Bay-area singer-songwriter KTL has debuted his first EP release entitled Hush. Dropping on March 5th, Hush eloquently showcases KTL’s fingerstyle guitar and soulful roots with five tracks that exemplify his soothing vocals and introspective lyrics. Citing influences like Sufjan Stevens, Ben Howard, and Jose Gonzalez, it’s no surprise that Hush is an instantly gratifying soundscape for the soul.
As KTL’s debut EP, he admits that the five chosen tracks are a culmination of trial and error. “Some of the tracks on this EP I wrote five or six years ago, while others came together in the last 12 months,” says KTL. “The process of creating this EP was the process of learning how to write songs that felt authentic to me, then learning how to record them, and then finding a way to make them hold up against other professional recordings — the last of which I never would have gotten close to without others’ help.”
Each of the tracks centers around specific moments in the artist’s life and serves as launch points for the kind of emotion he is trying to convey. KTL says that “Space Between” was inspired after a difficult trip left him searching for a way to ground himself while “Hideaway” is about a revelatory dream helping you realize something you only knew subconsciously before, and how to deal with it in waking life. He goes on to explain that each track tells a story, but beyond that, tries to convey an overall feeling to the listener that transcends the lyrics. “I wasn’t sure I was going to release these songs as a single project, but found over the course of creating them that there was a commonality to them — each track deals with a different kind of insecurity, whether it’s a high school kid who’s unsure how to talk to his crush (“Dust”), or the fear of letting life go by without making a mark on the world (“Picture Frames”). There’s a catharsis in writing about these feelings and overall hopefulness in the songs that despite these fears, things will work out if you put yourself out there.” As an admittedly shy person, the result of this EP represents the struggle between fearing the spotlight and yet still wanting to express himself musically. Without a doubt, KTL has found that perfect middle ground to let the listeners in so they can experience the stories of each song alongside him.
KTL is a bay-area-born singer, songwriter, and producer. Starting at the age of 5, KTL was originally trained as a classical guitarist, which laid the foundation for the fingerstyle playing that his music is becoming known for. Combining his appreciation for instrumental beauty with inspirations from contemporary artists like Jose Gonzalez, Ben Howard, Bon Iver, and Sufjan Stevens, KTL set out to create his own version of soulful indie-alternative songs. This unique combination of styles has led him to perform for Sofar Sounds, at the Santa Cruz Music Festival, and a variety of other venues in the San Francisco area. With the debut of his first EP Hush already garnering over 11K Spotify listeners, KTL is sure to be seen on more stages as fans discover his distinctive sound.
How has COVID-19 affected you, your band, your community?
Covid has been a bit of a blessing and a curse, actually. I’m very lucky in that my job has gone fully remote, so I can’t compare my situation to artists who relied on touring to make a living. Being stuck at home really gave me the time I needed to focus on recording my songs and improving as a producer, something I’d always struggled to balance with the rest of my life before lockdown. I used to jump around a lot from writing to recording to playing live and not being able to play any live shows really freed me up to go all in on finishing this EP. I found that not having any pressures beyond your own expectations is really liberating when it comes to creative work. I felt like I could experiment as much as I needed to with basically no deadline beyond an overall desire to finish the project by the end of 2020.
On the flip side, releasing my first music during a pandemic has felt weirdly impersonal at times. Without live shows, the only feedback I’ve been able to get is on the internet, which is still valuable but lacks some of the emotional impact you get from real interactions. It’s kind of like the zoom happy hours everyone was doing at the beginning of the pandemic — they could be fun in the moment, but the energy wasn’t quite there and once they were over you’d realize you were sitting drunk and alone in your house. I’ve really had to explore different means of promotion, whether it’s advertising, submitting to playlisters and bloggers, or trying to build a social media presence. It’s been a good exercise to learn about those things, but I’m definitely excited to go back to playing live shows.
Who are you listening to these days and what about their music inspires you?
I had listened to FKJ a little bit in the past but recently found his live set for Cercle on youtube and was absolutely blown away. I’ve always played solo with a loop pedal during my live shows, so to see one person put together such an intricate set and be able to play 10 different instruments at once is totally insane, and really stretches the bounds of what’s possible as a solo artist.
Westerman is an artist I found a couple of years ago, and I find myself constantly going back to his music. I’ve always loved the combination of electric and acoustic sounds, and I think he achieves a really unique union of those two worlds, making music that sounds both modern and retro at the same time. One thing I love about westerman is his ability to make somewhat oddball vocal performances work perfectly in the context of the track, without sounding contrived or out of place. As someone who’s always been a bit self conscious about my own voice
I was a bit late to the Mt. Joy train, but frankly they’re just an awesome band with a really good vibe. I think what I like most about them is that they write songs that sound simple and familiar on the surface, but as you listen more and more you find that there’s a lot of depth and detail packed into each track. A lot of music doesn’t hold up past the first few listens, but I find their music to be endlessly replayable.
What advice would you have for yourself 2 years ago?
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. When I first started making music, I didn’t feel like I knew anyone with a lot of experience in music production that I could go to for feedback or advice. I wish I’d spent more effort early on getting connected with other musicians and asking them for their opinions or experience. A lot of times it felt easier to just keep learning things on my own, but sometimes even just having another person’s perspective can get you past a creative or technical hurdle in a fraction of the time it would take without another’s input.
Consistency is key. I spent an awful lot of time bouncing around between different aspects of music, whether it was songwriting, recording, mixing, or playing live, even though I knew my overall goal was to finish recording my first set of songs. Even worse, I would have spurts of productivity interspersed with periods of not doing much at all, which made it really hard to build momentum in any one direction. Finding space from what you’re working on can be valuable but I think being more deliberate and consistent with what I was working on helped me more than anything else in the process of finishing this project.
What are you working on right now?
New music! I’ve been so focused on finishing this EP for the last 8 months, between getting the mixes / masters finished and all the lead up and promotion, it now feels really great to close that chapter and start fresh on some new music. Some of the songs on the EP I started recording years ago, so it really feels like i’ve been in the same headspace in terms of production and writing for a long time now. I’m really excited to put everything I’ve learned towards some new projects and continue to develop my skills as a producer and songwriter.
Do you have a favorite piece of gear?
Definitely my looper pedal. I enjoy playing with other musicians but I feel like I come up with most of my ideas just jamming with myself over different loops. I also really enjoy figuring out how to play more complex arrangements with the looper in a way that still feels natural and fluid. Normally with a looper you’re locked into whatever riff you lay down first, but playing with a multitrack pedal lets you do some more interesting things in terms of layering and switching on and off of specific musical ideas. There’s a very satisfying feeling that comes with figuring out how to fit all the different pieces of a song together so that the performance doesn’t feel stale.
A close second would be the Shure sm7b — I record in a shared home office with basically no acoustic treatment and it does an amazing job of isolating vocals and cutting out room noise, where before I’d drive myself crazy trying to eliminate weird resonances in my vocal performances.