Student Sounds: katgrüvs

RHONEE DELA FUENTE / COURTESY
RHONEE DELA FUENTE / COURTESY

Davis guitarists talks fingerpicking, musical technique, midterms  

Third-year mechanical engineering major Kat Gallardo — the brains behind the musical project “katgrüvs” — spent the summer recording music in her parents’ walk-in closet. One can imagine the scene: Gallardo shuffling to move her recording equipment to and from her bedroom, a microphone next to a winter coat, an amplifier beside her father’s dress shoes, guitar picks among her mother’s jewelry collection.

“[I had to take] all of my stuff out of my room, and bring it into the closet,” Gallardo said. “It’s a hassle sometimes, but it’s totally worth it. And then my mom would come home and be like, ‘get your stuff out of the closet!’”

But a janky recording setup isn’t exactly reflective of Gallardo’s raw talent. In fact, her summer-in-a-closet was well spent, leading to the finalization of her new EP, Summertime in Suburbia/The Deedle-Leedle Song. The two acoustic pieces on the EP incorporate Gallardo’s distinctive style as she layers notes from her guitar. Especially prevalent in the song “Summertime in Suburbia” is the coexistence of complexity and soft notes, resulting in a sound reminiscent of  suburban nostalgia — the “soundtrack of moms headed to Costco,” Gallardo explained.  

“There are just some things I love about suburbia, because it’s where I grew up,” Gallardo said. “It’s sort of a shout-out to Antioch, California — to both the city and the suburbs and their influences.”

Gallardo’s dad kickstarted her music career. As a guitarist himself, he was Gallardo’s first introduction to the instrument. Gallardo feels that her style later branched from his.

“He would always be there, teach me the basic chords, the basic foundations; I just want to thank him for doing that,” Gallardo said. “Of course I’ve had other influences on the way […] but I can attribute the one main influence to my dad.”

Gallardo was also musically involved at her church, playing in the church choir when she was younger.

“As a strong Catholic, religion really inspires me,” Gallardo said. “God inspires me to do these things. I’m a cradled Catholic [and…] that has played such an essential role in my music. I just admire the beauty of music, and I see God in music.”

Gallardo uses fingerstyle playing, a style characterized by its economic use of the guitar via plucking individual strings or tapping the base of the instrument. She did not adopt this specific style until she was in high school, after discovering musician Andy McKee on YouTube. Gallardo was inspired by the uniqueness of his sound, and adopted the technique.

“Andy McKee did a lot of the tapping and altered tuning — the one-man band type thing,” Gallardo said. “[Watching his videos] was the turning point for me. [He was] playing with his fingers over the [guitar] neck and this tapping kind of stuff […] I just thought, ‘Wow, this is a really well-composed song. This is the kind of sound that I’m looking for.’”

Once she began to master her technique, Gallardo focused more on song composition, taking inspiration from non-fingerstyle artists — specifically ’90s alternative-rock bands.

“In college, I started listening to a lot of alternative rock — Blink-182, Third Eye Blind, The Story So Far,” Gallardo said. “I grab influences from their hooks. Their songs are not as virtuosic in nature, but I do get a lot of the pop hooks from listening to ’90s alternative rock music.”

While in college, Gallardo has immersed herself in other musical projects such as the Newman Catholic Choir and the Davis Jazz Band, both of which have served to offset her solo career.

“[I wanted to] do something that will add to the whole instead of cram everything in at once, which is the tendency for a lot of fingerstyle players like me: to overplay,” Gallardo said. “Jazz is a counter-balance to that. [I have to] listen to what other people are doing first — listen to the horns, listen to the piano and the bass and the drums — that way you can get a feel of how you can add to the sound rather than just overshadow other people.”

In the same way college has expanded Gallardo’s musical maturity, UC Davis has served as the inspiration for some of her music. Such inspiration is most prominent in her track “Down to the Wire.” That’s part of katgrüvs’ charm and relatability: her music feels personal, it’s not too lofty.

“‘Down to the Wire’ tells a story about the quarter system,” Gallardo said. “Like school is starting, everything is chill, and then the song starts ramping up during the ‘midterm season’ because it switches from major to minor keys. The minor keys represent the quarter system, the tests, the midterms — and the major keys represent relaxation, the party stage and then ending it off with the most dramatic part: finals. And it ends up abruptly like okay, now I can rest.”

College has influenced Gallardo’s musical decisions, and these decisions have likewise shaped her career path.

“I felt like Davis was the perfect fit. It just feels so balanced between engineering, which is my analytical side, but [also] gives me the freedom to be my creative self,” Gallardo said. “I felt like if I was a music major or if I went to a music school, I probably wouldn’t have the artistic liberties that I have right now [in Davis].”

Gallardo hopes to intertwine her two passions, possibly using her engineering skills to create more than just music.

“I have a dream of building guitars and combining engineering and music,” Gallardo said. “I felt that mechanical engineering would enable me to use my musical capabilities […] and transmit that to building something that will help others in the music community.”

There is an uncanny relationship between Gallardo’s major studies and the mechanical style of her playing. However, when the subject was presented, Gallardo simply laughed it off, and declared it a mere coincidence. But such an incredible combination of talent and skill is more than mere happenstance; rather, genius seems to be the running motif.

To listen to katgrüvs’ content, please visit her Bandcamp and Youtube, or learn more from her website or Facebook page.

Written by: Ally Overbay and Caroline Rutten — arts@theaggie.org