Victorian singer-songwriter Kaitlyn Thomas is nineteen years old – although she has several years of experience as a writer, performer and recording artist. She’s also about to appear in the Tamworth Country Music Festival, with multiple shows:
17 January – Ladies of Country with Gina Timms, Tamworth Wests, 7.00 p.m.
18 January – Jayne Denham Live, 8.00 p.m.
19 January – Fanzone, Peel Street, 10.30 a.m.
19 January – Dolly for Dolly Fundraiser, 3.00 p.m.
20 January – Red Door Cafe and Lounge Bar, 11.00 a.m.
20 January – Red Rebel Music Showcase, 5.00 p.m.
22 January – DAG Songwriting Retreat Showcase, 10.00 a.m.
22 January – Storytellers with Nia Robertson, 1.00 p.m.
22 January – Capitol Theatre, 2.30 p.m.
24 January – DAG Songwriting Retreat Showcase – 11.00 a.m.
24 January – Hillybilly Hut Showcase with Simon Johnson, 3.30 p.m.
24 January – Red Door Cafe and Lounge Bar, 6.00 p.m.
Thomas grew up in a musically eclectic family, saying she heard ‘very different genres playing when I was younger. When I was a baby Mum used to always leave the radio on because I couldn’t handle complete silence. She listened to what she grew up on – 80s, 90s music. My dad was really into the rock thing, so I got exposed to that at a really young age, but I was iistening to Sheryl Crow when I was younger and she was one of my all-time musical influences, I love her so much. Mum was listening to Linda Ronstadt. My grandma and my great-grandmother, they were really into that country scene so I was exposed to that a little bit. It’s not really until now that I have my own taste in music.’
While she grew up surrounded by family, though, she says, ‘I don’t really have a musical family, I’ve got a really sporty family – but they they all listen to music. I do find that some of my cousins, they have critical thinking when they listen to music, so they analyse it, which I find really cool – I’m not the only one! But I have been exposed to music pretty much my whole life and it’s become the basis of who I am.’
Thomas started recording and releasing songs when she was, remarkably, nine years old. The first song was called ‘I Wish’.
‘I wrote it for the YAMS Foundation, which stands for You Are My Sunshine,’ she says. ‘They raise money to help find a cure for neuroblastoma. There was a young girl in my home town – Ruby, I think her name was – and she had neuroblastoma. I wrote “I Wish” for her, essentially, and I donated all the proceeds that I got from the song to the YAMS Foundation. So I think I donated my first cheque when I was about 10, of a hundred dollars, to the foundation.’
When Thomas started singing at an even younger age she said she sang ‘everywhere – toilet, shower, you name it – 24 hours a day. At that time, about 5 of 6, I was doing dancing. I wish I’d kept some of those dancing skills because I can’t dance now! When I was eight my mum said to me, “Kait, if you really want to sing that’s fine, but can I please hear it in tune?” Which is totally fair enough. So I started singing lessons when I was eight years old, so I like to think that that’s when I truly started.’
Songwriting was, for her, a natural progression, and she says she used to make up songs all the time.
‘Mum has a lot of recordings of me coming up with different melodies and lyrics,’ she says. ‘It wasn’t until I was nine that I wrote my first song and I started diving into songwriting. And it was also when I went and saw a country music show in Victoria and that’s when I thought, That’s what I want to do. I saw Beccy Cole and the Sunny Cowgirls and I fell in love with what they were doing, and they were singing their own music as well. So that pushed me further to think, Yes, I think that’s what I want to do. And then it progressed from that.’
Not that long after seeing Beccy Cole on stage, Thomas had the chance to join her.
‘I released a couple of extra tunes after “I Wish”,’ she says. ‘Then I was starting to get into country music more. Beccy was looking for “shining stars” to open her show in the different states she was going to. I got tagged in that [social media] post to apply. We had to record a video of ourselves and send it to her … It was a voting kind of thing.
‘The song that I chose was the song that I had written called “It Ain’t About Boys”. I wrote that song pretty much because all my friends at that time – well, they still are my friends – were interested in boys, but their whole primary school lives were spent constantly thinking about, What does that boy think of me? And at that point I said, “You know, there’s so much more to life than being in a relationship.” So I wrote that song and Beccy loved it. I got to open for her at the Hallam Hotel in Victoria. I got to play a Gibson guitar, which was [amazing].
‘I still think to this day, I can’t believe that I did that! I can’t believe that I met her! She was the reason why I got into country music and I got to open for her as well. It was a great experience.’
However, while Kaitlyn was having that kind of magical experience, she was also finding that not everyone thought her burgeoning interest in music was so wonderful.
‘I did get bullied a lot because of what I was interested in,’ she says. ‘Writing songs helped me through that time. In 2016 I became an ambassador for Bully Zero Australia because I’d experienced first hand what bullying can do. The path that I chose did make me different in a way, but at the same time if it wasn’t for those experiences – even if it’s corny to say – I wouldn’t be who I am, I wouldn’t be able to be assertive and not take things too personally. It made me grow up a little bit quicker but in a good way. Music was a blessing and a curse when I was younger, but I used songwriting as my outlet to express what I was feeling, which I think was really good. I was quite fortunate in that regard.’
In 2012 Thomas released the song ‘Stand Up’ which addresses the experience of being bullied.
‘I tend to write from personal experience,’ she says, ‘and at that time I was experiencing first hand the effects that bullying can have on people. I know that they were playing that song in schools. Coming from a kid – and the lyrics weren’t overly complicated – they used the song as an exercise to analyse the effects of bullying because I had a girl’s perspective and a boy’s perspective. I do find that people can connect with it. The statistics of bullying in general are outrageous and it is sad to say but it is kind of the way we are brought up. Every kid pretty much experiences bullying, unfortunately.’
Thomas has released several singles over the past few years – quite a work rate for someone who was still at school. In 2016 she moved to a performing arts school, and she’s not at university studying a Bachelor of Music.
‘I absolutely love it,’ she says. ‘I love learning new things, learning new techniques. When I started in Year Ten at the Northern College of the Arts and Technology, that school was amazing. It was the best three years of my life, because I was surrounded by like-minded people that were interested in the arts, different types of art – photography or dance or anything like that. It was nice to be in an environment where you could be yourself and not have to put up a facade or be a certain way to fit in. So I absolutely loved being at that school and I truly do miss it … I was doing music 24/7, and for my VCE I chose subjects that I was passionate about and I did really well in those subjects.’
She also attended the Junior Academy of Country Music in Tamworth when she was 12 years of age. ‘I went up there with my mum,’ she says. ‘We went up there for a week, and that was great. I learnt a lot. We did a lot of songwriting and diving into who you are as an artist, what you have to say, all that kind of thing. It was kind of like a boot camp. Mum learnt a lot which then helps me now. She still brings up some stuff that she learnt.
‘I’ve still got some really close friends from then and we still catch up every Tamworth [festival]. You’re in Tamworth for your shows but pretty much it’s like a reunion. You get to see your friends who live all over Australia. That’s the one time of the year that you actually get to see them and hang out all together as one group rather than be on the phone or FaceTiming.’
Doing the Junior Academy, she says, made her want to attend the Senior Academy once she was of an age to apply, so she’s attended both, as well as going to the DAG Songwriting Retreat, which is a twice-yearly event that brings together established and emerging songwriters.
‘I only recently did it [in 2019],’ says Thomas. ‘It was incredible. It was five days in the middle of nowhere, no phone reception so you’re pretty much cut off social media, which I thought was great because it really forced you to go into that creative mindset … I made, I think, some lifelong friends at the Dag. We got to really talk to each other face to face and develop those skills that I think we kind of lose, you know. With technology we’re constantly looking at our phones. I wrote five or six songs up there in five days and I just couldn’t believe it. It’s amazing what you can do when you put time aside to actually sit down and write.’
However, Thomas’s new single ‘First Kiss’ was not a product of that retreat. Its roots stretch a little further back, as Thomas met co-writer Katrina Burgoyne a couple of years ago.
‘I’ve been wanting to write with her for ages,’ Thomas says. ‘I found out that she was coming back home to Australia for some time and I got in contact with her and she said that she’d love to write with me. So we organised some time during the Tamworth festival to write “First Kiss”. We didn’t really have the idea until I did a radio interview up there and I was asked, “What’s something that people don’t know about you?” I said, “I like to think that I’m an open book” and I had to really think about it. And I came to the conclusion that I’ve never really had that first toe-popping kiss, like rom-com, Princess Diaries, where a foot gets caught in the net, all that kind of stuff. And I was thought, That’s actually a kind of cool idea.
‘So I took that to Katrina and we wrote “First Kiss” on the back porch of one of the houses where I was staying. We wrote it so fast it was just nuts! Some songs you can write just like that and then other ones would take you months or even years. I was so happy that we were on the side page and we pretty much bounced ideas back and forth, which made it a great co-write.’
Thomas says that she loves co-writing, ‘especially when you get stuck on an idea. It’s great to have a different perspective. Sometimes I do get writer’s block – everyone kind of does – but [whether or not to co-write] depends on what the song is asking for. If I’m struggling with the song, I’ll think, I’ll save that, and next time I’m in a co-writing session I’ll bring it out. But it depends on the way that you’re writing the song. But I love co-writing, which is why I like going to a lot of the songwriting retreats. For one, you get to meet new songwriters, and you can set up later, after the retreat, to write. You’re also going to get an idea of how they write. Everyone writes songs differently. But at the same time I don’t mind writing by myself when I get into that zone. But it’s kind of hard to get into that zone in everyday life. Everyone’s busy.’
Thomas is about to head to Tamworth for her very packed schedule of shows – but there’s one gig she’ll no longer do.
‘I busked one year and that’s just a lot of effort,’ she says with a laugh. ‘So every time I see a busker I say, “I tip my hat to you.” It’s nuts. You’re out there in that heat.’
Still, Thomas says there’s always a lot to see on Peel Street, where most of the busking happens – not that she’ll have much time to wander this year. Then she’ll no doubt be writing more new songs, and continuing to develop her considerable skills as a singer and songwriter.
You can keep up with Kaitlyn at: www.kaitlynthomasofficial.com