One of this writer’s absolute favorite releases of 2018 so far has got to be Kyle Carey’s The Art of Forgetting. The revered singer-songwriter’s fourth album is chockful of serene folk songs pulling from both Celtic and Americana influences. It’s a deep breath of refreshing air in a musical landscape that seems to be growing more dependent on the anthemic by the moment, and a calming, humanistic reflection of our natural world.
For Folk’s Sake recently caught up with Carey to discuss The Art of Forgetting, her musical influences, how she defines success, and more.
Please tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from and how did you get started in music?
I think the best word I can use to describe where I’m from is that I’m a ‘Northerner’. My parents are both from New England but as soon as they graduated from college they got jobs teaching in Yupik villages in the Alaskan bush. I was born in New Hampshire and then taken as an infant to the bush. I spent the first seven years of my life in remote Yupik villages and according to my parents I started singing around the same time I started talking. Music was a big part of the Yupik culture, and for whatever reason – singing came as intuitively to me as regular verbal communication. I didn’t start playing guitar until I was about sixteen, and wrote my first song when I was eighteen. Aside from being highly adventurous – my parents were both lovers of folk music, and though I got away from it a bit in high school, I returned to folk music in college while volunteering at a place called Caffe Lena – which is the oldest continuously running folk venue in North America. I was deeply inspired by the musicians I saw perform there and decided to pursue a career in folk music myself.
Being an artist so intertwined with Celtic music and the Gaelic language, were these influences that came into your life around the same time as your appreciation for music?
I did start to develop an interest in Celtic music and Gaelic around the same time I fell back in love with folk music. To me, Celtic music just seemed like another lovely branch of the roots music I was developing a keen interest in, and Irish and Scottish Gaelic fascinated me with their inherent musicality and ancientness. I went to Skidmore College, and even though there wasn’t a Celtic studies or folk music degree – I educated myself as best I could by volunteering at Caffe Lena, and then studied abroad in Dingle Ireland for much of my junior year – which is an Irish speaking pocket. I wrapped it all up by writing my senior thesis on the memoir of Tomas O’ Crohan – who was one of the last people to live on the Great Blasket Island (a small Irish-speaking enclave) and then headed up to Cape Breton on a Fulbright to start learning Scottish Gaelic – before crossing over to Skye in Scotland to gain my fluency in the language.
What was the creation process like for The Art of Forgetting? Or, this is to say – what were you setting out to achieve when laying the groundwork out for The Art of Forgetting?
With the ‘Art of Forgetting’ I knew that I wanted to do something different, but still retain the cornerstones of my sound – Americana-seeped story-songs with a highlight and sprinkling of Scottish Gaelic, with instrumentation that reflects the deep connection between American roots/Appalachian music and the Celtic traditions – what I’ve come to call ‘Gaelic Americana’. My first album was recorded in Ireland, my second in Scotland, so with ‘The Art of Forgetting’ I wanted to add a new element, which came easily by enlisting my highly talented producer Dirk Powell. Bringing in another thread of Americana, a New Orleans influence and a Cajun element – gave my songs a fresh sound and also stretched me as an artist. I wanted the album to be another illustration of the inter-connectedness of these roots traditions.
On your new album, you work with other celebrated artists like Rhiannon Giddens, Dirk Powell, and Sam Broussard. Can you tell us a bit about how these collaborations came about?
My producer Dirk played on a few songs on my last album ‘North Star’ and after hearing how beautiful and creative his contributions were – I knew he’d be incredible to work with as a producer. I e-mailed Dirk out of the blue and he responded in a very friendly, open and enthusiastic way. From beginning to end he’s been a joy to work with and his level of investment in the project has been unprecedented. Rhiannon is a good friend of Dirk’s so her contribution came that way, and the same goes for Sam. While I didn’t work with Rhiannon one-on-one in the studio, Sam and I were together throughout the five-day period of the recording of the backbone of the project and got into a wonderful groove in the studio. Sam is one of the easiest guitarists to work with. No ego, big talent and a wonderful sense of humor and style.
As an artist, how do you define success?
Though its taken me a while to cop on to this, and though I’m certainly not perfect at following its truth each day, I’m starting to realize more and more that success can’t be defined by anything external to me. While by industry standards, something like winning a Grammy might define me as ‘successful’ I don’t think that’s the makings for deep and lasting contentment. The kind of success that breeds contentment (and what other kind could you want?) is I believe being a better version today of who I was yesterday. If today I’m kinder, more centered, more focused on my craft and coming up with better material than I was yesterday – that to me is success. If somehow I can serve the greater good through that process – than I might even be able to marry my success with joy.
What do you find to be your greatest struggle when it comes to the music business? Do you think that there are ups and downs that you have uniquely faced, being in the Celtic niche?
I think there are so many struggles in the music business it would be hard to choose the greatest. Financial insecurity, lack of structure, isolation coupled at times with a lack of privacy – these are all common struggles and ones I’m sure I share with many other artists. I think for me not being in any niche has actually been more problematic than advantageous. The Celtic world doesn’t know quite what to do with me as I’m not purely Celtic and the Americana world gets frightened by my Gaelic songs, so I sometimes find myself lost in a hinterland in-between. To me, what I’m doing is something quite innovative and refreshing, but I don’t think the industry always sees it that way. Luckily, I have a wonderful, supportive fan base who loves the uniqueness of what I do, and at the end of the day – they’re the ones I care about pleasing most.
What do you think is the most realistic goal you can achieve as an artist? What do you hope to achieve – or, would you say you’ve achieved it?
While I did at one point have dreams and goals about playing certain festivals, venues, and landing on certain lists – a lot of that stuff has started to fall away. I think the most realistic and if I might say ambitious gaol an artist can have is to keep producing music equal to or beyond the calibre they’ve set. I feel as though I’ve achieved that thus far, as each of my albums have been stronger than the last, but whether or not I’ll be able to maintain that I’m not sure. I certainly hope so and I will do my best!
Outside of music, what do you like to do that you feel contributes to the creativity that you tap into for your music?
I’ve found that an idea from a song can come from just about anywhere. I’ve gleaned song ideas from poems, novels, short stories, films, conversations and nature. I try to keep my eyes and ears open at all times, and try to keep my interests varied in hopes that they’ll add even more spice to my palette – whether that be Cajun or not. ;)