An Interview With NY-Based Jazz-Pop Singer-Songwriter KATE SCHUTT On Her Latest Album and Much More!
Bright Nowhere is the newest album from the NYC-based jazz pop singer-songwriter, Kate Schutt. The collection is a musical tribute to her mother who lost her battle with ovarian cancer in 2015. Ahead of the album, Schutt released the single, “Nothing I Won’t Bear.” On the track, the artist shares a piece of her emotional journey during the final years with her mom.
Schutt is no newbie to the music scene, having released two studio jazz/pop albums. To produce her new album, she brought on Emmy Award-winning producer/arranger Rob Mounsey who has also worked with Paul Simon, James Taylor, Michael Bublé, Rihanna, Madonna, Diana Krall, among many others. Schutt’s songs have won top honors from the John Lennon Songwriting Contest and ASCAP. She has also shared stages with musical luminaries, such as Bernard Perdie, Scott Colley, Terri Lyne Carrington, and Julian Lage. Her music has been featured on NPR, who calls her vocals “glassily clear and glossily sweet.”
Eight-time Grammy Award-winning producer/engineer/mixer Kevin Killen calls Schutt’s Bright Nowhere album “the ultimate reveal, storytelling so emotionally raw and honest, yet, truly inspirational in its humanity and musicality” and “a lifetime gift for those of us still tethered to this mothership.”
Connect With Kate Schutt Online Here: WEBSITE
Learn more about Kate Schutt in the following All Access interview:
So what has this past year been like for you and your music? How are/did you get through the pandemic? Are things opening up now where you are? How do you feel about that? Did you get vaccinated yet?
Yes, I am vaccinated. Now, things in Manhattan are very open. It’s definitely not the NYC you know and love and remember, but compared to how it was during the depths of the lockdown, it’s open. I got through the pandemic like I “get through” every other day of my life: attempting to stay aware and focused on presence and being a kind, compassionate person to myself and everyone else around me. This year, musically speaking, I was working on the release of my new album, Bright Nowhere, on studying and applying the principles of deliberate practice to my guitar playing, on co-writing with a Nashville songwriter friend, and on getting my book about songwriting published.
Can you explain why Bright Nowhere is a musical tribute to your late mom?
Bright Nowhere is an album of songs I wrote about being the primary caregiver for my mom. She was diagnosed with and eventually died from a rare and aggressive form of ovarian cancer. I moved home, put my guitar in the corner of a childhood bedroom and took care of her until she died. It was a privilege to spend that time with her. It was also the hardest thing I’ve ever done; it was a lot harder than trying to make it in the music business.
I wrote the songs for her, for myself, and for anyone and everyone struggling with loss. Our culture does such a bad job dealing with death and dying. We suck at even coming close to getting this fact of life right. My mission is to change the conversation (or lack thereof) around death and grief. The songs on Bright Nowhere address how to live, how to die, how to show up for someone who’s going through loss, which is, whether you want to face it or not, one of the fundamental experiences of being human. I know it sounds like I made a depressing and sad album, but as my producer Rob Mounsey says, “It’s not a downer.” In order to know the dark you also have to know the light, and there’s a lot of light in the songs on Bright Nowhere.
What was the inspiration for the album’s first single, “Nothing I Won’t Bear”? How do you think it prepares listeners for the rest of the collection?
There’s a funny thing that happens when certain people get sick. If they are capable, generous, bighearted, then they need reminding that they don’t have to continue to hold up the world the way they used to. Now that they are suffering, they can let others care for them. They can let us lesser mortals step in and care for them. “Nothing I Won’t Bear” was written to deliver this message to my mom, who was the rock of our large family, and in a lot of ways, the rock of her community. How does it prepare listeners for the rest of the collection? Not sure the song does that. It wasn’t conceived of as the messenger for the entire of the album.
Let’s talk about your just-released album, “Bright Nowhere.” What was it like recording it? Did anything surprise you about the process? Any unexpected challenges?
Recording Bright Nowhere was kind of like writing Bright Nowhere. It took a while. Life intervened. I’m not on a label; the album was self-financed. Rob and I would talk about what musicians we wanted to play on the songs, who would bring the right heart space to these very elemental pieces — quite literally, who could be with grief and loss — and then I’d have to go out and make the money to hire those musicians. None of that money making was a challenge per se, but it did take time. So the recording took time. I was also checking in with my dad after my mom died. I wanted to show up for him and that kind of careful, compassionate attention, it takes time. Most of all, I didn’t want to rush the recording of this set of songs. The songs needed to breathe. Patience. It’s a skill.
What was it like having Emmy Award-winning producer/arranger, Rob Mounsey produce this new album?
Rob is a musician’s musician. It was truly a dream come true to have him arrange and produce Bright Nowhere. I’ve self-produced all my previous albums (and produced other albums for other artists), but I knew from the beginning that I didn’t want to have to wear that hat, so to speak, for this album. Rob was a pleasure to spend time with, and I learned a tremendous amount from him. I feel as though I got an advanced degree at the best music school in the world during the year we worked together. And he was so thoughtful and approached this set of songs with such respect and reverence. But really, every person he/we brought to the project was just amazing. At every session, I had to keep pinching myself! The list of people who played on, engineered, and mixed this album is ridiculous–each person is a hero of mine. Engineer Kevin Killen?? Mix engineer Jay Newland?? Drummer Chris Parker?? Vocalist Nikki Richards?? I mean, come on! Legends. All of them.
What do you think makes a perfect show for you?
Being totally present with another group of human beings in a room. That’s what it is all about for me. Hopefully, my own sense of presence elicits the audience’s sense of presence. I hope my presence calls forth their sense of unconditional love, and creates a space for the letting down of their guard. As one of my patron saints Nina Simone says, being present with them “compels me to compel them” to join me in that hallowed space of awareness.
Can you recall the moment when you thought you could be a musician? What do you think motivates you day in and day out?
Playing music was always a part of my life. I was in garage bands in grade school and high school, usually playing in more than one at a time: an acoustic duo on the weekdays, a classic rock band on the weekends, etc. I’m not sure I’ve ever had a moment where I thought I could be a musician. I just wanted to play my guitar and write songs. There’s always been an instrument around me and I’m always taking notes and writing down words and phrases that ring a bell inside me. You know the sound of that bell, right? The one that makes you say to yourself, “Hey! That could be a song.” Ask any one of my friends, they’ll tell you I’m never without my black paper notebook and I’m always turning away from the conversation for a minute and scribbling words and phrases down.
If you weren’t an artist today, could you see yourself doing anything else? What is something else interesting/funny you are good at?
I already do something else. I’m a life coach who helps women, men, entrepreneurs, artists, athletes gain clarity and make change in their lives. All of us have something we’re longing for, something we’re longing to do or someone we’re longing to be. I help my clients get over their fears and limiting beliefs and see through the fog of confusion and overwhelm so they can take action and make progress toward that thing, whether it’s launch a company, make more income, release an album, write a screenplay, collaborate with a fashion icon, be a better dad, get back into the working world, etc. I’m interested in love and impact. Usually, I attract clients who are interested in those values as well.
When I’m not playing music or coaching or spending time with my partner, my family, and my close friends, I’m reading, doing the work of anti-racism with my fellow white folks, and getting out into nature: backpacking, fishing, and hiking. I’m also a lifelong letter writer. I spend a lot of time writing and connecting with people through the good old USPS.
What has been the biggest surprise so far about making music your career? What has been an unexpected or welcome challenge to it all?
When I started writing songs, I didn’t know that I’d end up here. Meaning, I didn’t know that I’d end up trying to write like a modern day Cole Porter. For the last little while, I’ve been trying to write songs that sound like lost jazz standards. I’m hoping someone hears a song of mine and thinks: “Wow! What song from the Great American Songbook is that?! I’ve never heard it before! I wonder where that song’s been hiding?” My dream would be that Cassandra Wilson or Diana Krall sings one of these songs: “The Spring That Felt Like Fall” from Bright Nowhere or “If Spring Comes Now” from my Telephone Game album or “How Much in Love” from my No Love Lost album.
What do you think of the power of social media? How active are you on it all? Do you enjoy or have trouble keeping up with it all?
Do you have “trouble” keeping up with it? I’m most curious about that question of the three questions you posed.
Obviously, the Internet in general and social media in particular has changed absolutely everything about the world, and, my guess is it will continue to until we as a species burn up this planet and everything on it, including ourselves. My lived experience of this massive change has been a kind of “everything” experience: fantastic, horrible, mind-blowing, soul-sucking, baffling, frightening, inspiring, magical, silly, serendipitous, crazed, manic, panicked, et cetera ad infinitum. As the great Lauryn Hill says, “Everything is everything.”
At the end of the day, what do you hope people take away from your music?
There’s a quotation by Camus that I love: “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.” Here’s what I want: freedom for myself and others, including non-human others. I am motivated by this desire and by these two values—love and impact. I am a human before I am a musician, so I try to remember to nurture the human first. If you want to be able to say something profound and timeless you have to put yourself in the way of profound and timeless things. Remembering that I’m mortal is an important part of my practice of the game of life, as well. I was dead a lot longer than I’ve been alive, and I’ll be dead again for a long, long while. So how do I want to be as a person? How do I want to live for the impossibly short blip of blip of a blip of time I’m miraculously, spectacularly lucky enough to experience living on this spinning blue planet?