Kate Maki On High

Kate Maki On High
Throughout On High, Kate Maki’s gentle, delicate voice is carried from afar, from a distant land where love and passion rule over apathy. For the most part, she stays quiet and calm, but when she wants to, the Sudbury, ON-based folk musician can belt out a tune that scolds and caresses at the same time. On High is Maki’s third solo album and was recorded in her signature "fly by the seat of your pants” manner, with the help of legendary Tucson, AZ producer Howe Gelb capturing the live charm this songstress conveys on stage. "Highway” starts the record off with trudging guitars and trailing vocals, making for a song that draws you into the open landscape that is On High. "Blue Morning” taps into Maki’s natural blues-writing skills, albeit with a bit more youth and innocence than the traditional genre provides. "We Are Gone” takes a stroll into Maki’s darker, more negative ponderings, discussing the feelings of indifference many of us experience during the course of our lives. Life and energy, light and hope are Maki’s muses for On High, and even though there are a few shadows lurking in the corners of her music, they just go to show how bright the sun can be if you let it shine through.

By day, you’re a grade school science and French teacher, and by night you’re a musician. Do your two seemingly opposite lives ever intersect?
Ha, ha, well, there is the obvious — one takes place in a bar with alcohol and the other takes place in the afternoon with underage children. But really though, there are a lot of similarities. As a musician, you’re playing in front of people, as a teacher, you’re also performing in a way, just to a different audience. You totally have to stay on your toes. It’s quite challenging in that way. A lot of music can be compared to teaching a lesson or a lecture.

If the kids get rowdy during the day, then do you whip out the guitar?
[Laughs] Definitely only in the primary ages when they like Raffi and "The Wheels On The Bus.” When you hit grade seven, it’s a little more awkward and embarrassing. I’m obviously not very hip with the music they’re listening to, like Hilary Duff, and they don’t know who Bob Dylan or Neil Young are. We’re just on totally different planes. But totally, you can use music as a learning tool, for sure. It encourages kids to pick up the guitar. I actually wanted to start a vinyl club at lunchtime as one of the activities, but then I realised that these kids don’t even really know what vinyl is so it never really came to fruition.

On your album, you collaborate a lot with Dale Murray and Nathan Lawr. What did they bring to On High?
We’ve played together for so long that we’re very comfortable and we don’t really need a lot of rehearsals. They know how I write. We all just showed up basically and recorded from the get-go. Just having Dale and Nathan in the room with me helped to balance everything. This was also the first time I worked with a producer [Howe Gelb], so it brought some familiarity to the process. We hang out, have a lot of laughs and share in the same tastes.

The album is very stripped down, charming and intimate. Was this a natural effect or were you following a specific influence/singer-songwriter tradition?
Ultimately, it was whatever happened. It was kind of like a snake — it just kept slithering in different directions. There was no real vision. It was just about getting in as much as we could in the five-day session and trying every different scenario possible. In the end, we went back and listened to the whole shebang, which was a ton of takes. It was a very "trim the fat” sort of process.

Your music moves in all sorts of directions; it feels kind of like a record you could just sit back and listen to while pondering all kinds of thoughts. What sort of mindset were you in when you wrote these songs?
It’s a collection of the highlights over the past two years — highlights meaning the songs that stuck, because I’ve written a whole lot of other ones that have fallen by the wayside. I guess I was alone a lot of the time. I was teaching and living in Toronto, so I had a lot of time just to think by myself. It’s so hard to remember the sort of state I was in, but I think there’s a nice balance between sadness and hope. There’s a dichotomy to what I do — there’s always dark but there’s also always light. Sometimes my music is stripped down and sometimes there are a lot of layers. I don’t know whether I have schizophrenia or multiple personalities or what, but I guess it’s just the sort of balance that I need.

"Blue Morning” is a very solemn, mellow tune that speaks of how we can let the negative aspects of life bookend the good. Then there’s "We Are Gone,” which suggests how many of us lead empty and dispassionate lives. Are these familiar topics for you?
Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you can see up. Yeah, I’ve thought about this forever. Again, there’s the dichotomy. You have to feel the weight of darkness in order to see the light. I’m not always happy; I do like to see the negative and the dark. "We Are Gone” is probably the most negative song. It’s about the rot of indifference. Everyone knows what’s going on but doesn’t do anything about it. Of course, this can relate to myself as an individual, but it can also be seen on a larger scale as well. Why don’t we do things about the people in power? Why don’t you do something about your health and your life?

Do you think if you were to play this CD to your students one day they’d give up Hilary Duff for you?
You know, there’d probably be some crossovers, but I don’t think I could win them all over. That’s not what I’m trying to do. Of course, you want to try to please everyone, but musically that’s impossible. Not everyone can do it. But then again, who knows. Anything can happen these days. (Ow Om)