Katie Herzig is not an intimidating woman. She has the sisterly charm of a camp counselor and sings songs that turn into transitional segments on Grey's Anatomy. I'm not sure if she's ever been one of those You Oughta Know artists from VH1, but she certainly seems like one. Nonetheless, there is something that separates Herzig from the ever-growing flock of fair-haired folk-pop songbirds out there—something that has helped her find her niche among elite Music City competition. Katie Herzig might not be intimidating, but she's not intimidated, either.
"It was a pretty natural move for me," she says of her 2006 relocation from Colorado to Nashville. "I've had friends here and done some recording, and every time I came to Nashville, I met new people and found it really exciting to be around so many other musicians. It was definitely a challenge in the beginning, because I had never co-written, and I was working with people who were quite established, while I was still making my way. But by the time I moved here, I had a nice little foundation to build from, and it's just been nothing but positives since."
Like most overnight Nashville successes, Herzig is actually nothing of the sort. For nearly a decade, she played with the Boulder-based folk outfit Newcomers Home, a band she had formed with friends at the University of Colorado back in the late '90s. During the group's tenure, Herzig evolved from a back-up singer and percussionist into a formidable frontwoman and guitarist, leading her into what now seems like an inevitable solo career after Newcomers Home called it quits in 2006. While her first two solo albums— 2004's Watch Them Fall and 2006's Weightless—earned some kudos as fine bedroom folk efforts, Herzig hit her stride this year with Apple Tree, a more eclectic and tightly produced batch of Nashville pop nuggets.
"This was definitely a big album for me," Herzig says. "I think the prior album was a little more of an isolated, solo endeavor, and was kind of a shift I needed to make coming away from being in a band. This one was more reflective of moving to Nashville and being in a community of songwriters and producers, and inviting that collaborative element back into my process a little more. It's definitely something I'm proud of."
Herzig is fully aware that Apple Tree is, for many people, her coming-out as a solo artist. It's generated more buzz than anything she's done before, thanks in large part to its aforementioned plug on Grey's Anatomy, as well as high-profile collaborations with members of The Fray and Nashville's successful Ten Out of Tenn tour. One fact not to be overlooked, however, is that Apple Tree is also essentially free—a Radiohead-style downloadable record available on Herzig's own website.
"It's been cool," she says. "Pretty experimental. For me, my goal in doing it wasn't to make as much money as I could, but rather to expand my fan base and invite people into checking out my music. Hopefully they end up sticking with me for some years, in terms of buying records and coming to shows. I guess I'm not in a position where I'm in a record deal, so, as an indie, I have that flexibility to do that sort of thing. And it's been great. I've had a bunch of people at shows who found me through that, so it's worked as a sort of grassroots thing."
If rubbing shoulders with Nashville stars and giving away her album weren't gutsy enough moves, Herzig saves her strongest moments for the music itself. Right from the start, Apple Tree fluidly moves through genres, starting with folky sweetness ("Song Bird") and advancing to Elliott Smith-like pop ("I Want to Belong to You") and a straight-up Killers-style new-New-Wave jam ("Hologram"). This is the spectrum of sounds Herzig gets to show off with her current touring band, featuring guitarist Jordan Brooke and indie pop's finest cellist, Claire Indie.
Next month, Herzig will return to Knoxville again for a special Christmas show with Nashville's all-star singer/songwriter squad, the Ten Out of Tenn, including Griffin House, Butterfly Boucher, and Tyler James among others. It's the tour's second stop in Knoxville.
"At first you have to ask, what will a tour be like with 10 different artists, where you only get two songs per night?" Herzig says. "But it's just been so fun for everybody and such a great way to introduce ourselves to new people, to show what's really going on in Nashville. There's a misconception of mostly country music coming out of here, and that's definitely not the case. So I love being a part of it."