Oakland, California-based Kat Ouano (who goes by the name Kat O1O won national recognition for her talent in visual arts from The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards with a piece entitled Back Alley at the Break o’ Dawn. But alongside her talent in art, Kat demonstrated early promise in music and began playing classical piano at age 4 in her native Wichita, Kansas. Kat is a keyboardist who plays with numerous Bay Area musicians, including the hip hop band Crown City Rockers. She’s also created music for diverse clients such as video game companies, T-Mobile and PBS. We caught up with Kat last fall to talk about making music, creating art and space travel as she was preparing to go on tour in Japan.
AYAW: You’ve been involved in creative activities from a very young age. Did you have a teacher or mentor who was particularly supportive of your work?
KAT: All of my piano teachers growing up were super supportive of my music. As for my visual art, I didn’t even know that I was good until my teacher Brent Knott suggested that we enter my piece into The Scholastic Art Awards! So he was the one who had complete faith and support in my art.
AYAW: Can you tell us a little bit more about your Award-winning piece, Back Alley at the Break o’ Dawn?
KAT: It was part of a project in art class. We all were working on graphite pencil drawings at the time and I chose this picture to recreate. I got really into it and the next thing I know my teacher said, ‘We should enter this in The Scholastic Art Awards.’ It’s all about the shading and the vanishing point in this one. I really liked shading.
AYAW: Are there any aspects of your visual arts experience that are helpful to you in your career as a musician?
KAT: Most definitely! I believe that all art is in the same vein. Most creative people are creative in multiple aspects of their lives. It’s a work ethic also. No one is paying you by the hour as an artist, so you really have to love what you’re doing and make sure you do it.
AYAW: Do you have any advice for someone with a lot of different interests – say, football and poetry? Is it a question of choosing one over the other, or is there room to pursue more than one interest?
KAT: Of course there’s room to pursue more than one interest. I think that’s what make people people. As long as there’s passion, then it translates into all areas of your life.
AYAW: Being a musician, an artist, or a writer sometimes involves being the center of attention – whether at an exhibition, a performance, or a reading. Do you ever find yourself getting “stage fright?”
KAT: It’s funny, I’ll get stage fright in the most unusual places. We’ve [Crown City Rockers] played for thousands and thousands of people at festivals and I’m cool. Then we’ll do a small show for a handful of people and I’ll get complete stage fright, shaking and everything. I used to get stage fright all the time, but I think the more you do something, the more you get used to it and it becomes easier. Just like practicing an instrument or practicing a certain style or drawing or painting.
AYAW: Is it easier for you to create when you’re alone, or when you’re collaborating with a group? Is feedback and/or collaboration in the creative process?
KAT: I believe they are completely different worlds. When I create something while alone, it is very personal. When collaborating, you bounce ideas back and forth. Plus it all depends on the mood I’m in. Often it’ll be easier for me to create when I’m alone. But everyone gets writer’s block at times. Collaborating with a group is good because you get energy from the other people you create with. It’s all a synergistic process, which is sometimes very difficult if you have multiple strong egos – like having too many cooks in the kitchen. I love both ways. Feedback is important in the creative process, but you must be careful not to take anything too personally. Remember what your goal was in the beginning, listen to the feedback, and take it from there. There have been many times when too much feedback has killed the creative process completely. And you never want to kill the creative process!
AYAW: Was there anything in particular that influenced your decision to pursue music, as opposed to another career?
KAT: I auditioned to get into Berklee College of Music, and when I found out I got a scholarship, that was it. No turning back.
AYAW: Do you still do any drawing or painting on the side?
KAT: As part of the business, I’ve learned to manipulate Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator to make flyers and album covers and stuff. So I guess that’s still in the art world. It’s funny, as you grow older you have to start compartmentalizing your time, so most of my time is taken up by music.
AYAW: How did you end up touring in Japan? What’s the local culture like?
KAT: My band plays a certain style of old school organic jazzy hip hop with live instruments. Japanese people absolutely love that kind of music. They’ve invited us to play there a few times now and we’re definitely going back. The culture in Japan is completely different than U.S. culture. It’s very eye opening to see. Even though kids are kids everywhere, there is a very different way of doing things. They seem to have a respect for everyone and everything out there. And they take pride in everything that they do to the utmost. And it’s like the future! They’re runnin’ circles around us in technology! I love it!
AYAW: I noticed your Facebook page has a certificate of participation mentioning that your name will be carried to Mars on a microchip as part of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory rover. What does that mean? Do you have any latent ambitions for space exploration?
KAT: I adore space. I’m so excited to have this certification! Even though it’s part of probably a billion different names, I love it. Hopefully in my lifetime they’ll have space exploration for the average folks. If that happens, I’ll be the first in line!
AYAW: Some musicians, artists and writers talk about having “day jobs” so they can support themselves while making art. Can you talk about what a “day job” means before you started playing music full-time? Did you ever have a really interesting one?
KAT: I’ve had every job under the sun, trying to make ends meet. Only a very small percentage of musicians, artists and writers get that golden ticket. You can be an artist, but you still gotta eat, pay rent and bills. I’ve done everything from being a personal driver
, teacher, candle maker, soap boxer, receptionist, file clerk, secretary, caterer, cocktail waitress, bartender, you name it. But everything was in order for me to create music. Make the money to pay the bills so you can concentrate on making the art.
AYAW: What would be your advice to students in high school or middle school who want to pursue a “creative” career as writers, artists or performers?
KAT: Do it! Love it! Be passionate about it and things will fall into place.
Learn more about Kat O1O at www.KatO1O.com.
Photo Credit (Above): Leo Docuyanan.