Kyleen Austin has sung the blues in San Francisco, toured the Midwest, and played for 5000 people in New Orleans at a Ray Charles concert.
Now, her journey has paused for a time in Wahkiakum County where she is finding inspiration in a quieter way of life and looking back on the road that brought her here.
Kyleen heard her musical calling at a young age, when she taught herself to play the piano and sing the popular songs on the radio. She performed in musicals as a teenager, and eventually earned a Bachelor’s degree in English and music at Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont, Calif.
In 1998, she joined the San Francisco Bay Area band, Six Way Signal, and the group recorded a blues and swing album called “Moonlight on the Rails.” She later became interested in folk music, and bought her first guitar in 2006 so that she could focus on a solo career.
In 2009, she left a job as an executive at a non-profit corporation in the Bay area and started making and selling artisan cheeses with her then-husband on a farm they purchased in northern California. The company was successful, but Kyleen felt that it wasn’t enough. She and her husband separated, and Kyleen left her California home in November, 2011, with little more than her guitar and a desire to figure out what she wanted from life.
She stopped first in Moclips, Oregon, and spent a few weeks at a cousin’s beach house, writing songs.
“I had songs in my head all this time, but this was when they became ‘writeable’.”
A cousin from the Seattle area then introduced her to George Exum and Carol Carver, Puget Island residents. She accepted their offer of a room in their home while they were away on vacation, and it was during this time that Kyleen also met Rob and Diane Stockhouse and became involved in WAGS – the Wahkiakum Acoustic Guitar Society.
Kyleen has just finished recording her first solo album, “Dreaming of the Sea," in which she sings songs written by some of her favorite artists, as well as her original compositions like ‘Leaving Colorado,’ a story about a teenager on her way to the coast.
“When I was 19, I packed every belonging I had into my 1979 Chevy Malibu Classic and drove from Colorado to Redwood City, Calif., no job, no place…I figured I’d figure it out when I got there.”
Another ballad, “Harry’s Tale,” was influenced by her great-great-grandmother’s writings of her years at sea in the 1880s with her husband, a ship captain.
“The rougher the water, the more thrilling to me,” she sings in a clear lilt reminiscent of some of the artists who have influenced her, like Joni Mitchell and Sarah McLachlan.
Her songs are personal and about a woman’s journey.
“The songs are all about me, to a certain extent,” she explained. “What this CD reflects is the last year of my life. And it’s been a transformational year.”
A CD release concert is scheduled for 7 p.m., this Saturday at the Pioneer Church in Cathlamet.
She will be joined throughout the show by local artists such as Andrew Emlen, who played the cello on several of the CD tracks, Pat Conrad on bass, Jim Roberts on harmonica, and Jerry Ledtke, Joyce Orr and Rob Stockhouse on guitar.
After the show, Kyleen will head back to the Bay area for a while to play with a few members of Six Way Signal as the Kyleen Austin band. But she says she’ll be back to sing for Wahkiakum county again.
“Now that I have my songs and the guitar and my style that is evolving, I want to use that. I have a clear vision of what music I want to do. I am just beginning.”