Photo: Klaus Burkhart

Kayleigh Goldsworthy Talks Touring and Inspirations

When Kayleigh Goldsworthy takes the stage at Pearl Street Warehouse Saturday night, opening for Americana singer-songwriter Austin Plaine, it will be the third time she’s performed in DC this year.

In fact, by the end of the month, after opening for punk-turned-Springteenian bandleader Frank Turner at the Warner Theater October 14, she’ll have made four separate treks to the nation’s capital. Those trips include stints playing in Bayside at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue and Frank Iero & The Future Violents at Union Stage.

But that’s still only a fraction of the shows she’s played in the last 12-month period, in which she’s been on tour with one of four bands (or performing her own material) every month.

On top of beloved alt rockers Bayside and the wailing punk of Iero & The Violents, Goldsworthy – who plays guitar, keyboards and violin – hit the road this year with Dave Hause & The Mermaid, Philadelphia’s answer to Tom Petty – and Irish outfit Kenny O’Brien and the O’Douls.

“[It’s] something that I strive to take on,” the 33-year-old multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter says. “It keeps things very interesting. …I feel like I always need to keep getting better…playing with different bands and different instrumentation and different people raises the bar.” 

That’s quite the musical resume, and Goldsworthy is an adept musical chameleon. She moves fluidly between all these groups and providing the instrumentation that fits exactly with their respective sounds. “To me,” says Goldsworthy, “What makes a great musician is being able to understand your instrument so well, you can slide through genres and put your fingerprints all over something but still make it what is it.”

Those different musical streams also feed into her own sound, which has morphed over the last six years from a more June Carter Cash-esque, traditional folk and country to fit alongside the kind of electrified Nashville sound exemplified by artists like Maren Morris.

Goldsworthy attributes that desire for a diversity of sound and perspective to one of her earliest musical influences: “I think that whatever makes my music uniquely me is some weird, subconscious thing steaming from listening to too much Peter Gabriel.”

The pioneering prog rocker was a fixture at the Goldsworthy’s Syracuse home while she was growing up. Her parents are both musicians who made their living playing in a cover band while also tinkering with original works. Watching Papa Goldsworthy shred guitar solos prompted her first real interest in playing an instrument. The seeds for becoming a musical polyglot came from Mama Goldsworthy, a singer who wanted to always experiment with new instruments. “One week my dad brought home bongos [for her], so we had bongos in the living room!” 

Photo: Matthew Lyons

Her first real plunge into being a professional, gigging musician came in high school, when Kayleigh and her twin sister Kaleena formed their indie-pop group The Scarlet Ending. The group started as a duo in 2002 before expanding to a sextet in 2008, becoming something of a local darling; the band won two SAMMYS – Syracuse Area Music Awards – over its 10-year lifespan.

The Scarlet Ending stood out in a solidly punk town due to their musical ambitions, whether that was inserting “a waltz with a violin in a bridge” or trying to “combine metal with acoustic guitars,” Goldsworthy says, highlighting examples of how the band sought to widen its sound. 

Goldsworthy put out her first solo album Burrower in 2013, a little after The Scarlet Ending went on hiatus. She had not put out recorded music under her own name until last year, when she released the EP All These Miles. Between those two records, she had moved to four different cities (New York, Los Angeles, Nashville and Philadelphia) and hit the road with Hause, punk-turned-folkie Chuck Ragan’s Revival Tour and electro-R&B group Young & Sick.

There’s a reason behind the title of the EP. Goldsworthy sees it as an expression of the sum total of experiences she’s had from those five years on the road. In fact, she thinks of it as her first real solo release, since many of the songs on Burrower could have fit the sweeping sound of The Scarlet Ending.

“I like the place where I’m at,” Goldsworthy says of her new, more amplified sound, “Where I’m trying to maybe not be totally on acoustic guitar, not totally folk but try to drive it a little heavier…just a step louder.”

That step will help her in venues like the Warner, where her deeply personal and sometimes heartbreaking songs will have to push to the back of 2,000 seat rooms.

“I know I write sad songs,” says Goldsworthy, “Even with an electric guitar I’m a quiet performer. I try to be goofy. I try to be a little funny. At the end I feel like we’re all friends because I’ve just told a bunch of strangers intimate details about my life.” 

She sees her songs as naturally aiding that push for intimacy.

“There are specific themes that run through everyone’s lives…dealing with all sorts things going on in the world that make us uncomfortable and we’re not sure how to handle.” 

Goldsworthy handles it through songwriting, but there is no denying that kind of therapy can also come from experiencing those songs live; it’s like her process becomes a tether for the audience. In fact, she saw how one can create those kinds of ties between performer and people from watching tour mate Frank Turner play with The Scarlet Ending earlier this decade. “He incorporates the crowd size so no matter how big or how small you feel a part of something.”

In some ways, that ties back to how Goldsworthy first fell in love with music: watching her parents and playing in the family living room. She thinks there an incredible power in recreating that kind of space. “When you go to see superstars like Taylor Swift or Lady Gaga, there’s a lot of distance,” she says, “But in huge-er venues I like the idea that we’re still in a living room playing music.” 

Kayleigh Goldsworthy opens for Austin Plaine at Pearl Street Warehouse Saturday, October 5. The show is free; doors at 7 p.m. and show starts at 8 p.m. She also opens for Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls at the Warner Theater, Monday October 14. Tickets are still available. For more on Kayleigh Goldsworthy, check out her website, Facebook page or Instagram.

Pearl Street Warehouse: 33 Pearl St. SW, DC; 202-380-9620; www.pearlstreetwarehouse.com