Quick Q and A with Catherine Miles

Catherine Miles is one-third of the Hudson Valley based trio, the YaYas. The other members are Jay Mafale on guitar and Paul Silverman on piano.  As you can read below, all of their songs are collaborations. The clarity of purpose and the clean sounds on their recorded songs is testament to how well they work together.  If you like your music to be in the vein of story songs that grab you by the heart and soul and embrace you with musicality, then the YaYas are your band.  Catherine is also part of the Chips with Dip collaborative project—eleven singer-songwriters who pay homage to High Priestess Joni Mitchell and her legendary Blue album.

You’ll get a good taste for the Yayas if you visit their site and watch their videos and listen to a few tunes.  Highly recommended.

To hear some clips from the Chicks with Dip, check out this site.

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The YaYas’ biography hits the nail on the head.  Your music may be folk and it may be pop but it’s most certainly personal.  Whether your song stories are true or not, I don’t know but I feel like I know and care about the characters in them.  They have a Harry Chapin feel to them, if you know what I mean.  All good writers write about what they know so I’m supposing that you feel very “close” to the content in your songs.

 I do feel close to the content in our songs. For the most part, they are all about something one of us has either been through or that someone close to us has been through. But it’s also true to say that almost all our songs are amalgamations of several different stories or experiences, with a healthy dash of poetic license when necessary!

 Do all three of the YaYas collaborate on each song?  Do you take a piece of a song and present it to the others and craft it til you’re all satisfied?

 Almost all our songs are trio collaborations, built when we sit down in a room together. However, we each work individually as well, so when we sit down together we bring in those ideas to hash out. Jay brings guitar parts, Paul brings piano possibilities, and I bring lyric and melody ideas. In working together, we all have input in all aspects of the writing process.

As for my individual process, I write almost every day. I always have a notebook handy. I’ll write down a word or two or a topic that comes to mind, or sometimes it’s an entire chorus or verse. I don’t censor or edit at this point. (The editing comes later.) I also have melody ideas that pop into my head. These days I use the voice memo app, but before smartphones I used an old tape recorder. I love the voice memo app! Over time, themes start to become apparent in much of these bits and pieces, sort of like a jigsaw puzzle.

Related to writing, I can share a fun Chicks with Dip coincidence. When I was in college, I won a poetry award thanks to the encouragement of one of my professors. During the recording process for our “cast album” I was having a conversation with Jon Sobel, the bass player for the Blue project (and Elisa Peimer’s husband) and we discovered that Jon’s mother was that same professor, and my mentor. It is, indeed, a small world.

You’ve had the honor of being chosen to play at Kerrville Folk Festival as part of New Folk and Falcon Ridge Emerging Artists.  It must be a thrill to play before large audiences at festivals and before your peers.  Do you ever get pre-show jitters?

 The first time we were Kerrville New Folk finalists, yes, I was a bit nervous. That was the first time we had been chosen to be part of a competition, and standing backstage I still couldn’t quite believe we were there! Otherwise, I’m usually fine because I’m just getting to do what I love and share something that gives me joy with an audience. (Wow, that sounds cheesy, but it’s true.) Being honest, I do feel some “self-inflicted pressure” before going onstage during the Blue shows. I sing the last song of the first set. I sit and listen to these incredible women and performers and I think to myself, “You’re last, they were great, don’t blow it!”  🙂

 The story of you breaking your back when you fell off a horse on your honeymoon is incredibly sad but …. looking on the bright side, it appears that your recovery period gave you time for reflection and that’s when the concept of the YaYas began to come together.  What was it like when you first started on the open mic circuit?  How long did it take you to start writing your own songs?

 Prior to the accident, Jay, Paul and I had been playing just for ourselves at home for fun. The accident put my life in perspective, absolutely. It’s been so long since we played those open mics though, I don’t know that I can tell you much about it, except that it was fun and a great learning experience. As for writing, we had already written our first song before the accident happened. We weren’t The YaYas at that point, just three creative friends hanging out.

How did you become involved with the Chicks with Dip?  Were you a Joni Mitchell fan before this group formed?

 I was invited by a few of the Chicks (Meg Braun and Carolann Solebello, if I remember correctly) to come to one of the gatherings. I think it was at Sharon Goldman’s house. I know many of the Chicks through various shows, conferences, and festivals so we had already started to become friends when I was invited. That’s the basis of this group, friendship. Some may argue this, but I think the dip is secondary. And I love dip.

 I came to Joni via Night Ride Home, not by her earlier work. Sure, I knew and loved the songs that I had heard on the radio, but that was the extent of it. Blue is a masterwork. Listening to the album, and “The Last Time I Saw Richard” (the song I get to sing), from the viewpoint of preparing to perform it has been a challenge and an incredible learning opportunity.

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 Would you cite any other songwriters as prime influences?

 I’m of the mind that we’re influenced by everything we hear, and I have a tough time narrowing it down, so I usually shy away from answering this question when asked! From my brothers’ classic rock (in which I’ll include the likes of Rush and Queen), to my grandmother bringing me to see Gilbert & Sullivan performances, to the musical theater of both my grandmother along with high school friends, my dad’s love of bagpipes (yup, bagpipe marching bands) and Beethoven… it’s all in there somewhere, I have no doubt. Okay, more directly, I discovered Suzanne Vega, Bonnie Raitt, and Shawn Colvin in my teenage years. So many others followed (male and female), but these women were the very beginning.

 What’s next in store for you and the YaYas?

 The YaYas are touring more and further, and we’re in the early stages of a new album. Mainly though, our goal is always to become better at the crafts of songwriting and performing. Oh, and we plan to win the lottery. Just sayin’.

 The Chicks with Dip will be celebrating Joni Mitchell and their own music at the me&thee in Marblehead, MA on March 8.

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