Having already enjoyed success in the music industry as part of Kate & The Company and Whimsy Gadget, Kate Copeland, upon deciding to go solo, has seized the opportunity to show the world who she really is. With her album "Recollection Room" out now and lots of plans in the pipeline, she kindly agreed to this interview with our staff writer Rebecca.
PW: Tell me a little about yourself please.
Kate Copeland: I am a singer-songwriter who also loves to produce other artists' music. I graduated from Oberlin Conservatory where I studied composition, which in the past few years has translated into a passion for arranging. For this reason I find that I take a rather "old-school" approach to production, focusing on instrumentation and artist direction rather than engineering. I honestly find it just as rewarding to help bring another artist's vision to life as I do my own.
PW: What would you say makes you different from your artistic counterparts?
KC: I don't claim to be "different" from anyone else really, though I guess I don't see a whole lot of singer-songwriters accompanying themselves on mandolin the way I do. So that's a difference I suppose. And I'd say that most of the singer-songwriters I meet are focusing primarily on their own music rather than working on other peoples' projects, which isn't the case for me these days.
PW: Who were your musical influences growing up and have they changed much over the years?
KC: I grew up listening to The Beatles, Joni Mitchell, CSNY, Jethro Tull, Paul Simon, and The Grateful Dead. My dad, Mark Ettinger, was also a singer-songwriter and composer, so I suppose I was probably influenced by him, as well as our close family friend Rebo Flordigan. These days I find I'm drawn to the music and song-writing of Robin Pecknold of Fleet Foxes, Thom Yorke/Radiohead, Bjork, and Big Thief, among many other exciting new artists. That's not to say that I don't draw inspiration from the music of my childhood! I think those artists will probably stick with me forever.
PW: When did you first realise that you wanted to be a recording artist? Was there any album you listened to or concert you attended that made you think 'yeah, I want to do that'?
KC: I don't think I ever really had that eureka moment, that flash where it all became clear to me, but I knew ever since I was very young that I wanted my life to revolve around music in some way. The album that inspired me to create Recollection Room was Bjork's 2001 album Vespertine - I was struck by the richly woven sonic textures she created on that record; the perfect marriage of orchestral instrumentation with electronic sounds and samples.
PW: How did your time in Kate & The Company and Whimsy Gadget/General Mojo's Key Project impact what you now do as a solo artist?
KC: I have always preferred to play my songs with other people rather than alone. Perhaps this is partly because I play the mandolin, an instrument that possesses very little low end, and because I have always loved vocal harmonies. For these reasons I have always sought out guitarists, cellists and bass players to join me whenever possible, which led to the formation of Kate & The Company and subsequently Whimsy Gadget. Now that I've relocated from the Seattle area to New York City I'm simply trying to find new musicians to collaborate with on my songs so that I can realize them more fully in a live performance setting. Being in General Mojo's certainly gave me more performance experience, and it was really fun to be able to engage with an audience in a high energy way - we were playing very loud, frenetic music - rather different from my own singer-songwriter stuff. It also forced me to project my voice in a way I'd never had to before, which I think has ultimately made me a more versatile singer.
PW: What to you makes a great song?
KC: Oh goodness, this one is a toughy! It really depends on what sort of purpose the song is trying to serve. If it's a quiet song of reflection, then a well-constructed melody and compelling lyrics are a must. If it's meant to make you want to get up and dance, then a really solid groove is imperative. Perhaps the most important thing across the board is that the vocal performance feel believable and authentic in some way. I tend to be a lot less interested in songs where the vocal feels overly processed or dehumanized - I just don't connect with it if it doesn't feel heartfelt and sincere, no matter what the genre.
PW: Which song, in your opinion, is the greatest ever written and why?
KC: Oh no - this question is even harder to answer! There are too many amazing songs to choose just one. Hmm...let me think...nope, I can't do it I'm sorry!
PW: Where do you find inspiration for your songs and how easy do you find the song-writing process?
KC: I write about my life and experiences, since it's all I know, really. Nearly all of my songs are at least semi-autobiographical, if not entirely. Some songs are a struggle to write, requiring repeated attempts and revisions, bringing forth doubts and deep-seated insecurities and frustrations. Other songs are simply an exhalation of something that needed to be let go of - an effortless catharsis. I prefer writing the latter - it's a lot more efficient!
PW: Is there a story behind the title of your album “Recollection Room”? Could you pick a favourite track from it?
KC: I spent three years trying to pick an album title, and I had my mind set several times on different titles before “Recollection Room” finally came to mind. I think I was drawn to it for several reason. First, I have always enjoyed alliteration. Second, I really liked that it was a loose translation of "the place where my brain stores memories" - the memories that are the fodder for my song-writing. Each track on the album felt like me visiting a memory and attempting to re-paint or re-experience it through song. As for a favorite track, I honestly couldn't say. I find that I connect with different tracks more or less depending on what I'm going through emotionally at any given point in time. Songs are like medicine - not every song is suited to every state of mind, but the right match of song and circumstance can result in an extremely powerful and positive feeling.
PW: What about the opinions of critics? Do you pay attention to what they say?
KC: I'm always curious to hear what people think of my music, though I try not to let it affect my song-writing necessarily. At the end of the day the most important thing is that I create music that feels honest and stay true to myself artistically. Not every song is to everyone's taste - that doesn't mean someone won't hear it and connect with it in a very deep and meaningful way.
PW: You're building a solid reputation for yourself via your music and performances, so of the shows you've played so far, do you have a favourite and if so, which is it and why?
KC: There was something very special in the air the night of my album release show last June at Seattle's Columbia City Theater. It just felt so electric being on stage that night, and it was such a feat to have pulled off those complex arrangements in a live setting. My second favorite would probably be a show I played at the same venue last month, with fellow singer-songwriters Nick Drummond and Oliver Franklin, two musicians I am honored to call dear friends of mine. We all played and sang on each others' songs and it was a magical experience!
PW: If you could play any venue anywhere in the world, which would it be and why?
KC: There are probably a million amazing venues I don't know about, so I may very well eat my words on this one, but off the top of my head I'd have to go with the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco. With a capacity of just 600 it would feel fairly intimate, but the decor is absolutely stunning and incredibly grand at the same time.
PW: Which three artists, who can be living or dead, would you most like to share a stage with and why? Where would you play?
KC: I would love to sing with Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings because I love the way their voices blend together and I love the vulnerable, sincere quality of the music they play. I'd also love to perform with Robin Pecknold because I love his sense of melody and harmony. As for venues, I have no preference so long as the sound system is good. Or better yet - no sound system! Sometimes a living room is the perfect place to perform if you want a rapt, attentive audience of close listeners.
PW: What are your future performance plans? Is there any country or city in particular you really want to play in?
KC: I would love to perform in Iceland, England, and Germany someday - particularly London, Liverpool, and Berlin. As for the USA, I've always wanted to go to Nashville and New Orleans! They have such incredibly vibrant music scenes. For now I'm focusing on the release of my second album and playing shows in NYC and the surrounding area. Eventually it would be fun to put together a tour throughout the Northeast!
PW: How has social media impacted you in terms of getting your music and your name out there to a wider audience? Would you agree that artists today have to be socially interactive?
KC: Social media has definitely helped me spread the word about shows, music releases, music videos, etc...I feel like it’s an invaluable tool for artists who haven't already established themselves and are looking to reach out to potential listeners and fans. That said, artists that are famous enough to pack stadiums probably don't have to engage with it to the same degree. I mean, Sir Paul McCartney would sell out Madison Square Garden whether or not he had a Twitter account.
PW: Looking ahead, whose career would you most like to emulate?
KC: I really respect artists like Tori Amos, Paul Simon, and Bjork - they have had long-lasting careers with solid, dedicated fans, and have continued to explore new horizons with each new album they release. You never know what to expect from any of them, and I think there's something to be said for that. They're not trying to churn out chart-toppers or win Grammy awards - they're more concerned with artistic integrity and experimentation. I really like that.
PW: At what point would you be happy to say 'Okay, I've achieved all I wanted to. I'm going to call it a day'?
KC: They say a retired musician is a corpse. I think I might have to agree with that. I don't think I'll ever stop making/creating music in some form or other. I don't think I could if I tried. I don't really have any other hobbies or interests.
PW: Finally, are there any other plans in the pipeline you can tell me about?
KC: I've spent the past few months producing DOUGMORE's debut album and I'm very excited by how it's turning out. I've also been in the studio recording the follow-up album to Recollection Room, a five song EP that features renowned composer/multi-instrumentalist Doug Wieselman. In other news, I have plans to produce a few other musical projects with various NY-based singer-songwriters in 2016, and I can't wait to get started!