By Anna Marina Karadimas > Senior> Journalism and Studio Art> University of Maryland
Photos By Erin Shimazu > Junior > Photography > Santa Monica College
An average girl with a MySpace page, logging on to catch up with friends and post a song she’d recently recorded, Kate Voegele noticed she had a message in her inbox. It was from Tom—THE Tom, creator of MySpace—offering her a chance at a record deal. Fast-forward a few years and now this 23-year-old has two albums under her belt, a tour bus with an all-male, nine-person band, a university course load, a hundreds of thousands of fans…oh yeah, and a recurring role on the CW’s hit show One Tree Hill.
The Ohio native has been singing her entire life. She didn’t learn to play guitar however, until age 15 when, during a vacation to Florida, Voegele asked her father to buy her a Gibson. “That’s what Sheryl Crow played and I had to have one too,” she said. Along with the guitar he bought her a 4-track recorder that Voegele later used to upload her songs onto her MySpace page.
In 2006, days after MySpace’s Tom Anderson made contact with Voegele and listened to her play live in L.A., he offered her a record deal with MySpace Records, a subsidiary group of Interscope Records. “I was in Florida with my family, so it was the perfect way to celebrate. It was the place I was on vacation at when I first started playing guitar as a freshman in high school, so it was like, wow, it’s all just come full circle,” she said.
Voegele poured a lifetime’s worth of inspiration into her first album, Don’t Look Away, which reached No. 4 on the iTunes chart and sold almost a quarter million copies in 2008. But when it came time to produce a second album, she grew nervous about the expectations and shorter time frame. “I thought, ‘Wow, the sophomore record, that’s going to be a tough thing,’ and my first instinct was to panic. Then I realized I’d been on tour promoting my first record for a year and a half, and it’s been the most inspiring experience of my whole life,” she said. “I looked through all my journals and sketches and I pretty much had this record already written.” Her second album, A Fine Mess, debuted at No. 10 on the Billboard 200 in May 2009. Staying true to her MySpace beginnings, Voegele then posted her songs online and spent the last four months of 2009 touring Canada, the U.S., Germany, France, the United Kingdom and Ireland.
College and a Music Career
Before becoming a professional musician, Voegele was a typical Miami University of Ohio student. Joining a sorority, having a roommate who became her best friend (half of Don’t Look Away was written on her bed in their dorm room) and soaking in the nightlife of Oxford’s uptown was everything Voegele had imagined for her first two years of college. Her Kappa Alpha Theta sorority sisters remain close with Voegele, and attend her concerts sporting homemade t-shirts. Although she’s still a college student, Voegele’s late-night party days have weaned a bit as she’s gotten older. “I’m much more the kind of girl that would rather hang out at a dive bar with a beer with my band and play darts—pretend I know how to play darts rather—rather than go out while wearing tight dresses and dancing on tables,” she said. “That’s not really me.”
About a year into her time at MUO, she recorded Don’t Look Away, and the opportunity presented itself for her to go on a nationwide tour. To Voegele this was a dream come true, and in order to follow that dream, she needed to put her education on hold. Or so she thought—after leaving Ohio and beginning her tour, Voegele was approached by the University of Phoenix to collaborate on promoting their online curriculum. UPX now sponsors Voegele, and in return she is a psychology student and a spokesperson for their program geared towards the busy student who can’t attend classes regularly. “It’s really been kind of the best of both worlds. That I’ve had that amazing college experience, but now I’m getting to study in a way that’s practical and flexible for me…I can go to class at three in the morning,” she laughed. As long as she has her laptop and her wireless Internet air card, she’s present and learning.
Voegele said choosing psychology as her major was a two-fold decision: she loves the subject and studying it helps her songwriting. “Education has always been a huge part of my life, and it’s also something that drives me creatively … when I’m learning something and when I’m reading and writing, it helps me as a songwriter to think and come up with new ideas,” she said. “It’s the perfect opportunity to write about the human experience, whatever that may be.”
While Voegele said she is mostly inspired by her own life experiences, her songs are not all autobiographical. “I come up with my best ideas at the most inconvenient times. I’ll be in the middle of shooting a scene [on One Tree Hill] and then I’ll have to go sing it into my voice recorder really fast between takes so I don’t forget. That’s what’s so cool about this, it’s all based on inspiration,” she said. “You can’t just summon the muse whenever you want.”
Crossing Over to Acting
While fans may recognize her for playing the part of Mia Catalano, a wise-cracking, up-and-coming singer on One Tree Hill [OTH], some may not know that Mia’s music is Voegele. Voegele performs all her original songs on the show and often uses the show to debut new music. So fans actually get to watch Mia experience writing Voegele’s songs. “It’s very authentic in the way they represented it and I think it’s so cool that my fans got to see me write [the song] “Manhattan From the Sky” on the show, even though I had already written it. I think that helps my fans stay more connected to the music,” she said. “They could be like, ‘Oh, I saw Mia put that song together.’ That’s been my favorite thing about the TV experience so far because it’s so unique.”
Crossing over from music to television wasn’t something Voegele ever imagined doing. She never acted before, but decided to give the CW’s open audition a try. After playing a few songs and reading a few lines, she got the part. Several episodes later, the show’s creator Mark Schwahn approached her and said, “You know, Kate, I know music is your gig, but you could do this for a living too.” “I thought he was joking,” she laughed.
According to Voegele, playing the part of Mia came naturally to her because the character’s shy, quiet nature mirrors Voegele’s personality when she first began singing. “It was fun to play that girl because I’ve been that girl. I’ve been the one who’s been afraid to play her music for people. You know, that girl who’s 15 years old in her room writing songs,” she said. “That’s how I started so it was easy for me to channel that in Mia.”
And the other side of acting that came easily to Voegele? Making out with Laguna Beach’s Stephen Colletti. “It’s not a bad thing to be paid for,” she laughed. Colletti’s character Chase is Mia’s boyfriend on the show, and it seems like they’re rarely together without getting to first base. Student, songwriter, singer and actress who frequently swaps spit with sexy costar. Oh, the life.
Between touring with the band, living outside L.A., and shooting OTH in N.C., Voegele gets little time to herself and to be with the ones she loves. “I’d obviously love to see my family and friends a little more than I do, but it’s definitely worth it. All my friends now have graduated college and are working real jobs and they don’t see their family or friends that much either, so it’s kind of the same. At the end of the day it’s definitely a situation where I think the good outweighs the bad.”