Cleveland singer-songwriter Kahrin Spear to release album inspired by grandfather’s secret poems
In 2020, singer-songwriter Kahrin Spear discovered a new side of her grandfather that would inspire her work on a new album.
At a wedding rehearsal dinner, Spear’s grandfather, Joseph, shared with her a private collection of poems he wrote in 1996.
Typed on a typewriter and bound loosely together with a paperclip, his “Poems from Willow Creek” reflected upon life growing up on the Geauga County farm the Spear family has owned for three generations. This was a side of her grandfather she knew nothing about.
“My whole life, I didn't know who he was. We actually didn't really get along very well,” Spear said. “He had a drinking problem. And that year that we sat down and had this whole experience together was the year that he got sober, which was at 80 years old.”
Spear, a local basketball star-turned-musician, learned her grandfather liked to paint, draw and create sculptures in addition to expressing himself through poetry.
“We're just sharing in this beautiful moment, reminiscing his life experiences and a lot from his childhood in his early 20s,” she said. “And now all of a sudden, I'm seeing our similarities and not our differences.”
The experience reading her grandfather’s poems had such a profound impact on Spear that she asked him if she could turn his words into songs.
Over the next two years, Spear worked with local artists Elijah Bisbee and Autumn Traub to write and record the music for the album. Her best friend and musician, Tori Kurtz, produced the tracks.
"We have so much to learn from the people that have walked this earth longer than we have. They have a lot of really amazing things to say. Shame on us if we don't give them the time."Kahrin Spear
A sacred songwriting process
Spear included her grandfather in every step of putting his words to music.
He read his poems aloud, and she recorded them so she would have them documented in oral form. Then she picked up her guitar to start building the songs.
She began performing each song live as it came to fruition and bringing her grandfather out on stage.
“I will say, as fun as it was, it was also such a task. Because I put these time constraints on myself to write a chapter and then perform it live, and then write the next chapter and perform it live,” she said.
She said the most “sacred” part of the process was having her grandfather in attendance for her live shows to see the impact his words have on listeners.
“That is a moment in time I also will never forget. Just to have that moment with him, like to both share in this writing that we have both done,” she said.
Like her grandfather, Spear had creative inklings but was unable to truly express herself and pursue the arts until her 20s.
“I am the youngest of two older brothers, so my whole life growing up was just trying to keep up with them and playing all the sports that they played because that was like, I don't know, the glue of our family. We loved sports,” she said.
Athletics led her down the path of becoming a winning athlete, earning a basketball championship ring at John Carroll University.
When her senior season came to an end, Spear realized her plans of playing the sport overseas and working to become a semi-pro player no longer appealed to her.
“That was super disorienting for me because that was, like, my dream, my whole life,” she said. “And then all of a sudden, I have it, and I don't want it anymore. And I don't want anything to do with the sport anymore. So that sent me on an actual journey.”
Spear spent the next several months rediscovering her identity and deciding what she wanted to do next.
“That's when I picked up the guitar again and started writing songs that really were just like my diary,” she said.
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Spear wrote enough original music to record and release a full-length album.
She debuted her self-titled EP in 2021. The same year, she started a festival focused on local music, art and community called The Happy Healing Fest in Chardon.
Music has become Spear’s full-time job, and she has been performing songs from her upcoming album at “chapter shows” over the last year.
Honoring her family through music
Spear said she hopes her sophomore album will not only honor her grandfather and family legacy but also remind listeners to reflect on their own histories.
“The importance in honoring our ancestors and our elders… We have so much to learn from the people that have walked this earth longer than we have. They have a lot of really amazing things to say. Shame on us if we don't give them the time,” she said.
When her grandfather first showed Spear his poems, she recalled reading the preface that said, “In the past, I've made no serious attempts of any written works of any consequence. This attempt, I'm sure, will have no literary impact on the world.”
These words brought her to tears, and she knew she wanted to do something that would show her grandfather that his words do have an impact.
“It wasn't my idea. It was given to me from something that I can't explain. And I'm just grateful and honored to be the vessel for it,” she said.
Spear releases the full-length “Poems From Willow Creek” April 19, followed by an immersive album release concert and exhibition at Gordon Green in Cleveland on April 22 at 7 p.m.
The release of “Poems from Willow Creek” coincides with her grandfather’s 84th birthday, and they will have a private family celebration.
The public release party on April 22 incorporates several other Cleveland artists, including stage designers and painters.
“We're painting this huge mural of a willow tree that people can sit under and take pictures underneath,” she said.