Some of the hardest parts of pursuing your creative aspirations professionally are finding out what you really want to do and finding spaces that let you do it.
Western graduate Katie Gray is someone who has made musical ambitions into both a hobby and a job. In addition to being a musician, she works as the manager of the Make.Shift Art Space’s radio station KZAX.
Make.Shift announced that she had also been promoted to executive director in February.
Originally from Auburn, Gray was surrounded by music from an early age. She cites her dad as one of her earliest creative influences. He was a working guitarist for part of his life.
“I feel like he heavily influenced my love of music and wanting to do it in a more serious capacity,” Gray said.
Barbra Streisand and Pink are her two musical idols. She has been writing music since she was about seven, but didn’t settle on it as something she was particularly passionate about until later.
“For a long time I just thought that I wanted to be an entertainer in any capacity,” Gray said. “I think by the time I was in late high school I had focused in on music.”
She started performing her own music when she was in high school. She produced her first album by herself, playing directly into a small mixer board.
“I think it’s on my Bandcamp still, which is embarrassing,” Gray said.
She formed her first band, Ankles, when she was a student at Western. It was a three-piece group with a guitarist, a cellist who also played bass and Gray on keys, guitar or ukulele.
“We started just by playing the Underground Coffeehouse every single week for open mic,” Gray said. “For like, a year.”
Western senior voice instructor Kathryn Weld described Gray as adventurous in all ways.
“Pop, or rock, or whatever genre, she really embraced it all, and accomplished quite a bit on many levels,” Weld said.
Western professor of choral music education Tim Fitzpatrick said that Gray established herself as a strong vocalist in his choir.
“She’s a quality person, she made that ensemble something more special than it already was,” Fitzpatrick said.
Gray performed solo for a period after Ankles eventually disbanded. She then briefly fronted a band called Leads vs Letters with Thayne Yazzie of other local groups such as the Vonvettas.
She formed her current group, The Katie Gray Band, in 2014 with friends from Western’s music department. They debuted on Make.Shift’s stage.
Gray has worked in radio for most of her adult life. She started as the maintenance engineer at KUGS, a position she held for two years.
After college, she was hired by the Cascade Radio Group, where she mainly worked at KAFE 104.1 and KGMI News/Talk 790.
“I started doing really simple, behind the scenes stuff, and then a few months into that I was doing some personality stuff on the air,” Gray said. “By nine months or so I was the midday personality on KAFE.”
Gray’s relationship with Make.Shift began when she was a student at Western.
She began organizing her own miniature music festival called “Miniham” at Make.Shift during her senior year after she had been invited to play at various other small events in the area.
“I’m very much a ‘Let me put my money where my mouth is’ type of person, so I was like ‘I’ll just do my own!’” Gray said.
She went on to do Miniham two more times. “I feel like I learned a little bit more about the inner workings of Make.Shift as far as how they book and their volunteers and just sort of how it all happens,” Gray said.
She started working at Make.Shift in March 2017 as manager of their radio station KZAX. She also took on the position of volunteer coordinator that summer.
She was approached that fall about filling the position of executive director.
“There was like a month and a half of talks and interviews and me thinking it over and the board thinking it over, then it all worked out,” Gray said.
Gray said that she currently doesn’t do any personality-based work for KZAX.
“I do things like have the relationships with our underwriters and sponsorships, pay the bills, that type of thing,” she said. “I do train our volunteers, usually their first three weeks of training are with me.”
Gray is naturally inclined to do a great job as Make.Shift’s executive director, said Western professor Leslie Guelker-Cone, who had concert choir with her.
“I think she’ll really find things that nobody’s thought about,” Guelker-Cone said. “She’s really one of the most creative students I’ve had.”
Fairhaven music professor and Make.Shift board member Steven Sehman said Gray is an asset to their community.
“Her role at the Make.Shift, community organization, is all about bringing people together, and she just has that trait,” Sehman said.
Gray hopes she can help Make.Shift fulfill its role as an inclusive space for creative expression.
“That all-ages aspect is really important, especially having grown up trying to gig as someone under 21 for a long time,” Gray said. “Having an opportunity to do that and to make music is really, really cool.”