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Hamptons Life

Feb 4, 2019 11:54 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Meeting At 'The End' Began Musical Collaboration For Kate Usher and Kevin Angiulo

Kate Usher and the Sturdy Souls perform at the Montauk Music Festival in 2018.  KYRIL BROMLEY
Feb 4, 2019 12:08 PM

Kate Usher and Kevin Angiulo are musical souls with a history of traveling a parallel path. Curiously, it’s a path that converged only recently.

Ms. Usher and Mr. Angiulo, both of whom are 25 years old, grew up mid-island—one in Manhasset, the other in West Babylon—and both spent summers in Montauk, where they had deep roots.

“My great-grandfather was there during the yellow fever quarantine, and my grandfather was there during World War II,” Ms. Usher explained. “Montauk was always my escape. The town I grew up in didn’t resonate with me, but Montauk was my time to get away.”

As she grew older, Ms. Usher came to realize just how instrumental Montauk had been in shaping her personality, identity and all that she became.

“I moved there and built my friend group from the ground up,” she said. “I have so many friends now.”

Among those friends is Mr. Angiulo, who, despite also being a Montauk summer kid, met Ms. Usher only four years ago, on the beach. That’s when it became clear they had something else in common—a love of and talent for making music. She’s a singer, he’s a multi-instrumentalist and recording engineer, and within a year of their meeting on the beach they formed a band.

Together, they are Kate Usher & the Sturdy Souls, a musical duo that performs frequently at venues in Montauk and across Long Island, as well as other parts of the country.

Recently, they’ve been playing gigs large and small up and down the West Coast. They’ll be back on the East End in February for a few local gigs before taking off again, this time to Puerto Rico, where they’ll play throughout the month of March.

Recently, Ms. Usher and Mr. Angiulo spoke by phone from the West Coast and shared stories about their partnership, which grew out of that chance meeting. They also explained how it altered the course of their lives by bringing them together as a musical team—though, for the record, not a romantic one.

“We have different influences, musically, that are totally on opposite ends of the spectrum,” Ms. Usher said. “I was always singing Disney sing-alongs, ‘Hannah Montana,’ and I was in a 34-piece jazz band in college, which was the last band I was in until now.”

“For me, I was highly influenced by playing guitar,” countered Mr. Angiulo, who was strongly influenced by hip-hop and rap, as well as the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Sublime. “These are the styles that led me to where my music is now.”

Mr. Angiulo also enjoys the production side of making music and in addition to his guitar work, often uses a loop pedal that allows for layering of sounds to emulate a full band in live settings, even when it’s just the two of them on stage.

“We do bring in a six-piece band for shows when we want to be more free for our performances,” he said.

Mr. Angiulo, a graduate of the University of Tampa, has a degree in business management and marketing and, as a result, brings a strong skill set to the music-making business. He notes that as he was finishing his degree, he realized that he didn’t want to run a restaurant or work his way up in a Fortune 500 company, but instead wanted to pursue entrepreneurial ideas. Not long after graduation, he moved to Montauk for the summer and played three or four acoustic gigs per week.

“I decided I’d be a musician,” he said. “It was something I’m passionate about, and I had the goal of being self-sufficient, and I was playing solo at decent venues.”

But, then, he performed a show in Puerto Rico where Ms. Usher happened to be vacationing at the time.

“She came up and sang three songs with me,” Mr. Angiulo recalled. “As soon as she did that, all the heads turned and the whole crowd started watching us, and they didn’t stop till she was done.”

It was the first indication that, as good as they were on their own, as a duo they could take their music to the next level.

“It changed everything for me, as I don’t play an instrument,” Ms. Usher explained. “Joining with Kevin opened my world up to performing. It also inspired me to write music. I wasn’t a songwriter prior to meeting Kevin.”

“We started playing music much more and made it a catapult to our career,” Mr. Angiulo added. “I love writing songs, and Kate does a large part of that too. I also love music production and thinking about the psychology of what the crowd is listening to. Kate has a beautiful voice. Every time I hear her sing, it’s amazing.”

“I feel extremely blessed that Kevin has a background in business management,” Ms. Usher said. “Kevin does our booking, email correspondence, tour management, plans travels, self-records and -produces albums.

“I write songs, sing them and try to look good while doing it.”

It’s a partnership that works well and despite the fact both are admittedly very independent people, they’ve come to rely on each other quite a bit.

“We’re not just friends. This is our business and our future,” Ms. Usher said. “But it’s also so much more than a business relationship.”

Despite the fact their relationship is a purely platonic one based on the business of making music, that doesn’t mean there haven’t been jealousies on the part of the people they have dated. That’s especially true when the two of them hit the road for extended periods of performing in far-off places.

“Kevin and I agree we won’t allow a relationship to trump the career,” Ms. Usher said. “We have clear goals of what we want. If we’re dating someone, we have to find a person who can understand and trust us … We’ve made it work so far.”

By all accounts, they’ve also made the music work so far.

Last summer, they were one of the groups that opened for Paul Simon at the Montauk Music Festival Rocks the Lighthouse concert, held on the lawn of the Montauk Point Lighthouse. In early December, Kate Usher & The Sturdy Souls released “Shades of Blue,” their second EP, which they describe as a collection of soulful R&B blended with reggae pop.

The recording grew out of instrumental tracks created by Mr. Angiulo that Ms. Usher improvised to while performing at venues in Montauk last summer. Words and melody came together and became the four tracks included on the EP, which is the follow-up to their debut “Circles” EP, recorded with Grammy Award-winning East Hampton producer Cynthia Daniels and released last May.

This winter, they are recording their debut full-length album even while performing across the United States. The band will also soon release a one-of-a-kind vinyl release through Brooklyn-based Leesta Vall Sound Recordings. The independent record label specializes in limited-run direct-to-vinyl 7-inch disks.

“We’ll play a song live and cut it into a record,” Mr. Angiulo explained. “There’s an order form online. We’re recording two or three songs, and each one is a separate vinyl record. You can pick a record and it gets shipped to you.”

All this music making adds up to a busy and full schedule for Ms. Usher and Mr. Angiulo. It’s gotten to the point where Ms. Usher said she no longer has a day job and, instead, is dedicating herself full-time to the music. Mr. Angiulo is largely on the same page, but she added that because he loves surfing, he continues to teach the sport at CoreysWave in Montauk in the summer.

“Kevin is an avid surfer, so he has to keep his feet wet,” said Ms. Usher in explaining how they choose the areas where they tour and the audiences they attract. “It’s absolutely the surfing crowd. The energy of a surf community is something Kevin and I resonate with.”

The surf culture is, indeed, a big part of their influence—not only in terms of their initial meeting and the venues they play, but the music itself, which is Montauk-inspired and reflects the spirit of the ultimate beach town. On the West Coast, they have been performing in everything from bars and restaurants to proper music venues like Saint Rocke, a well-known establishment in Los Angeles.

“Kevin reaches out to as many venues as possible,” Ms. Usher said. “We’ve had some really good shows and some bad shows. This tour has been amazing. We’re playing to packed rooms and made a lot of connections from San Diego to Los Angeles.”

As their popularity grows, Ms. Usher and Mr. Angiulo plan to expand their touring opportunities to the middle parts of the country as well. Already, they are finding fans around the world. Such is the beauty of making music in the digital age.

“The majority of our fans are 18 to young 30s,” Ms. Usher said. “We have a large handful of older fans and some kids. There’s a 13-year-old girl in California who comes to all our shows with her mom. She was our first super fan,” she added. “Social media gives them a chance to interact with you.”

Despite their growing career, Montauk remains the heart and home for these two musicians. While they may be on the road for weeks at a time, it’s still the place where Ms. Usher and Mr. Angiulo return to find some grounding and recharge their batteries.

“I love the winters out there,” Ms. Usher said. “I thoroughly enjoy how desolate it is. But I keep myself nice and busy.”

Kate Usher & The Sturdy Souls second EP, “Shades of Blue,” is available on all digital platforms. Want to see the band perform live? On Saturday, February 9, they will be at Gurney’s Montauk, followed on Friday, February 22, by a gig at Baron’s Cove in Sag Harbor. They’ll be back at Gurney’s Montauk on Saturday, February 23. Additional New York dates include Brooklyn Bazaar on Thursday, February 21, Leesta Vall Sound Recordings in Brooklyn on Wednesday, February 27, Still Partners in Sea Cliff on Thursday, February 28, and the Post Office Café in Babylon on Friday, March 1. Then, it’s off to Puerto Rico. To hear them online, visit thesturdysouls.com.

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