Singer-songwriter, author, motivational speaker, producer, director, media publisher — let’s just say overall entrepreneur — San Deigo native Kathryn Cloward could hear lyrics and melodies from the time she was a young girl performing for her dolls in her bedroom. She bought her first guitar when she was 18, but lacking the self-confidence to pursue music, she followed a different path into the business world.
The dream for songwriting and performing never left. It would take Cloward 20 years before she would pursue her musical dream. Today, Cloward performs as “Kathryn the Grape” and with her band, Kathryn Cloward and the Royals, has a line of award-winning children’s books under the name of “Kathryn the Grape,” is a motivational speaker that has been recognized by numerous organizations, and that is just a few of her many accomplishments.
Combining her business knowledge and musical skills, Cloward founded the media publishing and production company Kandon Unlimited in 2010. The company has published over 250 books and songs, has multiple trademarked brands, and manages independent artists. The company’s focus is on creating a positive and empowering environment for people of all ages.
We had the opportunity to chat with Kathryn to learn about her background in music, her Taylor Guitar, how “Kathryn the Grape” began, working with a new artist, and what’s new for 2020.
Tell us a little about your background in music and when you started playing guitar.
It’s been a long road for me to finally be doing what I am doing now with my music. But, the journey was necessary. I have always written songs for as long as I can remember. I bought my first guitar when I was 18. I don’t recall the brand of the guitar, but it was a black acoustic guitar that was similar to the guitar Wynonna Judd played. At the time, I idolized her. She was so fierce, and I desired to be like her. I took some lessons and learned a few chords, but I just didn’t dedicate myself to it then. I lacked confidence and had tremendous self-doubt for many years. It wasn’t until 20 years later that I decided to do what I always dreamed of doing, not for anyone else or for fame. I wanted to start playing and writing for me. I didn’t have any excuses anymore, and I had so much inside me that wanted to be expressed. I bought a used Taylor Guitar 410ce from my friend Samantha. I started taking guitar lessons and voice lessons, and in time, I was writing my own songs. I write with that guitar. For live shows, I play that Taylor acoustic or my Fender Telecaster. I launched myself into the music industry in 2015, and I’m having the time of my life. Time helped shape me into fully trusting myself and being open to always be learning and growing. I just do my thing without comparison and feel the most me that I ever have.
Besides a performing musician, you are also involved in writing children’s books. Can you tell us a little more about this and how the character “Kathryn the Grape” developed?
When I was 11 years old, my softball coach nicknamed me “Kathryn the Grape” because I wore purple all of the time. My mom was the one who originally had the idea of making my childhood nickname a children’s book character. Years later, when I was journeying through my own life transformation and reawakening to who I truly am at the core of my being, I was inspired to create a media series to provide my son and others with tools of love. I desire to help people feel good about themselves and others. I know from personal experience, that’s an inside job. We ripple love from the inside out. My hope is to help people be more loving with themselves and others, naturally and unconditionally. I share messages of love, kindness, unity, and compassion through Kathryn the Grape books and songs. To date, I have released 26 Kathryn the Grape books and two full-length music albums, all of which have picked up some cool family-media awards and national recognition. My next Kathryn the Grape album will be releasing in May 2020 with 11 new original songs that I wrote to link with the messages shared in my book series. Everything I do connects. I perform as “Kathryn the Grape,” and children love that they get to meet me in person and sing along with me at shows. It’s pure soul-shining joy on every level.
You also just wrote and produced an album for a teenager with a rare disease. Tell us about that project.
I am really excited about this project. I met Michelle Hopkins a few years ago when I was invited to perform at the International MPS Symposium. Michelle has MPS1, which is a rare and incurable disease. In 2018, I wrote and produced an impact song called “Heroes” to help raise awareness and support for the entire rare disease community, including the National MPS Society. I felt inspired to invite Michelle to sing lead on the Kathryn the Grape youth version of the song, which she did beautifully. We shot a video for that song with her. I was super excited to see the video, and my Kathryn Cloward version of “Heroes” get consideration on the GRAMMYs ballot. Stemming from a desire to help Michelle have a platform for sharing her story, I felt a strong urge to help her share her story through songs. Last summer, she and I wrote an album of songs that reveal her heart and her hopes, appropriately with “Have Hope” being the title track. I spent much of the fall and winter working with my Kathryn Cloward and The Royals band bringing those songs to life with full musical composition and arrangements. We are almost done with the recordings, and her album will officially release, June 6, 2020, with a debut performance with me and my band at the San Diego County Fair.
What is your songwriting process – which comes first, lyrics or music?
I hear lyrics and melodies first. The start of a song just streams into my mind, and I hear it with a lyrical line and melody at the same time. This has happened since I was a little girl. I never sit down to write a song. It doesn’t really work like that for me. A song channels through me, and I have to catch it. Then once I have it streaming in my mind, I will sit down with my guitar and start writing. I am a storyteller, a lyrist first and foremost. Words matter to me tremendously. The message of the song is the foundation. Then, I write simple chord progressions within the wheelhouse of my musical abilities to complete a song. I bring in my band and other supporting musicians to help create the full sound from there.
What can we look forward to in 2020 for you with new music?
I have a lot going on. Kathryn the Grape is expanding rapidly. I will be supporting the release of my new Kathryn the Grape album, I Feel Good About Myself, with some West Coast touring in late summer and fall. I will be supporting Michelle’s Have Hope album release. I am also going to start production on my new Kathryn Cloward album this summer. It’s been over two years since I released new Kathryn Cloward songs, and it is time. I aim to have my fifth album released a year from now, by February 2021.