You can’t help but notice Kate. Her fire-engine red hair, her Stevie Nicks style and her powerful voice belting out Heart, Janis Joplin and Sass Jordan. Kate, of Kate and The Mongrels, was voted best vocals in RI this year and her band was voted one of the top 3 bands in the Local Bands Category of the Providence Journals Reader’s Choice Awards for 2022. This self-taught beauty has been singing for over 30 years and sits on top right now.
By L.A. Reilly
LA: The first time I heard you sing I was amazed by your powerful voice I heard you sing the National Anthem this year and it was flawless. When did you start singing and playing out professionally?
KT: I was 19 when I started in my first band. I had been singing since middle school but just in chorus. The only singing lessons I’ve ever taken were as a teenager from a 98 year old man from Pawtucket, RI who charged me $3 an hour and he taught me opera. At 10 years old I decided I wanted to sing and the only way I knew how to sing was to copy other people’s voices and the band that I loved at the time was Heart. I’m every vocal teacher’s worst nightmare. I don’t do anything right. I don’t warm up, I drink alcohol and coffee, I’ve had to relearn how to sing after putting calluses on my vocal cords. I have asked Greg Sharrod to work with me going forward to help me maintain my voice for the future. He is a great singer in his own right as well as a patient vocal teacher.
LA: your band is called “Kate and The Mongrels” and you also play acoustic under “Scarlett”. Tell me about your band’s members and where you play. You were voted one of the top three bands in local bands category of the Providence Journal’s Reader’s Choice Awards for 2022.
KT: Scarlett has been around for 10 years. It started with Phill Soares, who is now in 21 Guns. Phill and I have been friends for many years and played together years before in Wild Child. He decided he wanted to put a band together to showcase my vocals. We were fortunate to get Chris Vital on guitar. Chris left to pursue other opportunities and we added Derek Picard. Phil left for 21 Guns and Paul Silvia came in. Paul moved down South, so Derek and I are now a duo. My first band was Tramp. After that I started Wild Child, which was a Ricky Carr band. I did an acoustic band called Dragonfly, then a band called Three Way, one more called Last Chance Band and from there it was Scarlett. We have done weddings, festivals and played in many restaurants in the area. I was asked to participate in the Homegrown Music Seminars event in 2019, which is where Kate and The Mongrels was born. My friend Rick Lawson got in touch with me and said there’s not one female singer in this group and I’d really like you to do something with you. Kate and The Mongrels started with and remains Rick Lawson on bass, Buzzy Ketz on guitar and Brian Underwood on drums. They wanted me to sing big songs by Pat Benatar and Heart – songs that I’ve never done before. We learned five songs and people loved us! It was for fun. It started that we were only going to get together to jam. After COVID we started playing out. We don’t do things exactly how the albums do it. We “Mongrelize” the songs we perform. It’s morphed into Blues and Rock mixed with 80s and 90s favorites. Our goal is to completely blow people’s minds with our song selections. This year we did the Bristol 4th of July concert series and the East Providence fireworks. We have already started booking into 2024, which is very exciting.
LA: You were recently voted best vocals in Rhode Island and will be performing October 21st at the Rock’ n Rhode Fest V at The Last Resort to raise money and awareness for Rawkstars Inc. What an honor. What was your reaction ?
KT: I was shocked. I’ve been doing this for 30 years but I was floored that I was chosen. I really had a lot of people come out of the woodwork to vote for me and it will be an honor to play with the best of the best in the state.
LA: Who are your musical influences?
KT: Definitely Janis Joplin. I was introduced to her music at 15. Also Anne Wilson of Heart, Sass Jordan and of course Pat Benatar.
LA: Do you have any pre-show rituals ?
KT: I have a shot of alcohol before I go on stage because even 30 years later I still get stage fright. I have asthma, so I also take my inhaler before I start to sing too.
LA: If you could play any venue in the world what would it be what famous band would you tour with?
KT: I’d have to say Heart even if I was a background singer. Also Stevie Nicks when she is a solo performer. I’d love to open up for the Eagles and Kate and The Mongrels would be a perfect opening act. As for a venue? One day it would be amazing to play a large-scale festival. I got a taste of it this year and I’m hooked.
LA: Who’s performed your favorite singing performance that blew you away ?
KT: Best show performance I’ve seen was Bryan Adams about 26 years ago but my top vocal performance would be Stevie Nicks solo at Mohegan. Every story she told launched into a song it was very personal.
LA: What would you say are the main differences between singing with Kate and The Mongrels versus singing acoustic ?
KT: Kate and The Mongrels takes every ounce of what my body can give vocally, physically and mentally. I put everything into it. Scarlett is much more relaxed, very comforting and simple. I don’t put any less passion into Scarlett, but acoustic performance isn’t meant to be a show. You are meant to be background music for atmosphere most times.
LA: Do you play any instruments ?
KT: Not one. I’ve even been asked to stop playing the tambourine because I was off time. I started singing because my grandparents wanted me to play music. My grandparents were a huge influence in my world. My grandfather played the trumpet as a child so he wanted me to play an instrument too. They bought me a baby grand piano and I hated it. When I got to middle school I joined the chorus and I auditioned for four solos for the Spring Concert. I got two of the four. They came to the Spring Concert and sat right in the front row. When I finished my grandfather said to me “You never have to play the piano again as long as you promise you will never stop singing” and that’s one of the reasons I still sing today because I don’t ever want to play the piano again.
LA: I’m always amazed when I go to watch bands how singers voices always stay strong. Are there any techniques you use to keep your voice staying strong throughout the performances ?
KT: I’m the only singer for three full sets of at least three hours of music for Kate and The Mongrels. In Scarlett, I split vocals with Derek. Building up your stamina is key. Also knowing how to make a setlist is important. Where I place songs in the set list helps me sing at my best. Placing big vocal songs toward the end of a first set and in the second gives me time to warm up. Putting songs where my voice sounding a little deeper or more hoarse works well into the last set preserves my voice and outs on a better show too.
LA: Describe your favorite part of being a musician.
KT: It allows me to be creative. I’ve always said that if you want to know who I really am come watch me perform. Every song means something to me and I sing it as if I’m telling a story. My favorite part is being able to connect with the people.
LA: Lastly when you’re not performing with the band what do you do for fun?
KT: My favorite thing to do is sit by our new koi pond that my husband made with a cup of coffee on weekend mornings. We spent a lot of time at our youngest son’s lacrosse games. I am president in our town’s Rec. Lacrosse program as well. Once a month we have a World Food Night and we try different cuisines at new restaurants with close friends. We order a little everything to try. We are foodies! We also like to support our friends’ bands as often as possible.
Follow Kate and The Mongrels & Scarlett: