Kate Wakefield has been a vital part of the Cincinnati music scene for years, both as a solo artist and as part of the duo Lung. She’s a powerful performer, whether she’s onstage with Lung, sawing explosively at her trademark white electric cello or creating quieter, beautifully compelling solo work. CincyMusic talked to Kate to get her thoughts on Women in Music Month and how this year is shaping up. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
You make music as part of Lung with [musical partner] Daisy and your solo work. How do you sort out the creative process of what songs go where and what energy gets devoted to which project?
It depends on where I’m at in life. During quarantine, during this past year for some reason, I’ve just been way more in the mood to write Lung material. Daisy and I have been collaborating a lot online. When things were super shut down, we sent files and back and forth. I sort of get in a mode and go with it. But, you know, in general if I have an idea and I think it could work for Lung at all I usually send it to Daisy and if he's into it then we start to collaborate on it and change it up. And then sometimes things are just clearly not Lung, you know? But then again, sometimes things I think won’t work for Lung totally work for Lung, so it's sort of all over the place. It all sort of falls in place where it's supposed to go.
It’s interesting to hear you say that you’re doing more collaborative stuff for Lung during quarantine. We’ve all kind of been alone and it seems like the opposite would be true, that you’d get very introspective with all the time alone and spend more time on your solo stuff. It’s cool to see that you’re managing the collaboration even though we’re still isolated.
I think a big part of that was when everything shut down – like, it was right when we were supposed to go on a two-month tour. And I wasn't in the mood to write music, but my bandmate was and he sorta steps in when my mental health is weird. And so, he was like, “Come on, let's write some music, let’s do it”. His help in motivating me to even try…it’s like when you have someone who's encouraging you at a time when you're feeling pretty down, it definitely is really helpful. So, I'm lucky to have a musical collaborator who is like, “Hey I know you're going to be writing good music right now, get to it, do the thing”. That probably was part of it too, just having some external motivation and a good band mate, you know?
Yeah, it makes sense that would help you keep creating. For a while there, you could have said, “We don’t know what the future is, we don’t know when we’ll be playing to audiences, so what’s the point of creating new stuff?” So, it’s great that you have someone to keep you inspired. I read an article where you talked about starting out playing the cello early in life, then getting tendonitis and getting derailed from that, then going on to be an opera singer and then having voice problems and getting derailed from that, then ultimately overcoming both and performing. Can you talk a bit about that? Those are two pretty big obstacles, it would be easy to say, “All right I'm going to go be a writer or something” versus pushing through it and switching from instrument to voice and back again. You’re a very aggressive player, at least for the Lung stuff, how did you manage getting through that and how do you take care of yourself today?
I guess when any door shuts, there's usually a window that will fling open whether you want it to or not. And I think that's what happened when I couldn't play cello. I still missed music and I wanted to have an outlet cuz that's really what it's all about- having a creative outlet, just being able to let go and release emotion in a channeled way. So, when I couldn't play cello, I went to voice. Then when the voice stuff hit the fan, I went back to cello while I was going through my vocal disorder stuff. I was going through vocal rehabilitation and part of what helped me find my musical projects that I'm doing today was having a really good vocal therapist who said to me, “You know we can only work up to our temporary limitations”. That was a really freeing thought and sorta got me off the idea that I even needed to be good at something and helped me refocus and figure out what do I actually want from this? It’s an outlet, and [it was helpful] to know it doesn't have to be perfect and it can really sound however I wanted it to. Then gradually as I was writing music, my vocals healed. A lot of vocal problems can be healed with therapy, which is really cool; our vocal cords are very resilient. So, I was lucky that [the healing] happened. And as far as how I keep things up with not having tendonitis, I just try not to play with a ton of tension even though I know it looks like a play with a ton of tension (laughs). You know, you can look like you’re playing with a ton of tension but not actually be punching a wall.
Do you think any of those constraints, either mentally or physically- being shut off from part of your toolbox for making art, or maybe your voice didn’t have the original range -do you think that more limited palette of what you could do shaped your art differently and made you be more creative in that limited space?
Yeah, I think so, especially at the beginning of things it was…I mean, honestly, it was maybe the opposite because it was like I no longer wanted it to be perfect or whatever and so without the window I could really just do whatever the heck I wanted and if it didn't sound 100% it was okay. But yeah, I mean obviously my stuff isn't super operatic all the time, so I definitely evolved from being an opera- focused singer to someone who just sort of chucks it in once in a while (laughs). I’m not out signing arias at the bar.
I would like to see that, actually (laughs).
It would be fun. I thought about doing some weird versions of classical music, just a really strange show. Show up at [Northside] Tavern when things open up and be like be like, “I’m just going to do a bunch of arias” and play on my electric cello.
Awesome, I’d be down for that.
Maybe that would be a surprise show.
You’d have to get a pseudonym.
Yeah, like wear a mask, well a big mask...
I think the white electric cello would be a dead giveaway (laughing).
The feature this month focuses on women in music. Sorry, this is a really broad question, it’s hard to ask - can you speak about your experience as a woman, as a solo artist, working with a man [in a band], any of the good or bad experiences? And I hate that in 2021 I still have to ask that question.
Yeah, definitely. My experience as a woman in music has evolved in the last 10 years a lot. I was briefly in a rock band when I was younger and played electric cello, no actually it wasn’t even electric, it was acoustic and we plugged in and it always sounded weird. I remember whenever I carried my gear in…I was probably 19 and we were playing Chicago clubs cuz that's where the rest of the band was from. When we were playing these shows, I would walk in with my gear right behind everyone else and almost every time someone would go, “Oh, are you with the band?” and I’d go, “No, I’m in the band”. Like, “Yeah my cello is going to sound really quiet and weird cuz I don't know how to amplify it yet, but I’m in the band, dammit”
How insulting is that?
It was super insulting. But in a way it was motivating to just get up there and quote-unquote rock out more because I was pissed off at how they were treating me. And then afterwards sometimes they would avert their eyes or say, “Wow, I couldn’t believe you could actually play”. “Yeah…jerk”. Things, I think, have gotten more subtle. I think people are sort of waking up to the fact that ‘women in music’ is not a genre, it's just a woman playing music. Like, music is the thing and then women do it too because we're people and people play music. So, I think people are waking up to that and that’s great and I definitely experience a lot less… I still have the occasional sound engineer sort of mansplaining my own set up to me being like, “Oh I really think that you should do it this way” or “Maybe you’re a little too loud”. I’m like, “Have you heard my music? You just turned up the all-male punk band before me, I know this place can get loud.”
And also, this is funny, Daisy my bandmate has experienced some bizarre sort of sexism because he does our booking and his name is Daisy. He’s writing to people and they think he’s a woman sometimes. They don't look [us] up and they think he’s me. They just see a picture of me and assume I’m Daisy. Sometimes people will really talk down to him in emails, then we show up to the venue and he’s like, “Hey, I’m Daisy”. So, yeah, the world has a long way to go in a lot of ways, but I think we're moving in the right direction at least.
I hope so. I still try to wrap my head around the fact this is still going on, but of course it is.
Yeah, but the fact that we realize it's going on and people are growing more aware of their own internal sexism, internal racism, internal homophobia… you know, I think it's good that people are at least examining it now and that it’s part of the conversation. Because now people are less likely to say, “Oh, I’m not this or I'm not that”, they’re more likely to go, “Oh, let me look at the ways I am these things and try to work on it”.
Or people that say, “Oh, no, that stuff doesn't happen”,
It’s like, “Yeah, no, it does”
Yeah, there are a lot of deniers.
I guess the flavor of all those things is just more subtle which is shifty and difficult to pin down in some ways because it’s still definitely a problem.
So, things are reopening slowly, the first quarter of this year is almost over. What’s your outlook on 2021?
I'm excited about people getting vaccinated. I’m excited about the prospect of shows in the future. I am hesitant to play at the moment and I'm not playing at the moment but I guess I’m waiting to see how things go and then when I feel like it's a safe and smart decision, Lung will be back playing shows and I'll probably do some solo shows as well. I mean, I don't fault people for playing shows outside in May or doing that kind of thing, I just personally don't feel comfortable doing it yet since there have been so many unknowns this year. I'd rather play it a little more conservative as far as that goes. We’re definitely going to play shows in the future, TBD as to when.
It feels like maybe mid-year-ish [things will reopen more]. Almost everybody will be vaccinated, it will be warm enough that we can do outside stuff even if it’s distanced.
Hopefully people will be vaccinated by May like Biden is saying. That’s gonna be amazing. It'll be so cool to play shows. I definitely miss it and have a newfound appreciation for all of that too.
Yeah, I think we all do. It’s one of those things you took for granted while it was there and then as soon as it disappears, you’re like, “Wow…what a hole it left”.
Yeah, yeah -just all the energy that you get from meeting new people or just seeing friendly faces that you know, but now I don't talk to at all cuz I don't see them at shows, you know? There are so many of those connections that have just been gone this year. Even when you run into someone at the grocery store and you’re masked up and you're getting your avocados, but you haven't seen them in a long time, you’re like, “Oh my gosh, I’ve missed seeing you”. It could be just some random person that you would just say hi to at shows but, yeah, I miss all that.
It's true, I tend to go stick around Clifton and Northside, so I run into the same people over and over at clubs. It’s that nice kind of loose community. Even if you don’t know that person, you’re like, oh yeah, I always see that person at shows. And then you make some really good friends with the folks you see over and over and bond with. So yeah, it’s been tough. I think people really took for granted what music brings to their lives, what live performance brings to their lives. So, hopefully when it comes back, they won’t take it for granted. Because now we know it’s not always going to be there.
Yeah, and when it is there to appreciate the small things in it that we didn't appreciate before. Daisy and I were doing like 200 shows,150 shows a year for a minute and I didn't go into every show going, “Oh, I’m so thankful I'm here, I'm so grateful to hear all these other bands” I mean I enjoyed it, but I think I'm going to enjoy it even more realizing that it can just (snaps fingers) go away at the snap of a finger. I think we’re moving in the right direction; 2021 – I don’t have huge hopes, I just hope that we keep moving in the right direction. I just want it to be a fun year after a really insane year.
It would be lovely if musicians, wait staff, bartenders, grocery workers, all these people that we may have taken for granted a year ago, that kept things going that we miss dearly -that they get more of the respect and love they deserve. What a change in dynamic in a year.
Yeah, yeah, it’s been a weird one. But we’re lucky to have made it through this far. I am just so happy that we’re where we’re at and that it’s a whole year later and that there’s some sort of light at the end of the tunnel, you know? It’s so weird, it’s been almost an entire year. I feel like we’re on the other side almost. I’m looking forward to seeing you in real life and seeing the art that you do now that we’re almost out of this cocoon period. Don’t you feel like it’s been a cocoon period? I’ve been practicing cello; I got a cello teacher online [to help with thumb tension] and it’s been so freeing. As artists and musicians, we’ve all been in these weird cocoon things. And you’ve found color [digitally color painting my photos] and I’m working on technique stuff and writing and it’ll be cool to see what art you do when it’s done, when you’re out.
As we get open, it will also be interesting to see what everyone’s next album or next project looks like. There’s gotta be this tension pent up, this urge to collaborate and connect. Hopefully we’ll see a resurgence, a renaissance in art over the next year or so. Until then, we keep working on ourselves.
Yep, we’ll get there.