While most of the free, sprawling Alternating Currents this weekend is in downtown Davenport, two of the brightest musical lights in Rock Island will also shine.

Singer-songwriter Katherine Shewell, who goes by Kas (an acronym of her initials), will perform with pianist Andrzej Kozlowski twice — an outdoor concert in Arts Alley (next to Quad City Arts, 1715 2rd Ave., Rock Island) on 5 p.m. Friday, and at Cool Beanz, 512 24th St., at 8:30 p.m. Saturday.

Shewell, a 20-year-old Rock Island High alum, will play mostly her original songs, including the first one she recently co-wrote with Kozlowski (she did the words and he did music).

Kas Shewell is a 2020 graduate of Rock Island High School.

She sang in choir all through junior high and high school (including Rocky’s elite Chamber Choir) but never took private voice lessons. Shewell attended the March 1, 2022 grand opening of the new Sound Conservatory (which Kozlowski owns), at its first location 2225 3rd Ave., Rock Island, and soon started weekly voice lessons with him.

“I knew I was pursuing music and I thought it was good to have a classical foundation,” Shewell said this week. She’s been writing songs since she was little.

“I used to tell my mom what to write down, because I couldn’t write but I had stories,” she said. She didn’t start playing guitar seriously (self-taught) until high school, and really got into songwriting early high school.

Shewell’s biggest musical influences are Hayley Williams of Paramore and Jack Antonoff of the bands Bleachers and Fun (who writes with and produces many big names, including Taylor SwiftLordeSt. Vincent and Lana Del Rey).

“I’ve always liked the idea of writing for people bigger than myself,” Shewell said, dreaming of having Antonoff record one of her songs.

“I have extensive experience accompanying opera singers,” Kozlowski said. “It’s been quite easy with Kas. The fact that we could put this song together in an hour, did we just finish a song in an hour?”

She gave him chords for the verses, and he did music for the chorus.

A view of the new Sound Conservatory music school and store, 1600 2nd Ave., Rock Island (photo by Jonathan Turner).

“Writing a song can be quite painstaking,” Kozlowski said. “It was real quick.”

“I couldn’t write lyrics to save my life,” he said. “Lyrics and me don’t get along. I can write piano music, a full symphonic score, but you ask me to write lyrics and tell me there’s a million dollars waiting for me, it ain’t gonna happen.”

Lyrics come more easily

Shewell said words are much easier for her to write. “The amount of lyrical content I have versus with finished music is insane,” she said.

Lyrics for this new song she had done about 18 months ago. “I wanted this to be bigger; it’s something I know I can’t write music to,” Shewell said. “I had like a three-chord progression, and he took it way further than I expected.”

Shewell and Kozlowski at Sound Conservatory, 1600 2nd Ave., Rock Island (photo by Jonathan Turner).

Kozlowski also used music he had written about 15 years ago. He has mainly written music only, in the classical style (like his favorite, Chopin). Shewell didn’t know he wrote music, and she gave him lyrics for one, “Intervention Please,” that he put to music within 90 minutes, and will do this weekend.

She described it as a power ballad, about relying on someone you love too much. When they’re gone, you look for any sort of approval you can get. (LISTEN to it in the video at the top of this page.)

“I draw on comparisons to addiction struggles in my songs,” Shewell said. “I’ve struggled with an eating disorder for the past two years.”

That’s affected her, wanting to get into the music business.

“It almost feels like you can’t get away from that. When you’re in the entertainment business in any form, you’ve commodified yourself to a certain extent,” Shewell said. “There’s always that worry. I can get away from it, but how much?”

For Alternating Currents, they’ll also do a cover of “Never Enough” from “The Greatest Showman” and “Falling Slowly” from “Once.” Shewell will play several of her originals, accompanying herself on guitar.

He called her voice unique. “It’s got a power behind it, but it’s soft,” he said. “She’s able to sing out without having to belt, and make it sound forced. There’s a naturalness to the voice, with this style of music, you can’t ask for a better voice for this. It makes it easier in the songwriting process. You don’t have to write to fit the music. It just goes with it.”

“You’ve got to hear her classical stuff – she can sing classical,” Kozlowski said.

Inspired during COVID

During COVID, stuck at home (finishing senior year in 2020), she was inspired to write more.

“Once I was out of high school, I wanted to pursue gigging, but obviously gigging was out the window. There was no open mics, no nothing,” Shewell said. “It forced me to sit back and write and look inwards. Everything happens for a reason.”

Kozlowski and Shewell will perform at Rock Island’s Arts Alley Friday at 5 p.m., and Cool Beanz in Rock Island on Saturday at 8:30 p.m.

“Once things started opening up, and I could go to open mics, that’s when I went out,” she said, noting she’s performed at Unimpaired in downtown Davenport, O’Keefe’s in Moline, and Bent River in Rock Island. Shewell also has sung at Gypsy Highway, Davenport, and Old Oaks Winery in Milan.

“I never did gigs like this in high school,” she said. “We have such a good music scene around here. There’s a part of me that thinks I need to move to a bigger city – like Nashville or L.A. or something. Then a part of my unique sound is gone and I would blend into the big city.”

“Nowadays, you can record at home and there’s so much promotion,” Shewell said, noting she wants to get professional recordings done of her songs.

Writing songs is a form of therapy.

“Writing in general is such a ‘me’ thing,” she said. “I have no thought of how other people are gonna relate to it. In the writing stage, it’s definitely a therapeutic outlet for me.”

Once it’s finished, people connect to it emotionally.

More specific, the better

“Especially with poetry, the more specific you are, the more universal it actually becomes,” Shewell said. “People identify with specifics. When you give them these concrete images, they’re going to see it better. I think I strive for, how can I make this as personal as possible? That can bring more people in.”

For example, she wrote a song called “Cherry Chapstick,” which is specific in its title alone.

“I remember writing it, that scent is our strongest thing. You smell something and it brings back memories,” Shewell said, noting she recalled her grandma’s funeral when she was early in high school. “I remember buying cherry Chapstick at a gas station, going to visit her, and that concrete memory is what tied all of that emotion.”

The song is about her grandma and a complicated friendship she had at the time.

“The only thing bothering me so much was me losing my best friend,” she said. “Everything was coming down and you’re just like, if this relationship was just fixed, things would be better.”

Coming out of COVID, we all have a “weirdly communal trauma after being alone so long,” Shewell said.

Shewell is not going to college, but wants to do music full-time.

“How many people do you know that don’t have music as part of their life?” Kozlowski asked. “They’re always drawn to music. You kinda need us, so don’t frown upon people wanting to be that professionally.”

“You’re turning to art in this time of distress,” Shewell said of the importance of music and entertainment during COVID.

After opening in downtown Rock Island in March 2022, Sound Conservatory renovated the ground floor of a much larger building at 1600 2nd Ave., opening last month (photo by Jonathan Turner).

Kozlowski plans to have performances in the new Sound Conservatory in future Alternating Currents. He recently opened the music school and store in a much larger, three-story building, at 1600 2nd Ave., Rock Island.

Downtown Rock Island director Jack Cullen asked him if he wanted to perform this year, and Kozlowski recommended Shewell.

Shewell sang for a Sound Conservatory scholarship benefit in April. She said prefers doing all originals.

“I’m really bad at doing a lot of covers that people will recognize,” she said. “I’m stubborn, like I want to do what I want to do.”

For more information on Sound Conservatory, click HERE. For the full list of Alternating Currents artists, click HERE.