Oscar-winning songwriter backs new female band

Wednesday, June 3, 2009 at 1:00am
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You have two chances this week to catch Karissa la Cour (top left) and Kat Smo of the band Karissa, who will perform at Rocketown Thursday night and The French Quarter Cafe Saturday night.

Truly gifted people seldom feel the need to toot their own horn, and that’s definitely the case with musician, songwriter and screenwriter Robb Royer.

Royer’s accomplishments include winning an Oscar for co-writing the composition “For All We Know” with Jimmy Griffin (the pair used the pseudonyms Robb Wilson and Arthur James, and the song was featured in the film Lovers and Other Strangers). He was also part of the soft pop and country-rock group Bread during the period when they enjoyed a No. 1 hit with “Make It With You.”

Royer’s songs have also been recorded by Mary Chapin Carpenter, Randy Travis, John Michael Montgomery and The Band. But these days, Royer, now one of the principals in the Music City production company Nashfilms, is singing the praises of the female band Karissa. Comprised of Karissa la Cour and Kat Smo, Karissa will perform Thursday at Rocketown and Saturday at The French Quarter Café in shows Royer feels will serve as showcases for the distinctive type of energy and charisma he already heard during the band’s recording sessions.

“These young women really have something special,” Royer said. “Their harmonies and counterpoint, the versatility in their ability to do all types of songs from rock to pop to soul and country, and the fact that they are both strong singers in their own right, makes me confident that they will soon be very big. Right now we’re putting everything in the company toward ensuring that they get the kind of exposure and profile they need. I’m that confident of their potential and their talent.”

Wyoming-born Karissa la Cour cites Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers as a primary influence — crediting them with convincing her through the power of their live show that performing music for a living was a possibility.

After returning to Music City for the second time, la Cour has been working with Royer since 2007 and says she enjoys performing a wide range of songs.

“I’ve never really tried to limit myself when it comes to music,” la Cour said. “The great thing about working with someone like Robb is that it instills confidence in you, but he also knows what works and what won’t in particular situations.”

Royer adds that when he heard her song, “Shades of Green,” he knew she was something special.

“The biggest thing for us as a company was finding the right way to present her music,” Royer said. “Then I thought it might be really great to have a female-centered band and get that mix of rock excitement and vocal power. But it was important that we find the right person to team her with, and we were really fortunate to find someone like Kat Smo.”

Both women are vocally and instrumentally skilled. la Cour plays piano, violin, trumpet, cornet, flute and guitar, while Smo, who spent her childhood years in Nashville and then moved to Detroit as a teen, plays piano in addition to singing. A fan of folk and jazz in addition to rock, Smo says that she and la Cour established a rapport with each other very quickly.

“Our voices blend well together, and Karissa is a very generous performer,” Smo said. “It’s important when you’re singing with someone that there’s no type of implied or subtle competition going on, and there’s absolutely nothing like that working with Karissa.”

With la Cour adding, “I’m very impressed with Kat Smo, and I feel like audiences can easily detect the enjoyment we get from working with each other.”

Nashfilms is now putting together material for a full-length CD, but Royer said the company will be very careful about ensuring the right material, look and sound for la Cour and Smo.

“I’ve been around long enough to know the real thing and these young ladies are the genuine article,” Royer said. “It’s up to us as a company to make sure that they have every opportunity to succeed, and the worst thing that you can do is to throw something onto a disc and just toss it out into the marketplace.”

What: Nashfilms ensemble Karissa & Kat Smo
When: 6 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Rocketown, 401 Sixth Ave. S. (Thursday), The French Quarter Café, 823 Woodland St. (Saturday)
Cost: $10 (Thursday), free show (Saturday)
Info: 843-4001, rocketown.com; 227-3100