Folk bomb

Al­ready a vet­eran of the North Amer­i­can mu­sic scene at 25, Kaia Kater brings her new al­bum to town packed with his­tory and soul.


Kaia Kater w/Leanne Hoff­man Sun­day, Novem­ber 25, 8pm The Car­leton, 1685 Ar­gyle Street $17.50

Kaia Kater picks up out­side of Buf­falo, New York, on a cof­fee stop as she and her band head back to Toronto. It’s the big­gest band she’s toured with yet, four in to­tal, af­ter a good stretch play­ing as a duo sup­port­ing her last LP, 2016’s Nine Pin. Her new one, Grenades is a deeply per­sonal con­cept al­bum about her fam­ily his­tory, but it’s also an ex­pan­sion of sound and styles, adding new lay­ers to the core—her voice and banjo. She could use a few more peo­ple, to be hon­est. “It’s a cool chal­lenge of how to make a recipe from the least amount of in­gre­di­ents,” she says. “But it’s also nice to have a few more in­gre­di­ents on hand.”

Kater, who stops at the Car­leton on Sun­day, made Grenades last year in Toronto, with Erin Costelo at the helm. “I’ve known Kaia for years, since she was 16 years old,” says Costelo. (She’s 25 now.) “Kaia’s got a real clear vi­sion for her mu­sic.”

“I wanted a record that stepped out­side min­i­mal banjo-play­ing and Ap­palachian sounds,” says Kater, “some­thing more ad­ven­tur­ous.”

“The pro­duc­tion for the record was ask­ing a lot of ques­tions, send­ing her a lot of mu­sic: ‘Do you like this? Do you hate it?’,” says Costelo. “And through that, dis­cov­er­ing the sound she wanted to have.”

Lyri­cally, Kater—whose lyrics have al­ways ex­plored re­la­tion­ships, racial and class strug­gles—pulls from her own back­ground on Grenades: Her fa­ther left Grenada a few years af­ter the Amer­i­can in­va­sion in 1983. His ex­pe­ri­ence—of the coup of his coun­try’s gov­ern­ment, ex­e­cu­tion of its prime min­is­ter and sub­se­quent US mil­i­tary ac­tion—is deftly threaded into Grenades’ track list, as he ex­plains what it was like to live there, and leave, and start a new life in Canada.

“I just wanted to hear his story. It was Christ­mas of last year, we went down into his base­ment and muf­fled some of the cracks in the doors,” she says. “I stuck a mi­cro­phone be­tween us and asked him to tell me his story from start to fin­ish. I’d never done that be­fore, so it was a re­ally deep, per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence. It felt like such the spine of the record.”

Her re­search also in­cluded a trip to Grenada it­self, where she hadn’t been since she was a child. “It felt re­ally nice to be taken out of Toronto and other parts of North Amer­ica, which are very soli­tary or in­di­vid­u­al­is­tic,” she says. “Which is not a good or a bad thing, but in Grenada ev­ery­thing is so re­la­tional. I re­mem­ber peo­ple be­ing iden­ti­fied as so-andso’s grand­daugh­ter or cousin.”

These ex­pe­ri­ences in­form and ex­pand the mu­sic, which is still based around the Ap­palachian banjo mu­sic she stud­ied—“she writes and per­forms with the skill of a folk-cir­cuit vet­eran,” Rolling Stone said on the heels of

Nine Pin— but pulling in sounds from ’70s folk, more mod­ern Amer­i­cana and jazz. There’s an a capella song, one in French.

On the slow, mourn­ful ti­tle track she sings, “Rain heavy/like car­pet bombs/sweet grass and le­mon­ade,” jux­ta­pos­ing the beauty of Grenada with its vi­o­lent his­tory, and her per­sonal con­nec­tion to all of it. “It was a re­ally pro­found ex­pe­ri­ence for me,” she says of the visit. “It meant so much more to have that pic­ture fully re­al­ized, you know?”



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