The Way Forward: Kate Teague

The singer-songwriter talks moving to New Orleans and taking life as it comes.

I moved to New Orleans at the very end of September last year, so I had a few months to get on my feet here before quarantine hit. Even after COVID hit, I was still in the midst of job-transitioning, and I also didn’t have a secured housing situation, which was really stressful. Everything finally started coming together in May when I found a house to rent with a roommate that I love, and a couple of months after that I found a part-time job.

I’ve worked a plethora of jobs since I left Oxford, Mississippi, which was where I lived before New Orleans. I was a director of a non-profit there, but I left that job and moved here to try and focus on songwriting, with no secured job in place. I started working a lot of odd jobs like nannying and doing social media work for a previous colleague. Now I’m still doing a little bit of that, but I also started teaching music at a preschool. I am teaching in person, which is challenging, because there are clearly a lot of limitations to that. But I really enjoy it.

By the turn of 2020, I was finally starting to find my feet with shows in New Orleans — I mean, I had some shows last year, but local show opportunities were starting to come to me more organically by the beginning of this year, and I also had booked some out of state shows that I was really looking forward to. My first big support tour was supposed to be this summer with Fred Armisen. I was obviously really looking forward to that career-wise, and financially, because it was factoring in to being able to pay rent. So, that was pretty devastating all-around, and I spent a good amount of time wallowing in that for a while. 

But after I got through that, it really has been a breakthrough period and a blessing in disguise for me personally. What I mean by that is, I’ve grown so much as an artist since I’ve had more time to really delve into my songwriting. Prior to moving to New Orleans, I had a really intense job and was just one of two employees for a big statewide non-profit so it was really hard to write while juggling that. My whole career was based on songs I’d written throughout my entire life, compiling every song I’d written since I was 20 and performing them. So finally having the space to create since I don’t have the pressure of running a 501(c)3 has made me a lot more creative.

I’ve grown in the ability to just record myself. I’ve taken an interest in that, and that’s expanded the types of genres I’ve been writing. I’ve always only relied on my guitar to write — I tend to write more ballads, more songwriter type music. Although I’m passionate about that type of music, I’ve also recognized that not having the ability to create my own tempos — like, instead of starting a song with a chord progression, starting a song with a drum beat, and then deciding a chord progression based on that — that kind of brought into more rock songs, synth-y electronic stuff, slow poppy stuff. I think it’s expanded my ability to play around with different types of songs.

Honestly, I’m not thinking about [the future]. I’m at a place in my life where I’m trying to figure out what’s best for me right now — that’s still a big burning question for me. I have a lot of transitions I’m working through, and I’m just looking forward to finishing my demos for a record. I’ve been writing all of these demos through quarantine, and I’m finally at a place where I have nine or 10 of them and am in the middle of mixing them myself so I can potentially find a home for a record. I’m still pushing on my ability to work towards my album, and my personal ability to be in a place financially with work that I feel really good about. That’s really all that’s on my mind right now. 

Ultimately, I want everything to get better for everybody, especially as artists. But for me personally, it’s a matter of getting my own life together in the way that I need to to move forward. It seems like a useless exertion of energy to try to think about what you can’t even do [right now], but it’s nice to feel hopeful.

Kate Teague claims she’s not a poet. “I’m just trying to be as real as possible,” Teague says from Oxford, Mississippi. When you’re making a name for yourself writing and performing songs in William Faulkner’s hometown, it may be a healthy distinction. It’s also not entirely true. Teague does draw from her own life and from those close to her. She mines lived experience ranging from heartbreak to misread body language to misogyny for honest, concise reflection. At 27, to quote another Southern writer, she’s made of wise blood. It runs through all these songs. “My songs are like journal entries,” Teague says of the six tracks that make up her debut self-titled EP, which was recorded at Memphis’ Delta Sonic by veteran producer Clay Jones. “And I rarely filter myself.” But, tethered to silky melodies, those sharply observed, plainspoken verses belie the daydream cadences, the lush arrangements, and Teague’s clear, graceful voice in ways that do verge on the poetic.