Interview with Kate Rusby
by Caroline Charron Stolzy
Hailing from Sheffield, Yorkshire, Kate Rusby has been enchanting audiences in the UK with her self-declared “folk acoustic” music for years. Having recently become mother to another little girl, Kate will be on tour this August. With many studio albums under her belt, a Mercury Prize nomination and 4 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, Kate has certainly been busy. I was curious to know more about this woman with an amazing soothing voice, delicate face and steady creativity! What are her fears? Does she feel confident? Does she feel accomplished? Those are questions I encounter with my clients every day and that I suspected Kate could offer great insights about.
Caroline Charron Stolzy- You call your style « folk accoustic », how do you feel about the British folk/roots music scene of 30 years ago compared to nowadays?
Kate Rusby – I think it’s much bigger now, people think that folk is a small genre of music but it’s huge now, you only have to go to a festival like Cambridge, and you can see that it’s by no means a minority music. Obviously I can’t comment much on the scene 30 or 40 years ago since I’m 37 and didn’t take much notice back then, but talking to my parents about it makes me realize it is definitely bigger now. What has changed dramatically is the Folk Club scene, my parents remember when there was a club in every town, it was vibrant and buzzing, but now there have been a lot of clubs closing, there’s probably half what there used to be. And of course back then, they were run by the fresh young things of the day and in general it’s still the same people running them. For some reason that particular baton hasn’t been passed on to the next generation. It’s a shame, because they’re a fantastic place to learn the craft, and I’ve had such lovely gigs in folk clubs over the years. Great memories.
CCS – You have been fascinated by Dolly Parton and I would like to hear more about your impressions of her. In what way precisely has she inspired you?
KR – I think she’s fantastic! Every one talks about Madonna being the leading lady of music, able to reinvent herself at the drop of a hat and able to stay up to date. No no, Dolly was already there doing that. She’s such a clever, strong woman and has a fantastic business head, she’s always kind and polite, and best of all she is one of the best singers around. She just breathes music, has it in her bones. People like that are few and far between. I am a big fan of bluegrass music. My dad used to do the sound at a lot of festivals when we were growing up. One of them was a bluegrass festival and I loved it. When I heard her bluegrass album it dawned on me what an incredible singer she is. And she’s got her own theme park! She’s just fab! Every woman should be inspired by her because she’s a great role model. I will certainly be educating my daughters in the school of Dolly.
KR – Definitely the guitar, even though I don’t really know what I’m playing! I just make chords up and mess around, I can’t tell you what key I’m in or what the chords are but I have a nice time anyway. I love the feeling of the guitar being next to my body. It’s very comforting. Sometimes when I’m writing I rest my head on it as I play, so the chords resonate though my head. I suppose it’s the same effect that singing has, maybe that’s why I like the physical effect of the guitar as well. I also play the piano, but very rarely these days, I got fed up carting my piano around on tour! I prefer to write with my guitar, I only write late at night when no-one else is around. I’m not one of those people who write all the time, and they can just sit in a room and write and write, I am more of an “in the moment” writer. I will just sit, messing on my guitar and sometimes a song will start to form, and out it pops. It’s quite a strange thing for me really. I look back and I can’t actually remember writing most of my songs, they just seem to have always been there I suppose. Perhaps I’ll understand it one day!
CCS – Do you have a regimen or routine that involves daily vocalising, or some kind of exercises?
KR – No I don’t, that side of things doesn’t really interest me, but I do sing every day, even if it’s nursery rhymes for my kids, so my voice is getting used every day.
CCS – Is there a way to nurture creativity?
KR – I don’t really know what the answer to that is. I think you can to a certain extent, but ultimately some people just have more of a natural gift for something, be it painting, singing, dancing, cooking, fixing cars, plumbing, etc. We all have a place in the world and a talent. We just need the time, guidance and opportunities to discover our own.
CCS – What do you fear?
KR-Not a lot really, I am quite a positive person usually, but here are a few things : spiders, daddy-long-legs, missing my daughters grow up, losing my dog, fainting, long-haul flights, cooking for people. Oh and moths! That’s all I can think of.
CCS – Do you doubt yourself at times, or are you mostly confident?
KR – Both. It depends what kind of day I’m having. Some days I feel very confident but others I just don’t want to be seen or heard! But over all I think I feel mainly confident. I don’t think you could be a singer and not have a good dose of confidence, really. I also think I get more confident as I get older, I think most people do. You realise that alot of things just don’t matter, and you learn how to cope better with the things that do. You learn to strike things and indeed people, out of your life that cause you nothing but grief, you just don’t have to carry all the rubbish that you might have when you were younger, I suppose.
CCS – What makes you happy?
KR – Oh where do I start! My fiance, my kids, my dog, my family, sunny days, snowy days, still days, busy days, calm days, walking, singing, good red wine, good music, tomatoes and basil, so many more things too. Best of all I would say : having a gorgeous meal with my family.
KR – Always, I feel so lucky to be playing and singing for a living. So very lucky! I always feel like I have achieved and I always have. (I’ve always felt like I have achieved things.) Even way back when the gigs were very small, I still felt lucky and felt that I had accomplished something. I am not the kind of person who sets targets about where I want to be in two years for example. I have never done that. In fact our little motto at Pure Records is “steady away”. It just all seems to grow year after year and we don’t really know why. We just go with it and hope we make the right choices with it all. So yes I feel I have accomplished myself but I’m not finished yet though. There’s plenty more to come… Hopefully.
CCS – Why is your song « The Bitter Boy » your favorite?
KR – I was in a very sad place when I wrote it. I was in the middle of making my record when my grandma died. Then two weeks later my uncle, her son, died very unexpectedly, we were all devastated. He was such a wonderful, lovely, gentle man and I miss him so much still. In fact I was really sad that he would never meet my kids until I had a dream that I saw him and showed him my photos. He looked so well and happy and I knew he was around. I started writing that song and even though it’s a fictional story, the sadness in it is from losing my uncle. He should still be here. He had a large blockage in his artery that was missed in tests, so he could have been saved. He should have been saved! I was angry and broken and that is where that song came from. People think it’s about the break up of my marriage but it is not true. That took place five years before. The grief from losing them was much more painful and important than my divorce. When I sing it now, it reminds me of my uncle and my grandma. That’s why it’s my favourite.
CCS – You are now a new mother, congratulations! Can you see a change in the way you are seeing your work since you had them? Does it give you a new perspective?
KR – Well thank you very much! It has changed only in the fact that I don’t have as much time as I used to! I have to plan time to sit and play and write, usually when she is in bed and if I’m not too tired. Also the logistics of touring have to be realistic to achieve with a baby. But it seems to be working well so far. I have realised that I can’t do big long sessions anymore because I don’t want to leave her for hours. We are lucky that we have our own studio, and my brother is the engineer, so that helps, and it is next door to our office where my parents and sister work so I have babysitters around!
CCS – You are well-known in England, is it strange for you to do shows in Canada where you are less popular?
KR – No not really, I don’t think of it in that way, every time I do a show I do the very best I can. Every show is as important as the next however big or small it is. So there is no point in thinking like that. If people have taken time out of their lives to come and see us play music, then we should always be the best we can.
CCS – Who do you listen to and enjoy the music of lately?
KR – Oh I haven’t had much time to listen to much music recently, but I love a band called Noah And The Whale. Their CDs are beautiful, as are albums by Sigur Ros. I adore listening to them. And Laura Viers is fantastic too, I have been listening to her a lot. And at the moment I am listening to my daughter breathing as she sleeps, surely the best music of all.
For more information : http://www.katerusby.com
Photo credits: The Cambridge: Lieve Boussauw. Others: Andy Snaith.