Singer/songwriter Kara McGraw just released an album, Hound and Hare, that was 10 years in the making. The album, which was released on September 25, is aiming to support 13 charities over 13 weeks. Each week, a new charity will be supported. Yesterday week 2 of the charity support started–and this week the charity that is benefiting is Heifer International. To see McGraw’s entire charitable donation plan, be sure to visit here. My thanks to McGraw for discussing the album (which can be bought in its entirety for $10 here)
Tim O’Shea: When did you realize you wanted to do an album that “takes inspiration from vinyl, including an A and B side“?
Kara McGraw: The songs on this album were composed over the span of ten years. Needless to say, I was staring into a large pool of music when planning the album lineup, and I was divided as to how to proceed. On the one hand, I feel a deep connection to my more intimate, first-person songs. They turn inward to explore and express vulnerability, and in so doing, they offer comfort and healing. On the other hand, I was also ready to dive into a new, more adventurous musical sphere, one that gave me the opportunity to reflect on external affairs and society as a whole. This latter style of music aligns with a different state of mind, one that is more confident, analytical, and outward-focused.
I was divided, but then, aren’t we all? Because my music is about exploring what it means to be human, I decided to embrace that division and emphasize it by portraying the album as two-sided.
How did you go about deciding which charities to pick (and did you pick certain songs to be associated with particular charities)?
I sorted through a bunch of recommendations given me and selected those that really spoke to me. I tried to strike a balance between social, medical, and environmental issues. Some song topics may loosely correlate with the non-profit assigned to it. For instance, my song “Tough Cookies” will raise money to fund research into diabetes.
In a recent blog post, you wrote a post that spawns a few questions…first up, “After writing Blink I set it aside for many years — it pained me too much to play — and I consequently forgot and had to rewrite the ending.” How hard was it to look at the song again, even after the passage of many years?
By the time I returned to the song, I had gained distance and perspective. I can still tap into some of that raw emotion when performing or listening to the song, but now the feeling is as short-lived as my will to re-experience it.
“Icebreakers was written right after the great Northeast Blackout of 2003, a time when I happened to feel very powerless for my own reasons.” Is there a certain pride in seeing how empowered you feel now in 2012?
Oh, goodness. I am certainly more empowered now, but I have to ask myself how much of that has to do with the favorable circumstances surrounding me. I still struggle with some of the same issues I struggled with then. Sometimes I care a little too much about how others feel or what they may think, to my own detriment.
“My man came up with the chords to Modern Man when he decide to create an impromptu guitar progression in my honor, and I ran with it.” What was it about the guitar progression that clearly (pardon the pun) struck a note with you?
Let me turn that question back to you – why do you like the music you like? Sometimes, a song just doesn’t click. Sometimes, it grips you from beginning to end. I used to think that music was the universal language of mankind, but sadly, it’s not. I wish I had the answer to your question, but the appeal of music is a great mystery to me.
The creative process is arduous for any artist, so I was surprised to see you seemingly so hard in yourself in this post, when you wrote: ” Often I feel ashamed about not being more methodical and intellectual when composing music.” I thought the choice of the word “ashamed”–can you elaborate on why you felt that way?
I never felt ashamed about it before college. Music came naturally and that was my blessing. When I went to school in music composition, everything changed. My professors’ composition style was an intellectual one. Before writing a single note on paper, my teachers would have mapped the overall structure of the piece in terms of key, range, motifs, variations, etc. It was a more mathematical approach, one that my fellow students – most of them male—seemed to love and embrace. I sensed around me a general disdain for “pretty music” and music for the masses, which was regarded as intellectually inferior.
As for me, I was trying to hide the fact that I was going where the music told me to go, that it was leading me as opposed to the other way around. I was diving heartfirst into the music — not headfirst – and then going back to insert the “smart stuff” later. I recall in one lecture it was mentioned in passing that female composers tend to be more intuitive. I’m not sure why, but this caused me to feel even more singled out and inferior.
I grew a lot during those years, but I wish I’d had a professor who was more familiar with my composition process. Right now, music composition is a very male-dominated field, and I don’t think that’s because women don’t enjoy making music.
Who did you tap to produce the album and why?
I worked with Jeff Rolka to mix The Chandelier, my Christmas single of 2011. From that experience I learned that he is a very welcoming and supportive person, and he writes very detailed, clear emails – which I really appreciate. He’s timely, and he listens very carefully to your feedback to gauge what exactly you’re looking for. He certainly went above and beyond for this album, and I’m glad to have had the chance to work with him again!
Jeff recommended Mike Wells to master the album, and I had a similarly positive experience there as well. Mike has a great musical ear and a very genuine, kind demeanor.
Who all played in the sessions for the album?
Oh, it’s mostly just me on keys, guitar, cowbell, and vocals. I had a fantastic drummer, bass player, and string quartet in Tired of Silence, but we recorded it so long ago that I can’t remember the names of the performers who volunteered. I feel really bad about that! I wish I could credit them properly.
The only other performer besides me was Scott Douglas on guitar in Modern Man.
Will you be touring to any degree in support of the new album?
I hate being in the spotlight, and the idea of touring makes me feel ill. I’d much rather hide in a dark room with a piano and record my heart out. Still, I know I have to try to get this music out there somehow, because music is medicine for the soul. I need to make sure that this medicine is accessible, in case someone needs it some day. It will cost time and money, which are in limited supply, but I’ll do my best.
Anything we should discuss that I neglected to ask about?
You forgot to ask what super power I would have if I could choose any! But in all seriousness, thank you for asking thoughtful, relevant questions and for providing me with the chance to talk a little about this album. It was fun!