"Sometimes I feel empowered, and at other times I feel like I’m swimming through many complicated emotions" We chat with Kaia Kater

With her new album, Grenades. Canadian singer-songwriter Kaia Kater delves deep into her family history to deliver a powerful second album. With her well-received previous album, Nine Pin, Kaia introduced herself to a wider audience in 2016 with a mix of originals and covers of traditional songs. We talk with her about Grenades, the writing of it, the background to it, among other things.

Hey Kaia, how are you?

I’m well, thanks!

So, easy questions first, what have you been up to today?

I just got into Chicago for the beginning of a midwest tour.

Tell us about you, what’s your favourite thing to do on a weekend?

I oscillate between going outside (for a run) and staying inside to watch movies and read. I also like to go to shows.

I really liked Nine Pin but Grenades is off the scale, what can you tell me about the album?

Thank you! It’s an album about my conception of what home is. I wrote a lot about my dad’s experience of coming to Canada as a refugee when he was young. I also visited his country, Grenada, to write a good amount of the songs included on the album.

What do you think is the biggest difference between the two albums?

I’d suppose the biggest shift is in the songwriting. I challenged myself on this album to include only songs I’d written myself (rather than traditional songs). I wanted to see how far I could go. I pleasantly surprised myself, and managed to write all the material on the album.

Where did the idea to include the spoken word elements come from?

I’ve been examining the art of performance a lot, and what can draw an audience (live or not) to an album, or a show. When I interviewed my dad (the featured voice on the record), I was floored by some of what he told me. I wanted the audience to be able to hear those words as well. It’s very disarming.

It’s a very powerful, and personal, album; was it difficult to write or record at times? Or was it empowering that you were able to tell this story?

It was both. I had incredibly difficult times trying to understand this whole undertaking; why am I telling this story? Where do I fit in? I often muse with the idea that my ability to tell this story through art, as his Canadian-born daughter, is a realized dream in and of itself. Sometimes I feel empowered, and at other times I feel like I’m swimming through many complicated emotions.

Do you like the idea of it being a concept album? Is that how you thought of it when you were making it?

People keep calling it that! I suppose it is one, though I never set out to make a ‘Concept Record’. I was pulling at threads that were seemingly unrelated, and when it all came together my producer Erin Costelo and I realized that many ideas were thematically connected.

There are so many good songs on the album I struggle to choose favourites, but ‘Canyonland’ is one I keep going back to, as is ‘Meridian Ground’. If I made you choose one song which are you most proud of?

'New Colossus'! This song was the most challenging to write, because all the language centres around math (I multiply and now the earth divides/My limbs would split the wind to fractions of its shape). I wanted to keep that idea at the forefront, but it took a lot of time to get the song exactly where I wanted it. I also just plain love the song. I think it’s my favourite of all time.

What’s coming up for you in 2019?

Tour, tour and more tour. I’ll be coming overseas in May, touring all over the UK and Europe.

Obviously there’s a lot of talk about equality in general at the moment, what’s your experience of being treated differently as a woman in your industry?

It’s been a challenging one, but I’ve found a lot of strength and vulnerability with other women who operate in the same industry, and deal with similar issues. Having that commonality really helps. I also have the privilege of knowing many women/non-binary people who are changing the game and pressuring festivals to include 50/50 gender parity, book more diverse acts, and the like.

What album has given you the most joy in your life so far?

D’Angelo, Black Messiah

If you could recommend one artist to hear this week, who would it be?

Jess MacIntosh’s project, Joybird.

What’s the question we should have asked you today but haven’t?

What am I reading! I’m reading a book of essays by Phoebe Robinson called Everything is Trash, But it’s Okay.

How do you take your coffee?

With milk.

To find out more about Kaia, including her upcoming tour dates, you should visit her website. You can also check out her socials.

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