ON SONGWRITING, BUILDING FANS
AND THE CLEAR BLUE BETTY REUNION
Clear Blue Betty will play a one-time reunion show on Sunday, November 13th from 1-3 PM at the High Noon Saloon, to benefit Girls Rock Camp. Cover is the standard $5.
Anyone who has ever tried their hand at writing knows how elusive a finely crafted song can be. From inspiration to final recording, losing your grip on the kernel of truth that motivates such a creation is a constant source of frustration. And yet, writing the good songs is just the beginning because, let’s face it, there are a hundred thousand people writing good songs. In the end a song is just a tree falling in the forest if no one else hears it.
Beth Kille has been working on songwriting for some time. She’s also a prime example of how a musician can apply themselves once the songs are written. True, some artists have trouble looking at music as a career path. In some people’s minds art and commerce should never mix. But without that mix we would not have much of what makes music special – sharing your appreciation of it with others who draw similar sources of inspiration from it, or have a similar emotional reaction.
Kille was born in Madison in 1974 but was raised primarily in the Marinette area. She came to Madison in 1992 to study psychology but ultimately ended up with a Masters degree in physical therapy. She met her husband Tony at a leadership camp while in high school. He also came to Madison (both were in the UW Madison marching band) and they soon found themselves romantically involved. They’ve been together since 1993.
In 2002 they started a band with a group of people in the New Glarus area and called it Clear Blue Betty. As time went on it became clear that Kille was the undisputed focal point of the band, churning out pleasantly earnest pop rock songs that went over well in everything from coffee houses to theaters. They became very popular, drawing large crowds of very supportive fans and winning seven Madison Area Music Awards along the way including Entertainer of the Year in 2007.
Then, in 2008, just when it looked like Clear Blue Betty would become pretty firmly entrenched in the Madison music community, the band took a hiatus. Kille followed Tony to Texas where he was serving his fellowship as a pediatric ear-nose-throat specialist. While there she attempted to work as a physical therapist but with the economy starting to tank, she found herself with ample free time to pursue music. She began reading books and joined songwriting groups in both Nashville and Houston (she had been a member of the Nashville Songwriters Assoc – Madison chapter).She started performing as a solo artist and enjoyed the freedom of being able to work without the confines of a band. Being involved with songwriting groups and networking with publishers and other industry people in Nashville opened her eyes to things she could do with her songs that she didn’t know existed. Though she would love to place a song with a successful artist she realized she was happier doing her own thing. “It’s hard to write songs with those intentions,” she says. “I’d rather write my own truths and hope those resonate with someone else.”
What’s truly remarkable about Kille is what she’s done since returning to Madison in 2009. In short order she became the co-coordinator for the National Songwriters Association – Mad chapter; she started Chick Singer Night in Madison; helped to start Girls Rock Camp and Ladies Rock Camp, a nonprofit that inspires young women to become musically proficient; she ran a songwriting group in New Glarus and she joined the Madison Area Music Association board. Kille has recorded two albums since returning and last year she walked away with Artist of the Year honors, something that both “surprised and shocked her given the incredible talent she was up against.” In 2010 alone she performed at 108 shows before giving birth to her first son Gus. Finally, she takes students, mostly girls, who want to learn guitar. There’s little doubt what a fine role model she makes for them.
So it’s no accident that Kille has the peers, acquaintances, fans and friends that support her in large numbers and such a loyal, dedicated fan base. “Everything I do feeds into everything I do,” she states. “Being so involved builds fans and peers. It all feeds into each other.” Little surprise then that these people would get behind her and vault her to Artist of the Year status.
Kille chalks it up to the personal touch. “I knew a lot of the Clear Blue Betty fans by name. I’d go out into the crowd after gigs and make a point to meet people, talk to them, thank them for coming. There was no question how much I appreciated them and they knew it. Our fans really responded to that. Clear Blue Betty had their fans because we played our asses off and we gave them what they wanted. There was a lot of love on our stage.”
In the early days of Clear Blue Betty the band also had help from guitarist Rob Koth’s wife Christine who acted as their manager and did a lot of work for the band up until the time she had kids. Tony’s brother Jon Kille also did a lot of work coordinating efforts for the band. It seems this is key to a successful group; read any music biography, almost all had managers at early stages of their careers, deflecting much of the bullshit and allowing the musicians to focus on the music making much more while shoring up the business side by building rapport with fans and industry people.
Not long ago, Kille and Jessi Lynn, a Madison-based singer/songwriter currently living in the southern U.S., teamed up and wrote a song entitled “I’ve Been Accused.” Kille performed the song live on Channel 15’s Morning Show in an effort to promote the MAMAs. As luck would have it a producer in Los Angeles found the clip on YouTube and has taken an interest in it. “It’s strange that I spent so much time writing songs for other people’s voices; sitting in publisher’s offices and playing music that was intended for other people and then a song that I performed for myself gets randomly picked up,” Kille says. “I don’t hold my breath on these things but it’s nice to know that someone would be interested.”
Even after giving birth, Kille is still going strong. She feels especially luck to be married to someone who supports her quest for musical success. The fact that he is also a drummer certainly helps. Just just done a proper demo for “I’ve Been Accused” and has a batch of country-leaning songs that she’d like to put on another album.
Of all her activities the Girls Rock Camp seems to light her up the most right now. There are several groups around the country but Madison’s is uique in that all its staff are paid whereas virtually all the others rely on volunteer staff. “We had thirty local musicians at our last Girls Rock Camp and they all got paid,” Kille says. The organization has received a couple of grants and also survives on the fees the “campers” pay.
So why reunite Clear Blue Betty after all this time? “Well,” Kille says, Jim Smith (drummer/percussionist) jokingly suggested it recently but at the time I was looking for another band to do this fundraiser at the High Noon on November 13th. At first I cringed because doing something with a band is just so much work and I’ve grown accustomed to being on my own. But then I thought about it and thought why not if everyone else is willing to.” Even John Masino, who played guitar in the band in its final year, will be on hand at the Clear Blue Betty reunion show. Though she calls it a one-time event, it’s likely that the energy generated by the group will spark an old flame and, much like lost lovers, they are awfully hard to resist. “I do love all those guys,” Kille says. “We had a helluva good time.”