A Q & A with Caitlin Canty

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Making her way from the clear and easy backroads of small-town Vermont to the rough and tumble streets of New York City, singer/songwriter Caitlin Canty took the long way around… through a job at the Artists’ Den. Eventually, though, she started to explore the various rooms of her own artistry. Between side gigs with Down Like Silver and Darlingside, Canty carved out time for her own projects, including 2012’s ‘Golden Hour’ and the recently released ‘Reckless Skyline.’ And, even though she still has many miles yet to travel in order to get where she’s going, Canty is certainly headed in the right direction.

What’s your first memory of writing a song that you knew was good?

I clearly remember writing “The Brightest Day” in one sitting in my New York City apartment. I used to be more of a librarian when it came to writing — a good line or melody might hit me and I’d file it away for a better time when I could focus. When I felt this song coming on, I flew to the paper and my guitar, ignored all calls, forgot to eat, and finished it in the moment. Most of the songs for this record were written in that kind of heat. Later I can sculpt them and share them with my band and get feedback on arrangements or approaches, but writing in heat helps me follow where the song wants to go, and is honestly just more satisfying. It’s harder to know in my bones if anything is good once I’ve left it on the shelf for too long — finishing it becomes a chore, and it’ll feel like some old song a younger version of myself wrote.

As a solo artist who collaborates an awful lot, what is it about working with other artists (including Jeffrey Foucault) that gets you going?

I learn so much from touring alongside or writing with other artists. When I’m cowriting a song, I’m learning my cowriter’s tricks, how he thinks about songs, what tools he uses to make it work better. When I’m playing with a band backing me up, I’m hearing how the songs works, where its weak points are, where it moves beautifully. I can’t do it all alone. And where’s the fun in that?

This can be a pretty lonely life — and there’s so much to be learned and so much you have to do to keep it all afloat. So when there’s a chance for a good symbiotic relationship, I’ll jump at it. For instance, this year, I’ve opened a few tours for Jeffrey Foucault and Billy Conway. They back me up on my set, and I’ll sing backing vocals on their set. It’s been a really wonderful way to tour.

The guys who played on your record are some of the best New England has to offer. What does playing with such high caliber musicians bring out in you… confidence, insecurity, excitement, nervousness…?

Joy! It’s a thrill to play good music with good people. The majority of my time is spent traveling to shows, working on the homely business side of this job (emails, logistics), and writing songs while imagining in my mind how the band will sound playing them. My perspective is probably a bit different than most touring musicians — I spent five years of my life working in a beige cubicle chained to a computer. When I finally get to jump onstage with my friends or sit around the kitchen table with our guitars, it’s pure joy. When talented musicians bring their goods to my songs, it feels like a party.

What’s the artistic distance between ‘Golden Hour’ and ‘Reckless Skyline?’ And where are you setting your coordinates next?

When I made ‘Golden Hour,’ I had just started touring with my trio. I was only beginning to understand how the records I love are made. I had spent a lot of time in studios, but that was my first stab at producing my own full-length album in a pro studio. It was a cold January in icy Maine.

‘Reckless Skyline’ is more raw and alive. The sound is warmer, the images more elemental and fiery. Where ‘Golden Hour’ is full of sorrow, ‘Reckless Skyline’ feels more wild and defiant.

And the songwriting is better. I met my match in an old Recording King guitar a month or two before Jeffrey Foucault signed on to produce and he quickly lined up the band. I felt like I was cowriting with this old guitar, and writing songs for the band of my dreams. And the band tracked this record live, in one cavernous room. We could see each other, and were making music in real time together.

I met Jeffrey when I opened a show for him and he gave me a copy of his ‘Horse Latitudes’ which just about knocked me over. I asked a million questions about how he produced it (live over a few days in California with a lights-out band). Foucault’s philosophy of recording live in a room with the right players made all the difference in the production of ‘Reckless Skyline.’

What’s next? Well, I need to give ‘Reckless Skyline’ its day in the sun and tour behind that record as hard as I can. I have shows with The Stray Birds, Pieta Brown, and Peter Bradley Adams on the horizon. I am getting to know my new electric guitar — it’s been exciting to start writing with it. Also, in our original session for ‘Reckless Skyline,’ we tracked 19 songs — so I have an EP waiting in the wings that I’ll release soon as I can.

You bounce between three very disparate landscapes — Nashville, Idaho, and New England. How does geography inform or influence your writing?

The imagery and pulse of my songs are certainly influenced by the ground I’m standing on. I absorb experiences from all of the places I love and that seeps into my music. The tactile and elemental quality of the environment bleeds into my lyrics, for sure. And the pulse or the drift of my surroundings drives the feel of the songs.

And the practical side of how the writing gets done is dependent on where I am. I’m happy and have space in Idaho, so I do a lot of writing there. My people are condensed in the Northeast, so I tour and collaborate a lot there.

Idaho is golden and masculine and wide open, and I feel strong and healthy there. New York City / New England is the adrenaline-flooded homeland where my favorite people are gathered and where I get the good work done, but can’t stay for too long. Nashville still feels new to me. It marries the best parts of the small town living that I love with the convenience of the city. I dig the relaxed but passionate attitudes of the makers and artists who live happily there. I’m moving myself and my guitars to Nashville next month and putting some roots in the ground. There’s also a spontaneity to the music community there. Everyone I know lives roughly 20 minutes away — when you feel a song coming on or need a backing vocal or want to grab a beer, it doesn’t take weeks of coordinating schedules — you just do it.

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