Kate Maki is in deep thought
courtesy Kate Maki

Songstress plays old-time feel with fresh sound

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The musical down-tempo lament is becoming a lost art in this day and age. Audio references to the likes of Bob Dylan are, more often than not, lost to jittery, no-time-to-stop pop for the instant gratification generation. Thankfully, Sudbury songstress Kate Maki is a refreshing bright light at the end of the tunnel when facing a sometimes dim future for folk music.

Maki, a self-proclaimed small potato in the industry, has been pushing her success in a very direct way, managing her own recording career, publicity and booking. She released her third offering, On High, in February with the help of renowned producer Howe Gelb, after recording the album in a rapid-fire five-day session, taking tracks live off the floor. The grade school teacher-turned-musician says that, while the time restraints were stressful, they ultimately improved the final product.

"I was teaching full-time last year, so I only had five days off during March break and that's all the time Howe could afford to come up," she says. "I think there were no expectations and we were all coming into it in an experimental, lets-just-see-what-happens frame of mind. Doing it live off the floor, if the guitar has a great track but the vocals don't, you've ruined that take. You're really on your toes. I like that immediacy and that pressure."

In addition to the quick production and the initial CD release, the album was structured for vinyl with noticeable A- and B-sides. The move attracted Calgary label Saved by Vinyl, who picked up On High for eventual record production. Maki says she plans for vinyl as it represents her preferred way to experience music.

"I like the whole physicality of the vinyl," she adds. "I don't own an iPod or anything."

Following the release of the album, Maki has been struggling to promote her music to an often-ignorant audience, sometimes being left to pay-to-play gigs and insulting hecklers. But since touring in the U.S. and presenting On High as her first south of the border release, the singer has received a lot more noticeable acclaim and publicity. Though not disregarding Canada, Maki says that breaking out in a larger market can be beneficial.

"There are so many venues around Canada that you have to play and they don't know who Bob Dylan is," she explains. "I've been yanked off the stage in [some places] because I wasn't playing new country. There are a lot more people down there and a lot more people doing the kind of music that I do and you find those avenues and those little channels. It's easier to find your audience in the States and the people at the shows are actually listening."

She also cites the Canadian curse--when American exposure sometimes opens up the doors for Canadian adoration--as a big determining factor for trying to break out down south.

Maki has learned a lot from her experiences with the uninformed masses and is hoping to one day apply that knowledge to enlighten a new generation of young music listeners--many of which see record players as arcane--whether or not she reaches her goal as a full-time musician or continues to teach to fuel her passions.

"I think, 'You poor people, you're listening to digital music that's not round or natural to the ear and it's all coded and angular,' and maybe it affects how they behave," she says. "Maybe [learning about] music can just slow people down so they can take the time to listen to a record and maybe relax a bit and meditate."

As the do-it-yourself chanteuse continues to navigate the musical battlefield, Maki's take-it-as-it-comes attitude seems to be working in her favour, lending the music to keep its breezy yet meaningful feel.

"I think I just like to keep things as natural as possible," she says. "I just let it come out and I don't think too much about it, I guess it is sort of a nonchalant, go-with-the-flow kind of thing."