Transcontinental Travelogue: Country-pop singer-songwriter Katie Pederson recounts her solo journey on "Limitless"
In November 2019, Katie Pederson embarked on a solo, transcontinental road trip.
The monthlong expedition allowed the pop-country singer-songwriter and pianist to process past sorrows and reconnect with herself before relocating to Tennessee from Michigan.
“When I left Michigan, I knew I was gonna move to Nashville, but I didn’t quite know … so I just left,” said Pederson, who hails from Ann Arbor.
“I wanted to go to the mountains to get some perspective, so I went out to Alberta, Canada, and stopped at hostels along the way in North America. I did a lot of hikes in different areas, read a lot of Mary Oliver’s poetry, and met a lot of really wonderful people.”
Those therapeutic experiences provided the magical inspiration for Pederson’s new sophomore album, Limitless, and helped her explore a sense of renewal within a nature-rich landscape.
“We’re definitely going to do the album in its entirety … I want it to be a chronicle of stories,” she said. “I might open with ‘The Landing’ and then launch into the album and tell the story in that kind of way.”
Whether hearing Limitless live or recorded, listeners will gain a deep appreciation for Pederson’s travels and reflections across 10 emotive tracks.
Throughout her personal travelogue, Pederson glides across the rugged Canadian Rockies to Banff National Park’s Lake Louise and emerges along the frigid Grand Traverse Bay shoreline before meeting a friend “halfway in Ohio.”
“It was fun while writing it to recapture a particular place. After I left Canada, I drove through the U.P. and down through Michigan to get back before I left [for Nashville],” she said. “It was a way for me to capture how I was feeling on the road trip, but it also helped me keep those visual memories that I made along the way.”
A hopeful symphony of piano, electric guitar, synth, bass and drums surround Pederson as she sings:
Oh please believe
I’m trying not to think about you
I know that I should move on
You should know I’m trying to
Move away, adopt a rescue
Drive into the mountains
Til I finally forget about you
“On that road trip, I discovered Brené Brown, and I listened to Daring Greatly in the car on the way to Canada. She was talking about how vulnerability is so important as well as letting your guard down. I did that, and it was terrible,” Pederson said with a laugh.
As part of her “Guard Down” restoration, Pederson adopted a mixed-breed puppy named Jeffrey from the Nashville Humane Association in 2020. Her canine companion accompanies her in the track’s carefree video, which features Pederson roller-skating and throwing water balloons with friends at an East Nashville airpark.
“The airpark featured in the video was part of my routine during 2020, and I lived right on it, so I would walk there every day,” she said. “I wanted the video to be more about the healing process and just the fun parts of the after-story.”
Pederson reveals another vulnerable stop along her Limitless journey on “Shrapnel,” a romantic survivor’s ode to recovering from deep emotional wounds. Filled with courage and grace, she unveils scars received from ongoing relationship battles alongside cathartic instrumentation.
She sings, “But some love will wreck ya / Fragile as a bomb / Yeah, once the pin’s pulled / The damage lingers on like shrapnel.”
“I always talk about Brené Brown, but she has this way of saying, ‘When you name something, it’s a lot easier to separate yourself from it,’” Pederson said. “As soon as I was able to say, ‘This injury was kind of like this,’ it helped to put it in a little box, label it that way and be able to move forward from it. It was fun to write and dream up that analogy.”
Pederson also finds solace during the majestic, Banff-inspired ballad “Lake Louise,” which fuses despondent piano with sonorous electric guitars and optimistic synth. The lake’s iconic blue waters and neighboring mountainous backdrop ease her as she sings, “Lake Louise is lonely as the winter air is cold / It’s warmer where you are, but I’m more comfortable in snow, oh.”
“I have this vivid memory of driving from Jasper down to Lake Louise. It’s the Icefields Parkway, and it’s one of the most beautiful, scenic drives in the world. I was not at the greatest spot in my life at that time, but I remember driving down that parkway and feeling joy for the first time in what felt like years,” Pederson said.
“I didn’t realize I was running low on gas, and I was in the middle of nowhere during the off-season. The one gas station was closed for the season. It was like this switch had flipped, and suddenly the mountains I had been so overjoyed to see … I was very scared.”
Pederson’s bold Limitless adventure later shifts to the winding Michigan roadways of “M22.” Haunting synths propel her along a reflective path to Traverse City while singing, “There’s magic in this world we live / Hard to believe in love when it fades / These days, I’m not thinking clear / So I come back to the bay.”
“My best friend is a huge proponent of solo vacation, and she was always encouraging me to do it. In 2017, I was like, ‘I’m gonna go to Traverse City like by myself and just try it out,’” Pederson said. “It just became a favorite place of mine, and that’s where I’d go to solo travel a lot. With the ‘no vacancy signs,’ there was that contrast of being up there by myself … but also being there when people are on family vacations.”
Once her actual journey ended and the pandemic erupted, Pederson allowed her experiences to sit idle for a time. She wanted to write and piece the Limitless tracks together before sharing them with others.
“For half of these songs, I wouldn’t have been able to sit with them, feel the things, and get it out had I not had the time. It helped me narrow down and think, ‘Well, this is what I want to do, life is short, and we may not be able to guarantee what tomorrow looks like,’” said Pederson, who’s inspired by Sara Bareilles, Elton John, and Joni Mitchell.
“I didn’t share these songs for a long time because … they were mine. I needed them for a time. I feel like it was the first time that I waited until I was ready to release them. I wrote way more songs than the 10 that I recorded … this one is more intentional.”
While Limitless chronicles Pederson’s individual experiences, it was born out of a collaborative Michigan-Tennessee creative effort. She recorded the tracks with co-producer/bassist Jake Rye at Social Recording Company in Adrian and Graybox studio in Nashville.
To enrich the album’s expansive sound, Pederson and Rye added synth, slide guitar, and reverse analog recording techniques alongside Noah Martis on guitar and Scott Gentry on drums.
“I was just sending [Jake] demos and getting feedback, and they did the drums before I got up there. Then, Jake and Noah came down, and we recorded the piano [in Nashville],” Pederson said. “This is the first record that I’ve done real piano on. We got a little baby grand in this great studio down here, and that was really special.”
Another first for Pederson included co-writing two album tracks: “Home” with Teri Bracken and “Gravity” with Kaitlyn Fabry.
“‘Gravity’ was the first co-write I had in Nashville with Kaitlyn. I had this idea that I was really stuck on for a long time, and I brought that chorus idea to her. She just really helped me round it out,” she said. “And Teri, we wrote ‘Home’ together shortly after I wrote ‘Gravity’ with Kaitlyn. She’s from Illinois, and we were both talking about moving to Nashville. That song was really cool to write with her.”
As the next chapter in her journey, Pederson plans to tour the Midwest later this summer with Grace Theisen and Jillian Linklater, a Nashville pop singer-songwriter. She’s also writing new material for a future release.
“I’m so excited about some of the stuff I’ve been writing recently. I have never had more material that I’m working on while I’m in the middle of a release, and that feels really good,” Pederson said. “I’m thrilled for this release, and then I know after this, it’s just the beginning.”
Lori Stratton is an Ann Arbor-based writer and editor of strattonsetlist.com.d
Katie Pederson performs on Sunday, April 24 at The Ark, 316 S. Main St. in Ann Arbor, with special guest Grace Theisen.