Akron native Kate Tucker returned to her hometown to give friends, family and fans their own special introduction to her new full-length album, “Practical Sadness,” with a concert at Musica July 13, the first show she has played in Akron with a full band in three years. The album came to fruition after Kate experienced the loss of her mother, an event that inadvertently inspired the album’s lyrical themes.
Storytelling is what motivated Kate to pursue a career in music, as she felt it was an essential way to connect with people in a room. The energy during her set in Akron was electric, with Kate radiating joy and elation as she sang songs inspired by finding light in moments of darkness.
Before returning to Akron, Kate was in the midst of a six-week tour, performing original songs solo in smaller rooms and in larger venues with her band for audiences in California, Arizona, Texas and Illinois.
“I grew up in a family of truck drivers, so I always heard stories about the road,” Kate says. “I love driving and love to drive long distances, so I don’t get tired from touring. I always had the sense that I wanted to be on the road a lot.”
Although she tours and records as Kate Tucker, a solo artist, she explains she rarely plays music for audiences alone. Many of her performances, particularly on the “Practical Sadness” tour, are booming rock shows, with Kate whipping her hair and using every inch of the stage as she belts out songs like “Dying on the Dance Floor” and “Whiskey Mouth.”
“I wanted to always be a solo artist with the caveat that I almost never play solo,” Kate says. “When [people] go to a Kate Tucker show, it doesn’t mean acoustic in a corner. It could be the loudest rock band.”
Kate’s sound is very much in tune with her current surroundings in Nashville, having a slight country twang mixed with glittery pop and bluesy guitars. The Cranberries were her favorite band as a teenager in Akron, she says, and influences from fellow female vocalists Courtney Barnett, Cat Power and Hope Sandoval can be heard on many of Kate’s original tunes, particularly “In Your Arms” and “Blue.”
Kate was gifted a cassette tape recorder by her parents when she was 4 years old, and she would write and record songs in the car on the way to church. She started her first band in 10th grade, having decided she wanted to be a singer and songwriter after seeing an Amy Grant concert at Blossom. She played solo sets throughout college and eventually joined This is donemetal and hardcore bands in Cleveland and Akron.
Kate’s childhood in Akron influenced much of her songwriting sensibilities, but it was the death of her mother in March 2016 that had the most profound impact on the creation of “Practical Sadness” and Kate current endeavors as an artist.
“I was out of my mind grieving at the sudden, unexpected loss of my mother,” Kate says. “The album was a way to work through it. I was working on another project but went on a different path and recorded this album in two days.”
Kate says it was initially a struggle to write any songs or even think about playing music again. Her friend Kenny Childers traveled to Nashville and gave her the push she needed to channel her pain into songwriting and storytelling.
Kate traveled between Nashville and Akron throughout the summer of 2016, which she says was emotionally exhausting yet bittersweet. It was Kenny who told her, “It’s that good old Midwest practical sadness,” which inspired the title of the album.
Kate and Kenny wrote much of the album together. Then she ventured to Bloomington, Ind. to put a band together, flesh out the material and record 10 new, original songs in a basement “in the middle of nowhere.”
Unlike most of her musical projects, Kate explains that this journey happened quickly, and the project was completed a bit more spontaneously. It made for a rawer, more honest interpretation of the songs she had written for “Practical Sadness.”
“Everything happened so fast,” Kate says. “I got the vinyl, hit the road, did weekend shows and am getting ready for the release in Nashville.”
The album’s bonus track, “All I Ever Wanted,” is a standout, with Kate’s soft, melodic vocals painting visual scenes of oceans and horses. With lyrics like “I guess all I ever wanted/was to love and not be haunted,” Kate explains she might not have known what the story was when she wrote the song, but it emerged after it was recorded and became a way for her to work through what she was experiencing.
There’s something about growing up in a family of truck drivers, hitting the road to tour and driving miles between her new home and where she cut her teeth musically that brings Kate’s story full circle and has created something both practical and beautiful from her sadness.