When you earn a degree on an instrument typically associated with playing in collectives, one would think you’d continue making music with company. Toronto-based Katie McBride reflects on her unique background in composition and trumpet as she paves her way as an independent dream-pop artist. RXM sat down with Katie to hear her insightful take on making music and the power of finding your voice through creative process.
RXM: Thanks for your time today! I wanted to sit down and have a chat about your current projects and past ones, I know you have two EPs on Spotify right now. I was looking through those and was wondering how you came about making music. I know you went to Humber College for a music degree, could you tell us a little on your musical background from there?
KM: I think I started playing music when I was in grade four or five and we were taught recorder and for most kids it was like this funny thing we had to do in class, but as soon as I got an instrument I was obsessed. So, the next year I signed up for band class which was an extra-curricular thing and that sort of was the very beginning of me playing music, just like in school.
So that was on trumpet, I got really into it and when it came time to choose what to do after highschool, I chose the Humber program because I had friends going there and it seemed fun, so I went and did my Bachelor degree on trumpet. For a while I was just really into playing jazz trumpet essentially. It’s funny cause of lot of my musical milestones were just through musical institutions, then part way through my degree, I think I was in a class, and they got me to compose something and then as soon as I discovered composition, I felt like that was kind of it for me, in terms of like I sort of found my calling is what it felt like. I got really into composition and sort of a few years after dabbling in film scoring, some classical composition lessons, and just various forms of writing music. One day I think I downloaded a digital music platform or creation program like Logic and I was messing around on it and I just kind of had this epiphany moment where I just started singing and writing songs. It just kind of felt like I kind of found my voice for real, within composition, and then it’s been a few years of that developing. I work now mainly on Ableton and I write with a lot of synthesizers and guitars and I still use trumpet but it’s not so much like a main focus. I guess I just like using whatever makes the most sense for the song. Yeah, singing and writing, you know experimenting since then.
RXM: When do you think you decided that you wanted to do that for the future?
KM: I think it was like there was a distinctive moment for me, I don’t know it was just like a year after school and I was in a weird place and I was writing, just kind of playing around with writing a song and I had this moment where I just knew. I don’t know if it was so much of a “I’m gonna do this as a career,” but it was sort of this moment of, “This is what I really care about in life.” So— as far as it being a career, it’s just like the only thing that I really care about, or it’s the only thing I want to do. I don’t want to do anything else so that’s why it inevitably just takes up all my time.
RXM: So what are you working on now?
KM: I’m working on an album right now. It’ll be the first full length album, I’m hoping to put it out maybe mid to late 2020. All the songs are written and then some, I’m just kind of everyday tending to them and developing them and finding ways to weave them together and understand how they weave together. It’s a nice process especially when I get into that flow. It’s fun. I mean some days its maddening. For the most part it’s fun.
RXM: Can we expect collaborations on this album?
KM: Yes! I think I’m gonna have a couple of familiar Toronto artists on there, maybe a couple featuring such and such. I mean I don’t know for sure yet so I won’t say, but yeah I hope so because I would love that. I haven’t put out a song featuring anybody yet and I’m starting to hear it, you know? Like “Oh this would be great with this person…”
RXM: So if someone came up to you on the street and was like, “I love your song “Baby Blue!” That’s your number one song on Spotify. I’m always interested in what the artist thinks. Sometimes they agree with which song is their most popular on streaming platforms and other times they might be sick of it.
KM: I think “Baby Blue” totally— I mean that is the song that I get a lot of people saying, “That song!” It makes sense to me cause even when I wrote it I was like, “This is so catchy” and I kept listening to it, so it makes sense to me. It’s definitely the most accessible song that I put out, so I’m glad people can connect with it. Doesn’t bother me at all. (laughs)
RXM: Would you say the album is following a similar direction?
KM: I think it is definitely part of my personal and musical evolution. In that sense it makes sense but it’s also different. It’s connected and it’s new at the same time.
RXM: Probably not blue eyes anymore, it’s a completely different entity now?
KM: Exactly, like it’s still me and you would know it was the same person. But it’s the next stage I think.
RXM: And I think also since you mentioned peppering in some other Toronto artists, that makes getting gigs with those people, even more accessible.
KM: Yeah totally and there’s a few people that I— mostly have just been really good friends with and sometimes collaborators for a few years who I can just feel in some subtle way we’ve all sort of influenced each other. Sometimes it’s as subtle as just playing shows together, showing each other demo’s or whatever. I love that feeling of community that I have here.
RXM: Would you say that any of the habits you’ve built being an independent artist have translated into your personal life in any way?
KM: I think it probably is all connected, you know what I mean? One thing that I was thinking of– it was interesting because I started playing and my whole musical foundation was on an instrument that really depends on playing with other instruments, like trumpet you can’t play chords on, I mean you could play solo trumpet pieces…I mean outside of using it as a tool for announcements or like in the army. It’s an instrument that’s meant to be making music with other instruments. I think that it’s interesting that I did sort of like a switching gears and developing a musical project where I was the whole band. All of the sudden I was like, “Not only do I not want to be dependent on a band, I will just be all of them.” I think in the beginning I needed to do it all myself. I needed that amount of control because I was still sort of figuring out what my voice was but now that I feel a little more developed in my artistic voice, I’m actually more open to collaboration now because I have a stronger sense of what I like and what I don’t like. Whereas before, it felt like if I let anyone in, I would get confused and I almost wouldn’t be able to figure out what I liked that they contributed and what I didn’t like and what felt like me because I didn’t really understand what me was yet.
RXM: I would imagine when you listen back to tracks or a composition as an artist, it’s nice to appreciate what you know you contributed, you know your own influence and you don’t feel like you got lost in the noise.
KM: Yeah, so doing it just like 100% myself. Like most of it myself kind of up to the mixing process essentially for a while, it’s really helped me to understand what my voice is and where I want other people’s voices to come in. Like who to collaborate with in order to help develop something. The point of the music isn’t just so I can – it’s to bring to life something that I’m envisioning and so I think more and more it doesn’t have to just be me. But when I bring on other people I want to know where I see their voice coming in.
RXM: I think that’s a valid point especially now learning that you have a compositional background because you’re used to calculating accurately where things are supposed to come in and out. And composition is very much a million pieces coming together at once so it’s interesting that you sort of dove into the other side of the court. Now I’m thinking back and I’m like, “I didn’t think I heard a lot of trumpet in what I listened to…”
KM: Yeah there’s trumpet on my second EP. It’s funny cause I think it’s on almost every song on the second EP. But it is subtle and it’s not the kind of thing where you’d be like, “This is trumpet music.” It’s not really obvious but if you listen for it. (laughs)
RXM: It’s funny you say that because I think generally people don’t think of “trumpet” and “subdued” in the same sentence, so I think that’s worth mentioning that you masterfully put it in there and you’re like, “Shhhhh.”
KM: It’s such a powerful instrument, I think you can kind of sprinkle it and it has this beautifully kind of uplifting effect. You don’t need a lot all the time, I mean unless that’s the point of the song, in this case in a piece of an arrangement. It’s nice when it’s subtle I find.
RXM: I was also going to ask— obviously we’re in the height of the digital age, as an artist a lot of things have changed evidently through production or how you distribute your music, down to even just the way you want the experience of your fans listening to your music live. Have you felt like anything has changed throughout your career in terms of when you’re performing, or has the sentiment changed because technology has taken the spotlight— what’s your relationship with that as an artist?
KM: It’s interesting because I feel like almost because when I first started making this kind of music, that had already taken effect. It was almost like performance came second, which I think is very much of the digital age. I had to learn how to perform my music which I think is just— nobody in the history of music has ever said that until this time period like, “What do you mean learn how to perform…?” I was fully making recordings and then having to figure out how that would work in a live setting. Whereas in the past it was like, you have a band and you were jamming, you come up with a song and you record it. Whereas for me it was always backwards. So that has been something. Performance, only until recently has it started to come together in a way that was honest to the feeling. It was hard for me to translate the feeling of the recordings and the honesty there to my live performances. But I think I’ve broken through that recently just from experience performing more and especially playing with other musicians. There was a period where I was doing a lot of solo performance, which is still cool and I think I could make that work but I think again, almost like opening myself up in that way, same with bringing people in to work on the music, it was similar with performance. It was almost like realizing how much beauty there is either is in the connections you have with other musicians on stage, that performance is about—there’s such a delicate energy thing that is happening that is so different from recording. For me I think that’s been the biggest evidence of the music being digital-based is sort of like performance coming second to recording and even just the fact I’m making music alone most of the time in a home studio, you know it’s very unique to that.
RXM: When you’re working on this album is it easy to see future ambitions past that or is it easier to stay present?
KM: I think now because of the stage that I’m in with this album I’m very hyper focused on it, but then at the same time I’m very aware of the fact that I’ll always be doing this. I love the fact that albums enable you to almost have like a chapter in your musical works. So there is an awareness that I want to write many more chapters, but at the same time I’m so in this one right now, especially cause I’m at the stage where the music is written and I’m starting to weave it together I think now more than any other stage. I’m in the world of this chapter.
RXM: Does that idea of dropping everything and moving into like a glass house in isolation appeal to you? You know how sometimes you need to make large movements– if you want to do something extreme you have to make some extreme change?
KM: I think that the extreme changes have to come from within, you can do something like that and I’ve done stuff like that like just gone to a place and said, “Okay I’m doing something totally different.” But then if you’re still thinking the same way or you’re kinda stuck in the same headspace, then it doesn’t matter where you are really. I mean it matters but I’ve mostly always been in Toronto and I’ve still gone through some major internal shifts that have changed my creative output quite a bit, quite drastically at times. That being said…I totally want to go to Norway (laughs).
RXM: There’s a metaphor in there somewhere (laughs). Any artist you’d die to share the stage with? Doesn’t have to be Canadian!
KM: Bjork maybe? Who else…Panda Bear. I love Panda Bear. I love Young Fathers right now. I don’t know if you’ve checked them out, they’re from Scotland. They’re amazing. Jenny Hval I really love – oh and Amen Dunes. But it always changes right? All those people I will always love I think, but there’s just so much amazing music out there and I think it’s such an amazing time. You can just check out infinite amounts of music for free at any time.
RXM: That’s very true, well looking forward to hearing what you make in 2020. Thanks for sitting down and sharing!
KM: Thank you!
Photo credit Jacq Andrade