Fordham Junior’s Journey of Musical Self-Discovery


Lussen draws inspiration from artists like Phoebe Bridgers and Mitski. (Courtesy of Katie Lussen for The Fordham Ram)

As the lights dimmed over the audience, the lead singer’s shaking, 14-year-old fingertips were slipping over the introductory A chord of Black Sabbath’s “Never Say Die.” There’s no way she could look at all these people. Eyes closed. Wait, no. That wouldn’t work either. She resolved to keep her gaze fixed on the back wall of the Nyack Center above the sea of blurry faces that swayed eagerly before her. She managed to make out her dad’s face in the balcony crowd, making her all too aware of the fact that she would soon be cursing in front of him for the first time in her young adult life. Her heart began beating to the impending doom of a post-show fatherly lecture, thinking of how she could wiggle her way out in the name of artistic freedom. But her tentative plans were interrupted by her best friend’s gentle whisper: “One, two, three, four.” 

And suddenly she was backstage. Her and her friends put their instruments down, staring at each other in silence. 

Katie Lussen, FCRH ’24, was the first to start screaming. 

She put her arms around her bandmates, and they jumped at heights never before seen by such small, wide-eyed high school freshmen. Lussen could barely remember what happened, but she hoped it would all come flooding back in the morning. But at that moment, all she knew was that she had never felt this alive. 

And that’s how she still feels now, recalling this memory six years later: “I want to do this forever. I want to do this for the rest of my life.” 

Lussen is a communications and culture and English double major with a concentration in creative writing. She’s also a public relations intern for the Dyckman Farmhouse Museum, the treasurer of Fordham’s Ampersand club and a poet in FET’s Black Sheep Poetry performance group. A passionate “Love is Blind” apologist and roommate-confirmed onion-caramelizing master, she also loves hiking and coming up with the world’s most creative and delicious recipes (yes, that is an official award). But music has held a particularly special place in Lussen’s heart.

At six years old, Lussen used to repeatedly play chopsticks on her Disney princess keyboard, which was later replaced with a Casio by the time she was nine. This was also when she started playing the guitar, a three-quarter kid-sized birthday gift that she still uses today. At 11, she started to take music more seriously, teaching herself by watching instructional videos on the Synthesia and Guitar Tabs apps and writing songs in her journal. A year later, she joined the School of Rock program where she received formal training on the guitar until she was a sophomore in high school. She wrote her first single, “In the Air,” as a freshman, nervously sharing her lyrics with her band “Distract the Guards.” 

“We played one show and then broke up immediately after,” Lussen giggled after reminiscing on her band’s precious moments. Her friends and the Rockland County, N.Y. music scene have been instrumental in her growth. “That’s what the epitome of music to me is. You write something that you care about, and then you and a bunch of people come together, and it’s just this big feeling of community.” 

 However, her local music scene had influenced her in other ways, and Lussen now realizes some of the greater misogynist forces that were also at play. Following the punk and alternative rock style of others in her hometown, Lussen felt pressured to create the same music because there were very few bands with women, and she never felt truly included.  

“There would be maybe a handful of girls on the ticket, and there was this expectation that in order for people to take you seriously, at least [in my hometown], you had to write rock music, because what did it matter if you were just another girl playing acoustic guitar?” When she released her first full record “Circle Round the Sun” in 2019, Lussen heard (and will never forget) some truly inspiring words from her male counterparts: “Wow, you’re like, actually really good.” 

This is precisely why groundbreaking indie rock artists like Mitski and Phoebe Bridgers are such massive musical inspirations for Lussen. And, of course, Radiohead, even though they’re not women — Lussen rejects social media’s male-manipulator narrative of the band: “They’re not sad, they’re human,” she says underneath her “Kid A” poster.

Lussen put her heart and soul into her first EP, and she’s still extremely proud of that work to this day. She recorded herself playing the guitar, bass, used synthesizers and programmed drums, and she’s self-taught at mixing and mastering. Lussen did every single step of the process. But this emotional and technical vulnerability made her all the more nervous about releasing more of her music.  

“When you release a song and give people the power to pick it apart, it’s like, ‘oh my god, are people gonna think I’m good or not?’ But when I put it out, all of those feelings kind of went away and eventually disappeared.”

 During her senior year of high school, Lussen was frustrated because she felt she wasn’t growing as a songwriter. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and she had endless time to create again. She began writing more, and her style took a new direction. When she came to Fordham in January 2021, she recorded music with everything that was available to her in the Keating basement: her acoustic guitar, the pianos, her glockenspiel and her microphone, and she released her album “everything will be OK” in fall 2021. She had finally found an indie folk sound that truly resonated with her. Inspired by the momentum of this self-discovery, she released one of her favorite songs she’s ever written, “New Haven,” in early 2022, where she masterfully combines the feeling of not being seen as a whole person with fond memories of an inside joke from a high school trip to the Met. Lussen is truly an incredibly beautiful writer, artist and singer. 

Lussen’s hard work was rewarded when she was accepted to perform at Tarrytown’s Rock the Hall in fall 2022. After not making the cut as a senior in high school, Lussen finally felt recognized after finding herself in her music. In a wonderfully full-circle moment, the same friend who counted her in during her band’s first show also accompanied her on the piano.

“When I got on stage, I was like, this is exactly where I need to be.” Kadio fans have a lot to look forward to: Lussen has a music video and a new song coming out within the next few months. Watch out, Bridgers. You have some serious competition.