Q&A: Katelyn Tarver Talks Transforming The World Around Her Into Song on ‘Tired Eyes’ EP

Photo: Steven Taylor

Chances are you have already seen Katelyn Tarver before. Already a well-established actress from her multiple recurring television appearances, Katelyn's next mission is to conquer is the world of pop. While the transition from television to music may seem overdone at this point, Katelyn's emergence into the music scene rings out as genuine and true. Relocating from her hometown of Glennville, Georgia to Los Angeles in pursuit of her dreams, seeing her dreams come into focus, albeit perhaps not in the order she may have imagined, Katelyn's journey is one just beginning. 

We sat down with Katelyn Tarver to talk about her EP Tired Eyes, the friends and people she's worked with who have inspired her, and everything in between.

OTW: Your EP Tired Eyes is out now. You recently finished a month-long residency at Resident, five weeks in fact, and you packed that place every week. Let’s talk about your background–talk about transitioning from acting into music and finding your own style of music.

KT: Yeah I mean, it’s funny because a lot of my experience out here in LA has been acting-focused, and that’s always been interesting to me because I’ve always had the idea in my head and viewed myself as a singer-songwriter first. So it was funny to kind of get the acting stuff off the ground a little bit quicker, because then most people are like, “What’s it like being an actor trying to transition to music?” and in my head I’m like, “I’ve always kind of been a musician first!” – but obviously I’ll take it, I don’t mind, but it is definitely a challenge as far as trying to nail down that sound. I think even if I wasn’t doing acting, it would still be hard to kind of find your voice. I feel like I’m constantly evolving as a person and as a songwriter. So I think as I’ve gone from Georgia to moving out here and kind of being on that journey of songwriting and figuring out music, it’s all kind of coincided with me growing up into an adult-person too, which has been cool to kind of hear my music reflect that along the way– dealing with different themes and concepts in my music, so that’s been just fun to kind of see how it changes and grows and kind of just be along for the ride, honestly.

OTW: For sure. And along this journey, you kind of made a career out of supporting other artists in the beginning, like writing this number 1 UK single “Crazy Stupid Love” for Cheryl Cole– how did that become a success for you, and is it satisfying to finally be releasing your own music now?

KT: Yeah, so for the Cheryl Cole song, I was going in to write with Wayne Wilkins and Heidi Rowhouse, and I think it was the first time we’d ever written together, and I was going in kind of writing for my project initially, I was like, “What about this?” – and we kind of came up with this concept, and as it was becoming “Crazy Stupid Love,” I was like, “Okay!” –  At some point in a session a song kind of takes on a life of its own and you just kind of follow it to the end and you’re like, “Okay, we ended up with a cool song; I don’t know if it’s right for my project.” And then Wayne the producer was like, “Well, would you mind if I pitched it?” And I was like, “No, not at all!” And so then to have someone actually cut it… and then release it as their first single, and then to have it go number 1, was like, the biggest shock. I was just like, “Oh! Wow, um, yeah!” It was exciting and it was like, really validating too, as a songwriter, because I think all artists are riddled with self doubt. It’s always going to be rewarding to release stuff as an artist too, for me. So that’s been exciting to get to that point.

OTW: Yeah! But now you’ve transitioned into doing your own music, which must be so exciting. Which producers and writers have taught you the most and who do you really enjoy working with?

KT: Oh man. I feel like I work with such a diverse group of people, and I like to remain open to learning a little bit from everyone, but as far as collaborations, I’ve written with a songwriter who goes by JHart, who’s a friend of mine. Just insanely talented, and I tell him all the time, and I’m just obsessed with his work. I really love working with him. And I’m definitely speaking for him on this, but I think he would agree, because I feel like we are good collaborators–I feel like we bring out different things in each other, and he can bring out a lot of good stuff in me, so I always am excited when I get to write with him. I wrote “Weekend Millionaires” with him, and a couple others that aren’t on the EP but that I’ve written, and that maybe could come out eventually.

OTW: Was “Weekend Millionaires” your first single you released?

KT: Yeah. So I wrote that with J Hart, and then Ludwig Goransson produced that, who’s done all of Childish Gambino’s stuff and is a composer and is insanely talented, so I obviously learned a ton from him… and I just love the way he works. He was always doing something amazing, but it wasn’t super obvious. Stuff I would never think to do with production, so… those have both been really cool unique experiences.

OTW: Awesome. Before we dive into the EP, what have you learned from your close musical peers–Bridgit Mendler, Molly Kate Kestner, and Paris Carney who also joined you on the residency? 

KT: Oh, yeah. I mean, Bridgit and Paris are close friends of mine that I’ve known for years so we relate on everything. We’ll talk about songwriting, we’ll talk about how it feels to be pursuing a career in music, how it feels to be a woman in the industry, how it feels to have an off-day or have a day where you don’t feel good enough. Luckily, with any good friendship, when I’m down, they’ll be on their game, and when they’re down, I’m on my game, and we can kind of help each other stick it out, because it can get overwhelming. So I’m really thankful to have women who support and encourage each other and help me keep my head on straight. And, Molly Kate, I actually just met her for the first time at the residency. She was so talented and sweet–I loved having her at the residency.

OTW: Cool. So I “Planez" is your most successful song on Spotify so far–how'd that come about?

KT: Yeah, I followed up "Weekend Millionaires” with “Planez,” which was a cover of Jeremih’s “Planez.” I don’t know, I’m just a big fan of that song. I’ve always loved covering songs from the hip hop genre – I’ve done that on tour before. I think it definitely hints at a lot of what my new music sounds like: just a little more stripped-down, a little more raw…

OTW: You can kind of get that vibe on the EP for sure. And the EP is Tired Eyes–what does the title mean and is there a theme to the EP?

KT: These songs were kind of all written in that phase of life that I’m still in– probably will always be in, to an extent–I don’t feel like there’s ever a point you reach where things are settled down, you’ve got it all figured out, everything’s fine. So I think when I was just growing and realizing things about the world, and myself, and my friends, and just kind of observing what was happening around me, like a songwriter does, I was writing about it. And I was starting to kind of notice this trend of just being really inspired by those themes of life, and what it all means, and how we all kind of have that struggle of wondering why we’re here, and what we’re doing, and what it all means. So it explores those themes in a lot of ways. 

So Tired Eyes came because it’s actually the title of another song I wrote that’s not on the EP, but when I was thinking of titling it, I was like, that’s such an interesting title to me. And I feel like it encapsulates that feeling in a nice way of just looking around and feeling kind of overwhelmed and tired of what you’re seeing, but still having hope – but just being a little bit jaded, or a little more cynical.

OTW: Tell me about “You Don’t Know” –the video touches a nerve amongst teens struggling with depression. It came out around the same time as 13 Reasons Why, and it immediately got 1.3 million views in the first week. What does it mean to you to get that kind of response?

KT: Yeah, the response has been amazing. That’s a song that I’ve held onto for a few years; I’ve only just kind of not been able to let go of it knowing there was something special about it. I mean, it felt special when I wrote it, for me personally, but also as a songwriter, when you hit that song where you’re like, “I said exactly what I wanted to say,” it’s always such a good feeling. 

I think, like you said, people have connected to it in dealing with depression, because I feel like that’s kind of how it feels. You have a lot of well-meaning, loving friends around you, trying to do their best to give you advice. And not that you don’t like it, but sometimes it’s like, “Thank you, but just having a positive attitude is not gonna make me feel better right now!” Not that I think you should stay there, or that it’s a healthy place to be, but sometimes I think it’s necessary to feel what you’re feeling, and allow yourself to be where you’re at, and not try to pull yourself together, or feel better, or be positive, or smile or…for a minute, wanting people around you to kind of let you do that. And so I feel like that’s kind of how I try to be as a friend. And I think I’ve wanted to try to get better at that, and allow myself to learn about how to be a good friend to people. 

OTW: And then there's "Love Me Again"–such an intimate song with a nice build. This is about your fascination of people and relationships. Elaborate more on this song, is this personal to you? 

KT: Yeah, “Love Me Again” is more about the complexity of love and relationships, and specifically, being in a committed relationship and hitting that point where you’re you’re thinking about the future, and you’re like, “Is this gonna work? Just the unknown of the future, and your relationship, was interesting to me. I wrote it in Nashville, and we came up with the line of the chorus, "Will you know how to hate me and love me again?,” which I think kind of sums up the whole meaning of the song, you know? I don’t claim to be an expert by any means, but that’s kind of my personal feeling behind that song.

OTW: I enjoyed seeing that balance in the live show, and you packed The Resident every week. I mean, talk about the response you got! 

KT: So much of what I love about music, and why I got into the music industry in the first place, was a love of performing, and playing shows and being on stage. So, I’ve had a lot of time in the studio, writing, figuring out what these songs are going to be, without the payoff of being able to perform them. So, it just felt like this awesome release to just get up there and play the songs and see how the response was, how it felt singing them onstage. 


OTW: Awesome! And last question: Who are your top Ones To Watch right now?

KT: Oh, gosh. I mean… we were talking earlier about Wrabel, I’m a big fan of him. I have been for a while, and he just put out an EP that’s really good. There’s a lot of cool new pop girls coming out. I mean, Dagny just released a cool song, Sigrid, obviously, my friend Paris releasing her new project, O'Neill Hudson coming soon! She’s really talented, and a sweet friend and person. Gosh, there’s so much cool stuff coming out that it’s hard to keep track. Julia Michaels too–she’s just a freaking genius and inspirational songwriter. Yeah, a lot of cool female artists coming out, which is exciting.