Published Oct 26, 2018On Boxing Day last year, Kaia Kater sat with her dad in his basement in Vancouver, turned on her audio recorder, and asked to hear his immigration story. Growing up, the Toronto-based singer-songwriter knew the overview of his move from Grenada to Canada in 1986, but it wasn't until recently that Kater wanted to know the whole story.
"With age, you start to look up and out and see your parents or your siblings as full human beings, rather than just older reflections of you," Kater tells Exclaim!
The conversation was the beginning of Kater's journey toward her fourth album, Grenades — the followup to her 2016 award-winning Nine Pin. "I kind of started on that path of trying to figure out what he had to say, first of all, and then what I could take from that and create a story," she explains.
Kater took her time crafting the story she would tell on Grenades. She moved to Toronto, she visited Grenada, and developed her songs through free and sense writing. Kater also made a few goals: she wanted this album, unlike her other releases, to be a collection of entirely original songs, and she didn't want it to be another, as Kater characterizes, "pseudo-Appalachian record."
To make her plan a reality, Kater teamed up with producer Erin Costelo. The resulting record sounds fuller than Kater's previous releases, and her once-predominant banjo is nestled among the warm tones of a backing band. When it came to hiring additional support, Kater and Costelo made a conscious decision to enlist more women, including guitarist Christine Bougie.
"I realized that on Nine Pin, I had accidentally hired all men. I think more and more, because of the conversations going on about how there needs to be gender parity at music festivals, I think it's also really important for artists to hire more women," Kater notes. "It just so happened that all the women that we hired are the best in the business."
The songs on Grenades touch on immigration, family, identity, love and finding the meaning of home. Snippets of Kater's dad speaking, taken from her recorded conversation with him, can be heard throughout Grenades, anchoring the album in moments that alter the course of Kater's family's history. Through her understanding of this history, Kater gained a better understanding of herself.
"I think I was looking to Grenada as being this Mecca. This is the place where my family is, where I have roots, and so I went back fully expecting that to be the experience, and half expecting, probably pretty naively, to live there forever basically. When I got there, I realized that I was so Canadian! Like my accent is Canadian and I just have so many cultural imprints of Canada. It was a really revelatory thing, and it made me way more accepting of who I am and how I grew up. I think it made it okay to not have one place that completely defines who you are. To have multiple places that influence you.
"I have processed a lot of things and definitely feel stronger for it," she adds. "I think it needed to happen."
Grenades is out now on Acronym Records.