** Kate Schutt at Speakeasy, (773) 338-0600, Apr. 15; Uncommon Ground, (773) 929-3680, Apr. 16
Kate Schutt's ever-growing legion of fans are in for a surprise when they hear (Heart-Shot), her new five-song EP. First of all, they will hear Schutt playing a new guitar, the Novax 8-string guitar/bass hybrid, an instrument perfectly matched to Schutt's skills. Next, they will hear drums (played by David Miller Jamrog) and even backing vocals. Finally, they will hear Schutt venturing into new territories that suit her well, on songs such as 'Jane Doe' and 'Lone Ranger.'
Gregg Shapiro: In the couple of years that have passed since the last time I interviewed you, you had throat surgery.
Kate Schutt: I had it Nov. 13, 2002. I was supposed to be singing again by about three months later. Theoretically, you have two weeks of no talking at all. Then you start gradually working in to things and should be, all in all, back to performing in about three months. That didn't happen for me for a number of reasons. It first started when I woke up out of anesthesia and I coughed really badly and bruised my vocal chords, but they didn't know this. That started me off on the wrong foot. So, I went the two weeks without talking and when my doctors looked down my throat (at that time) they saw that everything was bruised essentially. I couldn't talk for another week and half. I couldn't talk for about three and a half months. I learned a lot from that. That meant walking around with a note pad. That puts me to about March of 2003 and I gradually began to ramp up my talking from zero to an hour a day, then more than an hour a day. I spent the summer back at music school, so by the time I went to Berklee at the end of May, I was pretty much talking full throttle. I was singing a little bit and studying with a voice therapist the entire time. My first gig was in July and I played a three-hour gig. That went well, but it was definitely hard. And then I had another one in August. Since then I've been free to perform as much as I want.
GS: What was it like to be back in school?
KS: It was definitely fun, but it was related to the voice thing. During that time that they were so pessimistic about what was going on with my voice, I had to come to terms with the fact that I might not be able to sing again. They said, at one point, that I may or may not be able to do that. I've always been more interested in playing the guitar than I have in singing. Singing's come so naturally to me. When I went to Berklee my first time around, I didn't sing a lick. I didn't tell anybody that I sang. So, I thought that I would still play music, it would just look very different. I really got interested in the 8-string around that time. I'd seen Charlie Hunter play a number of times and been interested in his music. I went to see him at the House of Blues about a week after my doctors told me about this (potential loss of singing voice) and was standing there in the front row, grooving on his stuff and realized that this was the sound that I had been looking for.
GS: What can you tell me about the Novax 8-string guitar/bass hybrid?
KS: It's made by a guy named Ralph Novax in California. He was a friend of Charlie Hunter's. I think he was already building guitars and when Charlie was exploring more than six strings and tuning his lower strings down into the bass range he finally needed somebody to make an instrument for him. Many hundreds of prototypes later, Charlie has been playing on his instrument for about 12 years. There are only about eight or 10 players of this instrument in the world, the most famous of which being Charlie.
GS: 'Jane Doe,' the opening track from your EP (Heart–Shot) has the kind of name-checking that you find in hip-hop, what can you tell me about that song?
KS: (Laughs) That is like a weird product of my mind. I came up with that first verse and it cracked me up, just because of the juxtaposition of these female names that had this great sound quality. I thought it would be a great idea to do this song, definitely taking my cue from the hip-hop shout out thing, but also from loving that song 'It's The End of The World As We Know It' by REM. Could I pull it off and have it be meaningful and be a good song? For about three to five months I started collecting names. I'd be going about my daily life and I would see some advertisement that featured a famous woman and I would add her to the list. Or I surfed the web for a while and used Encyclopedia Britannica. I wanted to feature women that, as a listener, you wouldn't necessarily know who everyone was, so you'd have to go do some research. I had a spreadsheet with famous women from history, famous cultural icons, famous stereotypes, stuff like that. And then finding names that rhyme is a lot harder than it seems. I had a blast; it just took a very long time. I learned a lot, I'll tell you that.
GS: 'Peter Please' is rare in a few ways. First, it is a co-composition with someone identified as J.T.R. Second, it features backing vocals by Savannah Frierson, and like 'Jane Doe,' it has David Miller Jamrog on drums. Those are some major differences from a traditional Kate Schutt song.
KS: The only thing I can say about that is that it was one of those songs that happened pretty quickly. It happened with a friend of mine who suggested the idea for the song. Once I composed it, I heard an African-American female voice behind me, which I thought would make the song sound a lot better. I happen to be a part of a very cool program at Harvard called the Radcliffe Mentoring Program. Women who have graduated from Harvard or Radcliffe can provide themselves as a mentor for undergraduate women at Harvard who are interested in their field. When I was at Harvard, I always wanted to have a Radcliffe mentor, but no one was working in music, so I vowed that when I graduated from Harvard, I would make myself available as an intern for women interested in music and in the music business. My first year I had an awesome mentee who was a child prodigy, grew up singing on Broadway, I'm sure we'll see a lot of her soon because since she graduated she is back in New York working again. Savannah, my (current) mentee has an amazing voice and she just started singing. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to provide her a chance to come into a studio and see what that's all about. Plus, she has a great voice.
GS: David's drums also propel the rocking tune 'Lone Ranger,' which is, again, a new way of hearing your music.
KS: Dave is a great friend of mine and also my drum teacher. He plays around here in Boston and also all over. He plays with Toni Lynn Washington, who is a blues singer. ... I know how much he practices, so I respect that (laughs). These songs are so different and I'm like a new person after the fiasco with my voice; I felt like these songs would be best served with a drummer. I wanted to write these songs and record them really quickly as a warm-up for an album in the next six months.
GS: I'm glad you mentioned that, because if I have one minor complaint—I am frustrated by EPs. I feel deprived. Five songs are simply not enough, and after a teaser such as (Heart-Shot), I want more. So are there plans to include these five songs on the full-length album?
KS: How we envisioned this whole thing is that they were made very low-budget and quickly in the studio, and we're hoping to do three more of these EPs and then pick the best 10 or 12 songs and record from that and record a full-length album. Having said that, I'm already really tired of these songs. But I think it's safe to say that we'll include the best of these and probably a few others that won't have been recorded yet.
GS: I also detected a Western theme in the titles with 'High Noon,' 'Lone Ranger,' and if you combine 'Calamity' with 'Jane Doe,' you get 'Calamity Jane Doe.'
KS: (Laughs) Right!
GS: Can you comment on that?
KS: Maybe it's the fact that I haven't been out to Wyoming in two or three years because I've been focusing so much on my career. I think it's just part of what I talk about, part of my lexicon, having grown up going to and spending so much time in the West, living that life. Having not been there because I made the choice to stay at home or be on tour or whatever. It's funny to me that it just happened that way. I think everything but 'Peter Please' I had been working on for over a year in some form or another. Those happened to be the five that I picked.