Katy Cole’s voice is an abomination, weathered and aged by years beyond those she has spent on this earth. While on stage, her soul pours out like a rich merlot, filled out by a deep body of blues and a hint of rasp.
As songwriter for Last Daze, she tackles content few dare to touch, such as speaking from the perspective of a mistress. It’s a level of honesty she shares with the audience, an intimacy that commends attention. When she sings, people listen.
Cole is the lead singer for Last Daze, an alternative rock band that originally hails out of North Creek, a winter’s resort town in the shadow of Gore Mountain. She and her bandmates have since settled down to call the Capital District home, but that just may be temporary if their collective career continues on its present trajectory.
Things turned serious for the band last January. After touring around the region as Decadence the past several years, the band earned the opportunity to open for Shooter Jennings at a gig in Louisiana. From there, they found a few doors to knock upon.
“Shortly before heading down to Louisiana, I discovered [Jenning’s] ‘Black Ribbons’ album, which is definitely in my top 10 albums,” recalled Cole. “When I got turned on to that, I told our drummer, ‘We’ve got to work with this guy.’”
She recalls emailing Jennings’ manager, Jon Hensley. There was information about Jennings and an upstart record label he was creating. The intent was to see if he would produce their next album. “What the hell do I have to lose?” she asked herself. Her first email was answered within 15 minutes. The response was not welcoming. Hensley stated the record label was still collecting capital and wasn’t ready to take on talent. “Check back with us in a year or so,” recalled Cole.
“That’s way too long for me,” she said to herself.
She allowed more time to pass, and after more coaxing from her peers, she sent another email. This time, Hensley asked her to send over a catalogue of songs. But, he wasn’t promising anything.
Within 45 minutes her phone rang. Shooter Jennings was on the other end, and asked her and the band to come to Los Angeles.
“I’m pretty fearless, when it comes to taking chances,” said Cole.
The band earned their name after Shooter’s wife, Misty Swain, heard them in studio. The name is in homage to Nirvana, taken from the title of a documentary on the ground-breaking grunge band. Cole said her band’s sound alternates, making it difficult to place a finger on a specific genre. She blames her “musical A.D.D.” Despite the versatility, it reminded Swain of Novoselic, Grohl and Cobain, and the name has since remained.
Now Last Daze, in their current line-up of Cole, guitarist Chris Schempp, bassist Mick Changelo, and drummer Tyler Peter, is gearing up for a national tour this summer in support of its first album under Jenning’s record label, Black County Rock. Only Shooter has been confirmed to cameo on the LP, that drops in July. Coles said there may be more cameos from household names.
But, the personal whirlwind only started for Cole after their plane touched back down from Los Angeles.
“When we became Last Daze, and when I really started writing from that scary, vulnerable part of myself, it put me out as an open book,” said Cole. “The way I channel energy is imperative to my writing. I need to be able to completely open up my mind, open up my thoughts and everything. And, a lot of places, I couldn’t do it.”
Cole married her husband Brian when she was 21. “We have a very good relationship,” said Cole. “We have to with [our 7-year-old daughter] Addison. … We really work together on a lot of things. We’re very much playing on the same team. He’s been very supportive of my career. … I’m lucky in that aspect.”
Six months ago, Cole moved out of Saranac Lake where she and her husband were living.
“There are a lot of people who ask me questions about who this song is about,” said Cole. “You want to be honest with them without throwing somebody under the bus, you know? There’s a real fine line there. My whole thing was, when we were recording, my bandmate at the time said, ‘You’re going to be divorced by the time this record comes out’.”
Cole described herself as living a proper life, as a wife and a music teacher. But, there was also another life, traveling to play gigs at night to follow her music career. “I was essentially two different people living one life,” she said. “When I was on the road, I was a completely different person. … I was writing about the temptation, the lying, the things I would be drawn to do as a young woman.”
She and her husband are now preparing for a divorce.
“I will say, God bless Brian,” said Cole. “He knows now this is where it was all stemming from. When people ask me now what it’s about, I can be real honest with them. But, if I was still married, and I was still trying to uphold that projection of me. You can’t do both. You can’t be a real, authentic artist and lie to people about who you actually are.”
Cole said rumors circulated around her small hometown once the split up became apparent. The news was particularly hard for her mother, the local hairdresser. “She hears everything,” she said. “‘I had so and so sit down in my chair, and this is what they’re saying about you’.” But, she and her mother have a close and honest relationship with one another. In short time, her mother has come to understand, and has learned to respond to her customers accordingly. “People will throw their opinion, and she will say, ‘Frankly, Katy doesn’t give a [crap] what you think about her’.”
When Cole planned her move to the Capital District, she sought an apartment on Lark Street. Part of her house hunting technique was to find a place that helped channel her creative energy. Lark Street, as people liken the atmosphere to New York City’s Greenwich Village, seemed the logical place to go, but she was ultimately drawn to Troy.
“Troy is just one of the most beautiful places around,” said Cole. “My favorite drive is being able to see the sunset over the city from 8th Avenue.”
It’s somehow appropriate to see Cole drawn to a city also going through a metamorphosis of late. Both focused in redefining her and itself, becoming an attraction after years of being oppressed. Since moving to Troy, Cole has found an incredible source for creativity, be it from the pain from severing soured relationships, or the energy channeled through the culture she finds in the Collar City. In three months, she said she has written dozens of songs.
“It takes a lot of [guts] to admit you are messed up,” said Cole. “That you are messing things up in your life, willingly and knowingly, and that you’re just being honest about it. For the past six months my transformation was about honesty. I found that the more honest you are to people about who you are, people will want to connect with you. Honesty provides less fear that they have in opening up about who they are. Because, until somebody lives every single moment as I did, in my shoes, then they can judge me. Then they can have an opinion. But not many people can walk with the hand that I was dealt and done what I’ve done with it. I sleep at night knowing I’m a good person, I have a lot of love, and I’m doing the best with what I have.”
On a cool winter’s Monday, Cole plays solo in front of a sparse McGeary’s crowd in Albany. Just her acoustic guitar and her voice wafting over folk who have little regard to tomorrow morning. Through an empty beer mug, she comes on like a contemporary Melissa Etheridge, who won a Grammy for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance when Cole was about as old as her daughter is now. A raucous group at the back of the bar bark about something forgettable, while those close to the stage sit attentively, listening to words of anguish behind a red lipstick smile. One song in particular, “I’d Rather Be Your Secret,” tells the story of a woman in love with a man she can only have half the time. She’s the mistress, wishing he would stay, but taking solace knowing she has his heart, if not his ring.
“I get a lot of messages [that say], ‘Thank you for being the voice for us,’” she said. “It’s taboo to talk about it. It’s even more taboo to sing about it. But, there are people who are living this. It’s not just me. There’s comfort in making a connection. … ‘Your song got me through my day. Thank you.’ You can’t buy that. It’s better than a hug.”
Music is a vehicle one’s memory respects. For Cole, she said she can recall every word to Fiona Apple’s “Tidal.” “To create the comradery among fans and music listeners, I think about every bad break-up I ever had,” said Cole. “Fifteen years later, I can recite every single word in that album without fail.”
Music lovers have such a CD, a soundtrack that plays in the background of one’s life. “Everybody in the world can tie a song that takes them to a place and makes them feel that they are a part of it. They want to be a part of that, and I want people to be a part of what I do and part of my songs. I love that. It’s the best part about [what I do].”
Last Daze play next at The Putnam Den in Saratoga Springs, Satuarday, April 18.