Kat Graham has come a long way since dancing backup for Missy Elliot. The 26-year-old, who stars on the supernatural series TheVampire Diaries, is fresh off releasing her second album Roxbury Drive on her own label. The record, which was executive produced by Babyface is the product of several months of writing and re-recording, stemming from a career that began at a young age. Having taken dance, acting and vocal classes around age 3, Kat admits today that she’s “a bit old school” in wanting to be a triple threat performer like Marilyn Monroe.
Photo: Charlie Gates
Luckily, her hard work paid off. The actress-singer currently plays the powerful witch Bonnie Bennett on the hit CW show. And while Kat says she’s constantly pushed outside of her comfort zone with acting, it’s through her music that she is able to tell her story. The star, who split from fiancé Cottrell Guidry last year, will kick off what she calls "the beginning of the tour" for her new album, playing November 21 at the Troubadour in Los Angeles. With the release of Roxbury Drive, the singer is laying all of her secrets out in what she tells HELLO! is her most personal music ever.
HELLO!: You call this album my “diary for the past year." Where did you find the inspiration for the songs?
Kat Graham: Without giving away too much, I had just a certain situation that kind of took over a lot of my life, and I wanted to write from the heart, which isn’t something that I had really done before.
H!: Is this the most personal you've gotten with your music and your fans?
KG: Definitely and “Secrets” is definitely like the most personal record that I have ever had. I have other songs that I had written: “1991” was definitely about breaking up and getting back together, which was a lot of my last relationship with Cottrell, take someone back so much that you're back in 1991, that you're back in time [laughs].
H!: Is it scary for you to put out lyrics that come from your heart and wonder how people will react to them?
KG: Yeah, you know, I don’t mind that. That’s why you write songs. Being on a supernatural show, the work that I have to do to make those scenes real and make the audience connect with that character, that means that you need to put a lot of your heart and your soul into it.
H!: During the music process, did you play your songs for your friends, family or the Vampire Diaries cast?
KG: No, I kept everything pretty close to my chest. I mean, maybe you know I'd play it while getting my hair done at a shoot or something like that. I kept this process pretty private. I just didn’t play them for that many people. My mom heard the record and once it was done, I think I sent it to everyone.
H!: Aside from the emotion you put into Roxbury Drive, there is also a fun, 1990s feel. Who inspired your music?
KG: Well besides all the records that Kenny [Babyface] had produced in his life! He signed TLC with L.A. Reid, and he did all those amazing Toni Braxton songs and Mariah Carey. And definitely Aaliyah. It's definitely a more urban vibe than I had done before.
H!: In the past you’ve mentioned that Missy Elliott had a big influence on you.
KG: She’s amazing. I hope to work with her again very soon, but actually as an artist and not as a backup dancer, although I would come out of backup dance retirement for Missy Elliot in a heartbeat. Missy Elliott and Pharrell. If they called me and said 'Hey just come do this show real quick as my backup dancer,’ I would do it in a heartbeat.
H!: In your video “Secrets,” you are under the water a lot! How long did the taping last?
KG: We shot all night, and I’m not even much of a swimmer to be honest. There was one point where I looked at [the director] and he had a scuba suit on, and I just looked like a drowned rat. I’m like, "I can't believe this was our idea." They were vey patient with me, but it was pretty terrifying.
H!: How did your skin not prune?
KG: Oh, I was definitely pruning, and my eyelashes were flopping all over the place. You know we were able to find the very few takes that were usable and make the music video [laughs].
Vampire Diaries' Paul Wesley, Ian Somerhalder, Kat Graham and Matthew Davis Photo: WireImage
H!: For your show on November 21, can we expect to see any of your Vampire Diaries co-stars in the audience?
KG: You know, I don’t know! Obviously everyone is more than invited to come, but I don’t really expect anyone. I count Nikki Reed as an unofficial cast member of Vampire Diaries and she’s been uber supportive of my music, so hopefully she comes and Ian [Somerhalder] comes – and you know, whoever is in town and wants to listen to some really funky music!
H!: Has the vibe on set changed since some of the cast members have left?
KG: It’s not that the vibes have changed because they left, I think the vibe is very different because there’s so many new cast members. There’s so many new people.
H!: Do you have any romantic advice for your character Bonnie?
KG: A lot of it. Yes [laughs]. I really do think that Bonnie has a lot of potential. Whether it's with Enzo or with any other characters on the show or even like new characters, I really think that I would have her just explore every relationship and be open minded to everything happening in her life and not be so stubborn and just give it a shot. Give everyone a shot because you never know what can come of it. That would be my advice to her.
H!: You have such great style. Tell us, what’s one staple this fall that you have to have in your closet?
KG: Thigh high Stuart Weitzman grey boots. I mixed my boots with this really amazing sweater and hat from Forever 21. I want to mix things that are actually affordable with high end pieces because I want my fans who are young and maybe saving their money to be able to recreate the looks that I wear. So accessibility is also very important.
H!: And what’s the best fashion tip you've ever received?
KG: I had a stylist who told me that if you have one loud piece you need to let that piece be the center of focus. I was always really all about doing too much at once instead of just making it about one really amazing piece. I would be all over the place so she really helped me kind of in that way.
WATCH KAT GRAHAM'S "SECRETS" BELOW