Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Ten Minutes with Singer Songwriter Caitlin Robertson

I met Caitlin Robertson in 2010 as a judge in the Beaners Central Singer/Songwriter Contest. There were a number of very talented artists who performed that night, and Caitlin took second in the competition. Having stayed in touch, she recently shared that she is striving to raise money to produce a second CD. Here’s a little about her life in music, which I share in the hope that some of you might feel moved to help her in this project.

Ennyman: Where does your knack for songwriting come from?
Caitlin: It probably helps that my parents and older brother all have a Master's in English. I grew up in a pretty literary-minded family. We were always reading aloud to each other and crying over sad poems and such. I followed in their footsteps to a certain extent by getting my Bachelor's in English at St. Olaf College. But I think my interest in songwriting started well before I was aware it was something I wanted to focus on.

I became obsessed with reading the lyrics on CD jackets starting when I got my first CDs in junior high such as Jewel's "Pieces of You" given to me by my older brother and Lucinda Williams' records that my father introduced to me. As I began high school I started finding many other artists that I loved. I don't think I realized at the time that I wanted to write songs, but the poetry in the lyrics I read really resonated with me. Lucinda Williams' and other artists' (such as Emmylou Harris, Iris DeMent, Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, Gillian Welch, and the McGarrigle Sisters) beautiful lines etched themselves into my heart with the truth, pain, beauty and love they spoke of. I could sing along for hours. In high school people told me that I was a good writer but I didn't try writing poetry really until college when I took a "Creative Writing" class with Jim Heynen (acclaimed writer) my senior year. After that I was hooked on writing poetry, and then when I moved to the Northwest in my early 20s, I started putting my first poems into songs. I just thought I would try, and then it became something I wanted to keep on doing. I think writing songs is like putting together a puzzle for me. I love writing period. But songwriting combines two things I love into one. I think songwriting is a great challenge because you have to (or get to) say as much as you would in another form of writing in less words. Plus it has to be musically interesting, too.

Enny: Which comes first, the tune or the story? Do you have a standard process?
Caitlin: When I first started writing songs, the story always came first, because I began by transforming poems I had already written into songs. So this meant changing some of my more elaborate, verbose poetry lines into phrases that were simpler and would fit rhythmically into a given melody and time signature I had chosen. Now I do it both ways--sometimes I still start with just the story, but I have begun to find it easier and more enjoyable to pick up my guitar when I have an idea for a song and write the music and lyrics somewhat simultaneously. Sometimes I'll finish a song in one sitting and I won't be able to get up until it's finished (usually an all-day process), and other times I have to come back to it the next day. I always need to return to a started-song soon though, or it becomes one of my "never-finished-starts-of-songs" in one of my many notebooks.

Enny: You call your style folk-rock. Can you elaborate on that?
Caitlin: I call my style "folk-rock-country-pop". Lucinda Williams is probably my greatest influence, lyrically and musically. I adore her music. I believe the folk-rock-country influence comes from listening to artists such as Lucinda, as well as listening to my parents' old Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons records. Growing up on a sheep farm 7 miles north of a small town in rural Minnesota probably helped to form my writing and musical styles as well. I have been told that some of my songs have a slight "pop" twist to them. When I was younger I might have taken the "pop" label as a diss, but now I like it because I feel like my songs do have a "pop" (modern) aspect to them. But I have also been told my songs have an older feel to them. My hope is that most of my songs will be considered timeless, and that people of different generations and diverse musical inclinations will be able to connect with them in some way.

Enny: How did you come to make the guitar “your instrument”?
Caitlin: I started out on the flute and tin whistle in junior high and then in high school I fell in love with the piano. In college, my dad gave me a black Takamine guitar and I started playing around with it from time to time. I had too many other interests at the time to really focus on learning how to play the guitar, but then when I moved out to the Northwest in my early 20s, I started teaching myself more seriously and took a few lessons. I find the guitar lends itself to my songwriting process more than the piano has been able to in the past. That being said, I look forward to trying to write some songs on the piano in the near future.

Enny: A lot of people make CDs these days. What will be different about yours that makes it more than just something your friends will enjoy?
Caitlin: I believe that my songs and my "sound' are unique and I hope that people will be able to connect with the stories, landscapes, and feelings that I describe. Perhaps these connections might add to their own understandings of their own experiences. I think people will enjoy that I explore (through my songs) dark sides and emotions but I don't stay in the dark for too long, because there is also so much beauty and light in the world to help keep us hopeful, too. My highest hope is that at least a few of my songs will be considered timeless, and that people of different generations and diverse musical inclinations will be able to connect with them in some way.

Enny: Where do people send the money you’re trying to raise for this project?
Caitlin: "Coyote Blues" my first CD, will be released in December of 2011. You can watch my CD promo video on the Media page of my website, www.caitlinrobertsonmusic.com/media

If you like what you hear, please consider checking out my new Kickstarter project, "Caitlin Robertson Wintersong EP". Kickstarter is a really neat platform for independent artists to raise money for their projects. My goal is to raise $3,000 to record my Wintersong EP (my second album) by the end of February 2012. But here's the catch. I have to raise ALL of the money by January 8th, or the money will be refunded to my backers. I really want to make an EP of winter songs that I have already written, so I'm really hoping my project will be funded and I'll be able to make my Wintersong EP happen in 2012!!! You can find my project and a fuller description by going to www.kickstarter.com and searching for "Caitlin Robertson Wintersong EP" OR you can go to my website, www.caitinrobertsonmusic.com and you will find a link to my Kickstarter project on my homepage, OR you can click here.

I hope you will check out my site and spread the word. Every little bit helps me toward my goal! And I have fun rewards for all of my Kickstarter Project Backers. Visit my Kickstarter site to find out what they are!

Enny: Where did the album title come from?
Caitlin: The title "Coyote Blues" is both the title of my first album and the 7th song on the album. "Coyote Blues" tells the story of two cowgirls on a walk, who meet a Coyote that teaches them to sing the blues. The song is about recognizing the amazing experience of seeing such a beautiful animal (a Coyote) in front of them, and about learning something from this animal. It's about overcoming fear in order to enjoy the beautiful mysteries in life. I think that is a theme that is present in a lot of the songs on my album.

Enny: Here's an excerpt from a review about Caitlin's music.
"Caitlin Robertson's songs tell emotional, place-based narratives that conjure up images that range from lonely red barns, heartache as barren as the Sierra Hills, aging waitresses, melting ice cream cones to the fragile face of a baby sleeping in the night. The songs on "Coyote Blues" show the depth of attention Caitlin gives to the people and landscapes that surround her, and her ability to beautifully articulate her experiences to others through her music. they describe universal emotions in thoughtful ways as well as demonstrate an urgency to live in the moment--to "live foolishly. Many of Caitlin's songs have a sweetness and hopefulness to them, but "Coyote Blues" as a whole is sad and world-weary enough to avoid being criticized for its naiveté."

You can pre-order "Coyote Blues" at www.caitlinrobertsonmusic.com/music to have it sent to you by December 2011, when it will be released.

You can check out her Facebook music page at: www.facebook.com/caitlinrobertsonmusic

EdNote: Caitlin Robertson will be here in Duluth for her Northland CD Release at Beaners on January 21. If you're in the neighborhood, do join the celebration.

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