Q&A with Kathryn Overall
I feel like this album has been incubating for a life-time! ‘Legacy of Love’ was written when I was 21 and the rest of the songs were written between 2008 and 2015, spanning a seven year transition in my life. The album began life as a personal project. I had lost touch with my creativity and in a bid to get it back I approached my friend Luke with some songs I had written during my final year in Sydney. The songs were personal and vulnerable but I had this instinct that I needed to do something with them in order to get unstuck creatively. The project was envisaged as an EP at most at that stage and I wasn’t even sure if I would release them publicly. However, almost as soon as I started recording those olds songs I began writing new songs again. There had been six or seven years of healing, growing and rebuilding in between and the songs that emerged were hopeful and intriguing to me because they reconnected me with that mysterious force of creative inspiration which I find so invigorating. So, the project got out of hand in the best possible way and eventually evolved into an album.
Why did it take three years to make?
I am kept pretty busy as a freelance writer and communications consultant and Luke Thompson, who produced the album was busy with his own releases and tours, so we were always fitting recording in around a lot of variables for both of us. We recorded most of the project in Luke’s basement studio at his house. We had periods of recording weekly, but I think we had a whole eight month gap in the middle somewhere when we both got busy with other things. I actually loved this ‘pick away at it approach’ because it meant I got to spread out the happiness! Studio days were my favourite days and having my ‘real job’ broken up with creative days made for a much happier Kathryn. The thought of condensing all that creative happiness into ten days in a studio seems like a horrible idea to me – it would all be over so quickly.
How have you funded this album?
It didn’t occur to me to use Kickstarter or anything like that because this project didn’t begin life with a full album commercial release in mind. The fact that we picked away it for nearly three years means I have been able to work and save and self-fund it as I go. Being self-employed gives me flexibility to work on my music which I value hugely. Still, the financial reality is that it costs money and takes time to record music. Every time I was in the studio was a double hit because I was both paying to be there and losing those chargeable hours. So I could only earn so much on the income side of the equation. I compensated on the expenses side of the equation by living as a gypsy. I have spent a lot of time house-sitting, looking after other people’s pets, gardens and homes and I have a base at my family home in Maketu. They gypsy lifestyle has its ups and downs but it’s always had a noble purpose – the money I save on rent and bills each week goes straight into an album account and that is how I have funded this project. Also, I haven’t taken many holidays and I’ve worn a lot of hand-me-downs. Luckily I have generous and stylish friends and sisters!
What instruments do you play on this album?
I do all the vocals and piano, organ, vibraphone etc. I am a classically trained pianist but was lucky to have music teachers who taught me how to play by ear and from chord charts. About seven years ago I was feeling bored with the piano so I picked up the guitar. I play really bad campfire guitar, but actually it was a great way to write because I was able to experiment and enjoy that rush of discovering your way into a song. Proficiency can be a bain. When I would sit down at the piano my fingers would fall into all the familiar places. When I sat down to muck around on guitar, I would have that thrill of not really knowing what I was doing but stumbling onto something that sounded good. The songs that I ended up writing on guitar had more of a folky style. The guitar just pulls something a bit different out of me as a songwriter.
I don’t play well enough to record, so I was very fortunate to have been able to work with Luke Thompson who played the guitar, bass and percussion on the album as well as producing/recording it. This project would never have come to life without his input.
How do you describe the style of this collection?
The short answer is probably folk-pop. The long answer is folky, melodically driven, storytelling songs with a hint of country in places. My childhood was surrounded with the beautifully singable melodies of church music writers like Keith Green, country music mother and daughter duo ‘The Judds’ and classic musicals like Sound of Music, My Fair Lady, Oklahoma and Les Miserables. I came of age musically listening to singer/songwriters like Jewel, Sarah McLaughlan, Sting, Dido and Brooke Fraser and so there is a bedrock of pop melodies and structures in my foundations. In the last five years years I have been drawn to folk singer-songwriters – the greats like Joni Mitchell and James Taylor and contemporary writers like Laura Marling, Rumer, Passenger, Luke Thompson, Avalanche City, Tiny Ruins, Stu Larsen and Carrie Newcomer. I like the authenticity of folk music and the fabled sense of storytelling. I feel like country music offers a similar sense of permission to wear your heart on your sleeve.
How do you feel about releasing your first album?
If you had told my teenage age self that I would be 34 before I released an album of my own songs I would have been horrified and wondered what on earth I had been doing. But life took its own twists and turns and I have no regrets. I think it’s taken me a long time to have the courage to own my style, and the earnestness and spiritual themes of some of my songs. I guess I have become more comfortable in my own skin in my mid 30’s – more willing to stand on my own little piece of ground and cultivate whatever depth or beauty I find there. I have had so much fun bringing this collection to life, and have really enjoyed the creative collaborations along the way. The process of making this album has been one of the highlights of my life so far. After incubating them for so long it is something of a relief to send these songs out into the world to be whatever they will be for others. I know what they are for me.
Who do you think will connect with these songs?
I’m curious to discover that! I feel like songs are a bit like children – they are born from my unique partnering with creative inspiration but they also have their own identity and will go out and make their own way in the world. My hunch is that they will speak to people who are searching for a sense of peace and spiritual homecoming. They may also speak to people who have experienced trauma or loss and the slow recovery that follows. This album comes out of a seven year journey of my own process with that – my journey from loss to hope, from trauma to healing and the long, quiet liminal spaces in between.
What do you love about songwriting?
When I sat at my piano and wrote my first song at 12 years old I felt like I had stumbled onto some magic secret. The creative process of crafting words and melody utterly enchanted me and I have been chasing that feeling ever since. When I was 14 years old, I remember sitting on the green leather couch in our TV room watching Sarah McLachlan perform ‘Angel’ and being transfixed. It was just her – her song, her voice and her piano – and she filled the concert hall with that beautifully emotive song. I remember feeling pinned to the couch with a sense of recognition and purpose, a eureka moment that a woman sitting as a piano singing her own songs was ‘a thing’ – something you could do on purpose. I remember thinking, ‘that’s what I do, and it’s something that people do.’ It’s hard to explain but it was a defining moment for me.
What else do you do?
Not all of my words are set to melody. I have a storytelling + social marketing business called Engage Communications. I take a journalistic approach to marketing and communications, bringing equal parts strategy and soul to finding and sharing the human story within a brand. I enjoy telling true stories and am a big fan of narrative non-fiction and long-form articles.
I am also involved with my church community at St Lukes Church in Tauranga and am preparing to train to become a spiritual director, a role within the contemplative Christian tradition which seeks to companion people in their journeys of faith and help them to deepen their awareness of and connection to God
I have always been interested in the inner core of things. I am drawn to the world within, the hidden story, the deep places, the personal encounters of self with Spirit. My faith is a deep tap-root in my life and a golden through-line in my story. Practices of silence, solitude, meditation and centring prayer have opened new vistas and new ways of being in recent years. As an intuitive introvert who feels deeply but tends to internalise, I have begun to recognise how connected songwriting and soul care are for me. Carrie Newcomer describes songwriting as a spiritual practice and the truth of that is dawning on me.