“IN RETROSPECT, I may have been a bit overzealous,” Kathryn Legendre says. “It might have been better to wait, but I was so excited, I just wanted to go for it.”
The amiable blonde-haired songstress is talking about her first record, Old Soul, a 31-minute trek through what basically amounts to Legendre learning how to write songs. “I wouldn’t consider those a batch of my best,” she says, “but after a year into songwriting, they started to come, and I wanted to share them.”
Not her best, it turns out, is still pretty good. Good enough to garner some regional and national praise, and more than a few comparisons to classic country queens like Emmylou Harris and Loretta Lynn. With an album title like Old Soul, it’s hard to expect anything less.
That was in 2013, at the height of goober country permeating the airwaves, TV sets and even the Texas scene. Instead of blowing the direction of the ever-changing country winds, Legendre turned to Kickstarter to fund a record steeped in that old-timey feeling. It was the kind of music she grew up on and the kind of music that feeds her — though it didn’t quite start that way.
“For an 8-year-old riding to Castroville from the San Antonio area, listening to a slow Johnny Cash song was about as bad as it could get for me,” Legendre laughs. “Growing up it was either classic country or classic rock — my grandpa in particular would always play KKYX. I hated it until hearing the first song I actually liked: ‘Cherokee Maiden’ by Merle Haggard.”
And while most contemporary artists putting out classic country nowadays probably have a similar catalyst for their sound, what makes Legendre so intriguing is she’s not as easy to pin down.
She didn’t come from a musical family. “My parents knew how to play guitar, and my mom played at church,” Legendre says, “but she wasn’t like, shredding or anything.” It was something she admired, but not something she felt compelled to follow.
She didn’t immediately fall in love with songwriting. Sure, she tried, with the moderate but not despotic assistance of her parents — “they bought me an idiom book and a rhyming dictionary,” Legendre laughs. “But I could never focus ideas around a chorus, so I ended up writing poetry a lot. When I did try to write a song, I was trying to write what the Dixie Chicks or Shania Twain might sing.”
She didn’t even have a musical mentor or education. The closest she got was playing violin in school from the fourth grade until quitting her sophomore year of high school in favor of sports. (“It’s probably one of my biggest regrets, choosing sports over orchestra,” she levies.)
And even though half of her birthday parties were held at dance halls like Leon Springs or Floore’s, she rarely ever danced. “I’d never dance with anyone,” she says. “I was much more interested in the music.”
But she did have the creative itch, one she scratched by attending Texas State University for graphic design — an education that ultimately landed her a gig doing design for the Paramount Theatre, one of Austin’s coolest — “and one of the best-sounding,” Legendre points out — venues.
Oh, and while she was at Texas State, she worked at the campus radio station hosting her own hardcore punk and metal show. Standard stuff. “I’m always interested in the culture of music,” Legendre reflects. “I thought it was so cool; straight-edge culture was really neat, and hearing how some of these bands formed in the ’80s on the East Coast … but it was the same on the West Coast — I don’t know, maybe I just can’t deny a good riff.”
In other words, Legendre’s experience with music was more tangential than calculated. She didn’t spend countless hours locked away perfecting her craft, or dream of the stage from day one. In fact, she still finds it hard to believe somebody took a chance on providing her a guitar and a stage the first time.
A year out of college she started really writing songs. With the help of her musical boyfriend Brian Broussard (of Austin’s country outfit Mayeux