Kat Graham has spent most of her life working towards one thing.
However, it's not what you might expect. Although she’s on the hit CW series The Vampire Diaries, Kat's been making music since long before she hit the screen. Now, the stage is hers. It's been a fight to get to this point, but as the old adage goes, "Nothing worth having comes easily."
Given the roller coaster she's ridden to this point, it's no surprise that she dubs the sound of her debut EP for A&M/Octone Records, "Fierce pop." There's certainly no shortage of sass, strength, and savvy in the music. At the same time, every song is impeccably irresistible—from the sexy stomp of first single "Put Your Graffiti On Me" to the tongue-in-cheek bombast of "Supa Dope." She might just knock you out.
Graham's fight began when she was only 14-years-old. Raised by a single mom in Los Angeles, she spent her afternoons at a local Boys & Girls Club. It was there she began making music.
"They had two turntables, and I was obsessed with them," remembers Graham with a smile. "I started making beats on the club's karaoke machine too. I had been appearing in small roles on programs like Malcolm in the Middle and Joan of Arcadia, and I saved every penny to slowly start building a real home studio. My mom and I lived in a one bedroom apartment, and I turned the bedroom into my studio. My neighbors loved me. Ha!"
The neighbors weren't the only ones. Around the same time, the young performer began to pick up gigs as a backup dancer for Bow Wow, Missy Elliott, Jamie Foxx, Ludacris, Pharrell Williams, Gwen Stefani, and many others. Gaining some invaluable insight, she wanted to devote all of her time to creating songs. While finishing up her high school diploma at home, Graham enrolled in Hollywood's famed Musician's Institute. She managed to finish her high school diploma merely weeks before she achieved her degree in audio engineering and production.
Graham goes on, "I have so much passion for singing, dancing, acting, and making music. I love that old school Rat Pack mentality where you do it all. It wasn't rare to be a triple threat. It's what I was bred to be."
Between hustling her own CDs around town, producing mixtapes, making beats, and acting on a slew of shows including CSI and The OC, she befriended Will.i.am of The Black Eyed Peas. They bonded over a mutual love for music and vintage fashion. Recognizing her talent, the friendship quickly turned into a creative partnership. Graham appeared on two singles from Will.i.am's solo album Songs About Girls—"I Got it from My Mama" and "The Donque Song"—and she hit the road with the Black Eyed Peas on the Black, Blue, and You Tour in 2007.
"I got to see what it was like to be on a big world tour and make a record," she goes on. "It was crazy and amazing. After the tour ended, I had to start over again, though. There were some opportunities that didn't pan out when I got off the road. I was really broke at the time. In one day, I got dumped by my boyfriend, and my car got repossessed because I couldn't afford it. I moved back with my mom later that week. I literally had 86 cents in my bank account when I booked The Vampire Diaries."
Graham gained international fame and adoration as Bonnie Bennett on the smash hit series, in addition to roles on the big screen in 17 Again and The Roommate. Still, music remained the most important thing to her. Splitting her time between the Vampire Diaries set in Atlanta and recording studios in Los Angeles, she cut countless tracks including her sultry independent single "Sassy." The song organically caught the attention of tastemaker Perez Hilton. Together, they joined forces for the release of "I Want It All" via Perezcious Music, a former imprint of Warner Bros. Records.
Running into another road block, the project was shelved. However, Graham still didn't give up, and serendipity finally kicked in.
She recalls, "I was asked to be in Kevin Hammond's video for 'Broken Down'. There was a representative from A&M/Octone at the video shoot, and she asked me to come in for a meeting. I'd been through it all, and I didn't want to ask anyone for anything. I decided to go to the meeting, and we just clicked. They're so open and honest. They believe in me, and that really pushes me."
Teaming up with A&M/Octone, Graham hit the studio with Twice as Nice, and after one session "Put Your Graffiti On Me" was born. Fueled by spray paint cans shaking, raw street percussion, and the singer's inimitable swagger, the track became a success right out of the gate. Within a month, it garnered over 3 million views on YouTube/VEVO, and Adele, Kylie Minogue, and Britney Spears had all endorsed the tune on Twitter.
"This is the real deal," she reveals. "It's about owning yourself, your sexuality, and who you are. It's okay to be unapologetic. This is me vocally, musically, and fashionably. It's not just about tagging the wall, I'm saying, 'If you want me, come and get me'."
Everyone is going to be after Graham as soon as they hear the funky fresh declaration of independence of "Supa Dope." Elsewhere, she flips the script lyrically on the intimate and infectious dance floor anthem, "Heart Killer."
"Everything has a double meaning, and people can interpret it however they want," she continues. "I wanted to write a song where I know this guy's a heart killer. He's ready to break my heart. Your heart is the only thing you can try to protect though. There's a lot of depth."
The same could be said for everything this budding femme fatale does. She's seen so much, and she's only begun on her path.
"It's all about the journey," Graham concludes. "I'll admit it's been more grind than glitz. Everything I've done has prepared me for what's next. I want people to feel empowered and free when they hear my story and music. I want to fight for them."
She's going to win too. — Rick Florino, May 2012