Katie Grace Helow
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Katie Grace Helow

Jacksonville, Florida, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2009 | SELF

Jacksonville, Florida, United States | SELF
Established on Jan, 2009
Solo Alternative Country




"Reborn with Katie Grace Helow"

A few months ago, I had to interview prospective interns for a music development agency. I was forced to ask that horribly bland question, “What’s your favorite type of music?” and though I won’t say I’m surprised, I did get one answer more than any other: “Anything but country.” This is clearly a product of the direction that mainstream country has gone, but let’s be fair to alt-country and the underground musicians that keep alive the real art of the genre: country is not dead. Florida native Katie Grace Helow has created a dark and compelling alt-country record with emotional depth, proving not all country is bad.

Past Lives is Katie Grace Helow’s sophomore album, following a more acoustic effort, titled On Time & the Ocean. Her debut was gorgeous in its own right, but her new record has turned up the intensity in every way. The instrumentation is somber, yet powerful, creating the perfect tone for Helow’s commanding voice. The album is comprised of ballads that are world weary, inspired by real life experiences that Helow only felt comfortable sharing in song. The opening track, “Savior or Sin“ features the widest range of Helow’s vocals on the record, which admittedly never reaches any notable highs, but rather has a remarkable depth.This is Helow’s signature sound, one that sets her apart from whatever stereotypical female country singer that you may be thinking of. Though the vocals in “Left For Dead,” the following track, are subtler, they are still just as powerful. This actually could be said about most tracks on the album; her voice is simply impressive.

Helow hasn’t completely abandoned her acoustic sound, with some simpler tracks in the middle of the album. No matter what the backing instrumentation is, whether it be a full band or her singular guitar, Helow still manages to capture your full attention. And I also really appreciate an artist that doesn’t compromise with “radio length” tracks, four minutes and under. A long track is the hallmark of a talented songwriter, and Helow has this in spades. “Scorpion” is an enduring odyssey at seven minutes long, but it has some of the most soothing guitar work on the record. The same can be said of “Live Wire,” though the backing vocals are what haunt in that track. Helow’s good friend Zach Lever contributes to the harmonies throughout the album, and complements the rest of the record perfectly.

When analyzed, Past Lives has all the elements of a talented indie artist. Let’s not make assumptions just because it’s got the word country in it. - Music Court

"Current Incarnation"

As is the case with most of the musicians in this massive yet incredibly small town, I know just about all of the other players in one context or another. I have either performed or recorded with them, reviewed their albums or have taught (or been taught) by them. And so it goes with songwriter Katie Grace Helow. We’ve known each other for years, both in and outside of our respective musical careers, and I have reviewed her music in the past. All this is to say that, in the interest of full disclosure, Katie and I are friends.

But as with all of the friends ballsy enough to send me their music for review, I’ll give Katie the full going-over, because what’s the point, otherwise? Friends never benefit from dishonesty, even if it saves their feelings, and I have a very low tolerance for bullshit – given or received. And so we dig into Helow’s forthcoming album Past Lives (due out mid-November). See, I even switched to using her last name, so I won’t feel so bad when it comes time to drop the hatchet.

Immediately I am struck by the aggression of her new work. Helow has proved herself a solid songwriter in the neo-folk tradition, with lots of non-threatening strumming and sweet vocalizing. But right out of the gate on Past Lives, she lurches into “Savior or Sin” with an upbeat and dark acoustic picking pattern. It’s stark and striking, soon bleeding into distorted guitar blasts and thick bass accents, something that’s been absent from her previous work. Think early Fleetwood Mac on this one.

“Left for Dead” ticks it up a few more notches, all full band and Neil Young-y grunge. Helow’s voice is lilting as always, but there’s an angry (is that the right word?) subtext that’s pleasantly surprising. This may be the result of her new collaboration with songwriting partner Zach Lever. It’s a volatile mix.

“Classic Combination” features Lever’s tremoloed twang behind Helow’s simmering vocal lines, and though this one is a bit more predictable, it is nonetheless satisfying if simply for the restrained but moody guitar solo. Next is “The Scales (part I),” which might as well be a slightly modified version “Savior or Sin” as the guitar is structured much the same way. This one is a little more dynamic, though, and there’s the old-and-reliable freight-train snare pattern added after the first verse, giving a little more heft. But “Scales I” is largely dispensable. “The Scales (part II)” is structurally unrelated, and sounds more like Helow’s older material, very melodic and open, giving plenty of room for her lovely voice. With this in mind, one “Scales” would have done the trick.

I’m gonna skip a couple of tunes to tell you about “Arm’s Length,” probably the best song on the record. Opening with a spaghetti Western twanged-out lead guitar and moving headlong into some interesting chord changes for the chorus – all supported by a variation on the aforementioned freight-train snare line – this one is the “least Helow” on the record. Accompanied vocally by Lever in the chorus, and bolstered by his very Tarantinoesque guitar soloing, “Arm’s Length” goes for it. Helow and Lever both shine, and the result is laudable.

The title and penultimate track is the longest on the album, and the closest to a love song. Which makes it not my favorite. But I don’t hate it, either. But I don’t love it. Which I guess means I like it, but not enough to dissect it. But that doubled-vocal line is pretty cool. But dammit, the chord progression is more predictable than I’d like. It gets a little heavier near the end, which is nice, but that’s five minutes into its seven-minute running time, too long to wait for that build-up. Crap, I just dissected it.

Never mind.

Past Lives winds down with “Other Side,” which focuses on Helow’s guitar-playing, a nice Nancy Wilson-meets-wayward-cowboy vibe. She’s solo here, like the old days, and it makes for a nice closer. The rumbly low end of her acoustic guitar is meaty and full, lending a muddy background to her honeyed voice. Lyrically in keeping with most of the songs on the record, it’s biting but hopeful, at once simple and complex.

Kind of like Katie. - FOLIO WEEKLY

"With Grace"

"One could easily say, without being too dramatic, that the music of Jacksonville songwriter Katie Grace Helow shimmers. Her supple voice, finger-picked acoustic lines, minimalist arrangements and introspective lyrics all come together like a summer breeze rippling the surface of some remote pond. Too dramatic? Perhaps. But listening to Helow's new record, "On Time and The Ocean," might excuse such histrionics. Rarely reaching above a whisper, Helow does what so few local songwriters can: She creeps inside your head and stays there." -John E. Citrone - Folio Weekly

"Quiet Flight"

"It's easy to understand the songstress' purity of intention, but she's so talented you almost want her to sell out --- just a little bit…Her pure, folksy voice, pleasantly sparse original songs and child-of-Lilith-Fair persona garnered attention around town." -Kara Pound - Folio Weekly


Still working on that hot first release.



“You won't see Katie Grace Helow coming until her fearless love of music and ruthless dedication to her songs already have you by the throat. It might hurt, but you'll know you're alive. She makes songs with the mud and sand and salt water of her Florida home. The people she knows and loves get mixed up there too. It's a place she'll never let you visit, but some nights you can peak through a keyhole or watch from the neighbor's bushes. It's a place where plants bend in the dark looking for some sunlight. Sometimes they find it. Don't listen to her records, and don't go see her shows, because you won't realize you're stung until it's too late. You'll be sunburned, dehydrated, and lost at sea.”

* * *

Katie Grace Helow’s love affair with music goes back as far as she can remember. As early as 4 years old she was piecing together songs on her father’s piano, later taking a liking to drums and percussion, teaching herself guitar, and exploring her vocal abilities. Yet it’s only now, with her second full-length album newly released, that she’s ready to see how far this life-long passion can really take her. The album, “Past Lives,” is the result of several years of perfecting a collection of songs that reflect the pain and complexities of intimate relationships and self-analysis. Rarely one to reveal her vulnerabilities through social interaction, Helow uses her songs as an outlet for the raw emotion and uncomfortable truths that both haunt and inspire her. Favoring minor scales and open tunings, she sets the tone musically in order to delve into the dark corners of her listener’s brain, creating space for the intensity of the lyrical journey that follows. While this has always been the basis for her songwriting, as is apparent in the moody compositions of her 2009 debut solo album “On Time & The Ocean,” there’s an undeniably new energy to many of the tracks that make up “Past Lives.” With a more aggressive guitar style, more powerful vocals, and the attention-grabbing guitar riffs and vocal harmonies of accompanying musician Zach Lever, Helow makes it clear that she’s ready to be heard. 

Over the years Helow has opened for notable bands such as Junip, David Bazan, Bitch and the Exciting Conclusion, and Loudon Wainwright III. She has been in and recorded with many bands of diverse genres: as a guitar player for a punk band in high school, as a drummer for a hardcore band in college, and as a guest vocalist/musician for several friends’ bands in the years that followed. However, “Past Lives” is the first album to include full-band recordings of her own songs, made even more significant by the fact that Helow and Lever play all the instruments themselves. This is also the first time Helow has put out a record on vinyl. While she has been attracted to vinyl records ever since she learned how to use her parents’ turntable as a child, Helow held out until she was sure she had an album with worthy songwriting and recording quality. Her musical partnership with longtime friend Zach Lever, which blossomed shortly after the release of “On Time & The Ocean," was also integral in her decision to press “Past Lives” on vinyl. Having kept her original work solo for years, Lever was the first musician with whom Helow felt she could completely entrust her compositions. She found in him not only a skilled, versatile musician, but an ability to immediately understand her musical vision, and know just what was needed to help each song reach its fullest potential. 

“Past Lives” was released on November 19th, 2015, and is available as a 2-disc vinyl set as well as digital download. 

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