This Raleigh musician connects with listeners through her heartfelt songs and sincere vocals.
by David Menconi | photography by Justin Kase Conder
Kate Rhudy’s day job is actually a night job, working in various nightclubs and restaurants in downtown
Raleigh as a server. But the singer-songwriter uses it to her advantage. “I carry around a notepad when I’m waitressing, so I use that for songwriting a lot,” she says. “And when I don’t have the notepad, I’ll use my phone to do voice memos, trying to capture a more melodic thing. Of course, I usually don’t get around to listening to it for months and months.”
Maybe not, but it seems to work out well enough. Rhudy has two excellent albums to her credit, including the upcoming Dream Rooms, an inviting collection of songs that feel lived-in. Andrew Marlin, the co-leader of Watchhouse (the band formerly known as Mandolin Orange) produced both Dream Rooms and Rhudy’s 2017 debut, Rock N’ Roll Ain’t For Me, with perfectly understated backup from his regular circle of Watchhouse players.
The real draw, however, is Rhudy’s appealing underdog persona in voice and words. The 26-year-old Raleigh native’s songs are typically first-person reports from that murky zone between friends and lovers. It’s not surprising that she often meets people who think they know all about her through songs like “Kissing My Friends” or “I Don’t Like You Or Your Band.” “Yeah, I met this one guy who said, I feel like your songs revolve around my life, which is about drinking and [expletive] things up,” she says with a laugh. “I had another guy tell me once, Hey, listen, I’m a man. I get it. We’re the pits. But I write about very specific parts of my life in songs, which do not necessarily define my personality all the time. People who think they’re connecting to me because of my songs, but I think they’re just connecting things in their own lives and experiences to those songs.”
Rhudy grew up playing violin and learned through the Suzuki method, which emphasizes playing by ear. Upon graduation from Raleigh Charter High School, she went off to Appalachian State University to pursue music therapy. Three semesters in, she changed her focus to music industry marketing and management to try and get a performing career going, eventually dropping out to “take the real-life experience route” and join some bands.
“I was the harmony-singer fiddle player who would get to sing one or two songs per set,” she says. “I’d usually do [Dolly Parton’s] ‘Jolene’ and [Loretta Lynn’s] ‘You Ain’t Woman Enough,’ my two polar-opposite songs. Always a fun three minutes.”
She was writing songs of her own all along, too, and eventually put down the fiddle for a guitar, striking out on her own to pursue a solo career. “The first time I booked Kate was on the recommendation of a co-worker fresh out of college, who suggested her as an opening act for a much bigger artist,” says John Booker of Deep South Entertainment. “When someone says, You should hear my old college roommate, that can go a lot of ways! Luckily, she knew what she was talking about.”
Booker has since hired her for numerous shows. “I think Kate is well on her way to becoming one of the greats from here,” he says. Michael Lowder, executive director of Artsplosure, first worked with Rhudy at First Night Raleigh on New Year’s Eve 2017. “Her first solo album had created a lot of buzz, so I made a point of checking out her show that night,” says Lowder. “Her witty, yet heartfelt songs, her sense of melody, and sincere vocal delivery immediately won me over.”
Her voice walks a fine line between wounded and stoic, sounding like someone unafraid to stand up for herself. All the same, her songs do tend to be suffused with sadness and regret. The Dream Rooms track “To the Nines,” for example, is a disarmingly frank evocation of being on the rebound from a breakup and getting dressed up in clothes you can’t afford for a night out — then wishing you’d just stayed home instead.
As she sings:
I’m not having fun at this party
This drink is making me tired
And I don’t think the people here like me
So I’ve been sitting and tending to the fire
It’s times like these I almost regret
Not picking up a cigarette habit
Found better things to do with my hands
Now that you don’t hold them
You don’t hold them anymore.
That last line sounds like Rhudy is laughing and crying at the same time, her voice cracking just enough. But it takes a lot of craft to get there. Though it’s only a little more than two minutes long, “To the Nines” was a song that Rhudy had to labor over and rewrite before getting it right.
Not all her real-life moments make it into songs, either, as some feel just a little too personal to share.
“All the time, I’ll start something and find myself going, You know what, I actually don’t want to talk about this — and my parents don’t need to hear it,” she says. “My sister told me that my mom once asked my dad, Do you think Kate’s writing these songs from experience, or making up fiction? And my dad was, Oh, it’s her real life. Definitely. Then my mom said, I think she’s just creative. Well, I’ll take it.”
As Rhudy works toward the release of Dream Rooms, her fans are ready to hear more. “Kate is cut from the same cloth as many of my favorite singer-songwriters — Tift, Gillian, Neko, Emmylou — and has a bright future ahead of her,” says Lowder. Booker agrees: “It’s cool to think where she might take it in the future, 10 or 20 years down the road.”