Music: An Interview with Rebel Few

Rebel Few band, Barry Martin, Chris Raposo, Jordan Malcolm, Mark Johnston

If music personified could show up to your house on the back of a motorcycle, kick down your door, burn your TOP-40 radio collection on your front lawn, and then flip you the bird as it left you jaw-dropped in the wake of its sonic existence… that music would be the music of Rebel Few.

Not quite 100% rock and roll, not quite 100% heavy metal – this underdog outlaw band of brothers hailing out of Cambridge, Ontario (Canada) IS 100% attitude… and you’ll feel that in your bones within the first seconds after you press play.

I had a chance to catch up with the entire band for an interview to see how things are going in the Rebel Few camp. We got to talking about the band and their name change from West Memphis Suicide and life in the ever-changing music business. We also went over how through it all, the band’s renegade attitude still remains the core for a group and fanbase that continuously say “no thanks” to following the trends so many others seek approval from.

This interview comes with a warning: the band and I have an extensive history of friendship and performing together… so in catching up, throughout this interview… there is laughter and lots of it.

Me: So we have a history between us – I already have a reasonably good idea of what you guys are all about. We’ve shared the stage many times in the past, and you guys were always one of my favorite bands not only to play with but also to stand in the audience and watch as well. However… let’s pretend that whoever reading this right now has never met you before or heard of Rebel Few. What’s Rebel Few all about? How did you guys get started? How long have you been doing this?

Barry: There’s probably a hundred answers to that one. I just found some old photos today of Chris (Raposo – vocals, lead guitar), and I starting out from 2005. That band was The Hang. Then West Memphis Suicide came along – probably in 2008. I think Adam (Shortreed – bass) joined West Memphis in 2013. Jordan, who we like to call “Young Buck Thunder” (Malcolm – drums), just joined us in Rebel Few recently.

Present lineup pictured above (Left to Right): Chris Raposo (Vocals, Guitars), Adam Shortreed (Bass), Jordan Malcolm (Drums), Barry Martin (Guitars)

Adam: Actually, I remember my first show with the band when we were West Memphis Suicide… and we changed our band name to Rebel Few mid-way through the show. We booked it as one band and ended it as another. I remember going into it being my first show and all, and Barry had made bets with all the guys in another band (Slik Toxik) that I was going to choke… so they were all up in the front row watching and waiting for me to do so *laughs*

Barry: If that’s not support, I don’t know what is *laughing*

*Laughing* That sounds like something Barry would do.

But actually, let’s talk a little bit about that. When I first met you guys, you were West Memphis Suicide, and you guys had a fairly decent following established already under that name, so what prompted the switch to Rebel Few?

Barry: Well, I know that you know how West Memphis Suicide went – a constant rotation of drummers. We had probably 9 different drummers in 8 years.

That’s right. Very much a Spinal Tap kind of thing happening *laughing*

Barry: Exactly. So when Paul (Oliver – former bass player) left the band Adam came in on bass, and Chris Spiers (former drummer) had become a regular member, we decided to change the name because we wanted a fresh start with something they could be a part of from the beginning. And then, you know, things took another left turn with members… so Spiers was out – Adam left for a while too, but now he’s back in, and we have YOUNG BUCK THUNDER here on drums now.

That makes sense. I always kind of wondered about that, because, going through a brand change essentially… it comes with fresh challenges, and fans don’t always like it too much.

I mean, I know you’re still playing the songs you wrote with West Memphis Suicide fairly regularly these days… at least the last time I was at one of your shows, it was a fairly even split between those songs and Rebel Few songs.

Barry: Yeah, we still play the old stuff.

Well, now I have to ask because I’m curious: I haven’t talked to a band yet that’s still active that’s gone through a massive change like that – you guys managed to change your “business name.” Most bands would cringe at the thought of having to get a new logo, website, merch, etc…. but also that as a band you need to get the message across to your fans that “okay, we’re a new band, but we’re still the same band” … so what’s that like? How did you guys deal with that?

Barry: Well, the name of the band doesn’t really matter as much as long as the heart of the band is the same. With us, Raposo writes the bulk of the music and 100% of the lyrics, so wherever he goes, that music is going to sound the same.

I get that for sure. But how about the other end of things – the business side? I can just imagine the scenario of where you’ve got this passionate fanbase, but then maybe some of your fans who weren’t as connected to you for whatever reason only know who West Memphis Suicide are. Then all of a sudden, that band is now Rebel Few, and some of those fans might need some time to realize that its the same band. Even with the same core members… you’ve got a brand switch that sometimes just doesn’t connect the same way with some fans because of pre-existing attachments to the old one. A different name can really change things – for better or worse.

For example, I sometimes wonder how a band like Black Sabbath would have faired with a name change from the era when they were with Ozzy Osbourne and then the era after with Ronnie James Dio. When Sabbath split from Ozzy and brought in Dio, they probably could have just called the band “Heaven & Hell” from the start (an eventual name they gave that lineup), and fans maybe wouldn’t have constantly compared them so aggressively. It was the same band with a different singer– but the band and their sound changed a lot – enough to sound like two completely different ones.

Rebel Few band live on stage - Chris Raposo, Barry Martin, Adam Shortreed

In their case, they changed a sound and a singer but not a name… and in your case, you changed a name, but your music and lineup remain largely the same. I’m just curious to know how your fanbase reacted to the whole thing.

Barry: If there was any gripe with our fans, we didn’t really hear about it. It was never really a big problem for us to be honest.

Well that’s great, glad to hear it.

Jordan:  I think people become emotionally attached to “that band” the way it is they hear them when they become a fan. A case of “they know it that way, and they like it that way.” I think we’ve all been there. But this band – everything about it is actually pretty much the same as it was before – so maybe that’s why fans were so quick to accept the switch.

I mean, I did *laughs*.

So with the band essentially being the same – West Memphis Suicide is now Rebel Few – the name has changed, but the music’s the same, the attitude and everything else is still the same… how would you guys describe your music then? Your style and your niche? I know how I would personally describe it, but I want to hear how you do.

Barry: Well now I want to hear how you would describe it *laughing*

Let’s start with yours first and we’ll get to my description after.

Barry: Well, for me, I’ve always said that we were too heavy for the rock crowd, too rock for the metal crowd, and too old for the cool crowd… but it’s still decent music, and I think people grab onto it.

Honestly, I think you should take what you just said and put it on a t-shirt… I think it would sell *laughing*

Barry: Maybe when I get into the t-shirt game *laughs*

So you’d say you’re kind of like a rock-metal hybrid band then. I would agree. I personally know you guys are big Pantera fans: but you don’t sound like Pantera.  When I describe your music, to me, its got a very bluesy southern rock vibe stacked onto a heavy metal sound… but not in the way you usually hear heavy bands approach that type of genre-mash up. Going back to Pantera as a comparison, you guys don’t have Phil Anselmo’s harsh vocal stylings. Chris’ are much cleaner, and the lyrical content is different as well, which is actually, in my opinion, a significant part of your sound. I think I’ve always considered Rebel Few as a group of rock and roll underdogs with some heavy metal beefiness.

Barry: Absolutely. Like, Raposo, he can play anything, and he’s obviously a huge Dimebag Darrell fan, but if he came out just ripping off Dime’s riffs all the time, then we’d just be a Pantera knock-off band. I myself love Lynrd Skynrd and ZZ Top, and Adam, well, he clearly loves Taylor Swift and all the lighter stuff… and Jordan, well, he’s 25, so we don’t even know what kind of stuff he’s into.

While we’re on the subject, let’s talk about your full range of influences then. Who do you guys bring as influences to the table when you’re all working together and writing music? How does the process work for Rebel Few?

Chris: I think it’s a mix of everybody’s influences we bring to the table. Mine, since I was 12 years old, is Pantera. I mean, I’ve always been a guy that can like this song or that song by any artist, but I could listen to Pantera albums all day long and all night long. Barry’s got a broad spectrum – if you ever saw his house, he’s got an enormous wall of CDs… tonnes of them. He’s always bringing something different depending on what he’s been listening to at the time.

Barry: That’s kind of how it goes. Whatever seems to be driving us at the time. Not necessarily one or two bands.

So you guys have been doing this for a while. What do you like most about doing this? For a living, I mean, as a paying gig –

Collectively: It’s paid?

Chris: Hold on, you’re saying it’s a paying gig? Who’s getting paid here *laughing*

*Laughing* Okay, well, SOMEBODY is getting paid in this business. Let me rephrase that: what do you guys like about it, money aside? Why do you do it?

Chris: In all honesty, for me, it’s about the connection you make with other people, many of whom you’ve never met before. The story I always bring up is being 2500 miles away from home, and Barry’s in the parking lot with his pants down around his ankles and a group of 20 people walk by, and they’re like “Oh my god – that’s Rebel Few” *laughing*

Barry: *Laughing* I was getting changed! I didn’t just have my pants down in the parking lot – I was getting ready to go on stage, and I was getting changed into my stage gear.

Adam: That’s his story and he’s sticking to it *laughs

Rebel Few bass player Adam Shortreed performing on stage

Chris: But, yeah, that connection – it’s what drives it all. Just after that incident, we went to play the show, and just being up on that stage and having all of these people in the audience sing our songs – it blew our minds. We looked up, and we were almost in tears up there, seeing this massive crowd of people do that. And then, after the show, people would come up to us and say, “this song helped me through this,” or “this song got me through that.” That’s what’s it all about – for me anyways.

The power of music.

Barry: Yeah. And for me, I’m also all about seeing the gig get put together and seeing it turn out well with people in the crowd. If I wasn’t playing guitar, I’d probably be a roadie of some sort– I just love the whole package of live music – I love gigs.

Adam: My favorite part of it all is when girls come up to me after the show and tell me I was awesome on drums.

Collectively: *laughter*

That’s a bass player comment if I’ve ever heard one *laughing*

So, as you might guess, this COVID 19 virus has been brought up in every interview I’ve done so far for the Creative Wealth Project because I started it after it forced everyone into lockdown – so I know things have been limited. That being said – what projects are you guys working on these days? What’s coming out?

Barry: Well, we’ve got a new album that seems like its been 20 years in the making.

Chinese Democracy part 2?

Barry: Something like that, yeah *laughs*

But we’ve got an album in the works, and we’re working on something today which I can’t divulge to you yet what that is.

Confidential? Consider me intrigued.

Barry: Well, the deal for me is, and I think these guys agree, is that with this whole COVID situation, if we record an album now, we might have to sit on it for a year before we can play any of it for the people. Between now and then, we might come up with other songs that are better than the ones on the album… so, we’re likely going to write, but wait to actually record.

That’s actually an interesting point. There’s been all this talk in the music industry right now about what bands should be doing with all of this forced downtime, given that nobody can go out on tour or perform live. As an industry in which most musicians make most of their income by performing (if they’re successful enough to do it today) – that’s a crappy problem to have. But the talk is that if you can’t go out and play, you should be writing some songs and recording an album.

Rebel few guitarist Barry Martin on stage in front of Rebel Few banner

Now on the surface that makes sense, but as you said, if you’re writing all these songs and you do just rush off to record an album, by the time you release it you might be sitting on two or three albums or just better stuff you could have recorded instead. Having extra songs ready is never a problem – but recording and releasing albums isn’t cheap – especially for an industry that is without a primary income for the foreseeable future.

Personally, I’ve been writing a lot of music during this lockdown, and I’ve got over 20 songs now that I’m sitting on… but I write new ones each week. But by the time I actually get to record any of them – who knows which ones will even make the cut? Something I wrote yesterday could be wholly cast aside in favor of something I write tomorrow.

Barry: Absolutely – you get the idea then.

Chris: We’ve done that with probably all of our songs right now – we keep writing new ones we like better.

So concerning that idea – do you guys have a song bank then that you draw from? A collection of songs written you choose from when you’re finally ready to put something out? I ask because I know you guys used to play new songs on stage frequently – shows that wouldn’t necessarily be marketed as a single release party or whatnot – but if you happened to be in the crowd that day you’d get a taste of what’s been going on in the Rebel Few camp.

Chris: We still do that – when we get the chance.

Barry: We once played the song “Said and Done” live before we even had any lyrics – we played it as an instrumental. Just because we were excited to play it – I think we announced it along the lines of “sorry guys to drag you through this, but this song is called Whatever You Name It.”

You know, now that I think of it… I might have been in the crowd for that one.

Rebel Few singer guitar player Chris Raposo silhouette on stage with hair flying

You guys mentioned that Chris does most of the writing primarily – so how does your creative process work? How much of the songs are done before you bring them to the rest of the guys?

Chris: Honestly, it varies. Sometimes I’ll have a full idea to work with, and a lot of times, Barry will hit a riff, and we’ll jam on it for 10 minutes or so and start forming some different parts around that. Other times Jordan might drop a beat, and I’ll start playing a riff over top of that – when the group gets a good vibe going, things just take off from there sometimes. There’s no one way – one recipe – for the most part.

Barry: I just steal riffs from Lynryd Skynrd and try to change them, so they don’t sound like Skynrd… *laughs*.

*Laughing* I was recently watching a documentary on rock and metal music in the ’80s, and they were asking Ozzy Osbourne what they thought of people trying to rip off his music. His answer was, “oh, we’re all f#*^ing thieves, man. Don’t even say we’re not – we’ve been stealing each other’s music for a long time now.”

Chris: I remember seeing that interview!

Yeah – so that’s funny you said that.

Now, lyrically, I would describe your music as songs for the downtrodden. As a band, you guys have always been about the little guy standing up against oppression of all kinds. Your D.I.R.T.BAG motto… let’s talk about that because that is something that I think people should know about – it’s your attitude and your values – and that is a huge part of what makes your band who you are. So, what does “D.I.R.T.BAG” mean to you guys?

Chris: The D.I.R.T.BAG thing kind of stems from my childhood. I used to get “seconds” and hand-me-downs from where my Mom used to work. I never had a pair of jeans – I was always in track pants – you know, the kind where one leg would be shorter than the other sort of thing. And so I used to get picked on a lot. There was a lot of bullying going around, and kids used to say about me, “here comes the dirtbag.”

So later on in life, I wanted to take that thing that kind of hurt me that whole time, and flip it around and make it something that I’d become comfortable with and that people would want to be a part of. So that’s where that whole thing stemmed from. We took each of the letters and put something that really meant something to us into them – being driven, having integrity, being respectful, and having trust – just that whole brotherhood vibe, that community family vibe. And once we put it out there, everybody kind of identified with it and latched onto it. It was awesome actually – to see it all.

Rebel Few singer guitarist Chris Raposo playing a guitar solo with head back

I think that’s huge. And you know, even though we played I don’t know how many times together, I don’t think I’ve ever asked you that before. I knew what the letters stood for – but the fact that there’s a meaning behind them all, and it’s a big part of what you guys do – that’s really cool.

Leading in from that, and I can name some myself, but any favorite stories from the journey? Any fun stuff – I know we’ve already talked about pants down – but any highlights from the road?

Adam: I can specifically remember a time waking up in San Antonio with everybody on the phone trying to order… well, let’s just say… well, I’m not gonna say *laughs*

Barry: Say what, Adam? What happened in San Antonio? *laughing*

Adam: It was pizza. Just. Pizza. *laughing*

Barry: Seriously, though, I think that anybody who’s paid attention to the band, the Texas experience was a highlight. For me, anyways. But that’s a long story.

I know some of that one – you guys went down there and got to work with some of the Pantera folks – Sterling Winfield, who produced some of their work, and you guys met Vinnie Paul at his house – that had to be huge for you guys being the fans that you are.

Chris: It was off the charts.

Barry: Absolutely. It was surreal. You know, seeing all of the home videos that they used to feature… and then seeing the guys who were in those home videos and becoming friends with some of those guys. Even after having maybe too much to drink in their kitchen – and having those guys still friendly with you afterward… it was awesome.*laughs*

See, that’s really cool – getting to meet some of the guys that inspired you. And from what I’ve heard you say before, it sounds like they were down to earth – the same kind of guys as you probably thought they would be. They say don’t meet your heroes… but sometimes it just works out, so that’s pretty awesome.

Barry: Definitely. But I guess that also depends who your heroes are too.

Adam: I can say from personal experience that nobody wants to meet me *laughs*

You’re right Adam. I never did *laughs*

Collectively: *laughter*

So this last question can be related to either starting a band musically or the business side of the industry. I say that because I’m sure you guys know as well as anybody else that there’s a lot of BS that comes with the music industry if you’re not careful about it. There are a lot of times artists with some hindsight wish they did things a little differently to save themselves some problems – so any advice for anyone getting started in the music industry?

Barry: Quit being lazy. Play as many shows as you can, but work hard at getting people out to those shows. Don’t just think you are going to show up, and there will be thousands of people there just eager to buy your stuff. That doesn’t happen.

Jordan: If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t make you better.

Barry: Also – never listen to drummers.

Adam: Try to join a band that’s already doing okay.

*Collective laughter*

Rebel Few members on stage at Hard Luck Bar - Barry Martin, Chris Raposo, Adam Shortreed

Chris: Do it for the right reasons. I think if you do that, then you’re always going to be successful no matter what level you reach. If you’re doing it because you love it and to vibe with it and share in having people dig what you’re doing – you’re on the right path.

Barry: Actually, lending to Chris’ points of doing it for the right reasons and doing it because you love it – Chris drove for about 4 and a half hours to be here today to jam. Even though there are no shows or anything specific on the immediate horizon. That’s dedication.

All excellent points. Now I have to bring this up because when we used to play gigs together, you guys used to do something that my band and I started to notice you did really well. Whenever you guys seemed to do new shows in the same areas, you’d always have new merch available – a new t-shirt design or whatever, and even though a lot of people in the audience were the same people who came to your last show… you always seemed to clean up at the merch table.

I know YOU didn’t say it… but I definitely wish my band did that back in the Creekwater Junkies days.

Barry: Well, we’re not stupid you know *laughs*.

*Laughing* Well I think that’s all I have for you guys today – by the looks of it you’ve got some jamming to do. Thanks again for taking the time for an interview, it was great to catch up, and I can’t wait to hear the new stuff once you’re able to get back on stage and in a studio!

Barry: Anytime Mitch, great talking with you.

Be sure to check out more from Rebel Few on Spotify, Youtube and Facebook (linked below)… give them a like and a share if you dig what they do – these guys wave the flag of supporting independent music – so go do it!

Don’t forget to also share and follow The Creative Wealth Project for more interviews and tips on how you can grow in your creative field!

Art: An Interview with Robbie Woolner (Woolner Wood Arts)

Wood carved rock and roll heavy metal band figurines, drummer, two guitar players, bass player and singer.

If you’re anything like myself, you probably don’t immediately think of carving when you hear the word art, yet when you see it well done… that perception/association quickly changes. Robbie Woolner’s carved art is a perfect example to demonstrate that point with.

I was lucky enough to catch up with Robbie (an old friend I met in my Creekwater Junkies days) who’s become seriously talented working with wood and other mediums. He’s used his skills to start his own business Woolner Wood Arts (based in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada).

In this interview, Robbie and I discuss how he started working within this unique niche of art and how he successfully used his carving talents to start his own business. Of course, I also managed to get some advice from him for other artistic types to help them do the same with their own creative talents.

Me: Hey Robbie, how have you been my friend? Long time no see!

Robbie: I’ve been good man, nice to hear from you!

Yeah, it’s been nice to catch up! That being said, it’s great to have you here today, because I think what you’re doing with Woolner Wood Arts is really cool. As I think you’re sort of familiar with the format of these interviews, let’s get started!

Let’s start with you: tell us a bit about yourself. How did you get started in carving? How long have you been doing it?

I started carving in 2016. Nothing fancy to tell really as I just went to the beach one day and brought home a piece of driftwood, picked up a knife and just started whittling it on my porch. The next thing you know, I had a face carved, and I started showing it to some people, and everybody loved it. I found that I loved doing it, and it wasn’t much longer before I started doing it full time.

Robbie Woolner of Woolner Wood Arts
Robbie Woolner

So you just started on a whim?

Kind of, yeah. I mean, my Dad used to carve when I was in my teenage years, and my Mom’s also an artist, so in a way, art comes with my genes, I guess. I’ve got artist genes in me.

That’s interesting. Kind of cool how carving, which is a craft that I will admit to me seems pretty unconventional, was just something that kind of popped out of the blue for you. Now I understand you do it as sort of a side hustle?

Yes, currently, that’s the case. I was doing it full-time for a while – but I’ve reduced my work to part-time at the moment. I took on a full-time job a few months ago, and so I’ve slowed things down since then.

I’m still carving, but I’m just not taking on as many commissions. I’m more so carving a lot of pieces for myself, things that I like that I will sell.

But you do you still do commissions, right?

Of course. I’m just not taking on as many because my time is limited. Some clients will come to me with an idea, but they want it done within a week. That’s fine, but many times, they don’t realize some of these things might take me a month or more to do properly.

I could see that. I’ve seen a lot of your work… it can be pretty elaborate.

Definitely.

So how would you describe your work? Of course, anyone perusing your site or this post can see some of it, but how would you describe your style?

My style is pretty obscure. The type of stuff I’m really into – skulls and heavy metal inspired art – I’d say that my style takes a lot from that category.

But honestly, I don’t need much more inspiration than whatever pops into my head at the time. Otherwise, I might see something online or somebody else’s work that I thought I could improve upon or change to my liking and so I’ll do that.

Well regarding your heavy metal comment, I can see in the background of our chat you are sitting in front of your massive wall of band t-shirts…

Yeah! Recognize this one? Creekwater Junkies! *laughs*

*Laughs* Takes me back! So heavy metal artwork is a prime influence – that’s cool crossing mediums like that.

Yeah, I’d say so. It’s definitely a massive influence on my art. I used to draw a lot too when I was younger, and the only types of things I ever drew were skulls and demons. I didn’t draw angels or puppies or anything like that, you know?

*Laughing*. Didn’t take you for the type. So do you have any personal influences then? You did say your Dad was a carver.

I would say that, yes, he would probably be my prime influence – both of my parents would be.

But also there are some heavy metal artists like Pushead (who did designs for artists like Metallica and the Misfits) and the artist that does Iron Maiden’s artwork – Derek Riggs – he’s been a significant influence.

I used to constantly try to draw Eddie of Iron Maiden (the band’s mascot). They’re my favorite band, and so I used to draw Eddie everywhere I went for years and years. Derek’s artwork was a big influence on me when it came to skulls and art themes like that.

I mean, I have to wholeheartedly agree with you on how cool their artwork is – my left arm is wholly tattooed in Iron Maiden artwork. They have some of the best artwork in music, in my opinion.

THE best.

So even though you’ve limited commissions for a little while – what do you like most about carving? About creative types of work?

When I’m carving or drawing, I find that it pretty much takes me to another place. I kind of disappear into my mind when I’m doing it – I’m not worried about things like this COVID-19 virus. I’m not thinking about it, and I’m not thinking about anything else that I usually think about. I just disappear into my own little world.

Sometimes I’ll be carving something, and I will look up at the clock and go “wow, I started doing this at 9,” and meanwhile it’s then 1 o’clock in the afternoon.  I always find myself asking, “where did those hours go?” but then I look down at my work, and I’m like, “oh, that’s where they went.”

Your slogan/tagline “Carve into it” – is that where that comes from?

That’s exactly where it comes from. I found that eventually, instead of just wood, I was picking up everything that was “carve-able” and making all sorts of different things out of all kinds of different materials… and so “carve into it” kind of became applicable – and I use that philosophy with life too… like, just jump right in and give it a shot.

A little life philosophy thrown in there too – I like that! But also… you don’t just do wood art then?

No! Anything that I think I can carve –  any medium that can be shaped or moved with another medium, I’ll pretty much try it. I do golf balls, I’ve done rocks, and right now, actually, I have a pool ball I want to shape into something.

Actually, now that I think of it, I saw something you posted about these bone rings you were working on.

Yeah! I have some bone rings I’ve been doing – making skull-shaped rings out of real bone. I also want to carve a couple skull pendants, and some people have asked me to do some dreadlock beads carved out of bone as well.

So if someone found like antlers, or something like that…

Yeah, actually, here’s an antler tip right here *shows me*. I’ve actually got a grim reaper already ready to go drawn on it ready to carve. So I’ll turn that into a pendant or something you wear.

Wow, that’s awesome.

Yeah but it stinks man – not the art, the actual smell of it *laughs*.

I’m telling you working with some of this stuff – bone and antlers – it smells like you’re at the dentist; it smells like burning teeth. It can be terrible – but otherwise, I like working with it, it’s a fun medium for art.

Hmmm… yes, I can imagine burning organic matter… working with that might smell a little off-putting *laughs*

Yeah it sure does.

*Still laughing*

So that kind of leads me nicely into my next question then – what projects are you working on right now? What kind of stuff do you have coming out?

I’ve been doing some fence board painting actually. I’ve made some things for my sensei, and I’ve got a few projects other clients want me to do – making some signs for people’s cottages and stuff like that, but as of right now, I’ve got a commission to do some work on a pool cue holder. The client wants it monogrammed with an 8-ball on it and a custom way to hold the cues.

That sounds interesting, how does that work exactly? Do you just sort of carve into it – no pun intended *laughs*

Actually, I don’t know yet how I am going to go about doing it because of the holder’s design. It has weights in it and rubber on it – and while mostly the client just wants it personalized, I am still going to have to figure out how to do that without ruining functionality.

What’s something like that cost then?

Things like that cost a little more, but nothing outrageous.

Pricing for custom jobs can be tricky, but for me, I usually charge by asking a bunch of people, “what would you pay for that?” and sooner or later, I’ll get a consensus of a price in or around the same price range. So that’s usually where I base things. Some of this stuff is super unique… and I don’t always know what to charge people *laughs*

Wood sign with Japanese text, two karate fighters in karate poses

Well, as long as it’s worth your time and you like doing it, I guess that’s a start.

Well, that’s the best part about it – I didn’t charge anything at first – people actually made me start charging for my work.

I didn’t even start my business, other people actually started it for me.

No kidding!? Elaborate on that a little bit… that’s interesting.

I don’t know if I can. Honestly, I just had people contacting me that they wanted specific things made, and so they pretty much pressured me to start selling my stuff so I’d actually make those things.

I mean I was having a good time by myself just doing it because I loved it, and I’d offer to give some things away sometimes – but then people started telling me “no, your hours are worth time and money, so I’ll give you 50 bucks for this” and I kind of said, “sure, no problem.”

That’s when I thought “well, I might as well start a business”.

Why not if there’s a demand for it?

Right? That’s why you start a business *laughs*

So do you have any favorite stories that have come from carving and doing this business since you started?

If I had to pick one, I guess it’s really just that first time that I carved something, the first piece of wood I brought home from the beach. I didn’t realize I had a talent at all when it came to this kind of thing. I just kind of sat there doing it, and at the time, it took me a couple days to do, but even now, when I look at what I made –  something I could do in an hour now – it reminds me of how far I’ve come.  

Not really an elaborate story for you – just me sitting on the porch with a couple of beers and ending up with this result – that’s my favorite story.

Three elaborate wood carved fantasy houses

I mean most of what I do revolves around me sitting here by myself, so there aren’t many stories to tell *laughs*

And yet… in its simplicity, that’s a great story. A piece of wood, a knife, a couple beers, and some time on a porch turned into a passion, talent, and business for yourself! That’s pretty amazing. And the fact that you said that basically, your business started because other people kind of did it for you – that’s a cool story too in itself.

I guess it is when you put it that way.

Now, this is a niche that I personally don’t know anybody else who does what you do. It’s very unique.

Neither did I when I started.

If you were to give someone advice – someone who wanted to get started in carving or in any kind of artistic medium for that matter – and if they were going to start their own business – what advice would you give to those people? For both carving and for business?

For carving and any art really – make sure you’re having fun doing it, that’s number one. I don’t really care what anybody else thinks about it, to be honest. If you’re having fun doing what you’re doing, and you can make some money on the side… then all the power to you, because that’s all that really matters. I’m having fun doing what I’m doing – that’s why I do it. The rest can come after that.

Straight, simple, and to the point: can’t go wrong with that advice.

Would you say there are any lessons you’ve learned along the way – things that maybe you could have avoided – things that if you went back and did it all over again, you’d do differently? From a business standpoint?

Well, first of all, my business really didn’t take off huge for me for awhile – I’m only really applying for income tax for my business this year for the first time because last year was the first year I made enough real profit.

And then, with things the way they are now, I’m not even sure that’s going to happen again this year… I had plans to do a showcase table with all my work at this local bar, but I haven’t had enough time to do enough things (apart from commissions) to fill a table right now. And with COVID-19 effectively banning public gatherings and bars being closed going into this summer… who knows how the rest of the year will go.

But for business, I would say to take all the courses that you can and learn as much as you can about your product or your craft that you’re doing.  Study and learn – what else can you say about business, really? I went and took some courses at business school because I wanted to learn more – if you don’t pay attention to your business and your craft every day or make an effort to learn more every day… it’s going to fall, eventually.

In my situation, for example, I’ve put some of my work on various platforms like Youtube and Facebook. I have a Youtube channel with some videos of my original stuff, and just by looking at it, you can actually see how much my work has progressed since I started. I only have some still shot videos with music at the moment – no live videos for now – but through my channel and my social media pages, I’ve met a lot of friends in that niche, and I’ve seen how effective social media can be. One friend of mine started a carving channel on Youtube, and he only had maybe 10 subscribers at the beginning… and now he just reached 15,000 within a year as of yesterday.

So it’s all about how you push yourself, how you sell yourself, and how much of your work you’re putting out there to the public.

That’s quite the jump in a single year – it just goes to show you how quickly things can change when you actually put your head down and just start something – kind of like you did.

Yeah, exactly!

Well, I think that’s great, man. I think that’s about it for today, though, so thanks again for joining me here at the Creative Wealth Project, and thanks for sharing your work and wisdom!

You’re very welcome Mitch, it was nice chatting with you!

Be sure to check out Robbie’s Facebook page for Woolner Wood Arts, where he’s most active (there are tonnes of photos of his carvings and updates for what’s coming up), but don’t forget about his Youtube channel to see some of his work!

Don’t forget to follow The Creative Wealth Project (below) so you never miss a post – and don’t be afraid to share – knowledge is power, let’s grow together!

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 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):