Kate Reid knows how to work an audience. When the dynamic singer steps on stage with her guitar, people listen.
“Some singers like well-behaved, quiet audiences,” she confides, “but me, I like unpredictable crowds.”
Part of Reid’s appeal is that she sees her musical contribution as more of an exchange than a performance.
“I like it when people chat with me while I’m on stage or come up to me after,” says the 38 year-old singer/songwriter.
With a wisp of hot pink in her hair and her casual T-shirt and jeans ensemble, Reid exudes an unpretentious vibe in person just as she does on stage.
Reid is about to release her second album, I’m Just Warming Up. In it, she really opens up and draws on her own experiences. The CD features stories about running into her ex-junkie boyfriend, about being the only dyke at an open mic and about having the courage to shed fear.
Her activism comes from a place of depth; she still struggles to find balance and solace in a world that is often unsupportive of the kind of blunt discussions Reid instigates. “People tell me I’m too in your face about being out in my music,” she says, “but I’m just being who I am. It has taken me a long time to accept who I am and where I am and I want to share that.”
For artists like Reid, there are no short cuts. “I know all about struggle and low self-esteem,” she says.
Dappling in a wide spectrum of relationships and experiences, Reid came upon her identity through a lot of trial and error.
Artistically, she credits the Indigo Girls for being good musical role models. She laughs unabashedly as she confides they are still among her favourites.
Her younger sister gave her an Indigo Girls CD long before Reid found her queer community. Recalling the internalized homophobia of her youth she says, “They were so willing to put it out there. There was something a little off-putting about it at first but also something attractive and exciting about their honesty.”
The indie folk singer grew up on a farm in southern Ontario. She had no clue lesbians even existed until her 20s. That early invisibility remains a driving motivation behind her music. She says she’s intent on “perpetuating real visibility for real lesbians.”
The last song on her CD is an articulate stab at Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl,” a pop song that struck a nerve. “I’m sick of portrayals of lesbians that are clearly marketed to straight men. There is so much consumption of lesbian culture that has nothing to do with the lives of real lesbians and does nothing to create more visibility or rights for us.”
Reid has no time for Perry’s lip service and she’s not buying that — or the Britney-Madonna kiss or anything in that vein — as a nod to lesbians.
With her signature frankness, Reid says that “being a woman means we’re already second-class citizens. Add lesbian to that and it’s a double kick in the ass.”
Since Reid began playing for live audiences five years ago, she has gained a loyal fan base and it’s no wonder. She has the kind of gumption most people only hope for but she came upon it the hard way — by spending a lot of time in self-reflection. In 2003, while living in Nelson, Reid took a sabbatical year from teaching to switch gears.
“I had to ask myself all the hard questions: when am I going to be able to have a normal relationship? When am I going to be functional and not scared?”
Reid refers to this sabbatical as a time of “excavating old buried shit.” She overhauled her life and began a process of good decisions that allowed her to handpick relationships she wanted to foster.
“Artists have to be really careful about who they surround themselves with,” she says. “We can’t afford to be in draining situations. It’s hard enough just to do the work.”
The solo artist is now happily and busily creating a holistic creative career, a feat that requires her to be not only talented but also self-aware and skilled at business. Starting out, she recalls, “I used to have to ask everyone about everything from ‘what does a publicist do?’ to ‘how do you book a gig?’”
Now she is learning to acknowledge not only how difficult it is to launch a music career but her own achievements as well. “I always catch myself saying I’m lucky but that’s not entirely true. I’ve had luck. But I’ve worked damn hard, too.”
From the personal growth, the music started to flow and before she knew it, Trigger booked Reid to open for Yvette Narlock at The Railway Club in Vancouver. At the time, she was still living in Nelson but it wasn’t long before she moved to the city and dedicated herself to her music full time.
“I love Vancouver’s culture and we’ve got great food but I miss the country,” Reid says. If she had her way, she would live a two-hour car ride from a large city, somewhere with wide-open spaces. Though most of her lyrics are based on human interactions, the artist can’t help but scope out favourite landscapes and fantasize about retreat time somewhere like rural southern Alberta.
Reid likes the challenge of playing in unfamiliar venues where she knows no one. The naturally extroverted performer has been surprised by the diversity of her fans, “I guess it’s my own internalized homophobia,” she says, “but I thought that most of the people who enjoyed my music would be lesbians and that’s not the case.”
She is thrilled that her music speaks to people across the sexuality spectrum, a great place to be for an out and proud dyke singer who is about to spend the summer touring mainstream folk music festivals across Canada.