Caught Kathryn Calder at The Mix in Georgetown on the last stop of her tour. Hearing these songs live, you are reminded how catchy her songs are. She write pop very much in the tradition of The New Pornographers. Yes, if you like that band, you’ll like Kathryn Calder – she’s definitely following in that vein of Canadian indie pop. Her voice sounded great; it was dominant in the mix, as it should be. She started out playing a tele and then switched to keyboard for the remainder of the show. Played with her eyes shut mostly, her foot tapping to the music, occasionally peeking out at the crowd, but seemed intent on internal evocation. Can’t remember exact set list, but it featured all the pop songs from her two records, no covers. She’s got this one song “Who Are You” which always makes me think of The Who’s song of the same name. Backing band knew their stuff. Satisfying show.
She’s playing in Seattle at The Mix on Saturday Nov 9th. Got a chance to catch up with her and chat about the production on the new record, Bright and Vivid (which is gorgeous), social media, music lessons and more. Although forgot to ask her what the story is with the feline in the pic below…
How’s life on the road?
Going pretty good. We just pulled into Idaho. We are on our way back to the West Coast. We were in Salt Lake City today.
I heard your van broke down. I guess it wouldn’t be a tour if something like that didn’t happen.
Yes, it was the classic van tour moment. We were actually really lucky because we’d been driving through nothing, just landscape, a gas station every 200 miles, somewhere outside Palm Springs. And the van just suddenly started losing power. We were right by an exit, which was right by a gas station, which was a mile away from a mechanic. So we spent the night at the Comfort Inn. Which was too bad because we were supposed to stay at this really cool place called the Hicksville Trailer Palace, in the middle of the desert, in the middle of Joshua Tree. I don’t actual know where it is because they don’t tell you the address until you book. We were supposed to spend the night there but it didn’t happen. But it could have been a lot worse.
Well if your car breaks down by the exit, I’d say you were pretty lucky. So, I knew about your car breaking down because I saw your tweet. What do you think of social media? Is it a chore or do you enjoy it? Or is it just part of being an artist in 2011?
It’s interesting. It doesn’t come naturally because I didn’t grow up with it. I was born before the internet came to people’s houses. But it is incredibly valuable if you know how to wield it. It gives you a direct relationship with the people who love your music and that is incredibly valuable to me. I like getting to know the fans. And it is really practical. If someone has a problem, they can come directly to me. If someone doesn’t know the set time or where we are playing. Obviously if I was Madonna people wouldn’t be getting the set times from me, but as it is now it takes out any middle man.
I’ve been following Neko Case and Kelly Hogan, who are hilarious. Plus they use it as a platform, retweeting, etc.
Yes, and everyone has their own style. And she’s definitely got her style which is cool because she only came to it six or eight months ago.
Congratulations on the new record. It sounds great.
Thank you very much.
So here’s a question. I got the record on Amazon so I didn’t get any liner notes about who produced it and where it was recorded. I read online that Colin Stewart produced your last album in your house. Who produced this record? The production is amazing.
Same producer, Colin Stewart.
Oh okay. But it was in a studio this time?
No, in the living room again.
Really? It sounds so different than the first record in terms of production.
The first record was done 3-4 years ago and finished in 2008. So now it’s 2011, almost 2012. What we wanted for this new record was to take it further. Are You My Mother was my first record and with it came all the trials of a first record. While I have experience recording with other bands and making records, but never fully with me at the helm. So with Bright and Vivid we trying to go for more and I’m glad we succeeded.
Can I ask some more geeky production questions? Tape Op style?
Sure – I know Tape Op.
So what DAT were you using? How did you do some of the drum loops?
He was using ProTools. We had a super powerful computer with a bunch of software. That’s a side that I really left a lot to him [Colin Stewart]. I told him what I wanted it to sound like and he would go about it. Like on “1-2-3” there’s this underlying wash that goes underneath the whole song. That started out as me playing a note on a guitar that he added a whole bunch of effects to. And it sounded cool so we were like let’s use that. He’s definitely a collaborator on the record and it wouldn’t have sounded anything like it does if he hadn’t been involved.
I love the song “All The Things.” There’s a lot going on there. And then the way it fades right into “The Right Book,” really cool.
Yeah, that song, we had a lot of help from my friend Dean Tzenos. He is a Toronto based musician and has his own project called Adonos. We gave him that song when it was half done and he took it away and it came back mostly the way it is. That was neat for me. It’s great to have people that you really trust who you can give songs to who can add their creativity to it and have it come back different than when you left it. He’s really good with drum programming and he’s a great guitarist and he has a great sense of melody. So he was perfect for working with that song. The end sort of dissolves with all this noisy guitar. A crazy end and outro.
I’m excited to see you guys live. How is it playing these songs live, which have such a studio sound to them?
It’s a real challenge, let me tell you. There’s only four of us live and some of the songs we weren’t even going to try. Like with “All The Things” I think without a string section and 8 guitars and drum machines, there’s no way. So I left some songs alone as songs crafted for the studio. But other songs we’ve translated to a live performance, paring down things to their basics. I also have a keyboard with a lot of samples that I play from the record. The other thing of course is people don’t come to a show expecting to hear the song exactly from the record. You kind of want a different experience. It’s cool if you can play the record as is but it is fine if it is different. It doesn’t have to be the record; it just has to be a good live show.
I think I read somewhere you are playing guitar at the live shows? How’s that going?
Yeah, it’s going good. I usually write my songs on the guitar. And out of necessity, I thought it would be easier for me to play guitar than try to find somebody who wasn’t already in other bands. And I love the guitar.
Another I read was you talking about taking lessons. Which I really appreciated and gratifying to hear from a professional musician. Yeah, people take lessons. I thought it was a good thing to hear.
I like taking lessons. I think it’s because I get a lot further a lot faster if someone just shows me how to do it and if I have deadlines and things to practice. Yeah, there’s lots of stuff like practicing and lessons and all the behind the scenes stuff that goes on that people don’t see.
In this era of Guitar Hero and what not, people forget that if you want to be a musician you have to practice, do your scales and maybe take lessons.
A lot of musicians are self taught. And that’s one way to do it. But you have to be incredibly self motivated. And while I’m self motivated, I find it faster if I sit down with someone and they show me how to play it. “Oh, that makes sense.” Whereas if I tried to sit down and figure it out myself it would take forever.
So it’s a more efficient use of your time.
And you have another mind. You learn to play things a different way because someone else is different. It is the same as when you try to play someone else’s song, like a cover song. Playing other people’s songs is important because you learn how somebody else thinks.
Anybody else’s songs you’ve been playing recently that you’ve found inspiring?
Now that I said that I can’t think of any!
I just learned Son of a Preacher Man by Dusty Springfield and it has this great switch in the middle where it modulates to the fourth and I realized that’s why I love that song, that’s the hook.
There’s a lot of Paul Simon songs that are deceptive in how simple they sound. And then you try to play them and they are missing a bar or changing time signatures. It’s neat to hear a song and think it is easy to play and then find out how complex it is when you go to play it.