Many local music fans might know Kristin Pitman as a violinist. She’s played violin in a variety of contexts—from heavy metal to bare-bones folk to hip-hop—but she’s recently discovered her voice as a guitar playing singer-songwriter. And now she’s making the transition from instrumental accompanist to Western chanteuse.
She started playing violin at age 11, while growing up in Austin, Texas. Later, she studied music history at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. There, she was especially focused on very early, pre-medieval music.
She first moved to Reno five years ago. In that time, as a violinist, she’s played in numerous projects, including the hip-hop group Knowledge Lives Forever and in folk-rock groups with her partner, Jonie Blinman. She currently plays violin with Lucas Young & The Wilderness, a project she’s very excited about.
“His music just opens up this box in me,” she says of songwriter Lucas Young. “I want to write music like that!”
Two years ago, Pitman and Blinman moved to New York, a place that Pitman found challenging to live. Blinman had a full-time job, and Pitman was only working part-time and wasn’t playing in a band, so she found she had a lot of time on her hands. So, for the first time in many years, she tried her hand at songwriting.
“I’ve always been surrounded by songwriters, so I thought I would try it,” she says.
She started playing and writing on guitar as well as banjo. She also tried mandolin, through she says she didn’t gel with that instrument—even though it’s traditionally tuned the same as a violin.
“I think it’s the frets,” she says. “It’s so close to violin that it just doesn’t feel right, whereas guitar is this whole other thing.”
Last September, after a year or so in New York, the couple moved back to Reno. By that time, Pitman had written enough songs that she was proud of to start playing in front of people.
“I started playing at the open mics and everyone was like, what the hell happened?” she says.
She had found a narrative-and-melody-driven songwriting voice that draws on old country, like Hank Williams, Western folk in the Townes Van Zandt tradition, and hints of radio-friendly contemporary singer-songwriters like Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine.
She credits her scholarly background with helping her facility with language in writing lyrics. And she also avoids the common folksinger weakness of writing from a point of limited perspective. Her songs are often written from the perspective of unusual characters, like the creepy, psychotic stalker who narrates her song “Without Her”: “Uneasy, watch her watch you sleep/and she’s next to you when you should be next to me/and my patience has been stretched beyond my means/But there’s a remedy.”
“I tell a lot of stories, but I give ’em room for people to interpret,” she says of her approach to writings songs.
As a songwriter, she felt like she needed a new identity, which is why she started just going by her initials, K.P. But her role as an instrumentalist, particularly in the context of Lucas Young & the Wilderness, is still something she takes a lot of pride in.
“What typically draws people to the sound of the violin is the human-ness of the instrument,” she says. “It’s the most like the human voice in terms of expressiveness. Violin is so versatile in terms of range and volume and tone.”
But she says her role as a violin player and her role as a songwriter aren’t separate coins, but two sides of one.
“As an instrumentalist, it’s all about accompanying music I care about,” she says. “Songwriting is about having something I need to say.”