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A Conversation With Kat Goldman


By Stevie Connor


Kat Goldman is one of Canada’s most celebrated song writers. She has made four critically acclaimed albums and her songs have been covered by Grammy-nominated band, The Duhks, and American folk hero Dar Williams, among many others. She has just written her first book, due for release soon. She lives in Toronto.


Stevie Connor, founder of The Sound Cafe, Blues & Roots Radio and Boreal PR sat down with Kat in downtown Toronto to chat about her journey ...


The Sound Cafe


When did your journey in the arts begin ?


KG


I started out in the dance department at York University in Toronto when I was nineteen, I had a full scholarship, they gave me an award for most artistic dancer, it was a really high honour, but, I began to get overwhelmed at the university, I was drowning, and I dropped out of the dance program, I realized that York was too big a place for me to be putting down roots at for school. So my parents looked for a suitable school on the east coast of America where they offered smaller liberal arts classes. They figured out that I wasn't able to learn in large lecture type environments, that I needed smaller class facilities with more one on one instruction.


So the next year I was enrolled at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts and spent two great years there, two thousand kids maximum. I had small classes, great professors, and from there I moved to Boston in my early twenties. Around that time I started to busk in Harvard square, playing covers of songwriters I was discovering, and there was a whole culture of busking down there in the Boston area. Club Passim was situated in Harvard Square, which is a famous folk club where I think Dylan, and Joan Baez performed at, Tracy Chapman, Martin Sexton, you know, so that was kinda influencing me, and I was starting to write songs, but they were really bad songs { laughs } really bad embarrassing songs { laughs again }, but I ended up dropping out of university in Boston before I got my degree, and moved back to Toronto at twenty four years old, I got an apartment down on Brunswick Street in the Annex and I did a three year course in art therapy, I was going to become an art therapist. I was working with kids who had learning difficulties and were in bad situations at home and I finished the three year program.


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Did you go on to practice as an art therapist from there ?


KG


No, after the three year course, I decided I didn't really want to be a therapist, what I really wanted was to pursue a career in music, seriously, and full time, if I could. It was during the time that I was in the arts therapy program that I had started to write my first songs in Toronto. I started recording them and performing at coffee houses in the city. The art therapy program helped me to create, it taught me to let go and put all my emotions into my writing, when I decided that I didn't want to be a therapist, financially, it was probably the worst decision I've made { laughs } but, I wanted to try music for real.


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So your first recordings were made in Toronto ?


KG


Yes, I think they were made on cassette tapes, in the late nineties.


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I heard a story that James Keelaghan was given one of your early tapes to listen to, was that right ?


KG


Oh yes ! that's right, I think Michael Wrycraft had one of my early tapes with a recording of Annabel on it, and gave it to James to listen to, James in turn I think had spoken to a band based in Winnipeg about it, Grammy nominated, The Duhks.


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I think it was Leonard Podolak, founder of The Duhks, who took it to the band and they went on to record Annabel, would that be correct ?


KG


Yes that was so cool ! I remember getting the email from them, at the time I didn't know who they were, I think it was Leonard who wrote to me, he said something like ' Hey Kat, just to let you know, we've recorded your song Annabel, and it'll be on our new CD ', so that's how we connected.



The Sound Cafe


Around this time in Toronto, you were in a bagel store downtown and a car came crashing through the window and injured you pretty badly.


KG


Yeah, that's right, I was thirty three years old


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It was a major accident which took you a couple of years to recover from with rehab didn't it?


KG


In some ways I feel like I've never recovered from it, my physical body recovered quite quickly, I worked so hard at physiotherapy for months, learning to walk again using crutches and then without them.


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Can you remember what was flashing through your head when it happened ?


KG


I was putting bagels into a brown paper bag and I heard an explosion, and then it was like a slow motion movie, my mind was racing, I looked around and that's when I felt the excruciating pain in my legs, and I saw a car through the dust and glass in the middle of the store.


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Like you have said, it took a long time to recover, even now you still have issues with your legs being sore, and it put on hold your career as a musician, was it during the recovery time that you decided to move back to Boston ?


KG


I found it tiring and tough mentally to recover, and I needed to get stronger, I needed to get out of Toronto, thankfully my parents supported my decision, and believed in me and were right behind me. I spoke to a friend in Boston, she gave me the chance to go there and spend the summer, so I rented a place for the summer, it was in pretty bad repair the place, I drove there with my dog, Max, a bag of clothes and within a few weeks I was feeling much better, I was so happy in Cambridge, which is just across the river from Boston, and I decided to stay.


I enrolled in a course at Boston University, but, I just want to tell you this, the first class I took when I was there was a poetry class, a Harvard extension class, to test the water and dip my toes back in. I found it difficult to read and could not understand why, I spoke with a friend who I had known for twenty years, who was an MD, she immediately recognized I had some sort of learning disability, she suggested some things I should do, and immediately I was getting straight A's, top of my class, I was on the Dean's list for two straight years, I had always been very insecure about my education before that, until this all happened for me in Boston.


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So, is that around the time that you started to write songs again ?


KG


I had better songs when I was writing in Toronto, some of my first songs were, Annabel, and the Albion Song.


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To say that Annabel was one of your first songs, well, that just blows my mind, I can understand when people heard it for the first time, they must have thought, who the hell wrote this song ?


KG


You wanna know something crazy ? Because of Annabel, The Duhks version was played on a TV series ' Hell On Wheels ', I got a message from a really famous rock guy in England, he watched the series, heard the song and contacted me, he said I just want to tell you what a great songwriter you are, and we struck up a really cool friendship, he's still out there playing ' For the Kid's, doin' it for the kid's ' { Laughs } , that song raised the bar for me and made me think, okay, how do I get to the roots and write a song like that again ? I remember it came from a very simple place, a very pure place.


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The song was influenced by your grandmother wasn't it ?


KG


Yes, my mother's mother Anne, we were very close all through my life, and when she passed away, I wanted to honour her in the best way I could, so, yes, that's how it was inspired.


The Sound Cafe


I wanted to ask also, how did Dar Williams come to pick up on your music ?


KG


That's an interesting story, I was living in Toronto, had made my first album ' The Great Disappearing Act ' I read an article in a newsletter about Shawn Colvin, so I wrote to the author who was in California, and said Shawn was a huge influence on me, and told him I had just released my first album, and could I send a copy, he mailed me back and said, I've put you in contact with two managers, one of them was Ron Fierstein in New York City, who managed Suzanne Vega, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Shawn Colvin and Dar Williams. I sent Ron the album, and I got a phone call from him, he said his whole office loved the album and he wanted to come see me play a show, talk about nerve wracking, he wouldn't tell me which show he was going to come to, I gave him my whole schedule, it just so happened I was doing a show with some friends of mine, The Animators, in Buffalo, New York, after the show, Ron Fierstein walked up to me, he'd flown in from New York City to see me perform, I had no idea he had been in the audience, we chatted, he was the nicest guy, he said he was interested in signing a three year contract with me, they flew me down to New York for showcases with some major record labels, I thought this was it, this was my lucky break, this is that door that opens for me. I signed for three years, I started playing some great shows down in Manhattan, I opened for Al Stewart at The Bottom Line, Ron had gotten all these showcases with labels, but it was right at the time that they'd stopped signing artists, so we never got a record deal, and then I had my accident. Ron supported me and kept encouraging me to write for the next album, eventually I did record Sing Your Song in Toronto, for Gypsy Girl, all the songs were written in Boston, except for the title track, which was written a couple of years before that in Toronto.




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The first album I heard of yours was Gypsy Girl, and it tuned me onto your earlier albums, how we first met was because I was a fan, I found out you were playing in Toronto and came along to see you perform a solo set downtown. It's interesting to me, I know now, that the two albums that struck me the most from your catalogue, I have just found out from this conversation today, were both written during your times in Boston


KG


I remember that, I had just moved back from Boston when we first met. That's interesting, yes Boston was a good place for me.




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One thing that I want to ask about and it all ties into where you are in your career now, I want to skip back to your academic career, you studied at Boston University and Harvard for a degree in English literature ?


KG


Well, I took classes at Harvard, and they allowed me to apply them to the credits I had gotten at Clark University, and I finished my studies at Boston University, so I graduated from Boston University. It was just thrilling, absolutely thrilling to be on the Harvard campus, walking to my classes through the grounds, the teachers were phenomenal, it was a wonderful experience.


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After you finished your degree, you moved back to Toronto ?


KG


Yes, after I had finished my degree I had to pack up and come back to Toronto, because I couldn't legally stay in the States because I had finished university.


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When I heard the album you had released after returning ' The Workingman's Blues ' I adored it, to me, it was like a concept album, where you started a story with the first track, and by the time I had listened to the last track, it was as if I'd been watching a movie. To me that is the art of storytelling at it's creative best.


KG


I am so happy that you picked that up, because that was my whole intention, I wanted to make it almost like a fiction, I wanted to tell a story through the album, through a song order, through the concepts and everything. I had written a bunch of the songs in Boston, and when I had the title track written, I thought, okay, this is going to be the story, It was a two year process, I tried making the album in Cambridge, MA, by myself, but I didn't like what I heard, then I moved back to Canada, I met with several producers, I workshopped the songs in rehearsals with some amazing musicians in Toronto, and I am really grateful to them for helping me develop the songs, they were crucial in that process, but I still didn't feel like I was there yet, and wasn't ready to make the album. I was then introduced to Bill Bell, and he was just the nicest guy, he was so kind hearted and friendly, and I thought, this is the energy I want to be around, this is the guy I want to work with. He told me he was a fan of 60's and '70's music, so we were on the same page from the start, and you know, he was the right producer for me at that time.


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I love the way the songs have been captured on the album, I think you've described it as your rock 'n' roll musical, for instance, the energy on Release Me is amazing, and the accompanying video was fun to watch, was it fun to shoot ?


KG


Glenn Hornblast did a great job on that video, I think we did four takes, of course the dancers were flawlessly rehearsed, and I was winging the whole thing { laughs }, I remember walking to the shoot being so happy I was going to make this video, it was a warm July day and I was so happy, such a good day.



The Sound Cafe


So you took a break from performing for a while as the making of the album and the promotion took a lot out of you.


KG


Yes, I just needed a break, and take time away from songwriting, but then, this guy named Stevie Connor, you { laughs } emails me out of the blue and has this genius idea about writing a blog for Blues & Roots Radio about my experiences as a songwriter, and something just went off, and clicked, I remember I gave you a proposal within 48 hours, I had this idea to call it The Disgruntled Songwriter, giving advice but making jokes, and it started from there.


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The blog has lead to you getting a publishing deal, which is amazing.


KG


It's insane, I had about 25 blogs, and I thought, wouldn't it be cool if I could turn this into a book, and I was thinking of self publishing, I happened to message a well known freelance blog writer, story writer and author Rebecca Eckler, I was seeking advice on how to turn this all into a book, she had a friend who just started a non fiction publishing company. I was advised to contact him, send the manuscript and ask if he'd like to meet, a couple of weeks later I heard from him, we met for coffee and discussed the possibility of publishing, we discussed a few things, he said he would need double the content, he wanted to set a deadline for the finished manuscript, and half way through the conversation he said, so I guess the next thing is to send you a contract ! I was floored, completely floored. You know I tried to break through in the music business for twenty odd years, and I had a few close calls like meeting Ron Fierstein and a few others, but, this was a high, this was a moment of total celebration, I remember walking out of the cafe and the first person I called was my father, it was an amazing moment. I am excited, it's different putting out a book than it is an independent album, I have people working on my behalf, the publishing house, their publicist, they are setting up launch events, it's really exciting.


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So this is a full circle moment, you have your degree in English literature, you have the non fiction stories from the music industry, and you are now a published author, when is the launch ?


KG


It's wild, and, I'll remind you, it's all because of you ! You put me on this path { laughs }, well, I think the book will be in stores in the Spring of 2021, and get this, I can't believe this, it will be on sale in Canada AND the USA, amazing !


The Sound Cafe


This was always inside you Kat, waiting to come pouring out, we look forward to reading it, another chapter in your incredible journey, thank you for giving us your time.


KG


Thank you so much !.





To find out more about Kat, to listen to and buy her music, and to find out more about her book you can visit her website at www.katgoldman.ca


Kat Goldman is a Canadian singer-songwriter, whose songs have been covered by Grammy-nominated band, The Duhks (Canada), Dar Williams (United States), and Kate and Ruth (Australia), among many others worldwide. Her break-out album, “The Great Disappearing Act” (2002) garnered her attention from NYC manager Ron Fierstein, who  managed the careers of Shawn Colvin, Suzanne Vega, and Dar Williams. He asked to sign her on the spot, after he flew up to Buffalo to catch her show one night. Kat went down to showcase in New York City for several years, but in 2003, was in a freak accident which essentially put her career on hiatus. After a long recovery, she released her come-back album, "Sing Your Song," in 2007. It was met with high acclaim. When Dar Williams heard it, she wrote, “I can’t imagine the world without it.” Kat moved to Boston in 2009, where she began taking classes at Harvard and Boston universities. She lived in Cambridge for six years, during which time she also made her third recording, “Gypsy Girl.” Kat graduated from Boston University in 2015, with a degree in English literature. She returned to Toronto in 2016, to work on her most recent release, “The Workingman’s Blues.” Kat calls it her “rock musical.” The songs tell a story about a young, tough workingman from South of Boston and his hardscrabble past.  Kat has won several awards from The International Songwriting Competition (Nashville). Her songs have appeared in numerous movies, documentaries and television shows, including The Duhks version of her song, “Annabel,” which aired in the TV series, “Hell On Wheels.” In the spring of 2021 she is releasing her first, published book, “Off The Charts: What I Learned From My Almost Fabulous Life In Music” (Sutherland House books), a comic look at her experiences as a songwriter, along with zany how-to advice for the beginner.  Kat has been there, almost to the very top, and now she’s back with sage advice and hilarious behind-the-scenes stories from a lifetime of toil in the dive bars and legendary venues of the contemporary music scene. she recounts what it’s like to meet your first fan, date a rock star (never again!), perform in a grocery store, and rebuild your career after getting hit by a car in a bagel shop. She tells of feeling the sting of rejection and rampant sexism, and the thrill of writing a hit song and performing with your idols. Off the Charts is a whimsical, uproarious tour through a fickle business that never seems to repay what performers put into it, and one woman’s highly intimate account of how she made the best of almost making it. Featuring a sparkling set of original illustrations by the award-winning Nina Berkson. Kat Goldman is one of Canada’s most celebrated songwriters.


 

 

 

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