New Pornographers’ Kathryn Calder Honors Late Mother With Debut Solo Album

(Caleb Beyers/Force Field PR)
(Caleb Beyers/Force Field PR)

The New Pornographers recently released a brand-new record Brill Bruisers last week. So I thought it would be a nice occasion to revisit an interview I did with band member Kathryn Calder from 2010.

Originally published in Spinner, August 10, 2010

When New Pornographers keyboardist and singer Kathryn Calder worked on her first solo record two years ago, it was probably under the most difficult of circumstances: she was also caring for her mother Lynn, who suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (aka Lou Gehrig’s disease). Before she died in 2009, Lynn was able to listen to her daughter’s finished work ‘Are You My Mother?’

“I had to make this record at that particular moment in time,” Kathryn Calder tells Spinner. “Part of it was because she was always really supportive, so I thought, ‘If I’m gonna make a solo record, I want her to hear it.’ I didn’t want to look back and go ‘I wish I made a record, I wished she could have heard this.’ I knew what was coming even though you never really know what’s coming.”

While ‘Are You My Mother?’ touches on the theme of loss, it’s not a completely sad album. “The record is about my life in general,” Calder says. “There are other things going on at the same time. As life goes, it’s never just one thing happening to you — there are always many different things going on at various times.”

One example of Calder drawing from her life experiences is the opening track, ‘Slip Away,’ which was inspired by a visit to Paris’ famed Pere Lachaise cemetery. “When I think of that song,” she says, “I remember kind of a feeling of being there. It was late summer, early autumn. I had this image of the cemetery in my mind when I was writing this song, and then a bunch of other things got thrown in there too. There are non sequiturs about life and what I was experiencing at the time with various different things.”

‘Are You My Mother?’ also features guest appearances by fellow New Pornographers members Neko Case, Todd Fancey and Kurt Dahle. Calder says it was always in the back of her mind to get some of her bandmates to play on her record.

“Everybody was really gracious,” she says. “Todd was in the middle of recording his record and he just took some time out to listen to my songs. And the same with Neko — she was in the middle of recording at the time and took a few hours out of her schedule, which is really nice. Kurt was living in Saskatchewan at the time and banging away on the drums. It takes effort for people when you are doing that long-distance collaboration. I was very appreciative of that.”

Calder also reveals that she might tour on her own next year depending on the demand. And just as she is releasing this new album, she is already working on the follow-up. “I feel like this second time around I have a little bit more of an idea of what I want,” she explains. “It’s probably going to be a little bit different from the first record. The first record is pretty folksy and I think this next record is going to be a little less folksy. We’ll see. All bets are off until the thing is done.”

While Calder’s mother partly inspired this album, she was also responsible for leading Calder to her uncle, New Pornographers singer Carl Newman. Calder’s mother, who was adopted when she was a baby, found her biological mother many years later.

“My mother’s birth mother is Carl’s mother, so they’re half-siblings,” says Calder. “I didn’t know him until I was 15 or 16. [It’s] pretty cool how you have these separate lives and then something happens that brings people together and then all of a sudden I’m in the band touring with them. Very strange how life works out.”

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