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Volume 22, Number 9 — September 2014

Arts for Youth Spotlight: K.T. Vandyke

K.T. Vandyke is a singer/songwriter who plays the guitar but considers himself a drummer.
K.T. Vandyke is a singer/songwriter who plays the guitar but considers himself a drummer.

"A kid from the mountains who likes to write country songs'

By Leslie Grace | A! Magazine for the Arts | September 25, 2013

A love of storytelling, unbridled sense of expression and joy in "messing around with just about anything that will make a racket," is how K. T. Vandyke describes his approach to performing and songwriting.

K.T. recently won the Richard Leigh Songwriting Contest (part of the Songwriters Festival at Virginia Highlands Community College that honored Richard Leigh) with his song, "Huck Finn." "It was written primarily about being on the road or perhaps the lack thereof," he says. "It's about a strong desire to make a getaway from a monotonous life to one full of adventure and excitement. That's why it's based on Twain's novel, "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.'"

He says what interests him the most about songwriting is the storytelling. "I've always been a big fan of songwriters like Gregory Alan Isakov, Ryan Adams, John Fogerty, Darrell Scott and Loreena McKinnitt. The characters they tell about in their songs, the scenarios and ordeals they endure have always been mesmerizing to me.

"I'm a big fan of songwriters who really sink time into their songs, and they're fantastic at spilling their guts on a page in a thought-provoking way. To me, it's my voice, an unbridled sense of expression. It is a testament of everyday life throughout history spoken by those who lived it. It's an outstretched hand extended toward your fellow man.

"I've always been a fan of a good slow song regardless of genre or subject matter," K.T. says. "However I try to keep an open mind and not fall into my comfort zone, at least too much anyway. I write what I know, but at the same time push myself to put the time in and to approach things from various angles. I want to provoke a thought or emotion in my audience. I want people to relate to what is going on in my songs, not just a couple catchy lines that are run into the ground every chorus."

K. T. grew up surrounded by music. His father, Roger Vandyke, is a drummer and played with rock "n' roll and country bands while K.T. was young and still does.

"I remember lying in bed when I was young and hearing him and the band jamming on "Mississippi Queen' or "Green River' late into the night on a Wednesday or Thursday; and on the weekends I would spend the night sleeping under tables and chairs at whatever venue they'd be performing at. I started playing drums around the age of 10, and to this day I consider myself a drummer at heart. Playing guitar and singing came about mostly in church, but from time to time I would play a few tunes during a set break for one of my dad's shows. Since then performing slowly evolved into a regular thing, and songwriting manifested from that."

He started to pursue a teaching degree at Virginia Tech, but that ended when he started a trio and began performing as much as possible. The trio cut an EP in 2011 and went on tour. After the tour, the band split up and K.T. came to East Tennessee State University where he attends the bluegrass program.

"I have the amazing opportunity to study and perform with some truly fantastic musicians ranging from Celtic to country, bluegrass to blues. I'm playing drums for the ETSU Country Pride Band and singing for a Celtic group. Outside of school I try to stay as busy as I can traveling and performing. I also run a weekly Writers Anonymous group (a support group for writers) on Sundays at the Acoustic Coffeehouse."

K.T. says his biggest musical influences are his parents and close friends. "My family is a pretty artistic bunch, I must say. My Granny Shelby Maxwell is a fantastic painter and singer. My mother Rhonda always sang out in church and would accompany my dad on stage from time to time. Brett, my older brother, is a published poet for his piece the "Clockwork Knight,' and he is also a talented sketch artist and painter as well. And my father Roger is a musician who still travels and performs on a regular basis.

"I owe a lot to close family friends like Brad Ratliff and Dale Elswick, who are wonderful musicians and played a big part in my development as a musician. I'm a huge fan of Dean Martin and the legendary Rat Pack in general. Those guys really knew how to perform. Others would definitely be Gregory Alan Isakov, Marc Broussard, Chris Thile, Ray LaMontagne, Ray Charles, The Black Crowes, Yann Tiersen and many more. I try to find inspiration in very uncommon places, but to do that it helps to approach all styles and genres with respect and an open mind.

"I'm just a country boy from the coalfields of Southwest Virginia, but I've had the opportunity to travel a decent bit throughout my life and musical career, which has exposed me to a lot of music that wasn't prevalent in my hometown. All those experiences and encounters seem to come out one way or another. But at the end of the day I still see myself as that kid from the mountains who likes to write country songs."

K.T. is from Whitewood, Va., and is the son of Rhonda and Roger Vandyke. He is a senior at ETSU.