Tiger King, whipped coffee and family game nights. Sound familiar?
While these things had an iron grip on the world during the quarantine months of 2020, Gonzaga senior Kaitlyn Wiens was using her time a bit more effectively than the rest of us would like to admit. For Weins, the dawn of the pandemic brought about a defining journey of artistic expression, personal growth and the groundwork for a stunning project.
“It wasn’t until quarantine that I even started songwriting,” Wiens said with a grin.
The reason for her excitement? Her debut EP "In My Head" was released on Oct. 1.
“It was a coping mechanism in the midst of the craziness of the world," Wiens said. "I pushed myself to be real and honest."
Her willing vulnerability shines through on “In My Head,” the artist’s first EP.
The 5-track, 19-minute project is honed, focused, sonically and creatively impressive as a debut effort. While “In My Head” is clearly polished, it almost never existed.
“The head of the music department David Fague introduced me to Mellad Abeid who is a guitar teacher here because he thought we could create something cool,” Wiens said.
Fague was correct.
“I played Mellad one of my songs I made during quarantine and he asked me what I was going to do with it, I said nothing," Wiens said. "I usually just sang them to my housemates."
Abeid insisted that Wiens’ songs were too good to leave unshared. And just like that “In My Head” was born from a routine 30-minute guitar session between student and teacher.
While this project is a first for Wiens, she's not the only one dabbling in something new.
“In My Head” represents the first project that was created in collaboration with GU’s music department. Nearly all the tracks feature instrumentation from professors, including Abeid.
“I primarily helped with arranging the tracks and helped her write charts so we could bring them in a studio with musicians and they could read them and play them,” Abeid said.
He was just as excited and proud of the work his student had done as Wiens was.
“Several players from the department are on there," Abeid said. "Some of the horns were done by adjunct professors, the drums were partly Kenny Sager whose an adjunct, Mr. Fague played saxophone. But from a creative standpoint, lyrically and melodically, that’s all Kaitlyn, which I think is quite awesome."
While this is their first official work together, Wiens and Abeid have been forming a creative chemistry for a while now.
“The first time I saw her playing was her first year, but she started taking private guitar lessons from me a year ago when she first started songwriting,” Abeid said. “It’s been exciting to see her grow as a creative, putting her own voice and lyrics with the right progressions. Her voice has this quality to it that makes you want to listen to her more and not a lot of singers have that.”
For Wiens, Abeid has been more than just a professor, as she credits him with pushing her to pursue her clear talent and musical gift.
“I feel like him seeing that potential in me gave me permission to create and pursue this project,” Wiens said.
The careful and meticulous work put in behind the scenes shines through on “In My Head.” The joyful saxophone and drums accompany Wiens on the opener “So Over You.”
Her level of transparency and relatability is immediately visible.
“I saw you the other day but I looked away, because I don’t want to see that face,” Wiens harmonizes.
She slows things down on the title track. Over an intimate guitar, Wiens showcases her knack for telling a compelling story. Reflecting on better days with a lover. But as the title suggests, reality represented a stark contrast to what was going on in Wien’s head, something she comes to accept on the brilliant “Should’ve Been Us.”
The track begins with Wiens expressing regret over a failed relationship.
“Is it too late to say that I wish I noticed all the things you did? It was love but I pushed it all away,” Wiens sings.
Sonically, the track is a stroke of brilliant melancholy. The production allows her smooth singing voice to carry the weight on this song. As “Should’ve Been Us” continues, Wiens comes to a realization that her lover is a different person than who she fell in love with and that she's different as well.
“Time keeps moving. I guess maybe then it shouldn’t be us, it shouldn’t be you holding my hand, it shouldn’t be me feeling your kiss,” Wiens sings.
“Should’ve Been Us” shows a veteran level of songwriting, it’s a relatable catharsis that just so happens to be sonically remarkable.
“I realized that I had never given myself time to process this relationship," Wiens said. "For me, creating that song was a discovery process, sitting down and just writing a stream of consciousness helped me realize that I’m okay with what I did and how it happened. Making that song felt like a therapy session with myself.”
Wien’s success here is evident. “In My Head” is a solid start to a career she looks to continue for years to come. While this project surely has opened doors for her, it has and will continue to for GU’s music department.
“If we have more students who want to do this, I would absolutely reach out to the faculty again for whatever skillset is needed,” Abeid said. “To see your efforts as a teacher blossom into projects like Kaitlyn’s is amazing.”
From a quarantine hobby to fully-realized artistic vision, Wiens has delivered a product worth being proud of.
“‘In My Head’ is an invitation and example to pursue the things you love and to pursue them now,” Wiens said. “Even if you’re in school or you don’t think you’re qualified, you can accomplish it.”