Rachael Kilgour cuts to the chase with her music. Her lyrics reach out to the listener’s heart and soul and grab hold like there’s no tomorrow. There’s something about her voice, that certain little lilt or the way she emphasizes a phrase or word that reel you in and it’s impossible not to pay attention to what she’s singing about. Last summer she made her way to the grassy hillside of Falcon Ridge Folk Festival to get to know some Northeast folkies and sing her songs. Everyone noticed. Everyone listened. You should too.
To learn more about Rachael Kilgour, check out her website.
Here’s a video of “If I Am Gonna Fall Apart.”
Let’s take a ride in the wayback machine. Were you born and raised in Duluth, Minnesota (home of the very first indoor shopping mall!)? What is it about Minnesota and its people that resonates with you?
Yes! I was born and raised in Duluth, but I didn’t know that fun fact about our shopping mall history! I have had the privilege of seeing a lot of the country in my travels and, so far, I have always returned to MN. Family is very important to me and I think that has played a big part in my decision to stay. Also, Minnesotans are admirably hardy! There is a camaraderie born out of shared discomfort. We know how to stick it through a never ending winter and a dreary spring to see the fruits of our suffering. We are loyal, hardworking, contemplative and good at finding light in the darkness. That’s what I’ve come to believe anyway. Plus, have you seen Lake Superior?
What was the music scene like there and were you very involved with it when you were young?
There is a thriving music scene in MN! But it’s not necessarily my scene. (Gross, who wants a “scene” anyway? Let’s call it a community instead.) There are some fantastically talented musicians coming out of my home state and some dedicated fans, venues and organizations working to support them. Truthfully, it’s been easier for me, as a solo singer-songwriter, to navigate the music world on the East Coast. My work really requires an attentive and open-hearted audience and finding performance spaces that nurture that kind of relationship between the listener and performer has been a little tricky for me in the Midwest. Oh, but it makes me appreciate the gems I’ve found! Still, hopping from town to town, from listening room to listening room, in and around New England has been undeniably heartening.
How did you make the connection with Catie Curtis? I understand that you have known her for at least ten years and that you toured with her in the Midwest then.
About 11 or 12 years ago I applied for a job at a summer camp in MI with a friend who had worked there for many summers. In being interviewed for the job, I learned that the new director of the camp was Catie’s then-partner! Instead of working as a camp counselor, I was hired to work more closely with Catie and her family throughout the summer. I provided an extra caring hand for her young daughters while one mom was running the camp and the other was navigating a music career. Catie and I got along right from the start and spent most of the summer nights making music together. After that, Catie invited me on a couple Midwest tours as an opener and backup vocalist/violinist. I remember feeling very nervous and very grateful.
How does Catie and her music inspire you?
Catie has a kind heart and that is what inspires me more than anything. On a personal level, she has been a supportive friend to me through good times and bad. Musically, I am most impressed by her ability to write a simple, killer love song. You know what I mean? Yes, yes you do. I’ve also been really impressed with how she’s balanced her career and home life and how willing she has been to take on new adventures and mentor young artists, including myself.
Of all the songs that you have written, do you have a favorite or is that unfair to ask?
I think the wonderful thing about songwriting and performing the same pieces night after night is that I get the chance to fall in love with the songs over and over. I have favorite lines from each piece and favorite melodies. In this moment I feel really connected to the song “Ready Freddie.” It’s a piece I wrote for my step-daughter when she turned thirteen and it speaks to the bittersweetness of letting a kid fly; trusting that they have it in them to take on the world.
“I know you can take it
I believe that you will make it
On your own somehow
Maybe not right now
But I can see you’re almost ready
Do you think you’re ready Freddie?
Say it right out loud
You’re gonna make me proud”
Name two or three songs that you wish you had written and why.
“Hey Baby Hey” by Greg Brown – It took a long time for this one to grow on me, but these days it’s my favorite love song.
“As we go on through the deal
I know that it won’t always feel real wonderful
Life ain’t like that
But I want to stay right by your side
Check out the view, enjoy the ride together
With all our loved ones”
His writing is so conversational, so relatable. I’m tired of gooey love songs! I prefer the realistic.
Other favorites: “At Seventeen” by Janis Ian, “Ain’t Life a Brook” by Ferron, “Lincoln Duncan” by Paul Simon, “Troubled Mind” by Catie Curtis, “One Man Guy” by Rufus Wainwright, “Banks of Marble” by Les Rice, “When I’m Gone” by Phil Ochs, “We Hate to See Them Go” by Malvina Reynolds…
What was it like to compete at the NewSong competition at Lincoln Center? What songs did you sing and what kind of feedback did you get from the judges?
It was fantastic! As with all of the contests I’ve participated in, it was such a pleasure to connect with the other finalists and hear their work. NewSong and the folks at Lincoln Center treated us all very well from start to finish. I chose to share the song “If I Am Gonna Fall Apart” for the first round and “Still My Wife” and “In America” for the second. After the judges deliberated, Gar took the stage and named me as the winner. I was asked to share a final song and, so, grabbed my guitar and cried my way through “Ready Freddie.” I think, maybe, I wasn’t the only one crying. Following the competition, the judges each congratulated me and referenced the directness of my lyrics and the emotion behind my performance as key deciding factors. One of the judges, Erik Philbrook, later wrote: “Kilgour is the real deal – a modern troubadour confronting raw truths with a powerful voice and passionate, socially conscious songs that will move anyone who still believes that music can – and should – change the world.”
It was a surprisingly emotional experience! These past two years have taken me to the lowest of lows and then to incredible highs. Most of my current work was born out of a very difficult divorce, so, coming out of that time of grieving and healing into a place of such validation and encouragement gave me a bit of whiplash!
Tell us about the new CD you’re making with Catie Curtis. What was the recording experience like for you compared to your previous CD sessions?
I had such a good time in the studio with Catie and with Crit Harmon. It meant a lot that Catie knew what went into the songs and how much they mean to me. I felt very comfortable with her and appreciated the feedback she gave. I really respect the experience she has had in the studio. I also had access to some very accomplished Boston-area musicians thanks to her and Crit! I’m now finalizing the project in Asheville, NC. I’ve partnered with Gar Ragland and NewSong Music to complete the mixing, mastering and release plan. I’m feeling awfully blessed to have so many talented and supportive folks in my life.
Can you envision yourself doing anything else but writing, recording, and touring these days?
Well, I’m attempting to keep my mind and heart and body healthy, which is a full time job. Other than that (and included in that), music all of the time. If I wasn’t a musician, I’d be a letter carrier, but I’m a musician.