Interviews RachelKateRA(JonSantiago)4530A

Published on February 26th, 2014 | by Ballard Lesemann


Songsmith Rachel Kate Heads Back Home to Nashville

After spending more than eight years as a resident of Charleston, Nashville-born singer/songwriter Rachel Kate (a.k.a. Rachel Kate Gillon) recently announced her plans to leave the Lowcountry and return to the Music City.

In a post on her Facebook page last week, Rachel Kate explained that she was eager to move closer to her family and get involved with new musical adventures. Addressing the Holy City, she wrote, “Thank you for encouraging me to be the best me (freak) that I can be. Thank you for welcoming me with warm open arms. Thank you for helping me grow. Thank you for supporting me … it’s time for me to be brave and present myself with new challenges. I encourage you to do the same in your own way.”

Before concentrating on solo songwriting and recording over the last few years, Rachel Kate fronted the eclectic rock combo The Shaniqua Brown and collaborated on melodies and harmonies with acoustic combo Local Honeys.

Last fall, she released her solo debut album Rachel Kate w/ Love and Hate. Recorded and mixed at the Jam Room studio in Columbia with engineers Jay Matheson and Jamey Rogers, the 10-song collection featured a bold variety of country anthems, beautiful ballads, and emotive torch songs.


Rachel Kate on stage at the Royal American, Feb. 2014 (photo by Jon Santiago)

Metronome Charleston caught up with Rachel Kate this week to discuss her experiences as a local musician and artist and her plans for the near future.

Metronome Charleston: What was it that initially drew you to Charleston eight years ago, and when and how did you first start performing music around town?

Rachel Kate: I was preparing to go to college, and I knew I wanted a new challenge to explore a new city to grow more into my own person. I figured the best way to do this was to go far away from everything familiar. Don’t ask me why … I knew immediately that Charleston was that place I wanted to be, and I didn’t care how much debt I had to go into to get there.

You know, there’s a charm and beauty in Charleston that draws you in right away, and there’s no way to shake it. It’s captivating for sure. There’s something in the air, I guess. Well, that and the beach. I started playing in my living room and discovered a wonderful community of people that hosted house shows. Quite frequently, there’d be a show with touring bands in someone’s living room. That’s where it all started, I think, and then it just sort of went from there.

I was also a fan of Monday Night Blues, an open mic night at the East Bay Meeting House. Open mics are a good place to get over some performance anxiety. People are kind and not all judge-y. Mean, judge-y people are intimidating. There’s a difference between thoughtful criticism and mean judgment. It was a nice place to learn how to do stuff like work the PA and cables and tuners and things like that.

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Rachel Kate (at far right) with the Shaniqua Brown in 2011 (photo by Sean Money and Elizabeth Fay)

Metronome Charleston: What are some of your fondest memories of your earliest days in the Charleston music scene — with the musicians, at the clubs, in the studios, etc.?

Rachel Kate: House shows. They are so much more personal than playing in a club. It’s a wonderful feeling to have as many people as possible crammed into the living room, exchanging energy, and actually listening to whats going on in the music — lyrics, melodies, and sounds. Even when it’s 1,000 degrees on a late July night, it was like our version of a Native American sweat lodge or something.

We used to go play kickball in Hampton Park every Sunday. Sometimes me and Lily Slay would sit and exchange songs on the sidelines. That’s where we met, I think. Then the birth of the Royal Tinfoil brought about some fun house shows, too. Dancin’ and sweatin’ it out, real talk.

As far as clubs go, a friend of mine took me to Village Tavern about seven years ago for my first Charleston show out on the town. It was the Films and Slow Runner, and man was I hooked. Shortly after that, I think, I saw Cary Ann Hearst and the Borrowed Angels at Redux and lost my mind.

Metronome Charleston: When did it first feel like you were well settled in Charleston as a “local” musician and artist?

Rachel Kate: That’s hard to say. I don’t know if there was like an “A-ha!” moment for that. I just sort of did what I thought was supposed to happen next, you know? Play this show, and that one, and that one. The more you play at first, the more people get to know you and ask you to play more, and you ask them and you play at other places, and so on and so forth. Maybe it was a year or two some time after college. At that point, I actually felt like a resident of Charleston in general, so maybe that’s what it took.

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Rachel Kate, solo in 2013 (J Forest Photo)

Metronome Charleston: Who were some of the most supportive, nurturing, and influential Charleston musicians and artists during your early years in Charleston?

Rachel Kate: My friends, obviously, first and foremost. They were and are always supporting and encouraging me to play and share my art with the world. Friends are the jam. As far as visual art goes, my professors at College of Charleston were the jam. When I’m over here with my weird-ass ideas and wanting take my project above and beyond, they encourage me to do so and help me figure out how to get it done. All my weird-ass ideas…

Bandi Tomaschek was a big one for me, too. At the time, he was in a band called French Kiss Coma. He is really encouraging and supportive and nice and not all judge-y. Like I said, there’s a difference between thoughtful criticism and mean judgment. I actually recorded my first demo with him in his apartment on Coming and Bogard Streets. And at one point, we had a band called … I don’t know because I couldn’t think of a good name. We played at Andolini’s downtown, I think, for our first show, and I think I called us “Call Us What You Will.”

Kevin Hanley has been a big one too and always will. Love that man. He’s a genius. Then there were the ones I was inspired by and admired from afar and am now lucky enough to learn from more up close nowadays: Bill Carson, Ron Wiltrout, Jack Burg, Cary Ann Hearst, Michael Trent, Michael Flynn, and Joel Hamilton, to name a few.

Metronome Charleston: It seems like your various projects covered an awful lot of musical ground over the last few years — from loud, heavy rock to acoustic solo stuff and more exotic collaborations. Which band and solo projects are you most proud of, and why?

Rachel Kate: It’s hard to really pick one because they have all served different purposes and feelings. I appreciate so many kinds of music for many different reasons. There are many realms I’ve yet to delve into and can’t wait to do so; Neo-soul, anyone? Hip-hop? Stoner rock? But really, maybe it’s cause it’s so fresh in my mind, but that Groundhog’s Day show for the Halsey’s 30 anniversary at the Music Hall … whewee! The energy in that room was damn good. It didn’t feel like we were on a stage performing “at” the crowd; everyone in that room could feel the magic. Insanely moving. I still can’t believe that I got to be a part of such an incredible show. When Bill Carson asked me, I was like, “Me? You want me? I’d be honored!”

Metronome Charleston: Have you been considering a move back to the Nashville are for a while?

Rachel Kate: I’ve known that eventually I would move back for a few reasons. My family being a big one — it just so happens that Nashville ain’t too bad of a place to be from for music purposes too. I just wasn’t quite ready. There’s a certain personal strength that I gained in Charleston that I needed before I could come back to Nashville. There was still some growing or some something that I needed to do before I came back. Charleston has taught me so much about life and love and … vacation every day!

Metronome Charleston: What do you most look forward to?

Rachel Kate: Spending time with my family and going to rad shows all the time and doing more neat stuff.

Metronome Charleston: Who might you collaborate with once you arrive in Nashville?

Rachel Kate: You know, I’m not sure. Sarah Bandy is there, so that’s a duh. I’m sure we will get plenty of warrior sister time in together! Other than that, I’m blowin’ in the wind. I’ll keep you posted should I find Jack White or something.

Metronome Charleston: What are some of your main musical and artistic goals in mind for 2014?

Rachel Kate: The same for every year: tour, write, craft, record, explore, and be happy.

Metronome Charleston: Who’ll be with you on stage at the Tin Roof on March 2?

Rachel Kate: Lovely Locks from Savannah, Georgia —  and boy, are they lovely — and for my set it’ll be me, drummer Steve Sancho, bassist Brad Edwardson, singer/keyboardist/guitarist Jordan Igoe, and cellist Diego Villena. Boom!

Metronome Charleston: Will you send us a touristy Music City postcard once you get settled in?

Rachel Kate: Duh! I don’t want Charleston to think I’m betraying it. I’ll be back to visit all the time. Just because I ain’t down the street don’t mean you’ll never see me again. I can’t stay away! For now, my family calls and so does the music.

Rachel Kate and her band will perform a show at the Tin Roof on Sun. March 2 with support from Lovely Locks. Admission will be $5 at the door. Visit and for more.


Footage from the video for the song “Lost” from the album Love and Hate w/ Rachel Kate.



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About the Author

Ballard Lesemann

is a musician and writer. Born and raised in Charleston, S.C., he spent years playing in bands and working for Flagpole Magazine in the bustling music town of Athens, Ga. He returned to his hometown and served more than seven years as the Charleston City Paper's music editor. He's better at drumming than he is at playing guitar.

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