The East Van singer-songwriter says performing helps her reclaim her power and her voice
Almost everything you need to know about Kate Reid is contained in “The Only Dyke at the Open Mic”, from the East Van–based performer’s brand-new CD, I’m Just Warming Up. Part pop, part folk, the song references Joni Mitchell and Kurt Cobain and being too broke to buy a beer. It’s also funny and poignant and strikingly self-assured, or at least it is once the narrator recovers from the shock of being out and alone in a room full of straight people and the shame of knocking the microphone stand to the floor.
Sexual specifics aside, it’s a story that will be familiar to anyone who’s ever worked up the nerve to sing their songs in front of an unfamiliar audience. And it’s also Reid’s life in miniature: lonely outsider finds acceptance, community, and even love through her music.
“I’m the only dyke at the open mic / I’m working the crowd and I’m making ’em laugh out loud” Reid sings. “I’m the only dyke at the open mic / Well, whatta ya know / I was winning ’em over.”
Reid’s been a minor star in womyn’s-music circles ever since the release of her debut CD, Comin’ Alive. More recently, though, she’s been winning over bigger audiences with songs such as that disc’s hilarious ode to a local alt-country icon, “I’d Go Straight for Ridley Bent”, and the new record’s barbed riposte to I-kissed-a-girl tease Katy Perry, “Emergency Dyke Project”.
“I’ve been pleasantly shocked and surprised to find that lots of people in the straight community really like my music—and particularly straight men, for some funny reason,” Reid reports, on the line from her home. “I’m not really sure why that is, but it’s been really cool to see the audience expand, and to see that acceptance. People are actually really enthusiastic. They’ll come up and say, ”˜Wow, this is hilarious and so great,’ and all that sort of thing.”
It’s probable that Reid’s new fans, like her earlier constituents, are simply responding to the singer’s unwillingness to be anything other than herself. Her lyrics are so honest and outspoken that her style sometimes resembles blogging, only with a guitar instead of a computer keyboard.
“Blogging with a guitar? I’ve never heard that expression, but it’s good,” she says, laughing. “Sometimes I wonder if it’s a little self-indulgent—but, you know, it seems to be working. It’s not conceptual stuff, and it’s very personal, and there are lots of words, so I think it’s more like slam poetry meets folk music.”
The singer’s exuberant style doesn’t mean that she skims over serious topics, however. One of the reasons that she’s a performer is to give vent to feelings that she’s long kept bottled up. As Reid explains, she’s the product of a profoundly dysfunctional family environment, and that experience is the subtext behind many of her most moving songs.
“I won’t go into the gory details, but there was sexual abuse in my family, and some alcoholism, and then mental illness to go along with all that stuff,” she reveals. “And, yeah, the incest was sort of the big piece. But there was just a lot of silence around that, so I didn’t get it until I was well into my early 30s—why I was feeling like crap all the time, and why I was so paranoid and so unsteady and so worried about people. I was fearful, right? So that’s one of the basic things that I talk about.”
Today, Reid seems anything but depressed, and she credits two things for that confidence: coming out as a lesbian, and getting on-stage as a performer.
“That’s why I called my first album Comin’ Alive,” she says. “That was what it felt like for me when I discovered that I could write and perform and sing and make people laugh. I mean, when I have a good crowd and there’s fun stuff happening back and forth, there’s nothing I’d rather be doing—except maybe hiking.
“Performing is a way of reclaiming my power—and reclaiming my voice,” she continues. “I’m saying things that I wasn’t allowed to say as a child. So for me it’s very much about finding my voice and defining who I am, as separate from my parents and from all that shit that happened. So, for sure, it’s been a really powerful tool for healing for me.”
The joyous emotions Reid expresses in new songs like “Reach to You” and “Dirty Girl” suggest that the healing process is well under way. “I feel like I’ve simmered down a little bit,” she confides. But will love songs ever replace the sociopolitical themes in her repertoire? It’s unlikely. Reid expresses cautious optimism that the world is becoming a better place, but as long as hate, abuse, and homophobia exist, she’ll have lots to write about. As she says, she’s just warming up.
Kate Reid plays Rhizome Café tonight (July 9) and the Vancouver Folk Music Festival on July 18 and 19.