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The Sound

Always learning


Katelyn Epperly plays Gas Lamp on Saturday, Aug. 16.

Katelyn Epperly plays Gas Lamp on Saturday, Aug. 16.

The key in life is to continue learning. Not every decision that doesn’t pan out is automatically a mistake, as long as you can take something away from it. It’s that ability to learn and grow that’s got Katelyn Epperly where she is now.

The Des Moines native has been a stage girl for literally her entire life.

“Mom had me up on the stage when I was two,” she said in a phone interview from her home in Nashville, Tennessee. “Mom said I could sing before I could speak. I don’t remember anything else but performing.”

Epperly graduated from Valley High School and made her way to Los Angeles after high school. It was while living there that Epperly auditioned for “American Idol.” In 2010, the then-20-year-old was selected as one of the 24 finalists by fan voting on Season 9 of the show. She was voted off the show in the third round of fan voting.

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“It was kind of perfect when I got voted off,” she said of her mid-season exit. “It was just far enough (on the show) where you can look me up on the Internet and see who I am, but not far enough that it’s kind of labeled me as this ‘American Idol’ product.”

Epperly also credits the show as one of her biggest learning experiences.

“(‘American Idol’) was a really, really quick look at how dog-eat-dog (the music industry) really is,” she explained. “It takes away your ignorance about the industry. You learn how to watch your back. It sounds terrible, but you can’t look at the industry as just this big fun dream, because it’s hard.

“I was going to music school before ‘Idol.’ And after it was done, I was like, ‘This is silly. Why would I go to school for this?’ So I finished my degree in business. I enjoy both sides of it. But that’s what (the show) did: it made me smart about stuff.”

Eventually Epperly made her way to Nashville in 2011. The Music City is a popular choice for musicians because of its storied reputation for fostering the careers of songwriters. It’s often viewed as a place to either become a better writer of your own music or to collaborate with someone who can deliver what you can’t. Ultimately, Nashville helped give birth to Epperly’s first album, “Southern Gothic.”

“ ‘Southern Gothic’ was made in my house,” she explained. “It took a really long time. We didn’t know what we were doing, but we were trying to do as much as we could with a tiny budget. I went into the studio with just these melodies and fleshed them out as I went. The album was very influenced by Nashville, and just these sounds that I was experiencing around me.”

Now, however, those accumulated learning experiences are clicking into place. Epperly is working on a new album, collaborating with producer Kipp Williams, and she finally feels like she’s ready to step out into her own spotlight. Unlike “Southern Gothic,” which was very much a product of its time in her life, Epperly feels the new music she’s working on is more influenced by where she came from, as opposed to where she is.

“It’s going in a much more pop direction, and I’m feeling really good about it,” she said. “I grew up with Madonna and Michel Jackson — just solid pop music. I think it’s time to show that I can write a good pop song and stop trying to cover that up behind rock.” CV

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