Katie Herzig, who plays the Iron Horse in Northampton on Wednesday, March 14th is one of those artists you've likely heard even if you didn't realize it.
Though her four albums to date have been modest sellers and she has yet to score a hit in the traditional sense, the Nashville singer-songwriter has long been a favorite of Hollywood music supervisors.
Over the years, Herzig's songs have been featured on shows like "Smallville," "One Tree Hill," "Pretty Little Liars," "Bored To Death" and "Drop Dead Diva." More recently, "Lost and Found" from her current album, The Waking Sleep, was used in a trailer for the Matt Damon film "We Bought A Zoo," and the same record's "Closest I Get" was featured earlier this month in an episode of "Grey's Anatomy," a regular showcase for her work.
"You have to put on a different hat, and it's kind of a refreshing hat," Herzig said of her soundtrack work, which includes commissioned works as well as repurposed material written for her own albums.
"As an artist, you can be so precious about it, like 'What am I creating as an artist?' But when you have assignments for things like that, you're more focused on what's best for this scene or this commercial or something like that. So you're kind of using the tools you have to do that, and I've found it's gotten me to new places musically that I might never have gotten to on my own."
The latest place it has gotten her is an electronic-fueled new sound that has made The Waking Sleep the best-reviewed album of her career. The record, released last fall on Mercer Street Records, was inspired by an unlikely songwriting assignment.
Following her 2008 album, Apple Tree, Herzig found herself unexpectedly inundated with soundtrack work, including a request from the producers of the first "Sex and the City" film. They were looking for a song to replace a track by the dance music singer Fergie in one scene.
The polished, hyper-produced music of The Black Eyed Peas diva would seem to be light years away from Herzig's organic, intimate confessional songwriting. But Herzig, intrigued by the comparison and inspired by Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh and film composer Gustavo Santaolalla ("Babel," "Brokeback Mountain"), decided to graft the synthesizer-heavy style onto her own music. Using the home recording software GarageBand, she assembled digital samples and loops into the song "Look At You Now."
"I didn't pick up an instrument at all recording the song," she says. "It just kind of drew me into a different way of making music."
The approach was a dramatic departure for an artist rooted in traditional technique. Born in California and raised in Fort Collins, Colo., Herzig, like her opera-singing sister, started her music education in the classical realm, in her case playing percussion in the school orchestra.
It wasn't until she went to college at the University of Colorado that she began to explore pop music and songwriting. She joined a band called Newcomers Home, playing drums and singing background vocals at first, but as she gained confidence as a singer and a songwriter, the group began to rely more on her material.
"I had a lot of fear of performing even though I love doing it," says Herzig, who confesses to occasional bouts of stage fright even today. "I tried to take a backseat for awhile until I got comfortable doing it."
Herzig was still playing with Newcomers Home when she released her first solo record, 2004's Watch Them Fall, which contained the track "Chase Me," featured on "Smallville." Two years later, the band broke up, and Herzig moved to Nashville, where, despite a fluke country Grammy nomination in 2007 for Canadian roots band The Duhks' cover of her song "Heaven's My Home," she has become a staple of Music City's growing pop scene.
Even by that scene's more progressive standards, however, The Waking Sleep, an ambitious record that plays like subtler, more mature and complicated Lady Gaga, is a stretch.
"It feels like it's a bit of a natural progression but also a leap," Herzig says of the record, which she co-produced with Cason Cooley. "But the songs are me; it's just an evolution of the tools I have around me." By Mark Jordan of Go Memphis
Opening for Katie is Andy Davis. Earning comparisons from Ben Folds to Paul Simon to Badly Drawn Boy, as well as the classic story-centered songwriting of Billy Joel, Louisiana native, Nashville based Andy Davis has a unique gift when it comes to crafting smart, sexy pop-soul - since releasing his first album "Think of Her" in 2004, his music has inspired label bidding wars, Grey's Anatomy episodes, extensive tours, and now, the distinction of being one of iTunes' top selling singer-songwriters.
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Katie Herzig video chronicles the making of The Waking Sleep: