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Quick Q and A with Kate Copeland

Kate Copeland is a compelling musician who wears many hats—she’s a songwriter, vocalist, instrumentalist, arranger, and producer.  Here songs are melodic and soulful.  Kate’s expressive voice is used effectively for slow ballads and for more powerful pop songs. The instrumentation is layered and makes for a captivating listening experience as do her live performances.  Expect to hear a lot more from Kate Copeland as her music career evolves.

To learn a bit more about Kate, check out her website.

Enjoy this video of her song “Unpuzzle Me.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pk7Que27W38

Have you always been a musical person?

I have been playing/making music for as long as I can remember. My dad has a picture of me at 9 months old lying on a sheepskin next to an accordion – my parents made sure I had a lot of early exposure to music of all kinds and musical instruments as well.

I know that your father is a musician; are any other family members in the music business?

My mom plays a little bit of flute, guitar, and tenor sax, and my grandmother (her mother) has always sung in choirs, but neither of them are professional musicians. Renowned songwriter Peter Rowan and the Rowan Brothers are cousins on my mother’s side of the family though! I believe he is my maternal grandmother’s first cousin or something like that. My cousin Max Wareham has had a pretty exciting music career as well.

You graduated from Oberlin Conservatory with a degree in composition. What led you to the decision to study composition?

I started piano lessons when I was 5 years old, but I never wanted to practice repertoire. Every time I sat down at the piano I wound up making up my own music, and it tended to frustrate my piano teachers. When I was 10 years old I began studying with the visionary composer/jazz pianist Myra Melford, who encouraged me to turn my improvised ideas into concrete pieces, and these became my earliest compositions. Then I took this a step further when I attended The Walden School summer music program from 2003-2005, where I learned more about music theory and orchestration, and had my compositions performed by internationally acclaimed musicians including Claire Chase (founder of ICE), Meghan Stoops (De Capo Chamber Players), and Gabriel Bolkosky (Non Sequitur). Many of the faculty and staff at The Walden School were associated with Oberlin in some way, which is how I learned about its composition program. By the time I was applying to college I knew I wanted to focus on my musical studies and devote myself to composition more rigorously than ever before.

Who are your earliest musical influences?  Do you continue to absorb and learn and experiment with musical genres?

I have loved Irish folk music since early childhood, as well as Bartok, Stravinsky, Schubert, The Beatles, Jethro Tull, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, and The Grateful Dead. I absolutely continue to expose myself to new music and artists. I think it’s incredibly important to keep my ears open and to keep exploring new musical directions. I try not to think about genre at all when I sit down to write – music is music! I also grew up performing in a Seattle-based vaudeville troupe every summer, where I was encouraged to write songs and music for the show from an early age.

I’ve seen you play both keyboards and mandolin.  Do you play any others?   If you had to limit yourself to only one instrument—-which one would it be and why?

I’m trying to write more on guitar these days, but I’d hardly call myself a guitar player. I also enjoy sitting down at the drums every now and then, though I have a long way to go before I can claim to be a drummer. I would hate to limit myself to just one instrument, especially when it comes to songwriting, because I think different instruments lead me in different directions musically, which keeps my songwriting flexible and varied. If I HAD to pick just one, I’d probably have to say piano, because it is so versatile and has so much range, but I hope I never have to pick!

You’ve recorded a full-length album, The Recollection Room and an EP, Red and Blue.  What were your thoughts going into sessions for both those projects?  They are both pretty different entities.  Did you intend on The Recollection Room to be more experimental and evocative and Red and Blue to be more stripped down and natural?

First of all, Recollection Room was a collaboration with fellow Oberlin graduate Alexander Overington, so it was always intended to be something that pulled me out of my comfort zone and into a broader sonic playing field. Alex had a lot of experience with electronics, whereas I tended to write and arrange for orchestral and acoustic instruments, so the album became something of an “electro-orchestral” exploration through the vehicles of my songs. The end result was a richly textured, beautifully layered collection of songs that felt relatively unfamiliar to me because they contained so much of Alex’s musical perspective. I liked the record, but knew that I wanted my next album to be entirely self-led, so that I could “find myself” musically and create something that really felt like me. That’s what I aimed to do with Red and Blue, which forced me to be more musically and lyrically vulnerable than my first album, and it was incredibly empowering to be able to make nearly all of the production decisions on my own, without having to compromise with or make room for someone else’s vision.

You’re a producer as well as a musician.  What’s your approach as a producer?  Does it work both ways—an artist knows what they want and you do your best to make it happen and an artist leaves his work in your hands (and ears) and allows you to mold it into something that you think would be exciting?

My approach to production, when working with an artist other than myself, is to first figure out what they are hoping to achieve with the album. Do they want it to be intimate and delicate, bold and energetic, sonically textural or stark and stripped-down? I sit down with the artist and try to get inside their head. I ask for demos of all of the songs they are considering for the record, we talk about budget, schedule, what resources they have available to them, and what instrumentation they’re interested in. Then I go to work arranging, sculpting, assembling the right musicians, and directing the recording sessions so that I can make the artist’s vision come to life. I like to do most of the editing myself, listening through each take and comping the performances meticulously until I get something I love. Then I sit down with the artist and make tweaks here and there, integrating their feedback until they are happy with the result. It requires a lot of trust from the artist, because I need the freedom to see my ideas through, some of which they might be initially skeptical of. It usually seems to work out well though, and it is incredibly fulfilling and exciting.

 What’s up next for you?

I am currently writing and assembling the songs for my next full length album, which I hope to release sometime in 2018. Stay tuned!

 

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