When Florida native Kim Logan moved to Nashville a few years ago, the opera-trained chanteuse had her eye on becoming a recording artist. But unlike most musicians who are willing to do most anything to get noticed, Logan had a broader vision of her future: she intended to not only be an artist but a producer, writer, arranger, bandleader, publisher, and if necessary, own the label, too. Being a maverick in Music City isn’t easy. For one thing, the more “hats” you wear, the less profit there is for anyone else. Most artists have to sell some of their soul to get noticed. But Logan—already a professional opera singer before stepping into Davidson County--managed to sidestep those pitfalls. After releasing a self-produced debut album in 2013, Logan is back with a new series of singles, Pseudoscience. Chapters One and Two were respectively produced by Vance Powell (Jack White, Chris Stapleton) and Brett Orrison (The Black Angels, Widespread Panic) and there’s more coming in 2017. The sessions with Powell featured our Epiphone’s own Dominic Davis leading the band and playing bass. Kim is currently on tour rocking out with her ever-present Epiphone Dot on the east coast with upcoming shows at the Bowery Electric in New York and Pete’s Candy Store in Brooklyn. Epiphone spoke with Logan about learning to find your voice in Music City, her opera training, and the doors that still need breaking down in Nashville.
Congratulations on your new release Pseudoscience.
Thanks! It’s actually a series of records. I put out my debut record in 2013 and I did it pretty much all by myself—the business side of everything. I only had experience in opera—I’ve been singing opera since I was 9--and that was really my only professional music business experience when I came to Nashville. I went to Berklee for a couple of years and then I came here. I knew I wanted to make a record but I didn’t have a label, I didn’t have a manager, I didn’t have anything. All I had was my good friend and lawyer Hampton Howerton who was working as a protégé for the lawyer for the Black Keys—learning the business ins and outs.
We went into Ocean Way and Sixteen Ton studios and that’s how I got used to piecemeal recording—a little bit with this person, a little bit with that person. I put out the record myself and I didn’t realize that what I had done was start a label. All I wanted to do was get enough attention from this release to get a killer producer—someone who could be the filter between my brain and the tape. I talked to everyone in the world—Butch Walker, Jay Joyce--and I wasn’t quite satisfied. Then I was introduced to a manager who manages producers who recommended Vance Powell who works with Jack White. At first I thought—are you kidding me? All I had to do was knock on his door? I found Vance and we just clicked. He’s my buddy—my Godfather. I don’t think either of us expected to get along as well as we did. So the whole thing was just coming together and making sense and Vance signed me to a development deal.
That must have given you a new sense of freedom—producing and being the artist without help isn’t easy.
The band that I made the first record with were very competent, vibey people. But going back and looking back at my first record—there’s nothing else you can do with it. This time with Dominic as bandleader, it was just finally the shape I wanted for everything. There were a lot of hard angles on my first record. It was my personality bottled in this raw form. It was my vision because it was honest but I didn’t quite know how to build something around a group of songs and project a color palette onto that.
Pseudoscience is more of a reflection of a lot of the things in the past three years that point back to me finding a way to deal with touring and living in a bubble like Nashville and rise above it. It’s a series of singles and Chapter One is with Vance and Chapter 2 is with Brett Orrison in Austin, Texas. I knew that Vance needed to be the first one. He has so much experience with the exact music that I love. The fire under my ass to move to Nashville was sitting in a hair salon and picking up Spin magazine that says “Jack White has moved to Nashville and started a record label.” And I was like—I can do that! Lots of people wanted to move to Nashville and try to get signed to his label but I just wanted to move to town and do that myself. Vance has always been instrumental in being the backbone of what Jack has done with his palate of colors. And Vance was the first one who said, “you don’t have to explain yourself so much. I know what you mean when you say you want something to be round.” My producer brain is very conceptual but Vance has all the knobs and he knows how to translate what’s going in my brain into technicalities.
How much does your opera vocabulary inform your rock n’ roll?
You can’t understand the mechanism of what you’re doing in opera unless you take this anatomy class that lets you know what’s going on inside. You can’t sing opera without hurting yourself unless you have some freak of nature natural instrument. You have to raise and soften your palate. You have to not put any pressure on you throat—you can’t feel anything when you’re singing properly. Or that you need to tighten muscles underneath to create the accordion that is your voice. That affects my songwriting and it effects the translation of my songwriting ideas to Vance.
It’s a code language. It does help me speak to the Vance’s and the Dominic’s of the world. I hear the record in my mind but it takes some translation to get it out. But they didn’t change my songs. With some of the other producers I sat down with, without question they were either going to insert themselves into the songwriting process or they were going to modify the songs or they were going to start from scratch and coach me as to how they wanted me to sound. And I was like: “get the @#$#@ out of here!” What I love about combining rock n’ roll and blues and opera and psychedelia—it’s my dream to put all these ingredients together. Vance added all these different technologies together and all these different feels. They both got really emotional with me—they were right there.
Do you find it hard to recreate the two different sounds of Nashville and Austin on tour?
My touring band respects these guys so much that they don’t want to do anything but recreate the recording. If they deviate, it’s because they have some great idea. Or it’s because they have some cool piece of gear. They are just this insane A-team that want to recreate the sounds on the records. They don’t want to change it.
And they recognize you as a bandleader.
That’s what I’ve always wanted. A lot of it’s visceral. I’m lucky to have these musicians who can just respond.
How did you start singing opera?
My Dad is in architecture and my mother is a television producer and PR person. She worked for Charlie Daniels and Marshall Tucker and Molly Hatchet so she’s always been on the periphery of the music business. But my Dad was a musician in the 70s and they knew they weren’t going to give me #@@# for doing what I wanted to do. And they knew that I could probably make a career out of it because I was musical but I was also smart about it. I wasn’t going to let myself become a bridge troll. So they led me to opera: you’re going to learn to do it right. We moved to Sarasota, Florida which happened to have a really great opera house and a youth program. I started when I was 9 and I kept going back (laughs). And now I’m with the Nashville opera and doing Don Giovanni. It’s my sixth opera with them, too. I try to bring an element of that into rock and roll, too. That’s what makes the stage easy—an opera house is so much bigger than a rock club. And rock clubs are actually scarier because you have to make eye contact and you’re sweating and close to them.
Is opera in some ways easier after being on the road playing rock n’ roll?
Much easier. I don’t have to talk to anyone after the show (laugh)! I can just go to my dressing room. But it’s a different vibe completely. Totally different. There are 3,000 people in some opera houses and then you play the Mercy Lounge (in Nashville) and there’s this intimacy where as in opera there’s an orchestra between you and the closest person.
Then again on a rock stage you’re not wearing a 27 pound costume with a 12 pound wig. There are different things for every instance. I’m Gemini and I need that balance. Opera keeps me balanced, keeps me paid. It makes sense to me. If I stopped doing it I wouldn’t be as good at anything else that I do. I know that what I’m doing visually and sonically is freaking people out right now because it’s different. But I’d rather be freaking people out than overlooked.