Florence Katzenbach, 20, an acoustic folk singer/songwriter who goes by "Flo Kat," performs often at Water Street Studios in Batavia and throughout the Chicago area.
She also plays with a trio, which includes Katzenbach on vocals, her boyfriend, Nate Stephens of Batavia, on piano, and their friend Jason Peters, a student at Northern Illinois University, on upright bass. They’re working toward opening a live music venue called The Office Underground in Batavia.
Dreaming of stardom It was a friend’s talent show performance that struck a chord with Katzenbach back in middle school.
“I said to my mom, crying, ‘I want to be on stage like them,’” Katzenbach says. “The next year, I did it. I obviously had some passion.”
Some of it might have been part of her environment, she adds. Raised in Vermont, Katzenbach says she grew up with a lot of singer/songwriters.
But it’s also part of her personality, she notes.
“I guess there is a folk influence,” she says. “I really love to write stories and tell stories. I loved music as a kid.”
Now a guitarist, Katzenbach’s first shot at writing lyrics took place at age 12. She actually won a lyric competition in Batavia where she lived with her family. Her stepfather, Jason Bell, recorded her first album when she was just 15.
Inspired and supported Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan are voices, and legends, who inspired Katzenbach. Michael Corn, her first music teacher in Vermont, gave her the foundation she needed. But her mother, Greta Bell of Batavia, is her steadfast supporter who’s made it all possible, she says.
“My mom is an artist at Water Street Studios,” Katzenbach says. “She loves my music. She’s so supportive of me in anything I do.”
That included obtaining her high school diploma early and heading straight to a four-year college. The decision enabled Katzenbach to focus on her music — and her graphic design studies at Columbia College in Chicago.
Creative living was always part of her mother’s example, Katzenbach says.
“My mom has always been a creative influence on me,” she says. “She quilted, she baked, she made wreaths at Christmas.”
Her fans are another inspiration for Katzenbach. She says she longs for a sense of stability in her life and, as an artist, expression can leave one feeling vulnerable at times.
“I know that to be a musician, you really have to put all of your heart out there, and I’ve been fearful of that,” she says. “But the way people have reacted to my music has encouraged me to continue making it.”
Her own journey gives her ideas for new songs, and she’s also captured images of the circus in her music. She enjoyed circuses as a child, and she’s written about the elements of a circus performance, such as tight ropes and their symbolism.
“Most of my inspiration comes from real life or emotional experiences,” Katzenbach says. “The music comes in with the lyrics as I’m writing them. It’s a very natural process for me, so when I try to force it, it doesn’t work so well.”
Knowing her own style is perhaps what has led to Flo Kat’s success. She says she found her way by taking the non-traditional route and sharing it with others.
“I would say that my best songs have always come from an emotionally hard time,” Katzenbach says, adding that she experienced depression when she attended college.
Though she excelled academically and earned a substantial scholarship, she says she felt a void. Absent was a connection between her and the rest of the world.
“I felt like all the work I was putting in, all the papers, all the discussion, wasn’t amounting to anything because I wasn’t producing anything,” she says. “I wanted to make something that could last, that could function, that someone could appreciate.”
Forging her future These days, Katzenback is producing and expressing. She just released a new album in May, and she hopes to incorporate her graphic design talents in the entertainment industry, too. Her life is filled with what she loves, she says, noting her personal choices have led to balance.
“I love hearing music, telling stories and being around an artistic community,” she says.
Learning new techniques also is fun, she says, though she insists she’s not much of a formal performer.
“I’m experimenting with jazz vocal techniques, and I probably do bring everything into new music,” she says. “But I would not call myself a musician.”
Though her connection with her audiences comes naturally, it’s different within the musician circle, she explains.
“I find it really hard to express my musical ideas to other musicians,” she says. “I don’t know the technical side of music, and the way I synthesize what a teacher teaches me about music is very abstract.”
Setting the theories and textbook music applications aside, Katzenbach continues to focus on her gifts and how they can help others. The positive response she’s garnered has surprised her, and she says that’s a gift in itself.
“It’s not something I ever planned,” she says. “It’s something I have been lucky to have happen — the fact that I can bring so much joy to others.”
Flo Kat’s music is available at www.flokatmusic.com.