news & musings

  • What Comes Next, Or, Following the Deep Goodness

    "The hottest days of the summer
    They brought us here together, you know it's true
    But this cold now it's getting warmer
    Maybe come September I will feel brand new" 

    -Kathleen Edwards "Empty Threat"

    Well, hi. It's been a while. Again.

    I've been thinking about this post for some months now, but it's time to stop thinking and start writing. I have something to announce, and I'm not sure why it's been taking me so long to get around to announcing it--maybe because I wasn't really, truly, 100% sure it was happening yet--but it looks as though it is. I'm going back to school this fall, pursuing a Master's of Library and Information Studies at UBC in lovely Vancouver, British Columbia.

    Many of you will already know that my "day job" has been working in a public library for some time now. Lately I've been realizing how much I enjoy the work, really: it's interesting, it's creative, it usually involves people who are (to me) relatable and likeable, and it does something good for the world. Plus, it pays the bills. What a lucky combination! I finally decided that I'd like to be able to go further with it than I can with my current credentials, and so I'm taking the leap.

    Where does this leave music? you may ask. I would answer: on hiatus, for now but not forever. I'm not sure exactly how it will go. I've been playing some music over the past few years, though mostly on a very small scale and for my own amusement. During that time, what I think I've arrived at is that I am just not interested in or able to commit to the life that being an independent, touring musician entails. I have friends who are doing it, and good luck to you, brave sailors! It seems like it's really, really fun when it's going well, and there's nothing like doing something you love as your job and your identity.

    But it's a life which is also tough, extremely tough, in ways that make me particularly anxious and unhappy. I'm no good at rootlessness, and I suffer a lot in states of instability--not to mention the fact that I find performing to be an exhausting rollercoaster of highs and lows. Having a job as an artist these days means little money, no benefits, no pension, no vacation, and lots and lots of the kind of work I really dislike doing. Maybe this doesn't always have to be this way (read a really good article about how we talk about artistic economics, by my friend Miranda Campbell, here). For now, it is. So I am going to experiment for a while with another path, one that suits my disposition more, and let music continue in some form I haven't quite discerned yet.

    I have been inspired by the recent choices of a songwriter I admire very much, Kathleen Edwards. Not long ago, after putting out what I think is her best work to date in the album Voyageur, she announced that she was taking an indeterminate break from music, and instead, opening and operating a cafe in Stittsville, Ontario, with the perfect name, Quitters. I read lots of the comments on her social media posts about this, many of which curiously both supported her and lamented her choice. We have this idea, I think, that someone has One Thing they are meant to do, and if they do anything else, they are betraying it somehow. We see it as a kind of tragedy. But you know what? Everybody has only one life or so, and if a certain path is doing them more harm than good (which I think is what Kathleen found, maybe), then it's okay to choose another one for a while. You don't have to have only One Thing you do, One Thing you are. (There's another good article about this here.) Maybe you write great songs AND you make a helluva latte. Both things are good for the world.

    I love seeing pictures of Kathleen Edwards on Instagram now, grinning, happy with her dogs and her cool cafe and little hints of music here and there, when she feels like it. I applaud her for resolutely grabbing hold of what she needed, when she needed it. Her story made me feel a little better about admitting to myself what I think I need right now.

    I'm hoping to become a children's librarian. It makes me feel good in a deep, peaceful way when I see kids in the library, reading, playing, creating, relating. I'm following the deep goodness, and seeing where it leads me. Plus, being able to play guitar and sing is a strong, secret kung-fu to have, in that line of work.

    So, here we go. Goodbye for now, Victoria, and hello Vancouver. I have one more local show, a solo set opening for my dear friend Simon's fabulous duo, Stanton Paradis, on July 27th at Solstice Cafe here in Victoria. And then, off on a new adventure for a while. I hope you keep an ear out for me, because there may well be more music from me in a little while. But first I have to take care of me.

    Love,

    Kaya

    PS: It's not an empty threat.

    PPS: Seriously, go buy that Voyageur album. Maybe even at your local record store (remember those?). And if you're near Stittsville, go get a coffee and tell Kathleen I say hi.

    PPPS: Did you know that Keith Richards wanted to be a librarian? True story!

  • Happy Holidays

    Hi, friends. I know I've been pretty quiet lately. Sorry about that. There are some changes afoot in my life right now, which I will write more about in the coming months. In the meantime, I just wanted to say thanks for listening and caring about the music I make, even though I haven't rewarded you with a lot of new examples of it lately.

    Here's a newish one, which I actually wrote and recorded last year, with the help of my friend and drummer, Dale Hitchcox. It's my first-ever Christmas song, written from here on the Canadian west coast, far from my snowy home in Quebec. As you might guess, it falls a little more on the melancholy side of the holiday spectrum, but (I hope) it also contains the little glints of light that belong to this peculiar, beautiful time of year. I wanted to share it again with you all, as a sort of thank-you gift.

    I hope you can stay warm, healthy, and aware of what's lucky about your life, in this season and all year long. 

    Much love,

    Kaya

  • Folk Music Ontario Conference Showcases

    I'm gearing up to go to my first official Folk Music Ontario Conference this week! Are you going, too? Wanna see me play? The private showcases I'm playing are below.

    (Sorry, these aren't open to the general public. Conference delegates only.)

    Friday, October 17:

    11:20 - 11:40 PM: Folk Music Canada Blue Room (347)

    12:30 - 12:55 AM: Heaven's Radio Social Club (356)

    Saturday, October 18:

    11:00 - 11:25 PM: Heaven's Radio Social Club (356)

    1:00 - 2:00 AM: Best West Song Circle (349)

    I'll also be volunteering for the Export Development Program, so I might see you there, too.

    Sleep deprivation, jetlag, and jamming: giddy-up!

    Love, Kaya

    PS: My dad's new duo, Fraser and Girard, is also playing--you should check them out, too. Pssst, they're crowdfunding their first album and could use your support. #familypromo

  • What I Learned At Songwriting Camp: Craft, Then (Maybe) Art

    So. I went to songwriting camp last week (thanks again to the good folks at BC Musician Magazine, who chose me as a runner-up in that songwriting contest a few months back). It was in Wells, BC, in the week leading up to the famous ArtsWells festival, which I’ve been hearing about ever since I moved out west. Rumour had it that it was the little gem of the BC folkfest scene, so I’d been meaning to get there for ages. This year it happened and I’m sure glad it did. (I’m going to talk here more about the camp—there are enough people out there who can tell you how great the festival was, and is every year.)

    The camp was led by Dave Bidini and the members of the Bidiniband: Doug Friesen, Don Kerr and Paul Linklater. Each of them would take a portion of the day and lead a tutorial on some aspect of songwriting—lyrics, melody, chord structure, or overall practice and approach. I wasn’t sure what to expect, as I’ve never taken any training in songwriting—you always wonder a little, can this really be taught? But the guys did a fantastic job, balancing practical advice with an allowance for personal style and the possibility of rule-bending. All four of them have an incredible depth of musical knowledge, yet without any of the arrogance that might accompany that. Funny and humble and enthusiastic, they shared some of what they knew in a most engaging way. I personally ended up wishing I had more time to hang out with them, talk, and learn. (I plan to talk to them about filling out a groupie application.)

    They also made us work, though not so much that it felt excessive or unmanageable. I wrote two songs, neither of which is perfect, of course, but hey, at least I WROTE them. After a stretch of about nine or ten months without any finished work, it felt good just to get something down. My roommate (the lovely Sarah Elizabeth, who has an ear for a pop hook, that’s for damn sure) and I would go back to our motel room and get down to our homework each afternoon. Sarah took the bathroom as her office; I worked in the main part of the room, sitting on my bed. It’s not easy work, exactly—you do sweat and curse a little—but I realized, as I was doing it, that the thing about work you love is that, even when it’s hard, it’s good. Just doing it feels like a good, right thing, no matter how easy or hard it is at a given moment. In fact, you even kind of like the sweating and cursing, because hell, at least it means you’re engaged in the task.

    I should also add that it was a really good group of students. There were no discernible bad seeds, nobody with a rotten attitude or an axe to grind. Everyone offered something that at some point made me think, hey that’s good! All the stories, all the lives behind these songs…it’s a pretty vulnerable thing, getting together and presenting music that you’ve written. Even when it’s not about you, it’s SO about you. All your sensibilities and experiences, all your life’s fumbling search for understanding: it’s all there. As Don put it, your suffering makes you who you are. And in a mysterious alchemy, your particular suffering, when made into art, turns into something can help lighten the suffering of others. That’s what I felt, anyway, as I bore witness to these people and their expressions. It was a privilege, and a source of insight for me.

    So what did I take away from this (other than the fact that I want to be in a rock ‘n roll band and learn to wail on my electric guitar like Paul Linklater)? I think the most important thing is this: the best way to approach what I do is that it is a craft. A craft is something you do, something you engage in actively on a regular basis. The word we usually use is “work”—we have to work on it, work away, keep working. But I find that “work” is not the best term, since it implies something you’d rather not be doing. Craft-work is different. It’s okay that there’s a lot to do, because it’s enjoyable to tackle it, to engage in it, and there’s no real end point. You wouldn’t want an end point! It’s the working-on that is fun. End products are nice, but really they’re just pit stops along the way, something to aim for temporarily and orient yourself with, but not the objective of the whole task.

    So I’m making a pledge to give some things to my craft. Nothing loftier than that. Just like a plant needs soil, water, and sun, what my craft needs is:

    • Time. Even ten minutes playing my guitar is better than nothing. It’s ten more minutes of experience, ten more minutes of energy donated to my cause. If it can stretch to fifteen minutes (which it probably will), so much the better. Every second counts and my craft will appreciate it.
    • Attention. Having open eyes, open ears, open heart. Listening, noticing, studying, reading, perceiving—and taking notes. This is where I will find things to say.
    • Tools. My instruments, a pen and paper, a means of recording. They’re simple tools but I have to make sure they’re available for me, in plain sight, whenever possible. And make sure they’re good tools, well taken care of. A chef doesn’t use a dull knife. A painter cleans her brushes.
    • Connection. I need contact with people who do this craft and those who appreciate it. Listen to them, play for them, talk with them. Try to find people who spur me on, rather than discouraging me. And whenever possible, connect face to face, not just on a screen.

    If I can find the will and the means to give my craft these things, that’s the majority of my job. Nobody sets out with “Make Great Art” on their to-do list, and then checks it off at the end of the day. Instead, they go about their craft. We say the phrase “arts and crafts” but really it should be in the reverse order: craft, then art. I can attend to the craft part, and try to do it as well as I can. Only after that, if I’m lucky, it will turn out to be art and it will have an impact on someone. But that’s pretty much out of my hands. All I can control is: time, attention, tools, and connection. That’s enough to keep me busy, and come to think of it, it’s enough to keep me happy, too.

  • I'm Going to Songwriting Camp! Or, Shockabuku

    Hey, I forgot to tell you all some fun news: this summer I'll be attending the Island Mountain Arts Songwriting Camp, which happens right before the much-lauded ArtsWells Festival in Wells, BC! Thanks to the good folks at BC Musician Magazine, I'll be there tuition-free, as I was the runner-up in their songwriting contest. (PS congrats to Dave Stanley Daoust, who got the big nod this year!) I'm pretty excited, not least because the one and only Dave Bidini will be leading the camp, and his fabulous Bidiniband will also be there. Plus, rumour has it, many of the brightest lights in the western Canadian songwriting scene seem to congregate at this thing every year. Finally I'm going to see for myself. Yay!

    I've never done a songwriting camp, or even a real workshop before. Not gonna lie: I'm kinda nervous. And by "kinda" I mean "profoundly." But I know this will be good for me, as it is for any artist to push themselves out of their...oh no, here comes a horrible cliche, sorry...comfort zone. I'm a very shy person, and have the usual array of creative-person-insecurities. But I've been feeling stuck, creatively, and I think this turn of events is the Universe's way of jolting me out of it. To quote one of my favourite movies, Gross Pointe Blank, this could be my "shockabuku - a swift, spiritual kick to the head that alters your reality forever."

    Bring it.

  • Goodnight, Jesse

    I remember my mother singing this beautiful lullaby, "Lay Down Your Burden":

    Lay down the burden of your heart
    You know you'll never miss it
    Show your mama where it hurts
    And let your mama kiss it

    Jesse Winchester, who wrote it, died last week, at age 69, the very age my mother was when she succumbed to the same cruel disease two and a half years ago.

    Celebrities die, of course. Famous people you admire die. Internet denizens seems to get a weird pleasure from posting "#RIP so-and-so"--especially if they get to it before their friends do. This happens all the time; it's almost boring. But this particular death actually meant something me, and I thought I would write about it, by way of explaining a bit about where I come from.

    I didn't know Jesse personally, so I don't want to pretend that I'm experiencing what his family and friends are experiencing right now. But for me, his name, his songs, and his voice were woven into the fabric of my upbringing.

    Both my parents knew him. There's a picture I just saw for the first time recently: my mother sits in a group of shaggy-haired, bearded young people (why is it that everyone in the 70s seemed to be so sweaty all the time? Was it the clothes? The extra body hair?). She's gorgeous, kind of in the way Feist is nowadays: strong bone structure in her face, a clarity in her expression, her hair long and dark. She exudes an earthy, bohemian beauty, holding her three-year-old daughter on her lap (that's my older half sister, Leah). Mum's then-partner Mike, my sister's dad, is also in the picture. And there's Jesse: his gentle face and the smouldering, intense gaze that makes me understand why my mother always sighed, "oh that Jesse...he was so handsome." It was all in the eyes, and the voice.

    My dad knew him from the 60s, when Jesse came to Canada to escape the draft. Dad's oldest friend Brian Blain recalls:

    "I remember getting a call from Sue Lothrop telling me that she and Allan Fraser (then performing as a duo called 'Breakfast') were going to pay the musicians' union initiation fee for this great guitarist who had just arrived in Montreal ... that was Jesse, of course. I was their manager and forbade them putting out that money for Jesse when there were many other great guitarists who were already in the union, but we can all be glad they disregarded my fiscal concerns and went ahead and got Jesse in the union so he could play the gig with them (I think it was at the Venus de Milo Room)."

    Fast forward a few years, after F&D had released & toured their acclaimed first album. Brian tells it this way:

    "I was asked to produce the 2nd Fraser & DeBolt album for CBS Records, New York. The label definitely wanted somebody else to produce but were at least reassured that I had produced sessions for an ad agency and knew how to stick to a budget and fill out a contract. At one point I heard Allan talking to the A&R guy saying 'well it's either Phil Spector or Brian.' I had to laugh. ... Finally it was agreed that I would co-produce the album with Jesse and Jesse came down to the Fraser & DeBolt farm in Cookshire for pre-production. Everybody was tripping on mescaline and I think he might have been a bit appalled - though he was still enjoying his brandy. The whole circus moved to Toronto ... we accomplished very little in the first 5 or 6 days except to exasperate David Greene who was their top engineer. He handed us off to suave Californian called Lee De Carlo who was a little more comfortable with our scene--and even brought his own stash. But in the midst of this, Jesse lost patience. I think, as they say, he wasn't having fun--so he just made a call and went home."

    So I guess it's not altogether surprising that when I finally did meet Jesse, almost 35 years later after a concert here in Victoria, BC, he was a little vague-seeming when I said I was Allan Fraser's daughter. He was polite, though--ever the gentleman, he smiled and asked me to send his regards to my dad. That was one of the two occasions I saw him play live: the other was the Islands Folk Festival in Duncan, where I was performing on their Youth stage. Both times I was mesmerized. Just him and his guitar, yet he had that crowd in the palm of his hand. I did more than watch: I *studied.* I wanted to learn.

    Jesse's way of writing, singing, and playing his guitar, made its mark on me almost through osmosis. Is it possible for musical influence to pass on through the DNA? I felt like his style affected mine vastly, even though I didn't consciously sit down and listen to his music until I had already been playing for some time. When I did, I immediately felt an affinity, particularly when I heard him play just with his acoustic guitar--no band, no production. This ease, this gentleness, this groove! He didn't need to shout. There was sometimes a sly wink in his delivery, making you feel like you were laughing together at the same joke...or such a straightforward earnestness that the simplest phrase utterly broke your heart. His songs are neither ornate nor complex, though sometimes mysterious. Restrained and truthful. Joyous. It's not everywhere you find this.

    All this--the family history, the songs on the stereo as I grew up ("Hey girl, say hey say what..."), the way my Mum used to sing his lullaby to us as kids--that's why I wanted to post something longer than a tweet about this "#RIP." I wanted to explain why I actually wept when I learned that this man, whom I didn't really know, had died. And to explain why what he did was important to me. I hope that I can keep those lessons I learned from him--which I continue to learn as I listen--and put them into what I make. I think that's all you really can do as a tribute, when a great teacher has gone.

  • 20 Feet From Stardom

    So I finally got to see that Oscar-winning documentary "20 Feet From Stardom" last night. I loved it, as I pretty much expected I would. It drew me in, it made me cry, and above all, made me want to sing.

    It also made me realize that I've been getting disconnected from what singing's all about--the REASON for singing in the first place, that sheer joy of the meeting of voice and song. The incredible power and subtlety of this means of communication. When you're trying so hard to get out there and do the work of being a musician (whatever that means these days), you get caught up in the hustle and you easily, so easily forget this. I know I'm not the only one.

    I loved this quote from Stevie Wonder towards the end of the film. I got goosebumps because I felt like he was talking straight at me. And he said it in such a straightforward way--it wasn't all rah-rah-phoney-enthusiasm. It was a simple, real directive: this is how you do it right. I'm going to try my damnedest to remember this advice, and put it into practice every single time I get up to sing.

  • Well, hello again!

    Welcome to the new kayafraser.com! It had been a while since the last site update, so I figured it was time. I have new songs, a new backing band, and so I needed a new way to bring news of those things to you.

    Here's where I'm going to stay connected with you, not just via Facebook and Twitter and Instagram (which I also do, probably too much). There's more to life than 140 characters can convey, sometimes. So here we go. Please drop by often to see what's going on, and thanks as always for your interest and support.

    Love,

    Kaya