Artist Spotlight: Grace Kerlin

Country and R&B singer-songwriter emerges onto the college scene

Photo+by+Mark+Krajnak

Photo by Mark Krajnak

By Julia King, Collegian Correspondent

Managing all the responsibilities that come with attending college can be overwhelming as a freshman, especially with the additional role of being an aspiring musician. But communications major and rising singer-songwriter Grace Kerlin has found balance between her academic, social and personal goals while at college.

“My education comes first and foremost, so I try to do all of my work before I sit down and pick up my guitar,” Kerlin said. “Usually, I’ll find time between classes when there’s no one else in my dorm room to sit down and practice or try to write.”

Surrounded by music all her childhood, Kerlin began her musical journey around the age of eight when her parents bought her a guitar for Christmas.

“As soon as I learned how to play some chords, I was writing songs and singing for anyone who came over the house,” Kerlin said. “It’s always funny to hear stories from my relatives now about when I was little and how they knew this was something I was going to pursue.”

Shortly after picking up the instrument, Kerlin began taking guitar lessons with musician Vinny Smith from her hometown of Allentown, New Jersey. Aside from teaching her the basics of the guitar, Smith also allowed Kerlin to join him and perform at some of his gigs.

“I feel that this was super important as a young artist, because I learned how to be comfortable in front of a crowd right from the start,” Kerlin said.

Kerlin grew comfortable sharing her music with others at a young age when she performed in front of her classmates in middle school. Gaining this experience as a young artist is vital to pursuing music, says Kerlin.

“There’s a video of me on YouTube at age 11, I think, singing the first song I ever wrote called ‘Smile’ at a middle school talent show,” Kerlin said. “I think my early experience at being able to make sense of music and performing gave me the confidence to continue with it.”

After training with Smith, Kerlin worked with a professional musician from Hamilton, New Jersey, Ernie White. White, a guitar player, recorded under RCA and Casablanca record labels in the 1980s and 90s. He assisted Kerlin as a mentor and took her under his wing at some of his gigs, allowing her to perform alongside him.

“He also agreed to perform on some of my recordings and is featured on the title track from my first album called ‘Trying to Find,’” Kerlin said.

Kerlin’s musical style stems from one of her biggest musical inspirations, The Chicks. She reflects on listening to them from a young age and learning a lot about songwriting and rhythm by constantly listening to them play.

Photo by Kaylee Munster

The songwriting process differs for every musician and can take a lot of trial and error. “Usually writing for me starts with a chord progression, then the words tend to fit into the music,” Kerlin said. “I remember being told the best songs are written in 10 minutes so, if I feel stuck on a specific line or verse, I will take a break and come back with a fresh mind.”

As of recently, Kerlin remains active in writing and producing music. Over winter break, she released her newest single called “Too Late for One More Time.” She also has other tracks currently in the works that she plans to release as singles in the near future.

“One thing I am learning is that the music business is extremely competitive and crowded with great talent, and you need a lot of luck to get noticed,” she said. “I think one of my main goals is to keep working hard and get a bigger outreach for my new song and my music in general.”

Kerlin hopes to perform at some local restaurants and bars in the Amherst area. She believes the connectivity that comes with engaging with one’s community is essential in music growth and improvement.

“Seeing people sing along and dance while you’re performing will make any musician happy,” she said. “Knowing that you have made someone’s day better, even in the slightest way, is rewarding in itself.”

Kerlin’s debut album “Trying to Find” as well as her entire discography is available on Apple Music and Spotify. To keep up with her musical journey, follow her @gracelkerlin on Instagram, and listen to her here.

Julia King can be reached at [email protected]