Kathryn Calder

"When you write enough songs... you start to notice what your habits are..."

illustration by Louise Reimer
illustration by Louise Reimer

Kathryn Calder- Slip Away

Kathryn Calder is having fun. A great deal of fun. And even if she isn’t, it certainly sounds like it. Both the B.C.-based singer/songwriter as well as the full-time New Pornographer’s latest solo album – the recently released Bright and Vivid – are teeming with twists and turns for the listener, in what amounts to a considerable re-invention in Calder’s artistry.

While Bright and Vivid shares the self-reflection and acoustic intimacy that distinguished Calder’s last release, 2010’s Are You My Mother?, the new album also boasts an impressively eclectic sound and mood that may very well enhance the artist’s appeal among a much wider audience. A track such as the electro-tinged single “Who Are You?” is the closest thing to a dance record Calder has produced yet. It’s one of the several pleasant surprises on Bright and Vivid that only amplify the singer’s charm.

Unless your name is Ronnie Spector, we can perhaps be safe in assuming that having your spouse at the helm of your album’s production is a healthy thing. The freedom of spirit and expansiveness that marks the new album can be attributed in part to Calder’s husband, producer Colin Stewart (Yukon Blonde, Dan Mangan), who recorded the album along with Calder in the singer’s living room in Victoria earlier this year.

Catching Calder via telephone in between soundchecks for a New Pornographers gig in Florida during the group’s recent U.S. tour, Discorder spoke with the artist about her new record and a musician’s life on the road.

Discorder: Is it difficult managing your solo career with being a full-time Pornographer?

Kathryn Calder: [laughs] It has its challenges, but mostly being in the New Pornographers is just a big help. There are definitely some time management issues I have to be aware of, but there are lulls in any [New Pornographers] record cycle. There’s the occasional conflict, but it’s nothing I can’t work around.

D: There’s a lot of seeking in the lyrics from the new album, a lot of different ideas about what “home” is. How have your ideas about “home” changed in the past while?

KC: I’m certainly not complaining, but the fact of being on tour is that you’re not at home. For someone like me, who really loves being at home, a part of you is always still at home. I’m sure there’s a lot of talk about home because that’s a huge part of my life. I guess my idea of home is just anywhere that your friends and family are… who is with you when you’re at home.

D: Your last record only came out about a year ago. How do you think Bright and Vivid compares?

KC: I tried to make it very different, but I also tried to keep some similarities between the two… I used the same songwriting principles, but I just wanted to take it further. We were in the living room and I had the keyboard there, and we had all of these programs to play around with, and it ended up having these electronic elements to it, even though I hadn’t necessarily intended for it to be that way when we started recording.
When we began, I was in no way expecting,‘Oh yeah, this one’s gonna be synth-pop!’ [laughs] That never crossed my mind at all… which I like, you know? It’s entertaining to me when you start a record to see how it differs from how you had originally envisioned it to be.
When you write enough songs—when you have a collection of songs or a collection of any work, really—you start to notice what your habits are and where you tend to want to lean on certain patterns, so you have to start growing. You have to start thinking of other things to do! I was aware [of my songwriting habits] from the moment I started writing for Bright and Vivid, which is different from becoming aware of it halfway through the songwriting process. Going into the second record, I knew what I needed to watch out for in my songwriting. That’s why we ended up with songs that change so dramatically from one part to the other.

D: Parts of the new record feel really spontaneous, and it really sounds like you had a good time making it.

KC: It’s important to keep things fun! And we did have a really good time making it. That was pre-meditated—those parts on the record that explode. I thought it would be fun if some of the songs started out mellow and then turned a corner very suddenly and became something completely different. I think it’s fun when you think you know where a song’s going and then all of a sudden it’s like, ‘Whoa! What happened?’ [laughs] I like those records when I hear them.

Kathryn Calder is embarking on a tour of North America’s west coast in support of Bright and Vivid beginning October 27th in Vancouver at the Biltmore. For more information, see http://kathryncalder.ca.

Zachary Stockill is a freelance journalist and graduate student at UBC. Follow him on twitter @zfstockill, or visit his website at http://zfstockill.com