The Reckoning of Montreal Banjo-Witch Kaïa Kater, ep. 265

Episode 265
1h 23m | Jun 13, 2024

After banjo player Kaïa Kater attended Americana Fest in 2016, the music industry started telling her she was a part of the genre, which encompasses all kinds of roots music, acoustic music, folk music, singer-songwriter and alternative country music. She was singing about heavy themes like historical trauma, her cultural heritage (her father is from the Caribbean country of Grenada) and her music history. She confesses in our interview that she never felt comfortable in Americana, that she was always just on the outside never fully feeling accepted by this mostly white world. Kater has declared that her new album, Strange Medicine, comes from a place that lays beyond the white gaze of Americana. This music is filled with emotional healing with music production that sonically ​reflects the vulnerability that she is expressing so deeply for the first time in her career. It's also the first time she's avoiding metaphors and really letting her most raw feelings about colonialism, sexism, racism, and misogyny rip. These songs see her using violent language and releasing emotions she’d previously kept frozen like anger and revenge.

While creating Strange Medicine, she listened ​to ​a ​lot ​of ​instrumental ​music allowing her ears ​to be bigger ​than ​they ​had ​been ​on ​previous ​records. Which translated to her being ​more ​willing ​to ​take ​big ​swings ​and ​take ​risks. Kater ​attended school ​to ​learn film ​composition ​allowing her to be more ​comfortable ​with being ​a ​little ​bit ​more ​overstated ​in ​her ​songs, which certainly proves true on the new record. Another good piece of news is that the banjo is back! After using it very minimally on her last release, Kaia picked it up again after listening ​to ​a ​lot ​of ​Steve ​Reich, a composer who developed a groundbreaking minimalist style in the 1960s that's marked by repetition. His work ​helped ​Kater ​conceive ​of ​the ​banjo ​as ​an ​instrument ​that ​could ​hypnotically play ​patterns ​over ​and ​over. We go through this monumental album track by track and unwind songs with topics from Tituba's revenge (the first to be accused during the Salem witch trials) to getting the critic out of the room, to realizing the critic is you. She also recounts her history in her hometown of Montreal and what the Internet was like when she first logged on in the 2000's.

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