The health benefits of music have been widely researched. Evidence has shown that music can alleviate stress, reduce pain, and lead to better cognitive functioning in patients suffering from memory loss. A popular study released last year asserted that routinely going to concerts can contribute to an increased lifespan. Charlottesville native Kate Bollinger witnessed music’s neurological impact firsthand while growing up: Her mom is a music therapist.
“I think it was important to see music in that context—as something that really, powerfully can help people get better,” Bollinger explains. “[My mom] works with a lot of older people that have dementia, and then she also works with younger kids who have autism and developmental disabilities. Music is always around for a lot of people and it’s, I think, subtly powerful, but [not everyone] knows that it can really change people’s lives and change their brain patterns.”
Bollinger’s musical lineage can be traced back to those early music therapy sessions.
“My mom was always releasing children’s music albums, so I grew up singing in children’s choruses for her albums,” says Bollinger. “From a young age, I had the chance to see how it works to record in a studio and to sing with other people.”
Meanwhile, both of Bollinger’s older brothers played music, hosting band practices in their basement. This exposure informed her own approach: She joined the girl’s chorus in middle school, and by high school was recording and releasing her own songs on SoundCloud.
Now a fourth-year cinematography major at the University of Virginia, Bollinger’s teamed up with classmate John Trainum, and they’ve put out a string of singles over the past couple of years. Trainum plays keys and synth on Bollinger’s tracks, and is credited with mixing and production.
“[Trainum and I] put out two songs together that we just recorded in his room—I guess it was two years ago now—and then he would make beats and I would write over them,” she says. The duo have been recording at White Star Sound in Louisa.
Over the summer, Bollinger released a five-song EP, I Don’t Wanna Lose, which marked a period of growth for her: It’s the first time she’s worked with a full band during the recording process. Along with Trainum, the disc features drummer Jacob Grissom, who Bollinger met in high school. Enrolled in the jazz program at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Grissom brought along fellow VCU jazz students Chris Lewis (guitar) and Jimmy Trussell (bass). Possessing all the familiarity of a lo-fi bedroom recording, I Don’t Wanna Lose is a languid collection that’s easy to get lost in.
While the EP’s themes are universal—a sense of insecurity about the future and the pains of heartbreak—Bollinger says songwriting, for her, began as personal catharsis.
“I feel like I’ve written a lot of songs in tears about something, so it definitely started from a self-centered place, just trying to hash out what I felt and trying to make something productive out of usually bad feelings,” she says.
But as her audience continues to grow, it’s clear that Bollinger’s work harkens back to the touchstone of music therapy—music as a communal tool for healing.
“It’s been really cool to hear that [my songs have] helped with people’s anxiety, so I’m definitely thinking now in a bit of a broader way, that hopefully it can help other people with their feelings.”
Kate Bollinger celebrates the vinyl release of her 2019 EP, I Don’t Wanna Lose, at the Southern on November 14.