|Laura Stegman is a writer and public relations consultant in Los Angeles. Her last feature stories for JTO were about David Lasley, Valerie Carter, and Clifford Carter.|
By Laura Stegman
When James Taylor introduces his four background singers in concert, he’ll invariably slip in a teasing remark, wildly exaggerating some random observation or fact.
Referring to Arnold McCuller, JT once suggested that the audience might want to check out Arnold’s CD, which was for sale in the lobby priced “at just slightly ABOVE retail.” David Lasley’s colorful attire another night brought forth a reference to David’s “pajamas.” James has even accused Valerie Carter of breaking keyboardist Clifford Carter’s toe.
As for Kate Markowitz, she has been called everything from a “great little dancer” to “tragically hip.” But when James Taylor remarked in the early 1990s that “Kate’s head is still spinning from her Number One hit single overseas,” it was no exaggeration.
The single began as a 1990 jingle that Kate recorded for Bacardi Rum to air in Europe. It proved so popular that she was called back a year later to transform the jingle into a song about “summer love” rather than rum. She co-wrote the lyrics and recorded it (with Arnold McCuller and Valerie Carter on backing vocals) under the name Kate Yanai. Called “Summer Dreaming (The Bacardi Song),” it was released in Germany, went to Number One within two weeks and stayed there for seven weeks straight, selling well over half a million copies. Kate was indeed the “toast of the continent,” as JT has been known to joke, appearing on television shows, doing countless interviews, and starring in a music video of the song. Fortune and fame, however, proved to be a curious game. More about that later in Kate’s own words.
Kate’s success in Germany came amid what was already a thriving career in the music business. She started working professionally as a vocalist/songwriter in a group she formed with friends, then began getting work as a studio vocalist. She toured as a background singer with Sergio Mendes and with George Benson, and has recorded as a background vocalist with Lyle Lovett, Randy Newman, Don Henley, Graham Nash, Billy Joel, Diana Ross, Kenny Loggins, Neil Diamond, Youssou N’dour, k.d. lang, and many, many others.
After meeting James Taylor while working as a background singer at a 1990 Earth Day show in Japan, she joined his band and has recorded and toured with him ever since. In 1997, she began touring and recording with Shawn Colvin, and in 2000, she did a tour with k.d. lang. During a March 2001 tour with Colvin, Kate opened for her at a Los Angeles show at the legendary Roxy.
A self-described “closet songwriter,” Kate nevertheless has written many songs over the years, and a CD of her recordings of her own compositions is in the works. (Visit katemarkowitz.com)
Kate and I met on two different occasions to discuss her work as a solo artist, songwriter and background vocalist. Candid, clever and friendly, she has a terrific sense of humor that often displays itself in sardonic asides.
In her California Craftsman home, which she shares with her fiance, Todd, her comfortable living room is filled with a grand piano as well as family pictures. Among the photos are several of her grandmother, who performed opera in the Santa Monica area, and her father, a jazz musician and well-known composer for television. Richard Markowitz wrote music for hundreds of TV shows ranging from Wild, Wild West (including the theme song) to Murder, She Wrote.
Our first visit took place in September 2000 as she was on a break from her k.d. lang tour; our second was held in April 2001 just before she left for James Taylor’s “Pull Over” summer tour.
LAURA STEGMAN: Tell me how you became a singer.
KATE MARKOWITZ: I grew up watching my dad write on his piano, and I’d go to his recording sessions here in L.A. to watch all these musicians record his music. Since I grew up around music, I guess I got my ear for it through osmosis. But my father did NOT want me to go into the music business at all. That was not something he thought his daughter should even attempt.
LS: Did he want you to be a doctor, or was it that he just didn’t want you to go into show business?
KM: Actually, when I was in high school my dad recorded little demos for me in his studio. He was supportive in the sense that he knew I had musical ability. I think he thought, “This is kind of cute.” But he hoped to God that I would never try it as a profession.
I think he wanted me to be a lawyer, or something more intellectual. My mother passed away when I was ten, so by the time I was thinking about career stuff it was mainly my dad’s influence. I really didn’t think I was going to go into singing, and I studied other things — writing, photography, guitar, French, film. I didn’t really know WHAT the hell I was going to do. I was so shy that I thought I could never be a singer, even though I always sang. It was kind of like breathing to me. But I never thought I could make a living at it. Then [laughing], as I started to realize I wasn’t really that good at anything else, I thought, “Well, maybe I’ll try it.” And then it kind of became a “proving to my father that I could do it” thing. Not anger, really, but a little bit of spite, like, “Oh, you don’t think I can do it? Well, maybe I can.”
LS: Is he still alive?
KM: No, he died in 1994.
LS: So he saw you as a successful singer.
KM: He did. He saw a lot of good things happen for me, which I’m really glad about. Our relationship did a real switch once I started making money as a singer. All of a sudden, he realized that maybe I was going to do this, and then he started to be more proud of me. But he wasn’t the kind of guy who would express his pride to ME, really, just to everyone else. He was one of those very-hard-on-himself kind of people, and that stretched out to everybody else. He was a critical person — but a GREAT person. I miss him so much. I miss him all the time. We were really close. He was like a friend to me, more than just a dad. He lived a pretty bohemian life. He was the kind of person you could pretty much be yourself with. And that’s kind of rare in parent/child relationships.
LS: Do you have brothers and sisters?
KM: I have one brother, and I have a stepbrother and three stepsisters from my dad’s marriages after my mom died. When I was a kid, my brother and I sang together. He plays guitar and many other instruments, and he had a big influence on me as a teenager because he turned me on to a lot of music. My mom was also musical, by the way.
LS: Where did you grow up?
KM: I grew up in Los Angeles, and I went to college for a few years. In 1980, I decided to go to this music school called Dick Groves Music Workshops to really learn about being a vocalist. We studied a lot of classical stuff and music theory, but the main focus was a practical approach to help you earn a living as a musician.
LS: Did they have voice classes?
KM: Yeah. It included sight singing, ear training, performing workshops, studio-singing workshops. I learned a lot of practical things that I’ve used over the years, like how to write out a basic rhythm chart for a band to read. I learned an overview of basic skills you might need, down to technical stuff like headphones in the studio, things to do to hear yourself, microphone techniques. And our final thing was doing a show.
LS: Was that the first time you’d performed in public?
KM: I had performed with other people. But this “final” was me as a soloist, the talking between songs, all that stuff.
LS: Do you remember the songs that you sang?
KM: Yeah, I do, I’m embarrassed to say. I did a couple of my originals, I did a jazz song, and I think I actually did James Taylor’s “Gorilla.”
KM: And I don’t think I’ve ever told him that.
LS: [laughter] Of all the songs — that’s hilarious!
KM: [ruefully] I know. I love that song! And I remember that my bass player actually played the bass part like a tuba, blowing into a big, empty water cooler bottle. And he did it like, “Woo hoo hoo hoo…”
LS and KM: [laughter]
KM: [sarcastically] Yeah, it was GREAT show.
KM: [with mock indignation] I don’t know if I want you to talk about that.
LS and KM: [laughter]
KM: After that, I started doing vocal work with John Vester, who was my boyfriend at the time, and we started working little clubs. That’s kind of how I started.
LS: You sang and he played?
KM: Yeah, he is a singer/songwriter. He played guitar, and we had a group. I played a little piano at the time, but I mainly just sang, and we shared the leads and did duets. I was starting to dabble in some writing. It was something I would do once in a while.
LS: Had you ever written up to that point?
KM: Yeah, I had. But I was kind of a closet songwriter. Which I still am [laughs].
LS: What sort of music did you perform in the clubs?
KM: It was kind of like Dan Hicks’ music. We also did John’s songs and some novelty songs. But then we did contemporary stuff, too, and songs by artists we liked, like Joni Mitchell, the Beatles, Stevie Wonder and James Taylor.
LS: So you liked James Taylor’s music — aside from [laughs] “Gorilla” — back then?
KM: Yeah. I remember that when his first record came out, I was in junior high. My brother and my father and I were dissecting the lyrics to “Fire and Rain” to try and figure out what it was all about. I remember that really well. Then when I ended up meeting James, it was one of those circular things in my life that I couldn’t actually believe was happening because some of his music had such a big effect on me at a time when I was so impressionable. I’ve had that happen a few times in my career, where I got to work with an artist whose work I was really into.
STUDIO WORK AND TOURING WITH SERGIO MENDES AND GEORGE BENSON
LS: How did you start doing studio work?
KM: Songwriters would ask me to sing a demo of their song. I started doing stuff for free just to get experience, and it finally evolved into getting studio work that I was paid for. I started to get called to sing on people’s records as a background vocalist.
One of the first records I sang on was for Dave Grusin’s brother Don. I met him through his engineer, Geoff Gillette. Geoff recommended me to a lot of people, including Sergio Mendes, who I briefly toured with. Sergio had kind of gone into the pop world a little bit, but still primarily did Brazilian music in his live shows. My dad loved Brazilian music, and I had always loved Brazilian music too. I was a fan of it from early on. A lot of Sergio’s music was in Portuguese, but I had never spoken Portuguese, so I had to learn it phonetically. We toured a lot of exotic places all over the world — Europe, Indonesia. We actually went to Jordan and sang a show for King Hussein. And then I worked with George Benson for a while after that.
LS: How did that come about?
KM: That was one of those random experiences of being at the right place at the right time. A friend of mine heard that they were looking for someone to take the place of a percussionist/vocalist, so I sent in a tape, resume and picture. I found out later that they had a huge stack of people’s packages along with mine. They put in the first and second tapes and didn’t like either one. Then they put in the third tape — mine — and they liked it, so they just stopped. If my tape had been on the bottom of the stack — who knows?
LS: Were you the only backup singer?
KM: Yes. And I had to play some percussion instruments. I told them from the beginning that I wasn’t a percussionist, but since I had replaced a percussionist/vocalist, which is what they liked having, they said, “Oh, can you just pretend?”
LS and KM: [laughter]
KM: So I was out there with all of these real percussion instruments – congas, all these hand toys, and I think I even had a bell tree. It was a challenge, to say the least. But I got to sing duets with George, so although it was really a challenge, it was fun, too. Pretending to be a percussionist, however, was a hard thing
LS: On James Taylor’s “Jump Up Behind Me” in concert you got to reprise that role when you played a shaker.
KM: Yeah, I think if I had studied percussion when I was younger, I could have been a really good percussionist because I do have good time. But it’s really hard to play timbales or the instruments that really hurt your hands. I had a hard time with that. I’d be like, “Ow, this hurts!”
LS and KM: [laughter]
LS: What did you do after the George Benson tour finished?
KM: I had quit George’s tour just before I met James Taylor. At the time, I actually thought I didn’t want to tour anymore [laughs].
Taken during the recording of the background vocals for “Hourglass.” Frank Filipetti is in the back.
MEETING JAMES TAYLOR AND JOINING HIS BAND
LS: Tell me how you met James.
KM: I had worked over the years with Lee Ritenour on a couple of records and done some live stuff with him, because he was into Brazilian music as well. In 1990, Lee organized a show in Japan for Earth Day that combined Japanese, American and Brazilian musicians. I had worked with some of the Brazilian musicians, and I’d learned how to sing in Portuguese when I sang with Sergio. So Lee asked me to come to sing background for everybody. There were a couple of featured artists, and James was one of the main ones. So was Patti Austin. When I heard that James was going to go, I said [enthusiastically], “YES, I’ll go!” It was a great experience. All of a sudden I was thrown into a situation where I was singing background with and for James!
LS: You had always been a fan?
KM: Yes. I was a huge fan, I had every record. When I was on the road with George Benson, I always brought the Never Die Young album with me to listen to when I was feeling low. It just helped me to have that album.
Anyway, we all met here [Los Angeles] and flew over to Japan. The first time I saw James was at Los Angeles Airport. We were filling out the forms to declare cameras and stuff that you’re taking with you, and I was standing behind him in line.
LS: He was just standing in line by himself?
KM: He was standing in line. I thought [re-enacting her surprise], “Hey, that’s James!”
LS: Did you say anything to him?
KM: I think Lee introduced us, and I was completely star-struck and shy. I hardly talked to him,. And then [laughs], in Tokyo, on the way to the hotel, I said something really stupid to him. Something like, “What’s your sister’s name?” forgetting that her name was Kate.
LS and KM: [laughter]
LS: Was he friendly?
KM: Oh, he was so sweet from the very beginning, and really supportive. I had co-written a song with Don Grusin that Patti Austin had recorded. She sang it at the show, and James said something nice about my lyrics. And I felt [sighs blissfully], “OK, I can go to heaven now, I can just die now.”
And James just happened to be looking for a background vocalist, so his manager at the time, Peter Asher, asked me, “Do you want to tour with us?”
LS: Just like that?
KM: Yeah! And I was pretty burned out on singing a lot of jazz and pop stuff — I was dying to work with someone like James. And they said “We’ll send you an itinerary when we get home, and you see if it works for you.” And I was like, “Yeah, okaaaaaaaaaaaaaay!” [laughs]. But then, I didn’t get the itinerary. You know, there are so many things in this business that you think are going to happen and don’t happen. So I just thought, “Oh well.” And then they finally called, saying, “Didn’t you get that itinerary???” And that’s how I got the job.
LS: They knew your singing from the Japan show, so you didn’t have to sing for them at that point?
KM: Yeah. And if I had known going in that James was looking for a background singer, I probably would have been way more nervous. It was a saving grace that we had so much material to learn in those few days. We were working so hard to get it thrown together. None of these people had actually played together, and I was teaching Portuguese to James and Patti, they were teaching stuff to me. It was pretty intense, and I think that saved me.
LS: So you worked with him on a whole different level before you became his background singer!
KM: Yeah, it was a really good way to meet him. So, I started touring with him in 1990, and it was the first tour that he had four singers. Our very first gig was the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. Val [Valerie Carter] and I bonded immediately. I was a fan of hers, I had her records, and I was always hoping to meet her. Now we’ve shared a dressing room for ten years, and we’re like sisters.
This was taken during the filming of the “Enough to be On Your Way” video, for a scene (“round-eyed Buddhists”) that never made the final cut.
LS: Was that the first time you’d met David [Lasley] or Arnold [McCuller]?
KM: I met David for the first time there in Telluride, and he and I felt we’d known each other for years. There’s something really spiritual about him, and I think he sometimes has psychic powers. Arnold didn’t do that first tour because he was working with Phil Collins, so Philip Ballou did it. But I had met Arnold before, and over the years, we have become really, really close.
LS: I notice that there’s a poem written by you on the booklet of Arnold’s You Can’t Go Back CD.
KM: That was a poem that I’d given to him for his birthday. I didn’t know that he was going to put it on the CD. When the CD was released, he handed it to me and said, “There’s a surprise on this.” When I looked at it, I said, “Oh my God!” because it was kind of a personal thing. But I was really flattered once I got over the shock of it. It’s pretty rare that i give somebody a poem.
I guess it’s a gradual process of getting as close as we [singers] are now, but we all kind of bonded immediately. I think that’s also because James chooses people who he knows are going to work well together. Everybody in the whole organization, from every lighting guy to every sound guy to every crew person, all the band guys, are just incredible.
LS: When you first started working with James, did he give you tapes of his songs, or did he just teach you?
KM: I think we had a list of songs he was going to choose. And they gave us tapes of the most recent live shows. But some of the stuff we were doing had new arrangements because there were four singers instead of two.
James has an incredible ear for harmonies, and even if he doesn’t have something already in his head, the stuff he comes up with is great. He has a very distinctive thing he hears, and he really knows what he wants for vocal parts. A lot of times he has a very clear picture of it. So he’ll say, “OK, I want you to sing this note,” and he’s very involved in teaching it to us. When Don Grolnick was alive, he was very involved in helping James figure out vocal parts if James was not sure about what to do. When we worked on New Moon Shine, Don was really involved in some of those vocal parts, like for “Shed a Little Light.”
THE “BACARDI GIRL”
LS: What did you do between tours? Did you have enough work with James that you took time off?
KM: No. I think all of us [in the band] are in the same position. We’re free lance musicians, and we get hired by a number of different employers all year long. Whenever we’re in town, we do studio work. I do backup on other records, I do some jingles, I do some movie stuff. And then we’ve all had various solo things.
LS: Let’s talk about your Bacardi record.
KM: In between doing George Benson and meeting James, I did a tour in France for an artist named France Gall. I speak a little French, I can sing in French, and I have a pretty good accent, so I got this job to do a six-month tour over there. During that time, Olivier Bloch-Laine, a French composer/arranger who did a lot of jingles, hired me to sing a vocal in English for a Bacardi Rum jingle that ran in Europe. It was one day’s work, and they paid me a nice sum of money. About a year later, I got a call from Olivier telling me they’d been playing the jingle over this footage of beautiful models, boats and the Caribbean in movie theaters all over Europe.
LS: It was a commercial, right?
KM: It was a commercial, but a lot of the commercials in Europe are played before the movies in theaters. They’re like little films. And people were loving this song, and they were bootlegging it and playing my one-minute version in dance clubs. So Olivier asked me if I wanted to join forces with Warner Brothers Records over there and Bacardi and him and re-record the song as a single with my name on it. We would make it a song about summer love rather than getting shit-faced on Bacardi.
LS and KM: [laughter]
KM: I didn’t really think about the implications of what could happen, and I said “Yeah, sure!” So a friend of mine named Christina Trulio, Olivier and I re-wrote the lyrics. Olivier came over here, and we recorded the vocals. He took it back to France, mixed it and sent it to Germany. It went to Number One in two weeks, and it stayed at Number One for seven weeks straight.
KM: In the first five weeks, it sold something like 600,000 copies. I used my real first name, but as a last name, I used Yanai, a name from my mom’s family. I had this fantasy that I could perhaps have this other anonymous solo career, and still continue what I was doing here, because I was making a good living as a backup vocalist and I was working with James. But what happened was that all of a sudden, they wanted me to fly over there and do all this promotion and a tour and TV shows and all these interviews. The press and the public wanted to know, “Who is this person, this Kate Yanai?” So I went over, and did a bunch of promotion, a bunch of TV shows, a bunch of photo sessions and a bunch of interviews with radio stations. Mainly just interviews ALL DAY LONG.
LS: Did you have fans?
KM: I did. And I might still have some fans there, I don’t know. But I did have fans, and I got some fan mail. Of course, it was in German.
LS and KM: [laughter]
KM: I also did a video of the song in Jamaica that ended up coming out OK, thank God. Olivier was instrumental in getting me to a real location in a really beautiful place instead of having me serving drinks in a bar, which was the record company’s concept.
LS: Oh no!
KM: Yeah, their concept had me fantasizing about some dreamy place. I owe it to Olivier that he fought for going to Jamaica. That was a pretty sweet couple of months, because I was doing some really fun video stuff with James on the Vineyard. We did the “Shed a Little Light” video, the “Copperline” video, and that special in the barn on Squibnocket, after which I flew directly from there down to Jamaica to do my own video.
LS: During the interviews in Germany, did you discuss Kate Markowitz, or was it like you became this whole other person?
KM: They knew I sang with James, but it was very weird. It was a hard dance to do. Plus, there were some definite communication problems between the record company on one side and Olivier and me on the other. I had no management, and I went over there completely blind, flying by the seat of my pants. I got offered a big record deal, and I was going to do it. But it turned out to be a situation where the record company was really close-minded about hearing any of my ideas about what kind of solo career I wanted. The Bacardi song was a commercial kind of pop reggae song, a sweet little song, and it wasn’t like I was ashamed of it. But I was already known as the “Bacardi Girl” over there, and the second single they wanted me to do was a coffee jingle redone as a regular song.
I went in without having enough people around me helping me to know what to do in that situation. It all happened so fast, and it was such a dreamlike, surreal experience to be, all of a sudden, semi-well known somewhere.
LS: So they wanted to sign you as a solo artist?
KM: Yes. I was going to do this record with them, and I was going to sign a three-album deal, but I ended up turning the whole thing down in a panic because it got to the point where I realized it was going to be such a fight. Everything they wanted me to record, I hated so much that I wanted to puke. I think they saw me as this modern-day, pop-like Carmen Miranda with fruit on my head. They wanted me to do a song called “Merengue Love.” It was kind of like the “Macarena” song. No offense to those guys, but it just wasn’t me.
LS: How odd!
KM: And all these interviewers were saying to me, “How do you feel about the song?” And, you know, I’m trying not to laugh. I felt like [chuckles sarcastically], “What do you mean, how do I feel about the song????? It’s saying, ‘Come on over and dance with me.’ How can you feel that much for that??” To me, it was just kind of a lark that then took off, which was so weird,
KM: One of the TV shows I had to do was this BIG live German television interview show. The guests were the mother of the last person who died swimming from East Germany to West Germany, the tennis star of that year, or whatever, and me — the “Bacardi Girl.” I was the musical guest, but you lip sync on these shows. So they had gotten these nice, young guys to pretend to be my band — one pretended to play steel drums, one pretended to play saxophone, and so on. We did a little rehearsal, and I’m thinking, “Okay, this won’t be that bad.” So I get dressed and made up, and l come out in the hallway where I discover that they’ve got my “band” dressed up in these hideous “Lucy and Ricky” blouse-y short shirts, with clamdigger pants, and sandals, and big straw hats.
LS: Oh no!
KM: I looked at them in horror. We had to go on, it was the countdown, like ten, nine, eight, but I walked up to them, and I took off their hats, and I said [forlornly], “I’m SO sorry they did this to you!”
LS and KM: [laughter]
KM: So then we had to go on and perform this song. And there was BILLOWING dry ice. There was dry ice literally covering half my body. And there was a photograph in the back of palm trees and stuff. Somehow we got through the song, pretending to play and sing. Then I was supposed to have my interview with the host — this big, famous host. He comes over clapping and goes, “YAY, Miss Kate Yanai, Kate Yanai!” And then he says, “Do you like Bacardi rum?” And that was my interview.
LS: That was it?? Oh no. [laughs]
KM: So that kind of gives you an idea.
LS: That must have been very bizarre.
KM: It was SO bizarre, very bizarre. Once in a while I’d meet some radio DJ who really got what I trying to say without really saying it. I didn’t want to appear unappreciative of the position I was in. They were flying me first class, they were treating me really well, and I didn’t want to appear like a greedy little spoiled brat. But on the other hand, I didn’t want to say, “Oh, yes, I love this, this is my dream!”
LS: Despite the negatives of that particular situation, did you like being a solo artist?
KM: It was a great learning experience because it let me start over. It was one of those experiences that taught me SO MUCH about being a solo artist in such a short amount of time.
You know, I’ve worked for all these other artists over the years, and I’ve seen a lot of the stuff that they have to go through, both negative and positive. And there have been times I’ve been glad I wasn’t in their position. As a backup vocalist, you get a lot of the glory, and you don’t have half the pressure to come up with everything — to be everything, to be the show. What I love about singing backup on record, and live, is that you’re trying to enhance something, and you fit in like the piece of a jigsaw puzzle. I love that! I love the challenge of that technically, and I love the fact that I don’t have all that pressure on my shoulders.
But sometimes, you know, you crave to be out there on your own and get some of the glory for yourself. I wouldn’t be doing this for a living if I was truly the shy person I thought I was. I mean, I do love the attention sometimes. And, I love music — it’s what’s in my blood. So being a performer and getting accolades as a solo artist felt good. It felt really good.
On the other hand, this song was not something that I put my heart and soul into. I had always written and been passionate about writing. So, for this particular song to be what came out as my first solo thing was both good and bad. It got me well known overseas, it made me a bunch of money, and it got my foot in a door, but it also kind of pigeonholed me in a style of music that would never have been what I would have chosen as my own personal statement.
LS: Yeah, I can imagine.
KM: When you’re doing interviews and talking about a song, it’s one thing. But when the camera’s on your face, and you’re singing that song over and over and over again, if you don’t feel something about that song on a deeper level, how can you keep doing it without feeling uncomfortable? It was difficult, because I was already making a living as a backup vocalist with artists that had integrity. I’ve been lucky enough to work with artists that I really admire and respect. Their music is really quality music.
LS: What happened next?
KM: After I turned down that whole thing, a different record company pursued me and convinced me to record another single in 1994 called “Cry, Cry Louise.” But that was a similar experience in that it was an attempt to take advantage of the success I’d had and do something kind of similar in style. It didn’t really work, and it didn’t do very well. The record company treated me great, and they were really nice, but I was once again put in a position where their push towards being commerical didn’t represent what I wanted. They wanted me to do a techno-house dance mix a la Barry White, or a remake of “Cherokee People.” [sarcastically] People compare me to Barry White all the time (not!).
I’m not putting down really commercial music, because I think there’s a place for that too. But that experience did push me to write more personal stuff.
LS: I think it speaks for your artistic integrity to be unable to go into that whole thing just to take advantage of something that was there.
KM: That’s a really flattering way of putting it, and I appreciate you saying that. I think that accurately it was more that I’ve just never been one of those performers that can go out on stage, and glue on a smile, and do the whole sort of “beauty pageant” kind of performing style. I’ve been so lucky to find a niche of music where my style works with that kind of music. Where I don’t have to pretend all the time.
KM: Really, it’s more about the music than being a performer, or being choreographed. And it’s not that I don’t think about performing. I do. But I just couldn’t keep doing it. I tried. I did these TV shows as the “Bacardi Girl,” and I realized what I was going up against, what it was really going to be. I thought, “I can’t do it, can’t do it.” And there have been times I’ve regretted it, because I’ve thought maybe it could have opened a window. Who knows, maybe it might have taken off even more. But… [long pause]… it’s done.
LS: And song writing, you’ve continued to do that?
KM: Yes. I got more into writing after that whole experience. I’d always written, but I didn’t really take it seriously. From that point on, though, I’ve tried to find a way to write music that I like.
I’ve collaborated with some really interesting people who’ve pushed me in a different direction. I’ve written a few songs with David Batteau. He’s a great writer with a real love of language, and I really feel lucky to work with him. He’s written a lot of songs that have been cut by a lot of artists over the years, including Bonnie Raitt. He co-wrote a song that was on her last record called “Fundamental Things.”
LS: How did you meet him?
KM: We have a lot of mutual friends. We started writing together when I had the “Bacardi Girl” experience. He’s encouraged and pushed me to write about more personal things. After trying to write songs for a record company, that felt really good — even if it was for no other reason than to do it as an exercise. And I’ve written a couple of songs on my own and a couple with other writers, including a friend named Donny Markowitz (we think we’re cousins), who has also encouraged me.
In fact, I’m working on my own CD. I think with the Internet it’s a lot easier to do that now, to try to do it anyway. We’ll see. I’d like to record 12 or 14 songs and just put a CD out there for the world to decide it they are interested in it.
PERFORMING LIVE AS A SOLO ARTIST
KM: In the last few years, I have done a number of live gigs on my own again. Finally! After years of singing backup for people, I had become completely terrified of singing solo because I’d been singing just backup for so long. One of the shows I did two years ago was with Valerie. We did one night together where she did a set, and I did a set, and we sang backup for each other.
LS: How fun!
KM: And that happened to be a night when James was in town, and he came, and he sang with us at the end.
KM: Yeah, he sang. Well, actually, I begged him. I went up to him while he was eating dinner, the poor guy. I said, “Will you sing just one song? Whatever you want to sing, we’ll back you up. Do you think you might, maybe????” [laughs] And by the end of the night, he said “OK.” He borrowed my guitarist’s guitar. I think we did “Wild Mountain Thyme” and “You Can Close Your Eyes.” It was a pretty great night.
LS: I can imagine!
KM: It really helped me to perform live again, because it had been so long. And I was so deathly afraid of the talking part. I was afraid I’d get up there and [mimes trying to speak, but nothing comes out].
LS and KM: [laughter]
KM: And it turned out, when I actually did it, that the talking part wasn’t nearly as scary as the singing part. It was really petrifying. Silly things like singing for an audience of 70 people when I’ve been singing for thousands of people.
LS: Why is that so scary?
KM: Because they’re people I KNOW, other musicians and stuff. That’s the kind of audience that scares the shit out of me. I remember when my dad came to see me singing with James. That was way more terrifying than 20,000 people. An audience of your peers is the scariest thing.
LS: It must have been a great experience to have opened for Shawn Colvin when she played at the Roxy in Los Angeles last March, especially with people like Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Don Henley and Melissa Ethridge in the audience.
KM: Yeah, that was a really amazing experience. To have her ask me to do that was really sweet of her. It was a really, really great “friend” kind of thing. And to have her introduce me was a perfect entree into her audience that night. She really set it up for me to have as nice a welcome as I possibly could. And then to have her come up and sit in with me to close my set was also great.
LS: That was so beautiful!
KM: The song we sang, the Beatles’ “I’ll Be Back,” that’s her arrangement. We do it a lot in her show when I’m singing background vocals, but she had opted not to do it that night because she had so many new songs she wanted to do. So I asked if we could do it in my set. It was really moving to have her do that for me. Not to be corny or sappy, but it meant a lot to me. And thank God I didn’t know that all those people were in the audience, because I was nervous enough. But I think it turned out OK — it was a great night. Los Angeles is also my hometown, so it was cool to be doing a show at the Roxy, opening for Shawn.
Kate with k.d. lang.
SHAWN COLVIN, K.D. LANG, AND THE “JONI MITCHELL TRIBUTE”
LS: You’ve worked with Shawn Colvin for a long time, haven’t you?
KM: I met Shawn at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. I think it was in 1995 when she was performing on the same show as James was. We just really hit it off. We were on the plane together, and she came to our rehearsals and ended up singing with us. That’s how she got to know James. At first Shawn and I were simply friends, and I didn’t really sing with her. Then gradually, she started asking me to sit in, and she had me come to Telluride for a New Year’s Eve show. And then I had a really bad skiing accident with her. I tore two ligaments in each knee at the same time.
LS: My God!
KM: [sternly] Skiing with Shawn is a DANGEROUS THING! No, it wasn’t her fault, I’m just kidding. I like to blame it on her because it makes me feel less stupid.
LS and KM: [laughter]
KM: But the next year, her husband did tear his ACL ligament too. Coincidence?? We don’t think so!!!
LS and KM: [laughter]
LS: And you’ve recorded with her?
Kate with Shawn Colvin.
KM: I sang on “Sunny Came Home” from A Few Small Repairs, and then I toured with her for the promotion of that album. For about a year and a half I did quite a lot of touring with her. It all fell neatly between what I was doing with James. We went to Europe and did a bunch of stuff in the U.S. I sang a little thing on her new record, too. We’re still really good friends.
LS: And what about k.d. lang — how did you hook up with her?
KM: I met her when I worked on the April 2000 tribute to Joni Mitchell in New York. She’s truly an amazing singer.
LS: How did you get involved in that show [An All-Star Tribute to Joni Mitchell]?
KM: It was a really, really cool show, and I was so completely proud to be involved with that on any level. Larry Klein, Joni’s ex husband and an incredible bass player, producer and writer, hired me to be the rehearsal vocalist for the band before the artists got there.
LS: In other words, you performed the songs so the band could practice before the arrival of the singers who were doing the show?
KM: Right. There were all these different artists singing a Joni Mitchell song during the show. Shawn was there, James was there, and Mary Chapin Carpenter, k.d. lang, Cassandra Wilson, Cyndi Lauper, Wynona Judd, Bryan Adams, Elton John, Diana Krall. It was really an incredible group of people. During rehearsal, I was the person to sing where the verses went and where the choruses went. And then I got to sing backup on the show.
LS: That must have been pretty fun!
KM: It was really, really, fun. I’ve always been a huge Joni Mitchell fan. It was one of those “pinch me, I cannot believe this is happening” experiences. Sometimes you do those kind of shows and they turn out hokey. But that turned out really well. Everybody’s versions of Joni’s songs were so interesting.
LS: For which artists did you sing backup?
KM: For Shawn, Mary Chapin Carpenter and James on a song they did together, for k.d. lang, Cassandra Wilson, Cyndi Lauper, and for the song that Wynona Judd and Bryan Adams did as a duet.
LS: And that’s how k.d. lang knew your work?
KM: Yes. When she was looking for backup vocalists for her tour last year, Greg Liesz, a pedal-steel player, and Grant McAree, her sound man, who both worked on the Joni Mitchell show, recommended me to her. We toured the United States and Europe.
Kate with JT.
PERFORMING LIVE AND TOURING WITH JAMES TAYLOR AND THE BAND
LS: Let’s talk about the James Taylor Live album and the process of that.
KM: They did it in a really good way and didn’t try to record just one or two shows. In a situation where it’s just one or two shows being recorded, everybody can’t help but get a little anxious when you know you’re being recorded and it’s a live album. We’re not of the school where you fix everything. James isn’t like that, and he didn’t want to do a live album like that. He wanted to do a real live album.
So, they recorded something like 14 to 17 shows. George Massenberg, the engineer, helped get it all set up, and then Nathaniel Kunkel came out on the road with us. He’s Russ Kunkel’s son, and he’s an amazing engineer in his own right now, a really incredible engineer. They had a separate board, and he would record every night. So we kind of forgot that they were there, which is the best way to do it. And then they took the long process of going through everything out there, because there were a lot of versions of the same songs.
LS: On “That Lonesome Road,” is that you singing that solo?
KM: Do you mean the lyrics “carry on”? Yeah, that’s me on that, and then Val comes in. Don [Grolnick] and James wrote “That Lonesome Road” together, so it’s hard for me to listen to the Live album because Carlos [Vega] and Don are on it. It’s just really hard because we loved them so much. You really get close, it’s like a family. You may not spend a lot of time together when you come back into town, but those times you spend on the road are unique to that group of people. It’s like a little city or something, and it’s just hard to believe two such strong people in the group are gone.
It’s really different now, but life goes on. I’m so glad that James is the kind of person who grieves but wants to carry on. To keep working and doing what he loves doing, trying to evolve and make new music despite the fact that such strong forces in his previous band are gone.
We had some moments of performing right after both their deaths that were really, really hard to do. We just tried to help each other through it. And there have been times when you’re tired on the road after you’ve been out for a while, and you think, “I wouldn’t have been able to do this if it hadn’t been for these people.”
LS: Tell me some bus or road anecdotes.
KM: James is on the singers’ bus, so that’s interesting right there. I don’t think the average person, even James’ fans, really knows what a wicked sense of humor James has. How completely silly and insane he can be. He can be like a little kid. After the shows, we’ll get on the bus, and a lot of times we’ll talk for a while and kind of unwind, or we’ll watch a movie or listen to some music. But a lot of times, you’ll be in your bunk trying to sleep, and you’ll hear this whistling. This incessant whistling. And it’s James, pacing up and down in the hallway between all the bunks, whistling some song. And he’s a great whistler, so it’s not like bad whistling. It’s great whistling. But it’s [mock aggravated] WHISTLING NONETHELESS.
And once he did this thing with a piece of bread that’s really hard to explain. He calls it “breadman.” All of a sudden, you hear him saying something, and you look out of your bunk, and he’s got a piece of wheat bread on his face, and he’s cut a mouth hole and plastered it on his face, so that the bread opens and closes with his mouth, and he’s going, “BREEEEAAAAAAADMAAAAAAAAAN.”
LS and KM: [laughter]
KM: I don’t know if you should include that in your article or not!
LS and KM: [laughter]
LS: I’ve heard the life of a performer on the road described as kind of like going away to summer camp, kind of insulated.
KM: Very. This is going to sound really weird, but after doing a long tour with James, to help me adjust to the culture shock of being back home, sometimes when I come home, I wouldn’t literally come home. I would check into a hotel in town for a couple of days just to decompress because it’s such a shock to come back. There’s your pile of mail that you haven’t seen. There’s this to do in your house, and that to catch up on. And you don’t have someone waiting on you anymore. You don’t have someone telling you to be in the lobby at 10 a.m. When you’re on the road, there’s a certain safety and security in the fact that you know what’s expected of you every day. You show up, and you do it, but you don’t have to deal with everything else that’s going on. There’s something about that sometimes that’s really nice and kind of escapist. And combine that with hanging out with people who actually enjoy doing music. But it’s hard work too. A lot of people think it’s always glamorous. It really is not glamorous when you’re on the bus, OK???? [grins sarcastically]. Let’s just be straight about that!
LS and KM: [laughter]
KM: But it’s a great life too. I’ve gotten to see the world. I’ve gotten to see so many amazing places and actually make money while I’m doing it, and I value that experience a lot. But yeah, it’s insular. James is always referring to “the civilian life” vs. our life on the road.
For me, I think I’ve sacrificed a lot in my personal life to do what I do. I’ve sacrificed a lot of what people would call a normal life. My career’s been great — but it’s been a trade-off. I just couldn’t seem to follow the traditional timeline and fit that into my life and my work. So, I’ve had my share of crash-and-burn relationships. I’ve made bad choices, and I always put my career first. When I finally got sick of it and got a little healthier, I really let go of the expectations. I let go of the frantic need to “FIND SOMEONE.” And that’s when I met Todd. And now I have a real home life, which is really different for me. And it feels good.
BACKGROUND VOCALIST “SECRETS”
LS: For those of us non-singers, would you explain how you figure out what notes to sing when you’re singing a harmony?
KM: I can only say how I approach it. I think you either innately have musical abilities or you don’t. I guess I was exposed to music so early that it was just part of me. I started singing harmonies to everything. I would sing along with whatever I was listening to. First I’d get the melody in my head, and then I started to think of harmonies to sing. I did choir and madrigal groups when I was in junior high, so I learned how to learn a part and stick to it even though someone was singing another note. That’s a really important thing to be able to do.
A lot of people think they can sing because they can sing along with someone on the same note. But the minute one person switches to a different note, the other person just goes to THAT note. You might have a good ear, and you can follow along as long as someone’s singing, but you have to be able to stick to your note. The more you do it, the better you get at it. That’s how I started. And if you learn about music theory, you can also visualize the notes, and you can visualize them going up and down. If I’m learning a new part, sometimes I have to write it down to myself to remind myself where it’s going.
LS: I guess it’s very instinctual.
KM: I think a certain amount of it can be learned. If you didn’t feel like you innately could do it, you could probably practice to develop it.
A song has a melody line with chords underneath that create a harmonic structure. Backup vocalists will use the notes in those chords to create a feeling. Like a minor chord will feel different from a major chord. There are certain notes in the structure of a song that add a lot of dimension.
The interesting thing about the combination of voices that we have with James is that Val’s and Arnold’s voices are similar to each other in tone and power, and David’s and my voices are similar to each other’s too in some ways. When all our voices are combined, they create a full sound.
LS: I’ve seen some JT concert videos from the early 1990s, and back then it would be you and Arnold on one side of the stage, and David and Val on the other. But now you all stand together.
KM: Actually, we kind of started out all together, and then on various tours, just to do something different visually, the lighting designer or somebody else would say, “How about separating the singers this year and putting them on different risers?”
LS: So it was just a visual thing? That’s interesting.
KM: I think so, yeah, at the time. It was kind of fun when we were angled enough to see each other across the stage. When we are in a line, we have to make an effort to look side to side at each other. Sometimes I actually like being separated, because then I can see what the other singers are doing. Or, I can try to distract them, make fun of them, make faces at them.
LS and KM: [laughter]
KM: Also, until we were using in-ear monitors, when we were in one line together it was harder to hear with monitors/speakers in front of us. If Valerie and I are on the same note, and our monitors are right next to each other, it’s really hard to tell who’s who, and it’s really hard to hear what you yourself are doing. That can be a problem for us if we’re not using in-ear monitors and we’re all right next to each other. A lot of times if we do a TV show, they’ll have one mix for all of us. You get spoiled when you have a good monitor engineer who’s giving you what you really need to hear to sing as well as you can.
LS: In-ear monitors… are those the things in your ears that look like a hearing aid and have a wire coming out of your hair down your neck?
KM: Yeah. They’re custom molded. They put this soft stuff to mold your inner ear canal. You really have to get used to it because they feel really strange. They go deep in your ear canal. And then it’s kind of scary because you feel it’s so close to your eardrum. But they have limiters on them so that the volume can’t go past a certain level. They actually save your ears because you don’t get the kind of feedback you can get from a regular monitor, which can be just shattering.
LS: So with in-ear monitors, you’re hearing your voice better so that you can make sure you’re singing what you want to sing?
KM: Yeah. The in-ear monitors are pretty amazing. You can get a great mix that sounds like a record in your head. You get whatever you need to hear pitch. I always get a little bit of the whole band. I may not get very much of the lead guitar, because guitar tends to be in the range of voice. So if I hear a loud guitar, it’s kind of canceling out what I’m trying to sing. I’ll get bass for sure, because bass helps me with pitch center. And then I’ll get piano for sure, because it’s a really good instrument to sing with. And I’ll get some of James’ guitar.
LS: And his voice too?
KM: Definitely his voice, yeah. And the other singers, usually a lot more of the guys than Valerie just because she and I are sometimes on the same notes. On certain songs, I’ll get more of her if she’s doing a part that I really want to hear. It just depends. But it’s great because you can get effects in there too. You can get reverb and delay, and you can make it sound really good in your own little head [laughs]. Or really bad, depending on whether you’re doing a good job that day or not.
LS: So while you’re singing, can you hear any sounds other than what’s being piped in?
KM: The ear monitors that we use have a little hole in them so that you can hear a bit of the live sound. But there’s a certain amount of feeling isolated that you really have to get used to — it’s a trade-off. I think there is an energy that can get lost, especially when you first start using them. But the ability to hear your voice — no matter what the conditions are — is really worth it for singing backup.
ROCK IN RIO, JANUARY 2001
LS: Let’s talk about your visit to Rio in January  with James for the “Rock In Rio” festival.
KM: Rio was amazing. This was my third time there, and it was nice to go back. I appreciated things about it more this time for some reason, even though our visit was so short. We just went down there and had that day with sound check that night, and then we did the show the next night and flew home the next day. But this trip made me remember how much I love Brazilian music. I fell in love with it again. And the Brazilian people are so cool and warm and open — and WAY too gorgeous for words.
We performed on the opening night of the entire festival, and there was a lot of variety of artists there this year, everyone from Britney Spears to Brazilian artists like Milton Nascimento and Gilberto Gil. Nascimento and Gil and a Brazilian singer named Daniela Mercury performed before us, then we did our set, and then Sting did his.
LS: Oh wow.
KM: We went on at something like 11 p.m., and the concert didn’t end until around 3 a.m. But I think the audience that night was about 180,000 people. I’ve performed for big crowds before, but I’d never looked out onto that many people.
LS: What was it like?
KM: It was really moving. And they do this thing in Brazil where instead of holding up lighters, they wave white handkerchiefs, which symbolizes “peace.”
NOTE: For a photo of the Rock in Rio crowd, take this link. LS: There was a file on Napster of a lot of the songs that James performed, and on “You’ve Got a Friend,” it sounded like the audience was singing along.
NOTE: For a photo of the Rock in Rio crowd, take this link.
LS: There was a file on Napster of a lot of the songs that James performed, and on “You’ve Got a Friend,” it sounded like the audience was singing along.
KM: Oh yeah, big time! It was pretty awesome to look out at that many people, I have to say. It definitely moved me, especially to see their response to James. And when we did “Only a Dream in Rio,” particularly during the section that’s in Portuguese, they were really getting into it. You could see the swaying of the arms with the white handkerchiefs. It was really cool.
LS: With 180,000 people, was it like a concert in Central Park or something?
KM: They had this big field, with huge tents for sponsors and the artists, and a really big, elevated stage. There was this sea of heads as far as you could see.
LS: Were they in seats?
KM: No, they were standing on a lawn, and it was flat.
And they REALLY love James Taylor down there! Even the younger people REALLY love him. It was cool to see him get that kind of recognition from people in the hotel and people in the street. He was mobbed like a big celebrity star everywhere. I think it’s always nice to feel like a younger generation of people is appreciating your music. It was nice to see that happening so naturally. It was nice to see him liking that, although it was a bit overwhelming when they were literally following him everywhere around the hotel. He couldn’t get a cup of coffee without cameras in his face.
LS: So you performed that night, and you left the next day?
KM: Yes. It was too short — you just don’t want to leave! I did get a chance to go up to the Corcovado, though, to see the big cement statue of Jesus. That was amazing.
LS: Is that the one James refers to in “Only A Dream in Rio”?
KM: Yeah, the concrete Christ. It’s on top of this huge mountain. It’s an amazing sight. When you get up there, you see all of Rio down below you, including the coastline. And when you look up at this statue from the bottom, it’s just HUGE. You look up from the base of the statue into the sky.
LS: Can you see it from anywhere in Rio?
KM: Pretty much, I think.
LS: Who built it?
KM: I don’t know the history of it. [self mockingly] That’s typical of me, to go to some historical site and go, “Wow this is cool!” but not know anything about it.
LS and KM: [laughter]
NOTE: According to a “Corcovado” web site, the statue of Christ has become a symbol of Rio and its people, receiving all visitors with its arms open. For a spectacular photo of the statue, take this link:
NOTE: According to a “Corcovado” web site, the statue of Christ has become a symbol of Rio and its people, receiving all visitors with its arms open. For a spectacular photo of the statue, take this link:http://www.corcovado.com.br/.
KM: James told me that he and [percussionist] Luis Conte visited a percussion school for kids where they learn to play drums all year long preparing for Carnaval. Luis played percussion with the kids. James said it was just amazing. He said you just CANNOT keep from getting up and dancing when you hear this. There’s no way NOT to.
We also ate at a restaurant where they had this traditional Brazilian dish called feijoada. It’s sort of like a stew, and it’s my least favorite kind of food because I don’t eat red meat. But part of traveling is trying to taste stuff.
LS: So did you eat it?
KM: Well, sort of. I kind of ate the beans and the rice and the greens — that all tasted like red meat.
LS and KM: [laughter]
LS: Well, that must be hard, maintaining a normal eating schedule when you’re on the road.
KM: Yeah. But James is really good to us and we get to express our preferences. There’s always vegetarian choices backstage at the venues. And we get to put in requests for things to have in our dressing rooms.
LS: That’s nice!
KM: Oh yeah. There’s a list called a rider, and it’s what all the venues get that explains what we need in the dressing rooms. A lot of times, bands will put something on their rider that’s a fake request just to see if it will actually appear.
LS: What’s the weirdest thing that anyone on the James Taylor tour has asked for?
KM: For a while there was a big request for pitted dates, and nobody knew where it came from. Nobody ever ate them, and they would just appear every time.
LS: That’s funny.
REHEARSING FOR A JAMES TAYLOR TOUR
LS: When I interviewed David and Val, I asked both of them how the set list comes together. And [laughs] David said, “I don’t get involved in it,” and Val said, “I don’t get involved in it.” But they BOTH said that YOU really get involved in it.
KM: Yeah, it’s kind of an old joke. [grimacing] Do I have to admit that???
LS and KM: [laughter]
KM: When James picks his set, he’ll have written some new songs, so he’ll obviously want to do those. And then he’ll have a full list of his complete discography, a list to choose from. And then he has the complete history, so he knows the set he played the last time he was in a particular city. Then people will have various suggestions.
He makes these file cards of choices that he’s considering and things we’ve started rehearsing. As we get to the end of rehearsals, we start trimming down the set. He puts his file cards out on the top of the grand piano, and he lays them out in what he thinks might be the order. And when Don Grolnick was alive, Don and I would immediately be at the piano, looking. We’d say, “Ohhhhh, you’re not going to lose that one???” “No, you’ve got to do THAT one!” and “You can’t NOT do THAT,” or “I think that would be better there.”
LS: And he’s open to that?
KM: (grinning hopefully) Well………
LS and KM: [laughter]
KM: It’s kind of become a joke over the years. It started with Don, and then I kind of weaseled my way in there — in my inimitable fashion. And then I couldn’t NOT comment on things I felt strongly about. But it became this thing where they would hide from me. They would start to do the set, and I’d [cranes her neck].
LS and KM: [laughter]
KM: I’d see them across the room, and it would be like radar. They’re discussing the set! And I’d race over there. So now it’s gotten to the point where it’s a joke, because when James works on the set, he goes into a completely different…
LS: Room? [laughing]
KM: He’d probably like to fly across the country to work on the set!
LS and KM: [laughter]
GETTING READY TO GO ON TOUR
LS: You’re leaving in a couple of weeks, and you’re going to be gone for at least four months. What are you doing? How do you get ready for that?
KM: I have an assistant who helps me when I’m gone and basically runs my entire life, like all the paperwork. She used to check on my house, too, but that’s different now that Todd lives here.
Practically speaking, the first thing you have to do before everything else is to make sure that your wardrobe case is packed. That leaves on the truck usually at least a week earlier than you’re leaving.
LS: You mean that you have to pick out your clothes that you’re going to wear on stage?
KM: Yes. And we’re also in the great position of being able to bring other stuff if we want. Like I’m going to bring my bike. That’s the kind of stuff you can put on the truck in advance to go out and meet up with at rehearsal. Then, during the tour, we put our bikes under the bay in the bus.
LS: Do you get a lot of opportunity to exercise on the road?
KM: Yes. It’s a well-known fact that James had his addictions for many years, and I think when he got sober one of his passions became working out. So it’s a high priority for him to be able to work out on the road and to have a situation that pushes him and inspires him to do that. In fact, from 1992 to 1995, the assistant tour manager was also a trainer. When we’d go to different hotels, she would book a room, or she would find the nearest good gym and reserve the workout room. And she would teach a class every day. Sometimes aerobics, sometimes yoga-type stuff. Or stretching. We got into step aerobics for a while, and then spinning bikes and step benches. I had always worked out a lot, but I had never had the luxury of having a trainer around to push me and teach me things that I didn’t know, and it changed my life. Meeting James and working with James has really changed my life in many positive ways.
LS: What happened after 1995?
KM: It’s evolved to where James works out himself, and we all work out on our own. We don’t have the trainer, but we have someone who finds out which are the good gyms, where are the good bike trails, and what places have good hiking. James is very much into hiking and biking and roller-blading. He’s also extremely accident prone, but we won’t go into that.
LS and KM: [laughter]
KM: So after you get all the wardrobe trunk things together and make sure that’s on it’s way, then you have your little bus bag for all your stuff that you want on the bus, like comfortable sweats, and books or CDs, or whatever you have. And we’ve all developed our own packing strategies. My packing strategy is to bring WAY TOO MUCH.
LS: Do you change your vocal preparation routine — or do you start one?
KM: When I’m getting ready, I start vocalizing more. I tend to vocalize in the shower, that’s my thing. I do these “buzz” things, and they kind of make your lips tingle so it’s easier with water running.
LS and KM: [laughter]
LS: That’s part of your vocalizing? That’s interesting!
KM: Yeah, my little personalized vocalizing tip: do it in the shower! [chuckles] People would probably laugh at that, but that’s what I do.
KM: I’ve been really, really lucky. There are so many talented singers in this town, and I’ve just been lucky. It’s hard to believe you can actually make your living just opening your mouth.
LS and KM: [laughter]
KM: It’s a strange concept. You know, this just sounds really corny, but when you’ve lost people like I have, and we all have in James’ group, the thing that always ties you together and gets you through it is that connection of music. And that’s helped me in my own life too. The fact that my father was a composer and that I know his music will live on is a good feeling. To know that it got passed on to me is one of those things that’s sort of bigger than all of us. That to me is something to be passed on through generations. It’s a healing thing. And working with people like James and Shawn and k.d. has been really powerful. It’s been really contagious, and it’s helped me a lot in my life to have that light around me, to be as close to it as I can. [Thinks for a moment.] I guess those are my…
LS: Concluding remarks?
LS and KM: [laughter]
LS: Thank you very much!
Special thanks to Alex Magno Breder for his invaluable assistance with information about Brazilian culture.