Kathryn O’Shea is a banjo-playing folk singer/songwriter and puppeteer. Born and raised in Asheville, NC, her family’s roots in both music and the southern Appalachian mountains go back generations to early folk recordings of her great great uncle I.G. Greer in the Archive of Folk Culture at the Library of Congress. Her Grandmother Greer was a professional vocalist in the 1930s and her cousin Meg Baird is a folk artist and in the bands Espers (Drag City) and Heron Oblivion (Sub Pop).
Like many musicians, Kathryn O’Shea first cut her teeth performing in church, however, the church she attended was not full of the typical southern gospel stylings one might assume. Imagine instead a raucous cover of “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin performed by a 6-piece band while a bearded minister in a jeans and a t-shirt claps along enthusiastically behind the pulpit. This particular church was led by a couple of hippies Kathryn refers to as Mom and Dad. Mom was the music director and is a classically trained vocalist who can bounce between opera, jazz, folk, and soulful blues while simultaneously rocking out on keys. A prolific songwriter, she engineered several original albums back in the analogue days under the name Lytingale. Dad, Rev. Chad O’Shea, was the new age minister who had connections to Ram Dass (author of Be Here Now), a penchant for eastern mysticism, and an impressive beard.
Naturally, Kathryn was stuck in front of the 100+ weekly congregation to sing as soon as she was old enough to hold an SM58, and she quickly decided a career on stage was for her. After a two-year stint in the theatre department at the University of Central Florida, she quit school and moved back home to Asheville to pursue music with her brother Michael O’Shea. Having the same lineage and childhood environment as Kathryn, it’s no surprise that Michael is a professional musician and music producer based in Los Angeles and has released 5 solo electro-rock albums and various singles under the name Kinjac. He has production credits on albums by artists like C.J. Boyd (Joyful Noise Records), Ali Baba’s Tahini (an Umphrey’s McGee side-project), and every release on the Seven Moths record label he founded, and has released official remixes of tracks by River Whyless, Thavius Beck, Eprhyme, Carolinabound, and Toaster Bath. Unfortunately, their ill-fated sibling project never got off the ground, because right as they were ready to begin writing and recording, one of Kathryn’s dearest friends suddenly died of cancer at the age of 19. Six months later their father suddenly died of cancer too.
While trudging through these traumas, Kathryn was searching for a new direction and biding her time bartending at a neighborhood bistro in her hometown. One day Lisa A. Sturz, an old friend of Kathryn’s and a puppeteer with her own production company (Red Herring Puppets) and experience on works by Jim Henson and George Lucas, walked in, saw her behind the bar, and promptly asked Kathryn, “Why are you working in a restaurant? I need puppeteers!” Before she knew it she was rehearsing a puppet show, attending regional puppet jamborees, and signing contracts for an 8-month national tour performing one of Lisa’s new shows. For a year she lived in a van and crisscrossed the country performing an educational puppet show about electricity for elementary schoolers and exploring all the national parks she could. During this time she also honed her banjo playing skills and channeled her loss and grieving into a vulnerable portfolio of songs that is as hauntingly beautiful as it is emotionally resonant. After life on the road, she settled in Atlanta, GA to take a role as a puppeteer with the Center for Puppetry Arts while she finished writing her debut album. While living in Atlanta, Kathryn continued occasional work on various different shows with Red Herring Puppets and joined the directorial team at Onion Man Productions. This summer, Kathryn returned to her idyllic hometown of Asheville to act as a principal company member with Red Herring Puppets and work with her brother, MG O'Shea, to produce her debut album.