.Katie Cash

A life in music 

Katie Cash is a busy woman. The guitarist, singer and songwriter is currently performing with three projects—the all-woman rock band Skip The Needle, punk rockers Year of the Fist and her own solo outfit. She’s also putting together a new solo record, a follow up to Gift Horse, the debut she released a few years ago. She said making the solo album gave her a chance to delve deeper into her creative process.    

“The song ‘Gift Horse,’ and the album as a whole, is a reflection on my growth as a person and as an artist, coming out of the dark into the light,” Cash said. “I had a collection of songs that I had written, some of which I had performed, but none that had been recorded, so I decided to make a solo album. I wanted the songs to have a wider range of possibilities, so I brought in Julie Wolf (Ani DiFranco, Carly Simon, Indigo Girls) to produce the record and worked with various artists and musicians to make it a collaborative effort.”

Cash said she’d been making demos of the songs that became Gift Horse at various studios, with various engineers and musicians, over a five-year period. “I brought Julie the recordings I’d already done, and we started fleshing them out. During pre-production, we went over my arrangements, considering ways to expand them.

“I even put the process on hold for a while and went back to school at Mills College,” Cash said. She earned a BA in music composition, while working a day job and playing in Skip The Needle and Year of the Fist. 

“The basic tracks—my guitar, Julie’s piano, the bass, drums and scratch vocals—were done in three days at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley,” Cash said. “We then had overdub sessions to add lead guitar, percussion, violin and various backing vocals. My dad was diagnosed with cancer back then, so I invited my parents to come in to see the recording process. They were there when the women were adding the choir parts. I got my mom to add some stomps and claps to one track. It was pretty cool.” 

Gift Horse came out the year Trump was elected,” Cash said. “I think it deserves a re-release, which I’m working on, pitching it to various outlets and labels. I’m also working on a new EP. The current scope is six tunes; however, I have more than that written. If it turns into an album, I wouldn’t be opposed.”  

Cash grew up in San Mateo, but as soon as she was out of high school, she moved to San Francisco to pursue a musical career. “I have two older brothers,” Cash said. “My oldest brother, Pete, played drums in various punk bands like The Loudmouths and The Young Offenders. The other brother, Than, played bass. Pete introduced me to many genres of music. I’ll never forget when he took me to see the Broun Fellinis at the Upper Room, when I was 14. My grandmother had a big old hi-fi phonograph player and got me into big band swing, soul, blues and gospel.

“I wanted to play drums first,” Cash said. “I’d sneak into my brother’s room and play when he wasn’t around. Then I fell in love with guitar, so I started teaching myself. Jimi Hendrix, Prince and Vernon Reid were huge guitar inspirations. I’d sit in my room and mess around, trying to play what I heard. In middle school and high school, there weren’t any other girls playing electric guitar. I was always the only female in the bands I joined back then.

“I came out at 15, and that didn’t go over so well,” she continued. “I moved to San Francisco when I was 17 and played in various bands, including the Hail Marys with Veronica Savage. Together, we started Coal Pitts Wash with my roommate and rhythm guitarist, Dori Sappo. We had a couple of drummers before meeting up with Dawn Richardson and renaming the band Dolorata. We had a dedicated local following, and released one full length album before we disbanded.”

After a jam session with guitarist Squeaky, Cash joined Year of the Fist. She wrote some songs for their debut album, Death, Breath, Light & Pain, but over time, the songs all became co-writes. The band has released two albums, four EPs and several singles to date. 

The women in Skip the Needle are established stars of the local scene and recently released their second album, We Ain’t Never Goin’ Back. They all identify as queer or lesbian and, with the exception of Cash, they’re all Black. 

“I’ve known [guitarist] Shelly Doty and [drummer, bass player] Kofy Brown for 20 years,” Cash said. “Vicki Randle [bass, percussion, Tonight Show drummer] once sat in with Dolorata. We all co-write the songs and switch off on lead vocals. Shelly and I both play lead guitar. We’re very collective on all fronts, and I hope we can all continue making a living playing music with people we love and respect. Being immersed in the queer and musical community of Oakland has had a big impact on me, emotionally and artistically. I’m proud to be a part of it.”  

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