Although she’s been a South Australian resident musician for the better part of the last decade, Loren Kate doesn’t normally stick around for the winter. Typically she leaves the city for the warmer climes of the country’s north. But this winter, she’s stuck here.
“I’m not coping with the winter!,” laughs Kate. “I’m usually in Darwin over the winter. I haven’t done an Adelaide winter in 10 years. I go busking, mostly. I do the markets since there’s lots on up there, like three or four a week. So I busk for my bread.”
This year she’s sticking around to “see how it goes”, with shows lined up at the Meet Me at the Woodstock Crossroads Festival and Umbrella Winter City Sounds.
“There’s just so much more on in the winter here now, and I thought I’d give it a go,” she says.
Kate’s preference for the warmer weather might come from her having been raised on the New South Wales Central Coast, and the journeys she cast across the country in her post-school years. In fact, it was right after finishing high school that Kate decided to break with her past and pick up the guitar.
“I left school at 17 and went on schoolies week to Byron Bay, then called my mum and said I’m not coming home,” she explains. “I started learning how to play guitar and write music then, travelling around the country, playing music. I was playing lots of covers and open mic nights, and eventually started writing my own songs. I had a pretty colourful upbringing, so I had a lot to write about and it became a kind of therapy for me, I guess.”
Kate’s past is an indispensable part of her music. While many of her tunes feel optimistic and breezy, the words often cross into darker realms. It’s a strong tradition in folk-country music, of course, and one that Kate learned from the genre’s eminent forebears. Listing the likes of Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Carol King and James Taylor as her influences, Kate says that “while the subject matter can be dark she hopes the songs are optimistic.
“That’s always been the way that I write,” she says. “I’ve never been able to write a song about something that isn’t real or truthful.”
That naturally developed style has certainly served Kate well, as she unexpectedly picked up five awards at the 2016 Songs Alive! Australia songwriting competition, including Songwriter of the Year and Best Country Song of the Year for Silver and Gold.
“I thought I’d go in there thinking I’ll watch some people win some awards, and then they just kept calling my name out,” Kate laughs. “I didn’t even wear any makeup. I wasn’t expecting it at all.”
The distinction of winning a country music prize isn’t a label that Kate has ever expected either, as she says it’s not what she would immediately categorise her music as.
“I feel like it’s more folk-country, I guess? I don’t enjoy a lot of country music, but I like that sort of contemporary country that has that folk-y feel, that Americana feel.”
Kate’s songwriting method flows from a natural instinct of what feels right and spontaneous inspiration. She attributes much of the music from her latest album, Little Wonders, a collaboration with Sarah Humphreys full of music for children, to a period of writer’s block, where “the only thing that was coming out was kids’ songs”. Though, it might also be the effect of having kids of her own, she says.
“I guess you start singing more kids songs when you’ve got kids. My kids don’t actually want to listen to the songs because they heard me writing them and they’re tired of them.”
While the style of Kate’s music might hark back to that of older singers and times gone by, the way she’s producing it is distinctly modern. Kate has her own Patreon channel, whereby fans can directly subscribe with small monthly contributions, and in return receive exclusive looks at her new music and behind the scenes insights.
“I love it,” she says. “I don’t have a huge amount of supporters at the moment – I have 50. But it means for me at the moment $600 coming in for me to make music each month. For that you can head into the studio for a day, or make a low budget film clip.”
Noting that this takes the strain off more financial and administrative aspects of her musical career, Kate feels more creatively free and able to focus on the basics of her business: making music.
Likewise, it’s a joy for Kate to have such a committed core following, whom she occasionally meets at her shows when they’re brave enough to say hello in person.
“I know a lot of them, and they’re all around the country which is nice. Recently I was in Darwin and someone came up to me at a show and said, ‘My name’s Alex and I’m one of your Patreon supporters!’ and it felt like family, you know?”
Loren Kate at Meet Me at the Woodstock Crossroads Festival
Saturday, July 15, 3pm
The Producers Bar
Tickets via moshtix.com.au
An Evening with Loren Kate (Umbrella: Winter City Sounds)
Thursday, July 20, 8pm
Grace Emily Hotel
Tickets via moshtix.com.au