HVUM: Katie Garibaldi is an international, multiple award winning singer-song writer based in San Francisco. She’s best known for her “to die for”
expressive and richly beautiful soprano voice matched by intelligence and charisma. She regularly engages audiences across the United States and her multiple studio recordings bring new meaning to the Americana-Folk-Acoustic tradition.

HVUM: Katie, it’s so great to have you with us. We’ve been following you for years now, so we know something about you from listening to your award winning songs and watching your performances, but tells us about your background. How did you first become interested in music and pursuing a career in music?

KG: Thank you, and the pleasure is all mine! I became interested in music way before I had any experience with instruments. I feel like the music was always inside of me and when I learned the guitar around age 11, I finally had my way of bringing the music from the inside out. I’ve always been a melody maker first and foremost so I would sing melodies all the time and words would eventually form out of them. My parents always had on records from the Beatles and the Beach Boys for me and my brother growing up, so I think that just fueled my love of melody even more. I learned the piano because my mom plays, and though I loved the sound, it didn’t inspire me to song write. But the guitar was like my magnet for songs. I started performing in high school at cafes and volunteered at retirement homes to sing my music for the residents. Looking back on it, I think that was a really crucial time when I was seeing that music had a healing impact. I remember a time when I played at a local cafe and I must have been about 16. I sang some song of a broken heart and a man came up to me afterwards and said he was touched by everything I said in my song, and then proceeded to ask me for advice about his marriage. I think he and his wife were contemplating divorce and he was asking me what I thought he should do. It’s really funny when I think about it now—picture this 16-year old shy girl sitting at the counter drinking her tea and this stranger asking her for marriage advice. I was probably terrified! Haha. But these types of moments just show how music brings us together in the most basic human form. It doesn’t matter what age we are or where we come from. We all go through the same things and music reminds us that we’re not alone. In high school I recorded my songs at a friend’s house and made CDs to give to people. Pretty soon I started selling them and I became more interested in how to be an independent artist as a career. I started educating myself by going to music business conferences and reading books about it and I got really into the marketing side of things. So I became aware pretty quickly that this was my path and there was basically no going back because I was too in love with it already.

HVUM: Did you receive formal training along the way and did you have any teachers or mentors that inspired you to become a professional musician?

KG: When I was in elementary school, my teacher one year had an acoustic guitar and she would regularly have these singalong sessions where she would play and sing folk songs with the class. I was also in the school chorus and the teacher led us with an acoustic guitar. I was completely obsessed with the guitar and it was love at first sight! I would look at it with stars in my eyes. Both teachers were women and I think seeing these women sing and play this magical acoustic instrument was pivotal for me. I asked my parents for lessons, and my brother wanted to learn guitar too, so we took private lessons. I knew it was my instrument after the very first day. We took lessons for a few years, but I was a pretty bad student. My teacher would give me exercises and scales to learn, but I would go home and just write a bunch of songs instead of practicing. Pretty soon I would stop pretending to act like I had done any homework and would just bring him the songs that I wrote or ask him how to play a Jewel song or something. But he was a great teacher and I learned what I needed at the time in order to express myself.
HVUM: You studied at Notre Dame de Namur University, were your studies there influential in driving your music career?

KG: Yes, they really did. Though I knew music was my love, I knew from the get go that in order to do this as a career, I needed to learn the business side of things. So I majored in Communications with a minor in Business and took classes on marketing, advertising, website design, public speaking, etc. I learned how to write a press release, what it took to make a marketing plan, and things of that nature. I tried a music studies class, but it wasn’t as exciting as just doing music, which I was doing while in college—gigging and touring. So I focused on the business of it and I used so much of what I learned when I was starting out, meanwhile gaining live performance experience. I was able to take over my own website with the program I learned and really got my business going. While in college, I was able to intern at music related companies and for my communications senior final, I was able to interview guitar player Joe Satriani and go to his concert with a ‘press’ pass. It was great!

HVUM: Recognizing that you are more than capable across genres, you are widely recognized for your Americana roots. What is it that draws you to that acoustic-folk tradition?

KG: There is something special about the sound of an acoustic guitar that makes my soul feel at home. It conjures something that is bigger than me and can sort of take me out of my body. To me, there’s nothing more vulnerable than a singer standing with his or her guitar, playing songs written from the heart for people to witness. It’s a strange dichotomy of real and otherworldly; beautiful and scary; weak and strong. I enjoy electric and big production music too, but a song for me needs to hold its own with just a voice and single instrument like the acoustic guitar or piano, for me to go deep with the music. I feel like there’s a real rebellious nature to it too. Like, since I started out doing music everyone in the industry would try to tell me what to do, trying to put rules on music: “You can’t have a song title with only one word. You’re not supposed to have that long of an intro. The chorus should start at less than a minute into a song. This doesn’t follow equation XYZ!” I’ve never listened to anyone when it comes to “supposed to” in songwriting because music is not “supposed to” have any rules, at least that’s how I feel about it. I mean, what happens if a chorus is one measure “too long?” Do we all die? Does the world implode? What happens?! I’m not interested in music with rules or the anatomy of a hit song. I’m interested in whatever moves me. I’m interested in what heals and has an emotional effect. And when it’s just a singer with their acoustic guitar playing whatever they want however they want, that’s just badass to me and I love the freedom of it. No click track, no amplifiers, no barriers, just the ebb and flow of a story with a melody.

HVUM: We listen to your music posted on Soundcloud. Your most recent song there is “I Am”. Tell us about that song? What is behind it?

KG: “I Am” is from my EP release Rooted Clarity, which has a theme of discovering faith and the true roots of ourselves. At one time I was feeling alone and misunderstood and just kind of lost. One morning I was drinking my coffee in a sun spot at home and got that itch to pick up my guitar. My fingers quickly went to these chords and I started singing a melody, and it happened so fast that I grabbed my notebook and started scribbling down lyrics. The song felt like it wrote itself. I finished it and sealed the deal with writing “I Am” as the title. Then I reread the lyrics and I realized that the song was actually from God’s perspective and he was talking to me. In a way, he was answering my unspoken prayer through a song: “When you lay your head down thinking nobody cares, and you look around thinking nobody’s there, I am.” It was honestly a really emotional moment when I realized what the song was saying, and an extremely healing experience for me. I think God has this really fun sense of humor too and in the days following, I kept coming across references to God as “I Am,” which I hadn’t thought of when I wrote it! I would hear on TV, “…and God, the great I Am,” or read in a book a really random reference to God as “I Am.” And the obvious reference in the song dawned on me. I just walked around laughing all week like, “Ok, I get it!” It’s always an emotional one for me to sing live because I think it’s an important message for people to understand that we’re never really alone and that we are loved.

HVUM: Let’s have a look and listen to “I Am” performed live at Two Old Hippies, Nashville!

HVUM: Particularly for our young aspiring artist friends it’s always interesting for our guests to share “war stories”. Along the road, you’ve no doubt had some really great “ups”, but just about everybody in the business has at least one experience they could have done without…can you share a high and a low with us?

KG: There are so many highs but one that just came to mind is when I recorded my album Follow Your Heart and got to work with an orchestra arranger (Minna Choi) on writing string parts for a few songs. I have always loved stringed instruments and had gotten a small taste of having a violin on a song or two in the past. But when I got the opportunity to work with Minna, I was able to really dive in during the pre-production and it was a dream come true for me to have full orchestral arrangements on my songs. I was able to describe what I wanted and also hummed a lot of the parts that I wanted to hear. Minna then took those directions and ran with it, arranging full parts for violin and cello. Hearing actual melodies that I hummed come to life with an orchestra was really exciting. This was a big high for me because it opened up a whole new world of inspiration, which led to me using live string players in the studio for my next album Rooted Clarity, and the whole direction of that album, which is actually now part of my signature recorded sound. I really found a big part of myself as an artist and producer during that whole process. As far as lows, there have been plenty of them, but I don’t look at them as lows now because the biggest lesson I’ve learned in life is every time a low happens, it opens up the opportunity for a high. So in hindsight, we look back at those lows and say, “Thank God that happened, otherwise I would have never done XYZ.” But of course during the low you say, “Why is this happening?!” I think it’s all a test of faith. But one of those moments for me was when I was planning to work with a producer on a project a few years ago. We had done all the pre-production and signed a contract and everything. I think it was about a week or two before we were scheduled to go into the studio for our first session, he emailed me to say that he could no longer do the project because another project came up that paid more money so he took that job instead. (I know, what a standup guy, right?) At the time I was devastated because I had already made all my plans for the record and was really excited about it. So in the moment it was definitely a low point. But I don’t even think of it anymore because if that hadn’t fallen through, I would have never found another studio and team, which happened to be one of the best experiences of my life. So, dear person who has horrible character and rudely abandoned me, I sincerely thank you so much!

HVUM: As a successful female artist, do you have some words of wisdom about building a career in music? Can you suggest a definite “must do” and a definite “do not do”?

KG: The best advice I can give from my experience is be your true self and always follow your heart. This can be really scary sometimes and it takes a heck of a lot of courage, but the world needs brave people who dare to do what lights them up, whether that’s music or something else. Fear is a given because that’s just life, but don’t let it control you. It’s better to risk than to regret. I used to get really stressed out when people in the music industry would say, “Find out who you are and what makes you unique and market that,” that sort of thing. I’m like, ‘Oh my God, who am I?! What’s my thing?’ But you don’t have to have everything figured out at once, simply just be. Don’t worry about what other people are doing, just be naturally you and do your best. That’s what’s authentic. Don’t overthink it. The other thing I would say is don’t be hesitant to invest in yourself and your business. I think some people get stuck because they don’t take financial risks, but if those risks are smart then they’ll most likely pay off. And if they don’t, you just try something else. But you have to bet on yourself to get anywhere. I’m always conscious of how certain areas of my business are feeling. If I’m feeling stuck somewhere and not moving forward, it’s time to move on to another avenue—try different things. See what works and what might take you to new opportunities. Don’t settle and hold yourself back. Always be willing to try something new once because you will learn from it and grow either way.

HVUM: One of our favorite songs and videos regularly posted on our social media is “Delightful” directed by Anna Haas. It’s always interesting to know not only about the song, but the making of the video and the storyline. Tell us about “Delightful”.

KG: When I wrote “Delightful,” I sat down with a darker state of mind because at the time I was affected by a lot of negativity. I let what someone else said get under my skin, and it bothered me that I was allowing an outside circumstance take my happiness. During the songwriting process, the song ended up transforming my darkness around to see the light. I realized no one could actually take my happiness unless I gave it. I believe we’re all born with a light inside us and no one can take that away, no matter how hard they try. Our job is simply to remember that light, let it shine, and also to not shade our eyes from seeing the light in others. We were born to be delightful. The chorus is: “Take these shades off of my eyes and shine all of the light inside. We could be delightful. I can’t believe the world is all scary. What if we were delightful?” The songwriting process for this song was immensely healing for me and I knew this message was particularly important to share with others. This was my mission! I met Anna in Nashville, who did the photos and album design for Rooted Clarity. We had talked about doing a music video because she also directs and when the time came, I sent her “Delightful” to see what concept she would come up with. The story that she created for the video is one where I’m brokenhearted but through the process of taking myself out on a “me” day, treating myself to things that normally couples would do together on a date, I discover I don’t need someone else to make me happy because happiness was mine inside me all along. The relationship spin on the video is different from the song’s inspiration, but it creates a great storyline that a lot of people can relate to and in the end, the message is clear: happiness is a choice and we have the power to own it. I love that the video also celebrates independence and female empowerment. It was a blast to make and I’m so happy to see the positive response that “Delightful” has been getting.

HVUM: You have a Christmas album coming out in the very near future. Tell us about the new recording. Maybe you’ll give us a “sneak” preview of what we can expect.

KG: I’m so excited about this album, it’s ridiculous! The album is called Home Sweet Christmas, and the release date is December 1st, which you can preorder now on my website. I wrote and released a Christmas song called “Tomorrow is Christmas Morning” last holiday as a single. Since then, I was inspired to write more Christmas songs and thought it would be fun to do a full album, maybe half originals and half classics. But I just kept writing, all the way up until the pre-production stage before going into the studio, and so it became an album of all original songs. I included one classic as sort of a bonus track to the album. The songs range from the folky Americana vibe to very traditional classic country to a more pop influenced style, and to even funk and gospel sounds. I recorded the album at a local studio in the San Francisco Bay Area with engineer Justin Weis and I worked with some of my favorite musicians. We created some new sounds on here that I’ve never done before—lots of cool textures and arrangements. I also worked with backup singers for the first time, who I call my “Christmas Choir” and who did a fantastic job. It was a lot of fun for me to sit down and create the choir parts, which was a new thing for me as well. I grew up singing Christmas music and I love listening to it all year round. It’s a dream for me to finally make my own Christmas album and I can’t wait for people to hear it. Expect the unexpected, and plenty of jingle bells!

HVUM: In addition to the new album, what’s on Katie’s horizon?

KG: I just got back from Nashville where I filmed my new music video, which I reunited with director Anna Haas and her team on. The video is for a song off my Christmas album called “Unhappy Holiday.” I was able to see some of the footage and it looks incredible! There’s both beauty and humor in it. It was so much fun to make! The video will be out soon so stay tuned for that. While in Nashville, I also filmed an acoustic performance of a new song that I’m planning to record on my next album, which I’ll be sharing soon. I’ll be playing some Christmas shows at the end of the year as well. Otherwise, I’m writing away and will most likely start recording again next year as my next album is taking shape.

HVUM: Katie, thanks so much for taking time for the HorizonVU Music team and our network of friends. We have no doubt that you’ll enjoy continued success, but we do wish you the very best for all the new ventures that life has in store for you!