Music: An Interview With Kyler Tapscott

Kyler Tapscott

For those of you who don’t know him, Kyler Tapscott is a singer/songwriter with some series skills on the fretboard. A phenomenal guitar player, he’s often played the role of mercenary using his tremendous talents to back up other performing artists in the studio and on the stage both nationally and internationally.

But now, that’s about to change. Based in St. Catharines, Ontario (Canada), the day has finally come for Kyler’s own music to step forth and take center stage as he recently unleashed the first single “Fire” from his debut solo EP.

Kyler and I both grew up in the same small town (Cobourg, Ontario), so it was nice to catch up with him again and talk about his new EP and what he’s been up to musically. Of course, I also made sure to ask him for some advice he has for both guitar players and anyone else out there trying to cut their teeth in the music business.

Me: Kyler, my man! Thanks for taking the time to link up and join me today.

Kyler: Hey Mitch, no problem. How’s it going?

Pretty well all things considered. Your new stuff sounds great!

Thanks, I appreciate it.

Kyler Tapscott in front of a classic car
Kyler Tapscott

Yeah! So, as you know, I’ve got some questions for you today about what you’ve been up to… obviously the new EP we’re going to talk about… but I’d like to talk about a few other things too that might see you impart your wisdom on any young guitar players or musicians trying to make their own way in the music business.

Why don’t we start with you: tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into music? I know that you’ve been playing guitar for a long time.

I started playing guitar when I was around 11. My Dad was a musician my whole life too… I actually truly started playing guitar when I was 7… but, I just didn’t stick with it… I just didn’t have it in me at that age. But when my brother started playing when I was around 11, I began to really play probably because he was doing it, and then I started spending hours and hours and hours on it, and I got a lot better than he did very quickly. And then he stopped playing *laughs*.

So when did you start playing professionally?

I think I was 16 when I played my first professional gig. I was backing up a Yukon singer/songwriter named Kim Rogers, with my dad on bass… that would be the first of many more to come.

How would you describe your music to other people? I’ll admit, the new single from your EP really caught me off guard just because my experience with your music before has been a completely different kind of vibe.

Totally different.

That’s a good question, and I find that you’ll probably notice that with every song I release from this EP, they all have a really different flavor. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but it’s kind of just what came out. They all have a bit of a funky sort of groove to them – except for one, which is more of a folk tune – but I find it really hard to say.

Kyler’s First Single “Fire”

Maybe I just haven’t found my sound yet, or perhaps I’m just a little schizophrenic when it comes to music, but I have a lot of different influences that play into the way that I write. I don’t always stick with one sound. That might catch some people a little off guard, and maybe that’s a good thing – I’m not sure – I’m kind of just feeling it out as I go along.

I should probably ask – is this your first EP?

Yeah, it’s my first solo EP.

I’ve recorded before: I’ve been a sideman for years. Since I was 16, I’ve been playing for other people, and I enjoy that a lot – there’s less pressure. You just kind of show up and do your thing – but there was this side of me that I’ve really wanted to get out for a long time, and I don’t know why I hadn’t yet. So it’s been exciting to figure out everything and get this EP together as I’ve gone along with everything that’s been happening.

Okay, so you’ve told me before that your creative process changes all the time, is that correct?

Yeah, for the most part.

Sometimes I’ll hear something that sparks an idea. I might be listening to a track, and then 3 seconds of a song might make me go, “Woah, what was that?”. When that happens, I’ll make a note of it and usually record it very quickly before that idea’s gone. Because you never know… it’s just like catching butterflies: you’re just kind of trying to grab one… you’re just trying to catch an idea.

Anyways, I’ll take that idea, and then I’ll record it, and sometimes things happen quickly, and sometimes those things take years, but eventually, I’ll go back and find that it sparks something. I just try to be open with things that I think sound cool or with lyric ideas, so anytime I find something I like, I’ll write it down and then try to revisit it later. For me, there’s no one way of doing things.

So sometimes the lyrics come first, and sometimes the music comes first.

Yeah, but most of the time, it’s music. Most of the time, I’ll come up with some musical ideas that I build from, and then I’ll dip into my bag of lyrics or sayings and try to piece it all together from there.

So you’ve said before that you have a lot of different influences. I can get that just by listening to the first single you’ve released in comparison to having heard your other stuff before, but are there any big primary ones?

For my single “Fire,” it’s kind of steeped in pop. I’m a fan of John Mayer – I like how he’s got a depth to his musical side.

But I have tonnes and tonnes and tonnes of influences… it’s tough for me to pinpoint who I’d say I sound like because they’re all so different. *Laughing* I might have to just send you all the songs so you can tell me.

I mean, I would definitely be open to that… that would be pretty sweet! Alright, well, let’s try this then: as a guitar player, do you have any prime influences as a guitar player?

When I was a kid, Jimi Hendrix was a huge thing for me growing up, him and Stevie Ray Vaughn… if you don’t go through those two guys, are you really a guitar player? *laughs*

But in high school, I was really into Pink Floyd. David Gilmour is one of my favorite guitar players, and he never plays anything fast – ever – it’s all attention to the right notes. Growing up, I also loved the Dire Straits’ first record… Mark Knopfler – is such a badass.

I was also really into Steve Vai and John Petrucci from Dream Theater. Those guys were significant influences for me during my first 5 -6 years playing guitar. John Petrucci’s Rock Discipline DVD was important too. I remember I downloaded it, and at the time, I still had dial-up internet so it took like 3 days to complete.

Oh, I remember those days *laughing*.

Yeah, you remember the days.

I remember the first song I ever downloaded was Iron Maiden’s “The Trooper,” and it took me an entire weekend… I remember yelling at everyone in the house like “don’t anyone pick up the phone for the weekend!”

That insane dial-up connection sound brings back haunting memories.

Later, I got really into Tommy Emmanuel and fingerstyle guitar, and so I went down that rabbit hole for a couple of years practicing fingerstyle guitar. Guys like Adam Rafferty, who’s fantastic – he also does fingerstyle arrangements – and even guys like Chet Atkins and Jerry Reed. Basically, stuff that I didn’t really get when I was younger – I guess I just didn’t have the palette for it then – but later on, especially as a guitar player, I was like, “wow, this kind of guitar is actually the best.” In my opinion, the Jerry Reed and Chet Atkins records “Me and Jerry” and “Me and Chet” are probably two of the most tasteful guitar duet records of all time.

Then you’ve got guys like Django Reinhardt and these Brazilian guitarists Los Indios Tabajaras whom I also really, really enjoy… my influences are all over the map.

Kyler Tapscott and Jeff Biggar perform Los Indios Tabajaras’ “Maria Elena”

That’s a deep well to draw from, though, which is excellent for anybody reading that’s an aspiring guitar player. While you mentioned some of the more commonly known ones that people typically hear about like Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn, I don’t think a lot of people might have picked out the other ones.

Absolutely. I think it’s very important to be open to what you listen to. Don’t close yourself off.

So what do you like most about music as a job?

It’s different every day; you’re not confined to one thing. If I’m really into gypsy jazz, then I get to work on gypsy jazz. And then if next month I find I’m really into country chicken pickin’ guitar, then I get to work on chicken pickin’ guitar. You kind of get to compartmentalize all that stuff too, so whenever you do a session, you have this encyclopedia of guitar styles or riffs, and then you get to add that to other people’s music and to your own writing. It’s very cathartic for me to be playing music and playing guitar. Plus, you get to tangibly see yourself get better at something. You know what I mean, you’re a guitar picker; you get it.

*Laughing* I do, I do… I mean, I don’t gig anymore… I haven’t been in a band for the better part of a decade now, but I’ve been going through some old stuff on my computer that I’ve recorded. Songs that the world has never heard before. Every time I listen to them, I just think, “damn, I’ve gotta do something with this.”

At first – a spark.

So, this is the part where I would ask you what projects you’re working on right now, but I know you’ve got your EP coming out one song at a time – side note – what’s that called by the way? Do you have a name for it?

Initially, I was going to go with a self-titled release – something just like “Kyler” – but I’m not 100% certain on that yet. I’m more interested in releasing the singles, just because it brings people back every month. You get to create more buzz that way, and I think you get to squeeze out every last drop of something if that makes sense.

Yeah, it does. The digital landscape has REALLY changed the way the music business works.

Exactly. I think, unfortunately, people don’t really listen to full albums the way they used to. Maybe they do – some people do – but I think the industry today is more focused on playlists. People today want to hear one song, and then they want to listen to another song by a different artist or another song with a different vibe, and I think it’s tough today to release a record that a lot of people will listen to front to back.

Kyler Tapscott with an acoustic guitar

It’s definitely noticeable, and that’s the kind of stuff that I want to drive home to these younger people that are getting into the game – or even experienced people – because it’s very accurate, the music business has changed A LOT in the last decade.

And it’s constantly changing.

Okay, so aside from the EP, do you have anything else on the go right now? I know gigs are canceled temporarily.

We’re in weird times right now, there’s no doubt about that.

But of course, I had some gigs lined up, and I was going to be doing some sessions with some other people and writing, and so everything has slowed down in that sense. Otherwise, I’ve just been trying to continue to write and collaborate with as many people as I can, learn as much as I can, and then, of course, try to get this project done as I continue to release new songs.

Alright, so I know you’ve been gigging for a long time, and if my musical career is any indication, then you’ve probably got a lot of cool stories from what happened along the way. Care to tell one?

Yeah *laughs* I’ve got a few… I guess I could tell you my encounter with the German police one time crossing the border…

I like where this is going…

Last year, I had all these health issues – I was diagnosed with colitis, and I had a case of this really severe joint pain – my knee ended up locking in place for almost 6 months, and so I couldn’t walk for a lot of that time. Even when I could, I had to use a cane and a knee brace. So, last year when I was on tour with Amanda Rheaume in Germany, one day, I found myself hospitalized; I had to leave a 6-week tour on day 9 to come home and deal with a shit show of health issues.

Luckily though, I was well enough to go back in June with her for a week, and so we flew into Amsterdam and Holland. While there, I got some “medicinal substances,”… and so here we are on our way to the German border, and this cop car just kind of kept tailing us and following us, around, and eventually they pulled us over. So at the time, I’m thinking, “shit, I have this stuff on me right now, and we’re on our way to a festival.”

Anyways, when they pulled us over, they said to us, “listen, you can either tell us that you have something you shouldn’t on you, and then we’ll have a small problem… or you can tell us nothing, and if we find it, then we’re going to have a big problem.”

As it turns out before they got to the van, I had taken my bag of “stuff” and put it in my knee brace – underneath my pants. They ended up searching the whole van. I mean, they searched everything – all of our pockets… they literally took the van apart.

Kyler Tapscott smiling with acoustic guitar on table

But the whole time I was just playing up my knee pain – almost to the point of being ridiculous, with the cane and everything – and so I’m sitting down, and they’re saying things like “oh so sorry sir, please sit down sir” even as they padded me down. And you know what? They didn’t find it.

So I don’t know if that’s a lesson to be learned here, but don’t try to cross the border with “medicinal substances.” If you do, though, make sure you have a knee brace *laughing*.

That’s a great story! I mean that’s perfect.

*Still laughing* I almost got thrown in a German jail for having that stuff – but I didn’t. I persevered! I persevered right on through!

*Laughing* that’s brilliant. So we’re almost done here, but any crucial advice you have for other people? Starting out – either just as a musician, as a performing artist, or any of that?

I think first and foremost, I’d say to just enjoy the process of learning and understand that it’s a labor of love – things don’t happen overnight, but whatever you put into it, you’re going to get out of it.

You should also be easy on yourself. There’s a fine line between being hard on yourself, which is a good thing because it pushes you forward, and being too hard on yourself, where you don’t actually allow yourself to be vulnerable and make mistakes. Make sure you continue to learn and play with other people. Don’t be afraid to suck for a while. I think that’s really, really important.

If I could go back and tell my younger self a few things, I’d start by saying to practice with a metronome – get your timing down. But also, don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and put yourself out there – maybe you won’t have the best show, but go out and play again later and learn from your mistakes; don’t doubt yourself. It sounds cliché but it’s very true, at least for me… I probably haven’t accomplished a lot of things because I just got in my own way at times.   

I remember the first time I had to play to a metronome in the studio *groans*… I wish I would have practiced with one earlier too.

Anytime Mitch, take care!

You too. Keep pumping out those groovy jams.

Be sure to check out Kyler’s music streaming now (with a new single coming out each month!) on all major platforms and keep up to date with what’s coming out by following him on social media below!

Music: An Interview with One in the Chamber’s Gerrod Harris

One in the Chamber promotional image, Mike Biase, Gerrod Harris, Cecil Eugene, Christian Dotto

If you’ve never heard of One in the Chamber, well, you’re about to.

A hard rock band based in Toronto, Canada, they bring a fresh sound to rock and roll that boasts a unique punching power and swagger – just when you think you’ve got their style figured out, they pull out the ol’ rope-a-dope maneuver and put you on your ass.

I recently had a chance to “digitally” sit down (thanks to nobody’s friend COVID-19) with the band’s drummer and de facto manager Gerrod Harris to discuss the band, their music, and what’s coming up for them. Gerrod also highlights some takeaway advice/experiences he can offer to anybody trying to carve out a name for themselves in the music business.

Me: Hey, Gerrod, thanks for joining me today. Some crazy times out there, but thanks for reaching out and getting back to me so quickly.

Gerrod: No problem Mitch, thanks for having me. And yeah, it’s a weird time for everyone right now, but I think it’s a weird time, especially for creative people.

Alright, so I’ll just dive right into things. Let’s start with the band. I listened to your entire discography, I listened to the single (Blow) quite a few times actually just to get familiar with it – it’s pretty good! I’m excited, you know your guys’ style… I can’t really put my finger on it. So that being said, first and foremost, why don’t you just tell me a little bit about the band. How’d you guys get started? How long have you been together?

One in the Chamber drummer Gerrod Harris behind his drum kit
Gerrod Harris
Photo credit: Black Umbrella Photography

One in the Chamber started about 5 years ago… coming up to about 5 years now. 2 of the members, Cecil Eugene on lead guitar and Christian Dotto on bass, they’re from Mississauga. Our lead singer and guitarist Mike Biase, he’s from Richmond Hill, and as for myself on drums, I’m from Markham. But there’s not really much of a scene in York region *laughs*… so it’s just easier to say you’re a Toronto band. So yeah, we’re a Mississauga / Toronto rock band.

So how would you describe your music? You know, for me, I listen to your stuff, and I kind of pick out a bit of a Velvet Revolver vibe almost… but that’s not it. You have these melodies and riffs that are more reminiscent of classic rock or an 80’s rock sound, but then your guitar tone or a chorus melody will switch things up, and it’s just completely different. So let’s hear how you’d describe your sound.

Well, to me, we’re like a classic rock band. We’re kind of in the same vein as a lot of these up and coming bands in the United States like Them Evils or Black Top Mojo and Canadian bands like Crown Lands or The Wild!.  We’re kind of in that classic rock… I don’t like using the word revival because that sounds like a fad – but we sort of have that classic rock tone, and I think that’s the basis for us. That’s where it starts anyway, but then when we add all of these different things and styles and that’s when it gets unique.

Okay, so do you guys have any primary influences? Any specific bands or sources of inspiration?

Well, we’re all different and that’s part of it.

Mike is a big classic rock guy, so for him, it’s all about bands like Led Zeppelin, Guns N Roses, and Motley Crue. As for Chris, well, he’s a big metalhead… like I mean a BIG metalhead, and so Metallica, Pantera, and a bunch of different progressive metal are where his background comes from. Cecil is actually just all over the place. He loves pop music; he loves rock music. Honestly, he loves and hates the most interesting things that you would just never guess… and he also went to jazz school! He went to York University for jazz, which is actually where I met him because I was also at York for jazz, so there’s a little bit of that jazzy-ness in there in our sound.

As for myself, I’m very similar to Mike. I love classic rock. But you know I also love a lot of 90’s rock. That comes from my drumming instructor when I was growing up. He was born in the ’80s and grew up throughout the ’90s, so every week he was bringing things to me that I had never heard of before. You know, I grew up listening to stuff like Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin, but then he’s bringing over Soundgarden and Rage Against the Machine and stuff like that… so for me, that drastically changed my musical direction.

So if you look at all that, when the 4 of us kind of get together in a room, there’s a lot of different ideas that surprise us. There are a lot of ideas that naturally we react like “that’s a weird sort of twist” or “I don’t know if I like that or hate it” … but it’s just because all of us have ideas and we’re all coming from different places. For us, that makes things really cool and fun; it makes it different what we’re playing. Because of that, it kind of leaves things really wide open.

One in the Chamber band members, Gerrod Harris, Christian Dotto, Cecil Eugene, and Mike Biase
From left to right: Gerrod Harris, Christian Dotto, Cecil Eugene, Mike Biase.
Photo credit: Keelan Nightingale

That’s pretty cool. I would have never guessed the jazz part, but then hey, maybe that’s why I had such a hard time putting my finger on exactly who you guys sound like! So how would you say your creative process works then when you guys write your music?

When we first started, everyone was coming from different spots musically. Cecil had already been in a couple of bands, and so had Chris and Mike. I had only really been in a high school band and a couple other jazz things at that time. So Cecil and Chris were bringing in a lot of their own material that they had written before, and we were kind of adding stuff to it. That’s where our first demo EP comes from… it’s a lot of songs that were written as a group but started off as nearly completed songs from individual members. After that point is when we kind of started sitting down together and actually writing music.

And now?

Everything on our 2018 debut studio EP, “I’ve Got Something to Say,” is a very collaborative effort, and I think that’s what makes it so different from the demo EP we put out before that.

So now, our process is that different guys bring in very rough, very foundational ideas like a riff or a chord progression or a melody into the practice space, and then one of us will kind of jump into it. We’ll be jamming on it for a little bit, and as we’re jamming, it just kind of grows. Sometimes it grows into a full song, and sometimes it doesn’t. I find it to be very organic. It’s a lot of fun musically for us to actually sit down as a group and put different pieces together. At time’s we’ll just stop playing and be like… “okay, well, how to do we get from here to here?” and then we start to connect those dots.

Do you guys all write the lyrics? Do the lyrics come first?

The lyrics are primarily written by Mike and Cecil. Actually, scratch that: they’re only written by Mike and Cecil *laughs*.

Musically it’s a group process; everyone has input on everything. But lyrically,  I don’t even attempt… that’s not something that I do, and lyrically Mike and Cecil are fantastic. They just come up with these ideas, and half of the time, I don’t even know the words. Like, come on, I don’t need to know the words I’m the drummer! *laughs*.

But we’ll be in the studio and Mike will be singing his vocal take and that’s all I will be able to hear, so when he comes out from the vocal booth I’ might say something like “Oh my god that was brilliant!” and he’ll reply “Oh you liked it eh?” *laughs*

So do you guys write the lyrics after the music? Or do you have some written beforehand?

It’s weird, I don’t think once someone’s brought in lyrics and said let’s write a song around these lyrics – I don’t think we’ve ever done that. But between Mike and Cecil, they’re both walking around with these little books that they’ve always got words written down from ideas that we never finished or ideas that they had written but never got put to song. So usually we’ll be jamming, and then Mike will drop what he’s doing and run out to his car and he’ll grab his book, and then he’ll be flipping through it trying to put a melody to some of the words he’d think would go with whatever we’re playing. Or sometimes he’ll start writing as we’re playing.

Like I said, it’s all very organic.  It would be tough to say that the lyrics are a starting point because sometimes they already exist before the song does.

I like that, I dig it. Alright, so I know you guys just released a single, Blow. Are you guys working on anything else right now?

Drum kit and neon logo for One in the Chamber
Promotional artwork for the band’s new single “Blow”

Yeah, so as you know, we just released Blow with a music video and everything. At least, for the time being, we just want the focus to be on the single, promoting it, and the music video. But of course, we’re working on other things too. This whole coronavirus situation has changed things a bit, but we’re working through it.

That’s good to hear, I’m looking forward to what comes next.

So, I’m just going to ask: do you have any favorite or cool stories from your musical journey thus far? I know that I have stories for days from mine…

*Laughing*

Yeah, I mean, when you play in a band for 5-10 years, you have lots of cool stories you never thought would happen. You have lots of just shit-show stories that act pretty much as a sign to where the local music industry is at. One of our early shows – I think we signed up for it through it for Sonicbids… Which in itself for anyone listening – don’t sign up for Sonicbids *laughs*.

Oh yeah, I definitely made that mistake once too.

That was a lesson that took a little longer to learn. We signed up for this record showcase sort of show. We show up, we’re holding our instruments, and we actually had to pay to get into our own show – all of the other bands had also paid to get into the show. Then the promoter who put it together was there for maybe 5 minutes at the door. Supposedly, he was at the door for a few minutes where he put on this awful video on a projector; it was like a homemade newscast saying that this was his label, and it was doing big things. It was… *groans*. But you know for every story like that, you get a good one too.

For example, in our first year, we got to open this huge show; it was huge for me anyways. It was huge for the band too, but for me, well, two of my favorite bands are Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver, and we got to open for Scott Weiland at what would actually be his final performance. Ever.

Really?

Yeah, he played Adelaide Hall on what I think was December 1st, 2015… and yeah, the next gig was the one wherever they found him when he had passed away on his tour bus before he actually played the show. So you know even at the time it huge for me, because it was like “Oh my god, I got us this gig opening for one of my absolute heroes” and then he was gone. Just looking back now, it’s… well, you know.

The last one. Ever. That’s just, man that’s… that’s a story.

Yeah.

Like now, I’m sitting here, just imagining what it would be like to open for a personal hero… it would be like me opening for Ozzy Osbourne, and then afterward, he kicks the bucket or something. I mean, that’s going to happen sooner than later now, I’m sure… if you listened to his last album it’s pretty much a farewell letter.   

I loved that record. I don’t typically rush out to listen to Ozzy, but the fact that Chad Smith from the Chilli Peppers was on drums was enough for me to be like “Day One, I’m going to listen to this,” and I was just blown away.

It’s really not like anything else in his body of work. But when I finished listening to it, I felt it was perfect for its time. Like, I’m not somebody who’s going to rush out to listen to Post Malone anytime soon, and he’s featured on a track, and then you’ve got a song with Elton John – which I ask “how did these two guys never collaborate before?”, or “why are they doing it now, or if at all?”. But somehow, it all just worked.

Yeah, exactly.

So I know you mentioned the Sonic Bids thing, and I think that is excellent advice in itself, but do you have any other advice from your experience that you would give to other bands or musicians who are just getting going?

Certainly.

Even now, 5 years into things, there’s always something to learn. There’s always something that’s like “okay, I wouldn’t have done it that way, but this is the way that we have to do it,” and you have to ask yourself how you can adapt.

Photo credit: top left – Melissa Aquino, bottom left – Nicole Wolfe, right – Gary Munroe

Take right now, for instance. All of our gigs have been canceled, but we still have this single coming out with no live shows to promote it. This was supposed to be the big year of drop the single, drop the music video, play everywhere in Ontario and Quebec, and then do more content in the fall. And now it’s… “okay, how do we continue doing this without shows?”.

So we’re figuring that out. Live streaming looks like a good option… but for every live stream that I’ve watched, most of them are just not as exciting as I would have hoped, or the quality sucks, so again it’s like, “how do we do this right without busting the bank?”.

I think when you’re starting a project, whether you’re just starting it, or you’re in the middle, or you’re deep into it… staying open, putting the time into it, and just taking the time to figure things out is what you have to do. You know, think about what makes the most sense for you, and don’t be afraid to have to learn how to do something new for the sake of the band.

I never used to use photoshop, and now I design all the essential posters for the band. I took a simple website that we had on Wix, and I’ve done everything to completely revamp it and update it. For the social media aspect, I try to make sure to take the time to figure out things like the best time to post or how to post to reach people that aren’t already following us.

There’s always something to do, and there’s always something to learn, and I think that as long as you’re willing to kind of put in that time, you’ll eventually start to find your way.

Great advice, Gerrod. I think that’s pretty much all I have for you today, so I’d just like to say thanks again for joining me here at The Creative Wealth Project! I really dig the single, and I am looking forward to more material in the future!

Thanks Mitch, it was a pleasure chatting with you.

You too Gerrod, keep in touch!

You heard the man folks, it’s out now, so without further adieu, here’s the video for One in the Chamber’s new single “Blow.”

Music video for “Blow”

Be sure to follow the band on their website and social media listed below to check out their other tunes and keep up with all that’s happening with One in the Chamber!

Website: www.oitcband.com

Music: An Interview With Katey Gatta

Katey Gatta close up shot with coffee

Katey Gatta can do more with her voice and an acoustic guitar than most people can with a full band, and if you’ve never heard her sing before, you’re about to find out why. Sweet and soft one moment and then sultry and soulful the next, her music is like an emotional hurricane… before you know what’s really happening, you’re left completely blown away. 

Based in St. Catharines, Ontario (Canada), you might first notice her as the innocent-looking girl not wearing any shoes up on stage… but when she starts singing… you’d better be prepared to stay awhile because her siren’s call will quickly draw you in and mesmerize you with her secrets.

I’ve known Katey for a few years now, and I’ve been fortunate enough to see her perform numerous times. So, it was fantastic that I was able to catch up with her and shoot the shit about her upcoming album, life as a full-time musician, and of course, grab some takeaway advice for anyone who might want to follow in her “barefooted” footsteps.

Hi Katey, long time no see! It’s been what, a couple years now, yeah?

Yeah something like that! Nice to see you Mitch!

Nice to see you too! So for those who don’t know you, tell us about Katey Gatta; tell a bit about yourself.

I’m a singer-songwriter based in St. Catharines, Ontario (Canada). My sound’s a mix of Etta James and Joni Mitchell. I’ve been playing music for the past 10 years in bars and restaurants, and I’m now transitioning into playing my own music full-time on the road. That is, whenever we’re allowed to go back on the road.

It seems everybody’s hurting right now in the music industry – not being able to gig and all – but that’ll be fun when it happens… I miss the road myself sometimes.

So how did you personally get started with music then? Did you start singing first, or playing the guitar?

Katey Gatta sitting in a coffee shop
Katey Gatta
Photo credit: Lauren Garbutt Photography

Playing air piano on my parent’s coffee table when I just a kid was the first indication… I’d just be watching sesame street trying to play along with it *laughs*. Pretty much as soon as I could talk, everything came out in song. My parents put me in lessons when I was very young, which was great. Actually, some of my first gigs ever were doing national anthems for major sporting events. I sang at games for the Toronto Raptors, the Buffalo Sabres, and the Toronto Blue Jays, when I was about 9 or 10 years old.

Really? That’d be interesting to go and see that footage sometime… that’s a pretty cool start.

Yeah, so the fear of large crowds for me really never became a thing… that was just a normal part of the job.

That’s awesome. So you’ve pretty much been a musician as soon as you could talk.

It’s really been a lifelong thing.

You mentioned a few other artists when you described your sound, but would you say it’s your music that sounds like them? Or your voice? If you were to describe the Katey Gatta experience to somebody and they’ve never heard you before, what would you say to them?

Well, my music is definitely folk-influenced and includes a lot of introspective lyrics. I find myself very inspired by 1930s – 1940s jazz artists, and I also really love pop & jazz standards from the 1950s and 1960s, so I’m trying to incorporate elements of that into my songwriting now.

I find whatever music I make reflects – at least a little bit – whatever music I’m taking in at that time. I’ve been on an Etta James kick for the longest time… I can’t seem to get enough of her. So, in her case, I find inspiration in the way she phrases things or how she uses the rasp in her throat… those elements just kind of find their way into some of my songwriting… and maybe the attitude behind it too.

That’s really cool! You know, it’s kind of funny you mentioned your 1930s and 40s influences because I was sitting here with my brother the other night, and I showed him the video of you and Dan (Serre) performing “That’s Okay, That’s Alright.” We both agreed pretty quickly that you could almost hear that old-timey radio static noise coming in to introduce the song. As in, it would sound appropriate for it. So it’s very cool that you mentioned those old influences.

That’s actually what we were trying to go for. And on that note, the thing I love about exploring older music is that it’s a never-ending well. There’s just so much to sift through and find – it’s just as exciting as trying to find new music today. Everybody might know about the popular hits, but there is also this plethora of other music that was made that was never on the radio – that music still got made, and it still influenced what other people did.

Katey Gatta and Dan Serre performing “That’s Okay, That’s Alright”
Video Credit: G3 Designs

That’s very interesting. Today, obviously, the digital landscape has really changed a lot of things – now music that’s actively distributed is not just limited to the songs being played on the radio.  With everything out there on streaming services, you can discover bands you’ve never listened to before and then go and get access to their entire catalogs of music. I think that’s pretty cool for music fans.

Yeah, it’s almost like tracing your heritage or your family tree. You can listen to a song, figure out who the artist was inspired by, go listen to them, find out who that person was inspired by, and just keep going further and further back to trace their roots. 

So how does your creative process work when you write music then? Do you have a regular routine?

I try to have routines. I try to write something at least once a day now, or at the very least, sit with my guitar and pick away at this or that, but for the most part, it just kind of comes. I’ve learned over time to try and not to really put too much pressure on the creative process while it’s happening. There are days when I don’t feel the most inspired, but I sit down anyways with my guitar, and I try and chip away at what I can. Sometimes I just play for myself, and on those days, it’s enough.

I find that having a dedication to making space for music every day is helpful, but I’ve never really had to do anything to kick start the creative process if that makes sense. I usually just try and be honest about what I’m feeling or what I’m thinking about. Sometimes even interactions I’ve had that day play a part – someone might say something to me in a conversation, and that will spark a song or at least an idea that I’ll write down and end up using somewhere down the line.

So for you, sometimes it’s the lyrics that spark something and sometimes it’s the music – you’ve always got a bunch of things on the go at once.

Yeah, but I do find I’ve been writing the parts separately more often. I’ll write out full sets of lyrics for a song and have no music written for it, but then the musical side of the song will go through a few different iterations until I land on what I feel it should be.

Right on. So, your prime influences – personal and musical – if you had to pick a few, you’d say…?

Well, in terms of someone whom I could model a career after… I would love to have 10 percent of Joni Mitchell’s life – even just 10 percent would make me so happy. Her creative output is so vast and so intricate… she’s amazing. I’ve also been on a Nina Simone kick because I just watched her documentary. The dedication she had to her craft… I just found it so incredible.

Katey Gatta performing solo with an acoustic guitar
Photo credit: Linton Armstrong

There’s also this woman Connie Converse, who was in Greenwich village (Connecticut) around the same time that Bob Dylan was doing his thing. Her story kind of goes like this:  she tried to make it as a musician, had little to no recognition, and eventually, she just got in her car one day and disappeared. Poof. No one ever heard from her again. But they found her demos 50 years later and released them, and her record of living room recordings became a sleeper hit.

So that one hits home a bit because there’s this big part of me that really likes the idea of just creating without the worry of consumption.

Yeah, no kidding! That kind of thing seems to happen a lot in the creative world. For example, right now, I’m writing a lot – not just for the Creative Wealth Project, but I’m writing a fiction novel too – and I’ve been really diving into some of my favorite authors’ works and their biographies. What I’ve noticed is that some of the most prominent influential works and authors cited by modern writers were during their lifetimes, actually living in poverty – for their entire lives.

These authors existed in a world where nobody knew or cared about their work, and yet long after they’ve died, their work ends up becoming hugely influential on not just other authors, but on many different creative people. Metallica, for example, wrote a few songs about the mythic Cthulhu found within H.P. Lovecraft’s lore – when Lovecraft was alive, nobody cared about him or what he wrote.  Yet many years later, his creations have gone on to influence one of the biggest metal bands in the world and hugely successfully authors like Stephen King… so yeah, it’s kind of cool how that works with art.

It’s very cool. I mean, clearly, as a musician, I would like to have enough success in that I can be a human that can put food on the table and pay my rent on time… and maybe get some guacamole when I go to Chipotle *laughs*… I’m not looking for much more than that.

But I also think there’s something to be said about great music, the kind of music I want to make – it’s often ahead of its time, and you don’t always recognize it or celebrate it as it’s happening. I think anything good should take a little time to grow on you; it shouldn’t be immediate. There should be enough layering within it that it takes someone a few listens or a few times through experiencing it or however it’s consumed to really grasp what’s great about it.

I think I agree with that sentiment too.

So you’ve been performing music now professionally for a while – and a lot. I know personally that I used to see you perform very regularly when I was bartending in Niagara, so what do you like about playing music for a living?

When we first met, that’s when I had just started playing music full-time. Up until then, it had always been a side thing that I did through university and my post-grad in college, and then I had a “real job” in Toronto for a bit. It wasn’t until I was about 25 that I thought it was time to give music a real shot. Switching to becoming a full-time musician, however, has come with its own challenges.

Never in a million years did I think I wouldn’t want to go to a gig – I never dreamed that would be something I would feel or say out loud – but now it happens. When you do anything – and I mean, I play over 250 dates a year – when you do anything that much, at some point, you’re going to get tired of it, and you won’t always love it as purely as you do when you play for yourself.

About a year into playing music full-time, I realized I had hit a wall in my development – and I knew I had hit it. When that happened, it was hard and a little humbling to force myself to go back to square one and start working on things that I hadn’t in a long time. Performing so often, you can be more acutely aware of your deficits, and it really transitioned my thinking from “oh, I know what I’m doing” to the realization that “okay, no, maybe I don’t.” The only thing left to do then is to put in the work and start improving.

That all being said, the sheer love of music is what always ends up carrying me through it all… it’s why musicians like myself don’t end up quitting; why we keep trying and keep pushing forward. For me, I have a harder time connecting with people on a human level than I do on a musical one… so it’s music that really lets me do that; it opens all those doors of an emotional connection for me. I’m horrible at communicating my thoughts and feelings in real-time. Music lets me process my emotions in real-time; it allows me to work through all my shit in songs and let strangers see who I really am beneath all the layers I use in everyday life.

I like that… kind of like you get to show off many colors without having to actually say what they are.

Exactly.

Photo credit: Left – J.P. Kelly, Top right – G3 Designs, Bottom right: Steph Montani

I know that you’re working on an album. I know this, of course, because I was one of the lucky few that got to listen to the demos… and I must admit when you sent them my way there were a lot more songs on that playlist than I was expecting to receive – but that’s a good thing – you get to choose from a vast catalog.

*Laughs*… that’s about half of the current catalog. There are still so many more songs that I didn’t include in that playlist that will sit collecting proverbial dust. To be honest, I’ve been horrible about demoing all my work. I’m great at creating mental blocks that lead to procrastinating and putting things off for the longest time.

I sat on a batch of songs for a long time that just seemed to keep growing, and when I sat down to start sorting through the tunes and figure out what would work on an album, I realized I had over 50 songs to demo. Shit. *more laughing*

Procrastination… it always seems to get the best of us, no? Are there any other projects that you’re working on aside from the album? I’m also guessing that because the album’s not yet done, you don’t have a tentative release date for it.

Right, there’s no tentative release date yet. I do know it’s going to be called Silk Screens though!

I’ve had a few other things on the go as well. I was lucky enough to collaborate with Danny (Serre) on his album that just came out under the moniker Six Men Get Sick. For anyone wondering, I keep referring to it as ambient post-hardcore… but Dan says he’s not so sure if that’s true *laughs*. So check that out for yourself and make your own judgment. But I helped wordsmith the lyrics, contributed some backing vocals, and helped with all the branding/design. His punk band (the Shitbats) is getting ready to release a record too, so I’ve been helping them out a little with some branding and website stuff.

Wow so keeping really busy then, that’s good.

I like to keep crazily occupied. Typically too, of course – well not right now, but when life goes back to normal – there are always regular gigs to play. For me, it’s always a balancing act between trying to work on my own stuff and not getting overwhelmed with everything else.

Considering how often you perform, do you have any favorite stories from your musical journey?

There’s a few I can think of.

Playing covers has let me weirdly weave my way into being a special part of someone’s life, which is special in its own way. I can’t tell you how many times people will come into the venue, and they’ve just gotten eloped, and I would end up playing their first dance. And they get to have this strange, spontaneous memory, you know? Those kinds of very heartwarming little moments that can make you feel closer to people you don’t know.

Someone also tipped me via cheque once on tour too, which was really funny. I was playing a show in Kingston at the Musikki Café (when I was on tour with Edmonton singer/songwriter St. Arnaud), and the show was just a “pass the hat” type of situation… anyways somebody in the crowd wrote me a cheque with the words “you sound better than Norah Jones” scribbled on it. They just handed it to me. That one was really cool. I actually still have it taped on my refrigerator.

Katey Gatta in retail store with cart
Photo credit: Lauren Garbutt Photography

Since I can remember, I try not to wear my shoes while I’m playing. It gets a little more difficult to maintain in the winter these days. Anyways, last summer, I was playing at the Niagara Brewing Company, standing on my little carpet or whatever, and this little girl with her parents was walking by, and she made her family stop to listen. Her mom explained how much she loved singing, so we picked a song she knew, and I asked if she wanted to join me. Next thing I know, she was right beside me on the carpet, ripping off her shoes and was ready to start singing. *Laughing* I like that one a lot.

That’s a classic! And very cute. Okay, so, this part – and the whole point of why I started The Creative Wealth Project – this is where I’m going to ask you about advice. Myself, I have worn many hats: musician, writer, I’ve worked in the sports industry, I’ve worked in the education industry… but as you know… there are so many mistakes that most of us make in this industry – we look back, and we’re always saying to ourselves: “if I would have just read about this somewhere or someone had told me that before, maybe I could have avoided that mistake…”.

That being said… what advice do you have for people starting out in the music game?

Personally, when I started, I tried to model a lot of the decisions I made after the Beatles.

I knew that they had played hours upon hours of cover gigs, and while sometimes I can admit that can be soul-sucking, I’d recommend to any musician who wants to get good to play as many gigs as you can. Don’t think you’re ever above a gig. You’re probably not. Everybody has ten thousand hours to put into getting good – everybody. The moment you think you’re hot shit and have nothing more to learn is the moment you start slipping. You should always challenge yourself to get better in some way, shape, or form.

I’d also recommend trying to be consistent with practicing… I was never somebody who practiced or spent time at home with my instrument unless I absolutely had to, and now I’m trying to fix that bad habit by creating better ones. You can always see a difference between somebody who sits with their guitar for three hours a day and somebody who doesn’t.

I think all of us musicians can relate to that last one *laughing*. That’s some great advice, Katey.

I do believe that’s pretty much all I had for you today, so I want to say thanks for taking the time to chat, and it’s been really great just catching up with you in general!

Yeah! Thanks Mitch! Thanks for reaching out!

Anytime Katey, keep in touch!

Well, we’ve talked about it, so now let’s hear it:

Check out Katey’s live off the floor performance of “I’m Not Shakin'” from her upcoming album Silk Screens!

Make sure you keep up to date with Katey by following her on one (or better yet, all of) the mediums below:

Website: www.ktgatta.com

She’s also generously offered the option to listen to her catalog of demos she’s narrowing down for Silk Screens… so don’t be shy to check out a private playlist here if you’re interested (click the icon below):