Genre-bender Kat Dahlia uses life and rock-and-roll to keep it real.
Is the world ready for Kat Dahlia? No matter as this talented and driven 24-year-old singer/songwriter/rapper is clearly more than ready for the world.
It’s a time of firsts for the former Katarina Huguet: her first official nationwide tour begins this week, and her first record My Garden drops January 13, 2015. After a successful release of two EPs and some well-received videos last year, including the unforgettable and autobiographical “Gangsta” which got heavy play on MTV (yes, they still have music) and was featured on an episode of Law and Order SVU, Kat Dahlia is poised for the next big step in her career, and sees interacting with her soon-to-be-even-bigger legion of fans as the biggest excitement on the horizon.
“This tour is so overdue,” Kat said from Miami. “I’m most excited to be able to see the fans, and to have my first show, a show that is mine, and be able to connect with the fans finally and see them in person. I can’t wait to just get out there and feel them and get the music out.”
Born in Miami Beach in 1990, Kat was raised by Cuban-born parents and had to become self-reliant early on (her parents divorced and her childhood was not an easy one). But her passion for performing passed the time and helped ease the pain, eventually becoming a springboard to the next phase of her life.
Growing up, Kat took to the mirror, singing along to pop divas Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears. “I was like a pop kid … fantasizing and dreaming about performing to a bunch of people,” she recalled. “I always acted that out even when I was performing with friends and would get so serious about it — there were no games to be played. … I always knew I would do it, but I wasn’t sure how to get to that next point.”
At 18, she needed a change of scene to keep chasing the dream, so she took the money she saved while working as a restaurant server and moved to New York.
“It was a very fast-paced decision,” she said. “I lost my job on Independence Day and by August 2nd, I was up in New York. From one thing to the next. I needed to leave the beach. It can get so small. The place you grow up in, you get very comfortable and it can get so monotonous. Soon I found myself in a rough situation in a relationship, but ultimately going up there was a great thing for me.”
The profound experiences she has had, even during her brief young life, have been directly transferred to her music, and it has fostered some deeply emotional expression. Take a first listen to “Gangsta” for example and you won’t be able to shake the emotion, let alone the groove, anytime soon. And Kat hopes to carry that emotional thread further with My Garden.
“Music tends to be a therapy, there’s so much to talk about, there are so many emotions, so you have a lot to write about,” she continued. “My first EP was all feeling, all emotion, it was things I was feeling because of what was going on. And that’s what music is, right? It’s emotional and it’s deep and it’s real and it’s raw.”
On the surface, Kat’s music can be described as a pop/hip-hop/rap hybrid, but the subtle yet marked difference with her is not only the tremendous power of her songwriting, but also a more unexpected influence she heard blasting out from a car stereo a decade ago.
“I give it up to my brother. He was a classic rock, punk rock, kinda kid, and he introduced me to all that stuff,” she said. “We would drive to school and he would be playing Led Zeppelin and Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix and The White Stripes and The Doors, and that’s when I started to fall in love with all that stuff. That’s when I started opening my musical palette. Getting into The Casualties and The Sex Pistols. Then I started discovering the blues and B.B. King, and jazz and pop-jazz. I always loved listening to all that music from different times. It takes you there, to another world.”
She credits some of that rock-and-roll washing over her in giving her a different voice than your typical pop-hip-hopper.
“I think there are some things in my music that tend to be a little rock,” she said. “My voice, sometimes, doesn’t have so much of a hip-hop voice. I think that I got a lot of my influence from a lot of rock people, like Janis Joplin and B.B. King, who is more bluesy, and Robert Plant. … The music is rhythmic and has that feel, but my voice does find that rock thing a lot.”
So what really separates Kat Dahlia from some of her peers in the highly competitive world she hopes to conquer? For her, it’s not a hard question to answer. It’s part of her inherent charm and sharp edge.
“I guess the only thing that really separates me from anybody else…is ME,” Kat said. “Right? It’s just me being myself. And that’s the only thing I can do to not be similar to anybody else, just tell my story. Nobody has the same story, not everybody feels the same things. So when I stick to my story and stick to who I am, that’s how different I can be from anybody else.”
Kat Dahlia performs Tuesday November 11, 2014 with Craig Stickland and Kid Cannibal at the Howard Theatre, 620 T St. NW. For tickets, click here.
Steve Houk writes about local and national music luminaries for WashingtonLife.com and his own blog at midliferocker.wordpress.com. He is also lead singer for the successful Northern Virginia classic rock cover band Second Wind plus other local rock ensembles.