know that, but I couldn’t. So, we went to dinner for this birthday. At the table was X, his girlfriend, his brother, myself, and a houseguest of his parents’. His girlfriend, by the way? Completely lovely. I couldn’t even hate her. She was awesome. They did not end up together, though.

So, the houseguest asks X’s girlfriend, who is a college student how old are you? And she replied 19. I was assuming she was a grad student, maybe 23, 24. She looked and acted it, to her credit. But she was 19. A mere few years older than me at the time. We would have been in high school at the same time. I realize a few years is a lot when you’re coming of age. I really do. But to my hormone-driven brain, it was like someone drove knife through my heart in the middle of this strip-mall Mexican restaurant.

I glanced at him and stared back down at my enchilada, which I didn’t want to eat. I wanted to run directly through the window, shatter it, and keep running down Main until I reached the mountains and just sit up there alone for a while…  or forever. That moment, I just knew it wasn’t really my age. No, I didn’t think we would be together at that present time, of course. But.. I mean, think of Celine and Renee, Shania and Mutt Lange, Joe Jonas and Sophie Turner, all the other similar music industry age differences. It was me. It was my fat thighs. It was my pimples. It was my height. It was my ignorance. It was his parent’s nice house and my parent’s struggles. It was my desperateness. It was me. Obviously, I know now that none of that is true, but I am telling you what I thought then. It hurt like absolute hell. It was the closest thing I have to a gut-wrenching, high-school sweetheart break-up. At the end of the night, I hugged him in the parking lot. All I said was “Happy birthday. She’s beautiful.”

This is just one of many examples that I only elaborate on to show the glimmer of hope that validated the tailspin in my own mind. There were several instances where he gave me extremely symbolic gifts that I couldn’t make sense of, like a coffee mug for the studio with a diamond ring on it that “symbolized our working relationship.” There was a lot more to it. Maybe justifying those feelings is selfish, but I don’t want my side of things to come off as completely without root in reality. Young and confused, that I was. But the situation was a very bizarre gray area.

 

These days.

Here’s the thing… This is a person I still somewhat esteem and am deeply grateful for. I think we could be friends one day, but I’m not there yet. And he probably doesn’t think about me often now, regardless.

I couldn’t take the anxiety of having him at my wedding and didn’t invite him. He made me an early-invited guest to his wedding, and I couldn’t bring myself to go. Maybe it would have been healthy. I’m just not that healthy. For those who get totally hung up on the age aspect of the whole thing, it’s ironic that he wound up with a girl (who seems lovely) who is not much older than me, and myself with a guy who’s less than a year younger than him.

 You see, this person who meant well for me in the beginning was the same person who said “You’d have a great figure if you worked on it.” and “Call me if you want your music to have soul again.” who told me about a dream where he died to save me from a car crash. And still the same person who gave me a career. And the same person who pulled me away from co-writers to keep control over my music for as long as possible. You really can be grateful and still mad. You can forgive, but not reconnect. You can say “thank you” and even apologize for your part (which I have) and still write this story because you desperately need to speak your truth. I hope he doesn’t see this, but if he does… there’s nothing here that isn’t true.

I can’t blame him for my health problems. I can’t blame him for my failures. But I can explain what happened and how it all led up to now.

Pheobe Bridgers says it better than I in her breakout hit “Motion Sickness” (which is ironically about her dysfunctional producer/protégée relationship with Ryan Adams.) I hate you for what you did… and I miss you like a little kid.

 

What I Really Need to Say

Here’s what I need to say about all of this. I feel a mix or release and guilt in writing this chapter, so that I can chronologically move on to the next. But most importantly – if there are any young girls reading this… all for the love a guy who didn’t love me, I ran miles until I couldn’t walk the next day. I counted my calories. I took pills to make my boobs bigger when I got so skinny from all the running. I threw away friends. I pushed away my parents. I refused to go to therapy. I hated what I saw in the mirror. I embarrassed myself professionally. I let myself be isolated. I shared amazing experiences and successes that are now bad memories… If you are feeling any of these things… It’s not love. Someday, someone will love you… they will love you for your curves, dimples, scars, youth or lack of it, your crooked teeth, your eccentric humor… all of it. My Zach loves me SO much.

So, my music career began with a controversial, unrequited love story. It defined me then, but it doesn’t define me now. The story simply can’t be told without this chapter, and I feel lighter already.

 There’s so much more to say about different people and places. Part 2 coming soon.

All the love,

Kate

The Rise and Fall of an Almost-Famous Teenager - A Blog Series

Prologue

 

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I was born on November the 1st 1995 exactly one month before my due date. I tried to come in the world on a night synonymous with darkness; a masquerade celebration of being someone else. Nonetheless, medicine and my mother held me in until 6:03 PM on the following day, a Wednesday. All Saints Day – a day of light. Now, you are probably thinking that’s going a little far back, and it is. Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell my entire life story. I only start there to create the dichotomy that has held true for all my 23-going-on-24 years… I am drawn to darkness, but born to the light.

 I am writing this multi-part blog series in lieu of a short, strange bio flick. I am a writer. It’s gotta come out, I suppose. I’ve thought about this a lot over last two years, in which I have grown up substantially in tangible ways, including getting married. Recently, life has given me the gift of enough distance from the past to tell it. And… maybe that’s selfishly cathartic and nothing more. Maybe it will touch or inspire someone, or provide the tiniest, satisfying peak behind the curtain of the music industry. No matter the case, I don’t really care. It feels good to express and it always has. That’s what created this whole crazy story anyway, huh?

 So I needed to start from the beginning on a few things, but I’ve tried to keep it simple. Here are a few rapid-fire facts to lay the groundwork for this series.

 

I was born to great parents and all four-plus grandparents living within 45 minutes or less of each other. We didn’t have a lot, but I felt pretty rich. I would consider myself “the good kind of spoiled” in that I got double and triple doses of discipline, but it was always counteracted by infinite doses of love. I couldn’t have a pony, but I could have a black lab named Hannah-Banana. I couldn’t have an in-ground pool, but I could have long days in a muddy lake. I couldn’t have everything I wanted, but I had everything I needed… and by Christmas, most things I really wanted. I was an only child until I was almost 9. I was born the the third grandchild on one side, and the first on the other. Looking back, I wanted for nothing and was completely engulfed in care and affection. I’d give all the riches in the world to be with my whole family, gone and still here, for just one day. My early years were about as good as they come.

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I was surrounded by music, and noticeably musically talented from age 3 or 4. My mom was into Country (The Judds, The Carpenters, Suzy Boggus) and Contemporary Christian (Jennifer Knapp, Dove Awards Compilations, Susan Ashton). My Dad was (and is) a hardcore New Wave/ Alt Wave/ Indie fan (REM, Talking Heads, The Smiths, Squeeze… you know the stuff). Music played constantly. My parents worked opposite shifts, but I was never in daycare. I was always with one of them or a grandma. My earliest musical memories are Garth Brooks “Low Places”, Paul Simon’s “Under African Skies”, and Elvis Costello’s “Alison”, in no particular order.

Though, ironically, I never learned to play keyboard well, we had one in the house. It sat on the fireplace hearth and I would walk up and play the demonstration track, which I can still clearly hear in my head. The bug bit me. Daddy played, Grandad played, Mama sang a little. I was blooming in an analog world of cassette dreams, booster-seat sing-alongs, and wild only-child imagination. I remember my years from age 2 to 5 well enough to begin to articulate how integral they were in shaping my interests. Kids really are a product of what’s poured in, I think.

 

I was gifted, but I wasn’t usually a winner. I broke the seal of my first large-scale public performance by singing “Goodbye Earl” by the Dixie Chicks at the Anderson, SC State Fair at age 4. By age 6, it was the National Anthem at one of the short-lived Greenville Growl’s hockey games at the Bi-Lo Center (now Bon Secours Arena). By age seven, I started the competing. I could sing, yodel, and dance around a little. People were mostly impressed, at least by small town Appalachia standards. I didn’t care that much if they were impressed. I cared if my front row section (Mama, Daddy, Mimi, Grandad, Nana, Mama E…) were proud. I got a couple of doses of tough love, but for the most part, they were indeed, so proud.

 I was hooked. But, with rare exceptions, I never won anything. This local girl who went on to be a great young woman and a pageant queen beat me every time with Aretha Franklin’s “And I’m Telling You.” If it wasn’t her, it was my Palmetto Clogging instructor’s daughter clogging to Cotton Eyed Joe in first place. That chick also stole the older boy I was dancing with at a State Park Saturday Night Barn Dance. I still don’t like her, honestly, and I don’t even remember her name. (Insert imaginary laugh emoji, but my blood pressure did just rise a little.) Competitive much?

 Anyway, I did eventually win a few things, like my school talent show in middle and high school, but that was 7 or so years down the road. You could say the competition crowd just didn’t always “get” me – a Faded Glory denim-clad, toe-headed baby belting out Trisha Yearwood that I was. But, I got me and my “people” got me. I cried a few times at the Westminster Apple Festival when I lost big, but for the most part, my drive to keep going was alive and well.

 

I didn’t want to do music for a living. I didn’t, and actually, I still don’t. I wanted to do it, but not necessarily for money… or much money. That bug bit a lot later, and only out of necessity, I think, once I was well in the game and trying to survive. One career I seriously kicked around was becoming a lawyer (particularly, I wanted to be a Naval JAG lawyer like Sarah MacKenzie from the show JAG). I wanted to be a college majorette at College of Charleston, transfer to The Naval Academy, let the Navy pay for law school, marry a military guy, live by the ocean, uphold the law and make babies. That’s not so much to ask, right?

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I had the grades and the patriotism, at least at that point. I was involved in that dream so deeply that at age fourteen, I was singing and performing, taking pointe ballet, was the only girl in my Civil Air Patrol battalion, and twirling baton competitively. I just couldn’t narrow down what I was great at, not just good at. Soon enough, life narrowed it down for me, at least for a season. In so many ways, though, I still don’t have the answer. I am certainly not a lawyer, ballerina, majorette, or member of the military, so we know that much.

 

Four major events shaped my childhood.

 

One - The death of my Grandad, my best friend and the person who I wrote my first song for, when I was 10 years old. I had just talked to him on the phone after auditioning to play Fern in Charlotte’s Web at the Greenville Little Theatre. An hour later, my mom rocked me to sleep while I wept – he was gone from a massive heart attack. After that, I began to fear the loss of my loved ones immensely. My Mama E (paternal grandmother) and Dad both, not more than a year later, had a close call on the same day with heart-related issues. That’s a whole ‘nother story where they were in Greenville Hospital at the same time. Those two years made me highly precocious, though I didn’t figure that out until recent years. If my ride home from school was literally five minutes late, I would cry. And I was not little. I was a pubescent middle-schooler. I was terrified of losing my loved ones, and I am still a highly anxious person.

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Two – I was homeschooled off an on. For the most part, I would say I attended Walhalla Middle and High School, but I also went to school briefly in Seneca, SC and was homeschooled in 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 8th, and 10th. I tested out of school my junior year. The reasons for my scattered education centered, partly, around my mom’s disdain for some aspects of public education and guilt that she couldn’t spend time with me, or at least afford to keep me in a private Christian school. I would watch Lizzy McGuire and beg to be around kids and science fairs and dances and lockers. My parents eventually obliged me and I had a very normal middle school experience for 6th, 7th and half of 8th grade. I followed those classmates into one year of high school and was even invited to their prom. I wouldn’t say I fit in, but I still had a good time. Several boys and girls were ruthless to me, but that doesn’t make me unique. My health and my music career also played into my non-traditional education, but I will explain that all soon.

 

Three – I finally became a big sister when I was 8, going on 9. My brother was a surprise. My parents had basically given up on getting pregnant again after years of trying. I know I was a handful, anyway. Jed was like my baby, but he would have little to do with me because he only wanted my mom. Nonetheless, we had a special bond and we still do. We’ve never had a real fight.

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 I do think that he took some of the spotlight off me in a healthy way, though. I may not have liked it then, but his birth afforded me independence, in a way. My mom tended to her newborn and I finally went to school for fourth grade. I had a best friend and a “boyfriend” who lived down the street. It was a magical year that grew me, socially speaking. I delved into my own interests, my own music - my own friends. Additionally, I had my favorite K-5 teacher that year, Ms. A. I fell in love with writing. (As I side note, I have had several notably wonderful English teachers. Ms. A, Mrs. Ball, Ms. Higdon… if any of you are reading this, THANK YOU! And also, my grammar is better than this casual blog style I’m using, I promise!)

 Anyway, my brother, I think, curbed the chances of my life becoming insular, awkward, and well stereotypically “homeschooled.” He also became one of the most important people in my life and still is. Love you, bud!

 

Four – I met a mentor. When I was eleven, my dad was playing bass for a local Christian musician - a talented guy. He knew a local studio and producer (one of very few options in my town, as you can imagine) and introduced me to my first mentor, who became “that” person for me that led to everything else. Much of that “everything else” was good, much of it was bad, and all of which was hard and rich with purpose. That pretty much leads us to the beginning of the real story. From this point forward, I will use fewer names directly, as I want to remain professional and grateful to my journey as I delve into the nitty-gritty of my story.

 

Look for Part One soon.

 

All the love,

 

kate

NEW SINGLE - "Everything I Should Have Said" out 5.25

Hi, friends! My long awaited (for you and me both) new music is finished. I will be releasing 2 singles before a 5 song EP that's coming later in the summer. The first of those two is FUN & SPARKLY & DREAMY tune called "Everything I Should Have Said", written last year with Emily Hackett (an indie princess and streaming darling in her own right), and Davis Naish, who also produced the track. I can't wait for you to hear it! Check my instagram here for a sneak preview of the song! 

Thank you SO much for the support! 

xx

kate 

NEW LOOK

Check out the new facelift here on katebowenmusic.com! It's still a work in progress, but I'm thrilled to share all of these new images by Zachary Gray (@zacharygray on instagram) that we shot here in Nashville. Announcements about the next single are coming SO soon. 

 

xx 

 

kate 

Kate

Friends. If you're reading this, let me first say thank you for checking out my new website! I'm excited for you to join me in a new chapter. In an attempt to blog more often, I have added an official blog tab. You're reading the inaugural post! I'm excited about this, because I'm the kind of gal who either wants to post a picture with hardly any caption, OR write a thousand or so words- no in between. So, without further ado...

You may be wondering, why did I drop 'Ella Mae?' It's a solid name, why confuse everyone? Well, that's a good question, and one I've given lots of thought. I was born Katelyn Hannah Bowen. My mom had wanted to name a daughter that since she was a teenager. I always went by Kate. Dad's a Johnny who goes by John, Mom's a Virginia that goes by Gigi, and I'm a Katelyn that goes by Kate. It's kind of our thing, I suppose. They finally got it right with my baby brother... you can't really shorten the name Jed. Anyway, from birth to 15 everyone called me Kate... or Katelyn, but mostly Kate. Then, I began a career in music. Ya know, producer in a rock band, big deal manager, and the whole nine yards. I never wanted a stage name, but because no one thought Kate was memorable, it was thought to sound kind of "old" for a teenage country singer, and because there was literally another Kate Bowen or two... I became Ella Mae. It's a family name belonging to my great-great-grandmother, a german lady. A moonshiner. A seller of Avon. I didn't know her, but I loved her... and it stuck! 

For two years, give or take, I had a lot going on. I had a long, confusing, and ultimately not very glamorous (or productive) 15 minutes of fame. At the end of that whirlwind, I was a songwriter, nanny, and a barista wondering what in the heck I needed a stage name for. 

Alas, times and tables have turned multiple times since then in the winding road of God's plan for me. I've had a publishing deal, a major cut, released music... and now I just signed a new deal that feels like the very best fit yet. Still, I kept Ella Mae around because it was tied to so many things. But now... now the trajectory of my music and life is ever so slightly more clear, peeking out of the abyss. I'm married now. I feel like a real writer in a room of other creatives. I am working on music with very little outside/ industry input that feels very purely like "me." It leads me to ask the question. Who is "me?" I guess I don't completely know yet, though I learn a little more each day. But I do know one thing... my name is Kate.

It will be a little confusing at first, but it will be worth it. I thank you all for sticking with me. 

So much love.

xx kate