She seems so alone and vulnerable up there, just her and a piano in front of a crowd. Yet Katie Trotta sings with the voice of experience in her stripped-down and intensely personal tunes. Though she’s just 18, the music in her live appearances and on her first album, Release, has the low and quiet air of someone in their 30s looking back on something that happened long ago in a world that no longer quite exists.
Katie Trotta sings one of her compositions at the piano of her teacher, Joan Gerzon.
She composed her first musical piece at the age of 8 and began writing lyrics at 14. Her lyrics reflect her emotions and frustrations as she went through Hamilton Southeastern High School. “I started to get really frustrated with my friends and everyone around me. I’ve always been very strong willed with regards to my faith, my morals and myself, so I guess I just didn’t get into the typical high school lifestyle. I was constantly getting disappointed with people,” Trotta said. “People say the CD is like opening up my diary for the last four years. That’s why the album is called Release. It’s a release of the last four years of my life, letting people see a different side of me.” For most of those years, Trotta kept her true feelings hidden and retreated from people. She spent more and more weekends on her own, indulging in her music and writing. “I write my best music at 2 a.m., because that’s when I feel the most honest,” Trotta said. “And I made a promise to myself a long time ago that I wouldn’t write a song just because somebody would like it. I wanted my songs to be honest, something I could be proud of.” It’s an honesty that has often caught people by surprise, even those that know her best. “One woman I know from church listened to it, and she told me she knows a couple of good doctors if I ever need their numbers! I had a friend call me after she first heard the CD. She’d been crying and told me, ‘I just didn’t know you felt that way,’” Trotta said. “I get e-mails from strangers who’ve checked out the album and they say they can relate to these songs so much. That’s what I latch onto; I like anything that I can connect to personally.” In the weeks since Release hit the streets, she’s found her own peace with her past. “I feel like a great weight has been lifted, because I didn’t realize how much I needed other people to hear my music and realize that other half of my life that I had kept hidden,” Trotta said. “I was scared to death when I first put it out there. The scariest part is not knowing where a lot of the CDs have gone. It’s like little pieces of me out there with complete strangers.” Most of Trotta’s background is in classical music. Her teachers have exposed her to music ranging from African and Russian to jazz. Among popular musicians, she admires the deeply personal lyrics of Sarah MacLachlan and the individuality of Ani DiFranco. When writing songs, she begins with the music and works back to the lyrics. “Most of the time what happens is I sit down at the piano and just start playing and improvising,” Trotta said. “A hook will come or something will show up and I’ll just go from there. Sometimes I’ll just close my eyes and lay my hands on the piano keys, and if something happens I’ll go from there. The lyrics come later. Sometimes it’s very fast; I wrote ‘Piece of the Sky’ in five minutes. Other songs take shape over weeks. All of it’s very personal, but I’ll sometimes take what happened and amplify it. So not all of the songs are exactly what happened to me.” For the future, she’s looking to do more live shows, preparing to enter Butler University as a music composition major and continues to write music and lyrics that reflect her outlook post-Release. “The songs now are more geared towards relationships between two people instead of me being frustrated with a lot of people,” Trotta said. “They’re also happier. Some of them, at least.” Release is available at local music outlets including Borders, Barnes & Noble and Northwoods coffee shop, as well as Trotta’s live appearances and her Web site, www.katietrotta.com. • Katie Trotta will be playing: Female-Fronted Friday at Birdy’s, 2131 E. 71st St., May 7 • Starbuck’s at 96th and Allisonville Road, May 8, 8 p.m. • Opening for Jessica Weiser at The House in Glendale Mall, 6101 N. Keystone Ave., May 15, 7 p.m.