In the Driver's Seat

Singer/songwriter Kat Parsons (C99) is traveling the road less taken in her budding musical career.

by Jennifer Wedekind (J06)

Kat Parsons loves to drive.

Behind the wheel of her rental car, driving herself around the East Coast, she is able to find silence and solitude — a rare moment for the up-and-coming singer/songwriter who manages to fit in magazine interviews, live airtime on radio stations and appearances on TV morning shows between tour stops to promote her second album.

When compiling her newest album, the 2005 release No Will Power, Parsons (C99) revisited a song she wrote shortly after graduating from Northwestern with a degree in theater. The reflective “Standing Still” describes the uncertainty and excitement about leaving the “prescribed path” she had followed in high school and college.

“It’s like traveling along a river and being let out into an ocean with no land in sight,” she says. “And you’re working really hard just trying to find a coastline.” Proving to be a strong swimmer, Parsons recorded and released her debut album, Framing Caroline, the same year she graduated.

After years of touring universities, clubs and other venues, her fans began pushing for a new album. An artist with an entrepreneur’s instincts, Parsons told her fans to put their money where their mouths were. She set up a system allowing different levels of participation in which fans could provide a contribution and in return receive concert tickets, posters, signed CDs or album credits. Her fans proved their loyalty, accumulating more than $18,000 before Parsons even entered the recording studio.

No Will Power, released in March 2005, chronicles the recent unraveling of Parsons’ two-year romantic relationship. The music takes the listener through “the moments when I was realizing that this wasn’t going to work,” to “letting the person go,” to “wanting the person to be happy because you love them, but it still being painful to see them happy.”

Performing live remains Parsons’ true passion. “I love to connect with people,” she says. Often touring as a solo act, Parsons consistently leaves rave reviews in her wake.

Hailed as a modern Carole King because of her songwriting and pop/folk sound, Parsons was featured on the April cover of Music Connection magazine. She won the 2004 Acoustic Live competition, beating out more than 600 other musicians, and No Will Power was runner-up for Album of the Year at the 2005 DIY Music Festival, part of the fifth-annual DIY Convention: Do It Yourself in Film, Music and Books.

Parsons, who was born in Vienna to opera singer Darrell A. Parsons (GMu71) and recording artist Julie Fowle Parsons (Mu72), grew up immersed in music. Her father regularly quizzed Kat and her brother, Jon (who sometimes plays in her backup band), on the style and time period of classical compositions. Kat Parsons now lives in Los Angeles.

While promoting her album and touring throughout last November, Parsons worked on songs for her next album, which she wants to be “more stripped down.”

“There’s something that is so powerful about a simple song,” she says. She is beginning to experiment with different musical styles, and while she is committed to improving her craft, Parsons hopes to perform for larger audiences, expand her tour areas and continue to write and record new music.

But Parsons says she still feels most productive when driving. When the adrenaline from a performance wears off and she is back in her car, Parsons has miles of highway to reflect on her career, coming to the same conclusion as many of her 20-something peers. “I’m just doing my job, working hard and trying to make ends meet.”