A Chat With German Folk Songwriter Katie Wellenberg & Look At Her Debut Album, ‘Root To Rise’

Whether it be a public figure or someone we know personally, there’s always someone in our sphere of influence who has surmounted all sorts of climates and obstacles to follow their dreams- and make it look easy. Humble as can be, German songwriter/singer/drummer/music producer Katie Wellenberg is someone to be acquainted with. 

With folksy lyrics and a touch of edge, her debut album, Root to Rise, has a certain flair that makes you feel like you’re living your best life through the Friday night hustle and bustle of a smoky bar on Broadway. Upon hearing that she has only ever visited Nashville a handful of times, it is quite refreshing to know that someone who isn’t a native to the city– let alone the country– can really nail this particular energy to a T. As natural and effortless as it is to the ear, Root to Rise is the shining product of Wellenberg’s endless determination, education, and aspirations.

Throughout the course of the album, you can tell that every song is organically Katie Wellenberg. “Fighter,” a song that she took 10 years to perfect, is a shining example– over the piano, it’s like you can feel her personal longing deeper and deeper with every falsetto: “after all, I am a fighter.” Another is “Times Ten”– an ode to the wide-eyed adrenaline that comes from being young and fearless. 

That said, with years-worth of that persistent longing and daydreams about the art she’d make under her belt, she is finally starting to see that everything she has ever wanted is becoming tangible. 

We had a chance to chat with Wellenberg to discuss all things unrequited love, producing music, and the value of time spent.

So where did you grow up, and how might that have affected your musical prowess? 

I was born and raised in Southern Germany, but I am half Austrian too! Both countries are very similar in culture, with German as the official language, and a very sad common history in parts, too. It traumatized the people on a large scale. There wasn’t much room for “happiness and humour” for a while I guess. At least that is my perception.

Germany is the 3rd largest music consumption market in the world. And music is like medicine. So maybe Germans crave it in parts because of the trauma, that might still be an underlying issue. Growing up, the charts were full of songs by US and UK bands and artists. Only in the past couple of years has German pop music become more popular over here. Young people seem to be less inhibited to freely express their emotions in German. Interestingly, I myself cannot write songs in German. The German language is very detailed in structure and has interesting words, however I feel like it lacks the subtleties of other languages, in translating versatile emotions authentically. I started learning English at six-years-old, then later taught myself to speak Spanish at fourteen. I think these linguistic skills made me discover music I wouldn’t have listened to otherwise. Spanish singer/songwriter Rosana Arbelo is one example. Her poetic songs have inspired me a great deal.

You’ve had quite the journey leading up to your debut album, Root to Rise, which dropped as of this publication, July 31st. What was the moment you knew that music was something you wanted to pursue?

That is a very interesting question, thanks for asking! I do in fact remember the actual day I promised myself “to become a musician when I´m all grown up”. I was 13 years old then. I kind of knew I had to go down that road. I started to write songs at 14, after Alanis Morissette’s Album “Jagged Little Pill” had come out. The album was a big Uh-Huh moment for me. For the first time ever, I became aware that you can literally say anything in songs! Before that, I thought of songs more like poetry and random stories. It was a liberation to write what I truly felt, and to pour these emotions into verses and choruses. I was a shy and introverted kid and kept these songs to myself. So, it took me many more years (including years of total self-denial) to finally open up about my passion and share my songs with people. I’m glad I didn’t break my promise though!

Genre-wise, your sound is one that pulls from a lot of different places. In your opinion, what music has influenced you the most?  

I grew up listening to my dad’s favorite music, which included anything and everything by the Rolling Stones, The Doors, Janis Joplin, Aretha Franklin, Shirley Bassey and countless other 70s bands and acts. I literally never got bored.

Janis Joplin’s Pearl album was one that really hit home with me. “Me & Bobby McGee” is probably my all time favorite song. Janis had a legendary voice and unique singing style, no question. I always admired that. Additionally, I loved how Janis would mix rock and blues and a little soul and some country all into a unique blend. She definitely still inspires me. Sheryl Crow’s “All I Wanna Do” made me wanna play electric guitar in the 90s, too. But Alanis was the one that got me hooked on lyric writing, which is at the core of my songs to this day.

On top of being a skilled singer and songwriter, you are also skilled in music production and a handful of different instruments. Which one of these things came the most natural to you? 

Well thank you, I feel flattered! I am in fact rather insecure about my skills. I guess it’s fair to say that I am more of an artist than a master of my craft. But that’s fine! I think my guitar playing is fine for a songwriter, but I definitely would like to invest more time into learning to become a more advanced player. Singing is hard work for me as well. I still notice a lot of tension, and there’s so much psychology in it!

I started learning to play drums two years ago, and to answer your question, it is probably the instrument I’m most talented at, as I love coordinated tasks. I am still a beginner, but I can see myself advancing much faster than I do with other instruments. Music production is a field I love as well. I launched myself into a one-year formation in Audio Engineering, and I’m a certified audio technician. I love mixing my own rough demos. To me, mixing music resembles colouring a picture. In that sense, songwriting is like drawing the outlines and deciding on a style. Arranging the instruments is like adding light and shadow and giving the song texture and depth, but mixing is like colouring the canvas. It is an art in itself and really brings the song alive. Sadly, we do not give producers enough credit artistically. I wanna give a shoutout to my producers Alex Keogh and Patrick Thompson who did a great job on Root to Rise. It was something I couldn’t have done myself!

Whether it be related to music or not, what is something you’ve been wanting to learn more about? 

OMG, there’s so many things! I am really into physics and astronomy. I’m very interested in the relativity theory. I wish I could understand quantum physics better though. At school I majored in Biology and loved it! Natural sciences definitely matter to me. I later went to study Roman languages and philosophy, and I guess that pretty much sums it up. I just love to investigate ALL aspects of life. Understanding our bodies, human psychology, spirituality, communication and the world around us- I could go on and on! Art and music are great ways to express all these magical revelations and experiences we make as humans and sharing them with one another. Music to me is the ultimate tool to process life experiences. The good, the bad, and the unlabeled ones! 

Your song, “Fighter,” seems to come from a vulnerable place. What was the songwriting process for this song like? 

The song is very stripped down and timeless, I guess. Maybe because it was written over a period of time, rather than a specific moment in time. I wrote the lyrics at 21 years old and composed the melody 10 years later. It combines two different eras of my life. “Fighter” is all about unrequited love, and the refusal to accept that. It is about dealing with those nasty wounds of being rejected and not wanting to let go. There’s a lot of hurt in that song, and I tried to not mask it. Authenticity is a quality characteristic in music to me.

Considering Root to Rise is your debut album, what is something you would want listeners to know about you as they become introduced to your music?

Good question! I think music creation in general is rooted in wanting to be understood. I have a lot of social anxiety, and never feel like I can truly connect to people. I never fully let my guard down. Music is my way of being brutally honest. Most of the songs on Root to Rise are based on my own experiences and issues, but I’m hoping that these songs ring true with other people as well, and that they can be someone else’s soundtrack. Maybe even a place of healing.

You don’t need an instrument to write a song- you can just sing what comes to mind, and yet, it takes “time” to get lost in music, to find inspiration, to harness your skills and to produce and perform music. Not everyone has that much time at hand. Think of a single mother with a full-time job to raise her kids, or a person taking care of sick family members after work. I never want to take this for granted. So with that in mind, I want my songs to be of service to everyone who can’t self-express in the way I can. The songs on Root to Rise address many every-day life topics, such as relationships, shattered dreams, faith, feeling different and so forth. Writing is a solitary act, but once I record and produce music, my goal is to bring people together and strengthen them and I believe that togetherness does not require “being alike” or thinking the same way necessarily, but is rooted in love for one another and for our “uniqueness”. Love is the soil we need to have in common to allow for us all to rise high. Music is my language of love!

If you had to pick, of the songs on Root to Rise, which are you most proud of? Songwriting-wise probably “Territory” as it is a rather expressive tune. “Like a Child” is the song that’s dearest to my heart though! It is a song about self-acceptance and faith. 

On top of being a singer-songwriter yourself, you also run Song Brewery, a music blog of your own. How did that come to fruition? 

Yes, I created the Song Brewery in 2019. I guess I just love connecting people and like-minded folks who have a love of songwriting and certain feel-good drinks. Whether that is a freshly brewed coffee or an ice cold Bavarian beer;). Brewing songs is my favorite thing to do, and I love sharing anything I learn along the way. So yeah, the Song Brewery is like a book-club, but instead of talking books, we talk songs! It’s a community based idea, really. A platform for songwriters from all backgrounds.

As a well-traveled musician, out of all the places you’ve been, which have inspired you most? 

The internet! Haha, just kidding. I have been to Nashville twice, and I love the city for its rich music scene and the kind, creative people. It is a place I can’t wait to go back to ASAP. Rome is probably the city that really stirred me up the most (from the places I’ve seen so far). It feels surreal to stand in front of the Colosseum or on top of the Forum Romanum…everything is so well-preserved! It’s like traveling back in time. So yes, I´d say it is a very inspiring place as well! 

Over time, how would you like to see your venture into music progress?

I see myself as a songwriter first, and a recording artist second. I would like to experiment with different Afro-Cuban grooves, maybe blend in genres I have not yet explored and become a better vocalist as well. Another big goal is to develop my performance skills and to overcome my innate shyness. The journey will continue for many more years I’m sure. I’m hoping I’ll never be fully satisfied!

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