INTERVIEW WITH CATHERINE RUDIE - Nov 21 thru 22, 2019 ©by Lee Henderson for Big Beautiful Noise
A native of Scotland, where she learned Bagpipes, Gaelic singing, and art, Catherine Rudie moved to London, England and made a truly great album as her debut called 'The Mobius Kiss'. It made my TOP CHOICES of 2019 list and has collective rave reviews across the globe. Her mix of traditional folk and modern elements, with a gentle and detailed voice, has charmed the audience over and over again. This interview was conducted from November 21 thru 22, 2019. In it you can learn much more about her background, experiences, music, and outlook. I also did a review of her album and you can read more about it here:
LH: Lee Henderson
CR: Catherine Rudie
LH: Hello Catherine and welcome to Big Beautiful Noise. So happy to visit with you.
CR: Hi there Lee - I love what you’ve done with the place 😜♥️
LH: Thank you for the nice compliment. I've read and written a short amount about you being a bagpipe player and Gaelic singer back in Scotland. Can you tell us more about those days?
CR: Growing up on the North Coast of Scotland, Gaelic music and culture was a big part of our lives. My first primary school teacher - Janette Mackay - was especially dedicated in teaching us Gaelic songs from the age of 5 onwards, and encouraging us to take part in the local ‘Mod’ - which is a kind of festival of Gaelic music which takes place every year. I continued to take part in Mods and sing at local events until I left home at 18 to go to art college in Edinburgh. Another local woman - Nanny Alan - started up a small pipe band (The Bettyhill Pipe Band) when I was a teenager. My sister and brother both decided to learn drums, so I thought I would keep it even and learn the bagpipes. I didn’t realise how much harder they were to master - no offence to pipe band drummers but bagpipes are waaaaay harder!
LH: Do you still like bagpipes or is that a past you wish to leave behind?
CR: I still love to listen to them when other people play them!! I’m very out of practice myself. I would love to be able to use the sound on the next album. There is quite a large group of female bagpipers in the village I’m from and I have an idea to record them all playing a composition I’ve written at some point in the future.
LH: How do you feel about the Gaelic singing?
CR: It was a brilliant education in how to pay attention to every detail. It’s a very subtle form of singing and it puts a lot of focus on being able to sing unaccompanied which is a hugely useful and expressive skill. I often compose songs solely through the vocal - before adding instruments later - and I’m sure this is because of learning to sing this way originally.
LH: The flavor of Gaelic does show in your debut solo 'The Mobius Kiss'. To many fans, this is a big part of the charm. Did you mean for that to creep in or was it just natural?
CR: I was very aware that I wanted to mix traditional, acapella singing with modern lyrics and textures. There is a gravitas and depth of feeling in Gaelic singing and melodies which I wanted to try to achieve - I suppose I was trying to create folk songs for the 21st century - something timeless, not old fashioned.
LH: What did you dream of becoming as a child? Was music or art already a part of your life back in your preteen years?
CR: As a child I used to wait impatiently every fortnight for the only music magazine I could get hold of on the North Coast - Smash Hits! I think I wanted to be a pop star for a long time but it was an impossible dream. When I was a little older my father, who was an art teacher, took me to visit a friend of his who was a painter. She lived in a tiny cottage, without electricity, right on the east coast of Scotland and painted the sea in all weathers. I still wish I could live like that. I think that’s why I’ve ended up living on a narrowboat. Being near water is very important and it’s the closest I can get to nature in London. I have realized though, that electricity is probably quite a good idea, in moderate amounts.
LH: How much have things changed in your hometown of Bettyhill, Scotland ? Anything stayed the same, or close like it used to be? Was it a nice place to grow up?
CR: It was an exceptional place to grow up I think. It is very remote and very small. Everyone knows everyone and that can feel like family - for good and bad. I absolutely loved it and hated it too. I suffered from homesickness for years and years after leaving. Cities and all that comes with them were very alien places to me for a long time. When I go back there now, the essential character of the place still seems very much the same to me. The school children running around are the children of my school friends. There are changes too obviously. Lots of new people have moved into the area. I’m not recognized in the village shop which is a bit of a shocker (for me!). The internet has also changed things... ideas and culture are more accessible and people are more open to that I think.
LH: You speak openly about some of your experiences that shaped your material on 'The Mobius Kiss'. Can you elaborate on some of the circumstances that had the most impact on your life?
CR: I began seriously working on an album at a time when things were really falling apart for me personally. I loved living in my studio - which was rickety and and loud, but was right in the heart of East London, in an old warehouse filled with creative people. Next door to me lived Susumu Mukai, who is a brilliant musician and artist. His collaborations include Floating Points and Hot Chip and he is now in Vanishing Twin. Upstairs there were artists, photographers & performers, including Mike and Jen Gabel - who ran Hot Breath Karaoke at Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club... there was a lot going on. And then it stopped. We were all chucked out and the building renovated into luxury flats. It felt like I had lost my place and starting again was very hard. It was then that an earlier break up with a partner seemed to come back to haunt me. I had thought that I’d got over it well, finding a great place to live and work, but once that had gone too I had to deal with the original loss properly. Writing the songs on the album really helped me to do that. I began to understand that I longed for something stable and everlasting (The Mobius Kiss), and that this was probably something impossible to find.
LH: Are you finding life to be more pleasing now that your debut release is out there, and getting rave reviews?
CR: Absolutely! When I was working on the album it seemed at times like a very long, lonely endeavor without any real sense of a final goal... it seemed ridiculous for someone like myself, who isn’t that young and hasn’t been involved in music for a long time, to suddenly decide to make an album. I don’t feel like this now! That people like it and are interested in it.... it’s a huge validation of the work. Personally I’m also in a better place, with a stable home (if you can call a boat that!) and a lovely partner.
LH: Any songs you have that didn't make it on to 'The Mobius Kiss'? Material for perhaps a follow up in the future?
CR: There are lots of songs which didn’t make it onto the album... there is an early one (Cash for Gold) which won a songwriting prize in Scotland that just didn’t fit with the others, so I may release it as a special one-off at some point. I’m currently in quite a prolific writing phase so I also have new ones which I’m looking forward to developing.
LH: You also are an artist. I know you did the artwork on your own album. Tell us about some work you've done in that field.
CR: I started out studying painting at art college in Edinburgh. Before I moved to London, I was actually Assistant Curator at Dundee Contemporary Arts in Scotland and I originally moved to London to go to The Royal College of Art to do a post-graduate in Art Curation... however I realized I didn’t want to pursue this as a career, and swapped to graphic design. I’ve worked as a freelancer on lots of interesting projects since then (a website for Tracey Emin, a pop up shop in Covent Garden for Burts Bees)...but some of my favorites are music related - for example I took the photographs and developed the visual identity & CD cover design for the musician Maaike Siegerist.
LH: What can you tell us about a membership of Fresh Tracks Unknown Animals? Is this still active and are you presently still active in this group?
CR: The original members (including Maaike) met at a songwriting festival in 2013 organized by Burnsong, a charity promoting music in Scotland. Earlier I mentioned ‘Cash for Gold’ and it was the Burnsong Award that it won. My prize was to attend the festival, which involved a week living in a huge Manor House in rural Scotland with about 40 other songwriters from all over the world. That week transformed my life I think. Afterwards 8 of us formed a collective almost by accident... organizing gigs, retreats and events all over the UK and Europe. This October we spent a weekend in a farmhouse near Aberfeldy, in Scotland, composing songs which we then performed on the Sunday night at the Burnam Arts Centre, which is a lovely local venue. It was quite scary to perform such new material but the audience were brilliant. The Fresh Tracks membership has broadened since the early days... there is a big mix of styles - from rap to jazz to folk. But somehow it works!
LH: Any members from that collective that appear on your album?
CR: Actually no - probably that’s more to do with logistics, as everyone lives quite far apart! But ‘Everyday Dangers’ was co-written with Becci Wallace, who is a member. Maaike Siegerist also gave me a huge amount of help, advising on the best home recording set up as well as lots of brilliant tips on how to get my music to a wider audience... so I feel she is on there in spirit!
LH: How did you meet the musicians that helped you on 'The Mobius Kiss'? I saw a very active role from Stephen Hodd (percussion, sounds, even guitar) as not just musician but also co-producer. Have you worked with him before, or any of the other guests?
CR: Actually, there was very little real involvement from anyone else on the album apart from Stephen Hodd, who co-produced all the tracks and added a lot of instrumentation, percussion and textures to them. I didn't use a recording studio and Stephen and I worked remotely from each other. Perhaps because it was my first album I needed to take things slowly and we were very exact about which sounds were used. I had a rule that everything had to have a function... if it was just extra noise then we took it out. I had heard Stephen's production work on an album by Gitta de Ridder, who I know from 'The Lantern Society' (a well-known folk night at the Betsey Trotwood in London) and I thought he might have the kind of sensibility I needed. Turns out he was exactly the right person for the job. I think he showed a brilliant understanding of what I was trying to do and added a great deal to it.
The chorus singers on 'Everyday Dangers' are all friends of mine in London... Some of them were a bit shy and weren't accustomed to singing... but it turned out well. Susumu Mukai - who I've mentioned already - we had done a bit of recording together before, as we were next door neighbors - I took some of the sounds he created during that session and added them to the beginning of 'The Crown'.
Tom Fryer - I know him from his work with the Bristol band 'The Desert'... we have never actually met, but I got in contact with him online and he sent me some lovely piano touches for 'God of the Insects'.
LH: Let's talk more about the album. People can read my review about a description but tell us more about specifics and exactly what the title cut, and concept of the album is all about.
CR: 'Mobius Kiss' comes from the title of a drawing by David Byrne (Talking Heads) which shows different types of kisses... from 'The Idea of a Kiss' to 'Perfect Kisses to 'A Photograph of a Kiss' etc... it has a huge number of possible meanings, but I take it to mean a kiss which changes but is always there, an everlasting kiss.
'So many endings where to begin...' is the start of me sorting through past 'kisses' and beginning to work out a way forward, searching for something more lasting.
LH: I got the dual meanings in several instances, and you explained both how you did the cover art, and some words you included in that title track. What about other songs that you used unique touches and play on words?
CR: Well... 'Chasing Wasps' originally came from watching 'A Taste of Honey' - a 1961 film written by Shelagh Delaney, and directed by Tony Richardson. In one scene in the film there are the sound of church bells and I sang a version of them as a loop, which became the base of the song.
'God of the Insects' takes the 'we are many, they are few' line from The Masque of Anarchy by Percy Bysshe Shelley. It's been used in many peaceful protest movements from Tiananmen Square (1989) to Tahrir Square (2011) to the anti-war protests (2003).
LH: Are the compositions in chronological order as written, or did you find a final order once you finished the recording?
CR: They aren't in chronological order - God of the Insects is one of the oldest songs but it appears last. I think I felt that as the album goes on, there is a deepening of feeling and acceptance... but really, they just seemed to have a natural order - it's hard to say why.
LH: Can you briefly explain the meanings of your pieces on 'The Mobius Kiss'?
CR: I think that might take a bit too long - perhaps a little mystery is good?
LH: I think the mystery is nice. What instruments can you play? And have you been learning new ones along the way?
CR: Apart from the bagpipes I can play the guitar well enough to play my own songs, and I play around with the keyboard... I especially like looking for weird and wonderful synth sounds.
LH: What instrument would you love to, or dream of learning next?
CR: I'm going to get some small bagpipes soon... they are a version of the bagpipes that have bellows and are a lot quieter. I think they will be much easier to play than my large pipes... which are far too loud for a city!
LH: Any plans on a 2nd album or are you just enjoying and promoting your debut now?
CR: It's early days but there are some new songs on the go. I've also collaborated with a couple of people.. so it would be nice to do something with those too.
LH: You have mentioned how you are all the better from your experiences of the past. You certainly seem happy and positive now. Do you feel more calm, accomplished and comfortable in the world you live in presently?
CR: I'm not sure this world makes it very easy to stay calm for long and though I have learned some things from the past, sadly one of those things is 'don't get too comfortable'!
LH: Is there anything you want to tell the public? Something you always wished someone would ask you about? Here is your chance to say what you wish.
CR: Animals should have rights... and we should stop treating them like possessions.
LH: A good message for sure. Thank you so much Catherine, for talking with me. I am certain the readers at Big Beautiful Noise will appreciate and be thrilled with the chance to know more about you and your music.
©Interview by Lee Henderson 11 - 23 - 2019