Kathryn Calder has learned a lot about the music business in the past year. It’s not as if the Victoria-based multi-instrumentalist and songwriter is some kind of musical greenhorn; after all, she’s spent the past decade in popular Canadian bands such as the New Pornographers and the now-defunct Immaculate Machine. But 2010 saw the launch of her solo career — and with it, a few lessons.
“I thought I knew a fair amount about the music industry by virtue of being in it for the last 10 years, but nothing shows you the music industry more than a solo project, where it is up to you or nothing happens,” she says. “Either you do it or nobody will.”
Her debut album, Are You My Mother? was released in June of 2010, only a month after the New Pornographers’ Together. The proximity of the release dates meant that, while Mother was met with critical acclaim, Calder was busy with the Pornographers and didn’t get to tour for the record until several months later, save a local appearance as part of that year’s Rifflandia festival.
“I just decided that I’d see what happened with the last record with no touring,” says Calder. “The label knew up front and they were okay with it. We just tried to make it work the best we could.”
That is far from the case with Bright and Vivid, which came out in October; Calder has been hitting the road extensively for the album, with a release show planned Saturday at Lucky Bar. Warming things up will be Himalayan Bear, one of local musician Ryan Beattie’s (Chet, Frog Eyes) many projects. (You’ll also find Beattie playing guitar in Calder’s band for the show.) Himalayan Bear also released an album earlier this year, and Beattie performed in Calder’s band during a recent European tour. Calder says she’s excited to have him on board again for this leg of the tour, which will head to Eastern Canada and the U.S.
“It’s a win win,” she says. “I get to have him in the band and he gets to play and promote his record as well.”
The lessons extend beyond just touring schedules. Calder says that when it was time to write and record Bright and Vivid, she took care to flex her songwriting muscles.
“On this new record, I was aware of my tendencies as a songwriter,” she explains. “When you put 10 songs together, you’ll notice what you do and your style. You notice it way more than if you’re only writing one or two or three songs for an album, like I was for Immaculate Machine.”
The end result is a collection of songs that sound much fuller than the tunes from Mother; it feels as if Calder is really coming into her own on this record. Like Mother, much of Bright and Vivid was recorded in Calder’s living room and produced by Hive Studios’ Colin Stewart, whom Calder married earlier this year.
“I trust him, I trust his musical opinions and he’s very good at dealing with artists. So when we’re in this situation, he is the engineer dealing with the artists, despite the fact that we’re a couple,” Calder says. “He’s got really good ways of saying things that don’t offend people. You want an honest opinion, but you don’t want a blunt opinion.”
Calder manned the keyboards, vocals and electric and acoustic guitar, while the rest of the sound was fleshed out by Lane Arndt (guitar), Stefan Bozenick (bass) and Marek Tyler (drums), plus a few guest appearances. Bright and Vivid also features artwork and design by Megan Hildebrand, a Powell River-based painter whose work Calder discovered when walking past Madrona Gallery in downtown Victoria.
“I was at Sweet Memories or something having some ice cream last summer, walking along Government, and I looked in the window of this art gallery and I was like, ’Woah,’” she recalls. “I was with Colin, and we walked in and had a look around and they showed me a bunch of her art and I thought, ’This is amazing.’ So I Googled her and then I emailed her.”
So, how does Calder see her burgeoning solo career fitting into her busy schedule as a full-time member of the New Pornographers? As always, she’s optimistic and hopeful.
“I’m not the only one in the band doing that, so hopefully it will continue to be okay and work out for the best,” she says. “It might mean occasionally a few more mid-tour flights across the country and back, which is what happened on the last tour, but that’s cool. The New Pornographers helped fund this, so I’m not ungrateful, and they’re so supportive.”
“You can do both,” she continues. “The nice thing about the solo career and the solo record is that the schedule is dictated by me. I have to coordinate with the guys in the band, but I have full say over when I want to do something.”
Given the calibre of work Calder has put out with this solo project and the wonderful addition she’s made as a member of the New Pornographers, here’s to hoping the balancing act continues as long as possible. M
– Amanda Farrell-Low
(with Himalayan Bear and Hearse)
Sat, Nov. 26, 8 pm
Lucky Bar (517 Yates)