By Harriet Kaplan
Kate Copeland is an accomplished singer/songwriter/arranger and composer. Copeland has a formal background having majored in composition at the Oberlin Conservatory. She also grew up in creative and artistic household where music was a huge focus and influence. Both of her parents played instruments and they listened to an eclectic range of songs. Copeland doesn’t believe in labels and is determined to chart her own course in terms of her sound and style. But on her official Facebook page, the genre listed is electro-orchestral/progressive folk/pop. It may seem like a one-size fits all, easy categorization for a new listener that may be checking out her music for the first time. But it’s really an apt description for starters to describe the material overall on Copeland’s debut LP, “Recollection Room,” a deeply personal document of her life experiences and coming to terms with everything that comes with them. Black on The Canvas spoke to the emerging and talented artist about her debut LP, her songwriting process and making videos and more.
Kate can you tell BOC more about your background as a singer/songwriter/arranger/musician
Kate: I grew up surrounded by music, and gravitated towards it at a really young age. My earliest “compositions” were short piano pieces that grew out of improvisations – I wrote a large number of these between the ages of 5-12 or so. When I was around 10 I began singing in choirs and writing songs instead of just instrumental stuff. I remember how excited I was when I realized I could sing while playing the piano! I started studying composition more formally by taking private lessons in high school and then attending Oberlin Conservatory as a composition major. I wrote songs as a side hobby while I was there, and by the time I’d graduated I had written quite a few and I wondered what I should do with them, which led to the making of “recollection room.” While at Oberlin I studied orchestration, which got me interested in arranging and production, both on my projects and other artists’. I’ve worked as a producer/arranger with a couple of singer-songwriters now and I find it to be incredibly stimulating and fulfilling work.
When did you first develop an interest in music and playing and writing yourself?
Kate: I think I sort of answered this in my last response – essentially when I was 5 years old, sitting at the piano.
Musically who influenced you growing up?
Kate: My dad was definitely an influence – he’s a singer-songwriter as well. I grew up with him playing mandolin and singing me to sleep (no surprised that I began playing the mandolin when I was 12!) Both my parents always made sure there was music playing in the house – everything from The Beatles and Joni Mitchell to Stravinsky and Scarlatti. I’d say I have a pretty broad range of influences thanks to them.
Did anyone in your family have a background in music?
Kate: My parents met as music majors at Columbia University. My mom plays tenor sax and flute, and my dad is a singer-songwriter, composer, conductor, arranger, and multi-instrumentalist. So yes, there was definitely music in the family!
On this album, it seems like there a lot going on for you emotionally. Are you “recalling” certain experiences in your life and through relationships? Are they autobiographical and/or sketches and composites of people you have known in your life and you telling their stories?
Kate: My songs tend to be at least somewhat autobiographical. I find that I’m often inspired to write when I’m experiencing something in my life that is impacting me in an extreme way – whether it be joyful or sad or some mixture of the two. Usually it’s a way of processing my emotions, or making sense of something I’m struggling to comprehend. Occasionally I write fiction but even then I’d say I’m influenced by my own personal experiences quite heavily.
Do you play all the instruments on this album?
Kate: Not even close! I play some of the piano and synth tracks, and sing all of the vocals (with a bit of help from Kate Marvin on “Breaking”), but otherwise I had 25 incredible musicians come in and track on my songs. I worked with them very closely, but I certainly wasn’t playing their instruments.
I hear a number of different musical styles weaving in and out of the songs. Is that intentional and reflective of your tastes maybe setting a certain mood?
Kate: I don’t like to think of my music as belonging to a specific genre. I have many influences and love many different kinds of music – I follow my ear where it leads me and I try to be as true to myself and my vision as possible. So I suppose it both is and isn’t intentional – it’s just honestly how I hear and how I write.
How involved in the making of videos are you? Do you help creating the theme or concepts them? Do you enjoy the process?
Kate: I am very involved in both the conceptualization of my videos and the creation of them. I hand pick my production team from amongst my closest friends and do a lot of brainstorming with the director and videographer about what direction to go in aesthetically and what I want the video to convey visually and emotionally. It’s a very personal process because the songs are very personal for me, and I believe it’s essential that the video and the song reflect each other on a deep level. I enjoy the process very much! Though it can be stressful at times, like any project can be.
What is your favorite song on the new release and why?
Kate: I’m honestly not sure that I have a favorite – I really like different things about all of the tracks, and they impact me in different ways. I tend to resonate with different songs at different periods of time, depending on what I’m going through. As of right now I’d probably have to go with Sarah Walks / Daybreak. That song was such a journey to write, and I love the mood it evokes and the way it builds.
Do preference between playing live and touring versus recording and writing songs in the studio?
Kate: I have significantly more experience with being in the studio than on the road, so I couldn’t truly say which I prefer. If I had to guess I’d say being in the studio though – there’s something about the creative process that really invigorates me. I love working with musicians and watching a track unfold as each layer is recorded and carefully sculpted. The studio really is my happy place. That said, I absolutely love interacting with audiences and meeting new people, too!
Photos by David Rose