Community, Creswell, Education

Culp rocks into elite songwriting school

Katie Culp at Creswell High School’s year end talent show, Spring Jam. Chronicle File

She’s written more songs than she can count, has been performing original pieces – as a vocalist and instrumentalist – since she was 14, has scored original music for a full jazz band and this year gained hands-on experience in music production: An impressive résumé even for someone with a decade more under their belt – but Katie Culp turned 18 just days after graduating on June 7 with Creswell High School’s Class of 2019.
Those impressive achievements helped Culp pluck a plum admission to one of the country’s most elite music schools. In August, Culp begins pursuing a degree in songwriting through the Mike Curb College of Entertainment and Music Business at Belmont University in Nashville.
Curb College, located just off Nashville’s Music Row, accepts applications only three times a year, and with a student-to-instructor ratio of 13:1 and an average class size of 20, ”they’re very selective, so I’m very excited I got in,” Culp said.
While waiting for the college’s March 15, 2019 admissions window, Culp hedged her bets by applying first to the Belmont University School of Music’s Classical Piano program, where she also was accepted.
”You have to get in (to Belmont) academically first, with at least a 3.75 (GPA), then get accepted by the School of Music, then apply to (Curb) College next, so I was surprised I got in,” Culp said.
”We honestly didn’t think she would get in her freshman year; we thought maybe her sophomore, maybe her junior year – so Classical Piano was her backup plan,” said Katie’s mom, Alesha Culp.
The Curb College admission process required Culp to record herself performing two original songs, and to upload their music and lyrics. True to her nature, ”I went above and beyond and wrote out an entire new song for it,” Culp said.
”I was scrolling through my phone and found a song I’d started my sophomore year and I built that up into a new song called ‘We Won’t,’” said Culp, whose songwriting process often involves starting, leaving unfinished and later returning to songs. ”I wrote the score for guitar, bass, drums and keyboard, pre-recorded each part – all but drums; I exported the audio for that using Ableton (music production software) – and put it all together.”
Her second original submission was ”Tree of Life,” which she wrote and scored for the entire CHS jazz band and performed in the school Talent Show her junior year.
”’Tree of Life’ started as a poem and turned into a song for the whole band,” she said. ”I wrote out the entire score for the saxophones, trombones, trumpets, and then the rhythm section. I wrote specific pieces for the people who were in jazz band at the time; I was asking them, ‘What’s your range? I need to know so I can write this piece for you…’”
Young as she is, Culp’s musical history is long and deep. She began taking piano lessons in first grade; began singing in the Creslane Choir in fourth grade, making All-State in fifth grade; has played alto sax for six years; took a year of ukulele lessons; and has taken guitar lessons from Eugene guitarist Olem Alves for two years.
But it may be her natural aptitude for songwriting that’s most impressive: ”The first song I ever wrote, I was in third grade,” Culp said. ”It was called ‘The Party Police’; I showed it to my best friend at the time and we started singing it on the (school) bus. People were going, ‘What are you singing,’ and I was like, ‘My song.’”
Since then, she’s written ”so many songs, I couldn’t even make an estimate of how many,” Culp said. She’s performed about six of them live – beginning with ”You Are the One” in her freshman-year Talent Show and culminating with her alt-rock-inspired ”My Turn” in her senior-year Talent Show and Spring Jam.
She writes both music and lyrics – ”but not always at the same time,” Culp said. ”I’ll start with a random note, then I’ll make up some chord progressions, then a line will come to me and I know that’s the song. But there’s some I never finish, and some I come back to later.”
Although she writes mostly for her musical ”home base,” the piano, ”I love rock,” Culp said. ”Not techno, but the heavy instrumental stuff, alt rock, where there’s a theme, a storyline, everything tied together.”
Among her pop-rock/pop-punk/alt-rock musical influences she cites Twenty One Pilots, Panic! at the Disco – ”And there’s a new band I really like, Set It Off; the main guy plays sax too, so I get a lot of my influence from his style,” Culp said.
In January, with fellow guitarist and classmate Katie Allison, she opened for Alves’ Inner Limits band at Blue Valley Bistro, performing her original song, ”Are You Happy Now.” In mid-March, she and Allison officially formed their own band, The Glass Straws – and the industrious young songwriter-singer-musician is spending the summer keenly focused on her music.
”I’ll hopefully leave for Nashville with a small EP,” she said.
For their combined senior project, Culp and Allison worked on music production with mentor Matt Larson, co-founder and lead singer of the Eugene-based Satin Love Orchestra (SLO).
”We worked on two different covers, ‘Peach (Lobotomy)’ by Waterparks and ‘Telelelevision,’ by Super Whatevr,” Culp said.
”I got to learn what it was like to be in a studio and record the different parts, and Matt taught me how to properly mix them,” she said. ”I recorded the vocals and piano synth; Katie Allison played the guitar and bass; I wrote out the drum part and exported the audio; and Matt helped a lot with mixing and editing, combining the vocals with the instruments, balancing everything.”
The finished product ”sounded pretty good – especially for my first time doing something like that,” Culp said.
Although her first loves are songwriting and performing, Culp recognizes the professional wisdom in diversifying her music business skills – and Curb College covers those bases, offering courses in music business, audio engineering, entertainment industry studies, and motion pictures and media studies.
”I’m really drawn to the technical side of the music business: audio production, engineering, being on sets of music videos… I’ve thought it would be so cool to write a music video,” Culp said.
Boasting an 87 percent ”first destination career placement” success rate, Curb College also uses its Music Row location and elite reputation to foster internships and mentorships for its students – opportunities that helped draw Culp to Nashville.
”I need to be where I can get plugged in, meet people, make connections,” she said.
”Connections” become a running theme for this next stage in Culp’s musical journey. She’s already benefited from one Nashville musical connection: When she was seeking knowledgeable advice about music schools, a family friend in California connected the Culps with Eugene/SLO alum Chris Stevens – a four-time Grammy-winning songwriter, singer and music producer now based in Nashville, who steered Katie toward Belmont.
Private school tuition and expenses initially concerned Katie’s parents, but the college has awarded Katie a $20,000 grant plus a $4,000 merit scholarship, plus work study. The remaining amount ”pencils out to about what Zach (Katie’s older brother) is paying for OSU,” Alesha said. ”It’s weird how it all came together.”
Culp has already ”connected” with her ”really cool” college roommate – a commercial vocalist hopeful – and says nervousness about the heady adventure she’s about to embark on hasn’t hit her yet.
”I don’t normally get nervous about something until it’s right there, so it probably won’t happen until I’m actually leaving,” she said.
And when she envisions herself as a professional songwriter and performer, Katie invokes human connection yet again.
”I really like the storytelling aspect of songwriting, the words that go with it,” she said. ”Sometimes I’m really bad at speaking my mind or speaking up for myself; then I’ll hear a song about someone who actually did that, and it’s like, ‘There you go.’ It speaks to the part of me that gets tongue-tied.”
She wants her music to touch its listeners in a similar way: ”I want other people to be able to connect with it, for people who are struggling to find something they can relate to.”



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