kate gilbertson

Interview: Kate Gilbertson

by / August 3, 2017

Travelling throughout the Northern Hemisphere, artist Kate Gilbertson completed the journey from her native Perth by settling in Belfast. The city itself inspired an ongoing set of Belfast Live Sessions which see the Australian songwriter perform covers throughout Belfast. Taking inspiration from her travels, experiences and the city, the softly sung Gilbertson has just released new single ‘Over Oceans’.


Congratulations on your latest release Over Oceans. How has the single release experience been for you?

‘Over Oceans’ is the second single I have released since living here in Belfast. Being in a new city has been a wonderful and challenging experience for me. I did quite a bit of travelling before settling here unexpectedly in Belfast. I have been learning exponentially since being here, starting in a new city. I think Belfast is like its people, it has a hard front, but underneath it is all soft, thoroughly welcoming, warm and creative. It feels like there is lots of change and growth happening in the city, and it is starting to really thrive. You can feel the buzz about the place, when you get out and get involved. Starting in a new city is a difficult experience, but what you learn from it is so invaluable. Especially through something like the music industry. I quickly learnt that Belfast has one of the most talented scenes there is. I have met so many wonderful people in the short space of time I’ve been here, from musicians, to promoters, to sound engineers and press like yourselves who are so passionate and inviting. It makes the transition process so much easier and enjoyable.

I particularly enjoyed recording with the guys at HalfBap Studios in Commercial Court. George Sloan was a great companion to the song and helped me bring out the undercurrent tones and ambience I was looking for. We have had some airplay on The London Ear Radio, BBC and some local stations in Australia too. The general response has been really exciting.

What inspired you to write this song? 

It is a song about coming to terms with being away from loved ones, travelling over oceans and maintaining closeness of relationships and accepting your new place in the world. I guess it tells the tale of my experience of settling into a new city, Belfast. It has a bittersweet tone to it. It is as much about letting go as it is retaining what is special to you. There are always bittersweet moments about living away from family and your old home. However, I have learnt along the way that home is more of a feeling than a place and that it can also strengthen relationships and make you push yourself into a new sense of self and spawn new ideas and growth. This has been imperative to my new music. 

What is the writing process for you?

It is such a difficult process to define or explain. For me it changes all the time. I guess I am always writing in my head through the lens of the day to day. I try to jot down what I can in my phone and notebooks. I am actually more disciplined when I am travelling when it comes to day to day writing. At home it is more sporadic and less routine. Isn’t that funny? But I guess there are more life commitments and distractions when you are in one spot.

A rough routine would be the days when I am alone in the house where I sit down and it all comes together. I could be working on an old idea or an unfinished song comes back to haunt me or there is a poem I need to put to song. Sometimes I will be just playing around on the piano or guitar and I come across a progression or picking pattern that I really like and start recording then I match in words to it. More often the words come first though. I have always been a writer first I think. It is funny, I used to do what you guys do, music journalism. I have always had a love of words and exploring the different ways they can translate our thoughts into the world and how they can evoke emotion, how we can play with patterns and order and feel. Musically most recently I am intrigued with open tunings, they help open things up musically for me and I draw inspiration from others who use it like Joni Mitchell and Laura Marling. 

How is this release different from your six track EP Olive Street?

I recorded and released the Olive Street EP back in Perth a few years ago. They are the first tracks I was brave enough to put out into the world. They portray a time of youth, naivety and learning. Since I started travelling in 2014 I started experimenting more and my music has shifted. I guess I only started hearing it myself when I heard my latest recordings ‘Over Oceans’ and ‘Will You Wait’ back for the first time. Travel changes you. Well it did me. You start emerging out of your cocoon. It has brought me more confidence, more understanding of who I am as a person and who I want to be and what I want out of life and music. It is all interwoven. Thus in turn even my voice has changed I think. I feel very much that I speak and sing from a different place now. That also comes with age. You are always speaking from your new chapter, your new self. Experience of live playing across Europe and Canada (and now Belfast) has helped me also work out new ways of playing the guitar, I guess you become more confident to experiment. You find your strengths and weaknesses and you work on them and you start hearing yourself better. 

In preparation for the single release, you recorded a series of videos around Belfast. How did you choose each song and location? 

I started a regular weekly project a couple of months back titled “Belfast Live Sessions”, with the help of my partner Chris. As we are both new to the city, we thought it would be a fantastic idea to record weekly videos in hidden pockets of Belfast. It has been the best craic and we have learnt so much from it from all different angles. I wanted a project that would push me to learn, network and get out into the city and this forces me to do all those things. We choose a different location each week, whether it be a bookstore, record store, landmark, we even did one in a typical Belfast back alleyway and then we choose a different cover song to perform each week. Ironically the location and the song often end up being relative in some way or closely connected to me. We have met so many lovely locals that have helped us out on this project, welcoming us into their venue and helping reciprocally promote their business, my music and the city of Belfast. It has been a fabulous way to meet people and see the city. I have also learnt so much in terms of recording, filming, editing, producing, creating ideas and performing. I am hoping to extend the project outwards in the next few months, inviting guest musicians to appear and hopefully take their own slots and perform in “Belfast Live Sessions”. It would be great to widen the exposure and include an array of musicians, showcasing weekly all the amazing talent we have here.

Which song was your favourite to perform and record?

I have loved doing it every week, but I think my favourite Belfast Live Session so far would have to be ‘Cactus Tree’ in the Palm House, Botanic Gardens. It was just coming out of winter and the sun was out and it was all warm and humid in there and this song has haunted me for many years. 

Do you think your travels and living abroad influence your music? How has your location made changed your music?

Yes, travel definitely changes you. It is different for everybody but it helped me broaden so many horizons both externally and internally. Living abroad then is the next level. Once you stop travelling and start to establish a life in a new city there are a whole new set of challenges. I have many travel stories that have only now made their way into songs once I stopped travelling. You need a creative space to do it in  When you are on the road you tend to be moving around a lot and you don’t have a space that feels comfortable and your own. I feel like you need that to compile everything together. Belfast has definitely become that place for me and had a subliminal influence on me. The weather in particular is more conducive to creative types, it breeds a writing mood if you like. Less distractions like the sunshine and the beach! I totally don’t take the sun for granted anymore. The size of Belfast is small enough to feel tangible and accessible which I like. We are so greedy of our space back in Australia. Here there is a feeling of shared space, all of us living close together I enjoy the cosiness it creates. I have also been loving the sounds of Belfast local bands like, Malojian, Runabay and Jealous of the Birds.

Kate Gilbertson – Photo by Aislinn McGinn

You have had many successes, which one are you most proud of? 

Probably my biggest one would be supporting Passenger in Perth in 2012, that was a dream. Since then I have been really honoured to be involved Dawson’s songwriting competition here in Belfast and being selected to perform at Belnash (Belfast Nashville Singer Songwriters Festival). I have been involved with Belnash for two years now and would love to get selected in the coming years to go to Nashville to participate in the other side of the festival. However, the most rewarding performances for me so far were actually when I was travelling solo across Europe and Toronto in 2014/2015 with just my guitar on my back and played my way through hidden bars, songwriter sessions and even busking the streets. This was the most challenging and rewarding experience for me performance wise. 

What would be a dream come true for you?

Creating music that had longevity and that touched and connected to people through the generations.

What are your plans for the future?

I am finishing my second EP here in Belfast this year. I then want to tour it across Ireland and the UK next year. I really want to get involved in as many festivals and local gigs as possible. There are so many opportunities over here for that that we don’t get in Australia. Also I want to keep writing and producing and creating more projects here like Belfast Live Sessions and collaborating with the great musicians we have in town here. As we step up the ladder obviously in the long distance I see the lights of the Glastonbury stage in my sights, but it’s all one step at a time and as they say I guess it is not the destination that counts it is the journey and I am happy to keep riding the wave and try to enjoy every minute!

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