Singer-songwriter Kate slept on the Great Wall

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After almost 6 years living in the Czech capital, Kate has been dubbed the girl who ‘knows everyone’, and it’s easy to see why. Aside from being extremely approachable and witty, Kate is a talented singer-songwriter and plays regular gigs at expat hubs like the Globe, James Joyce and the Red Room. A couple of weeks back I sat down in Kate’s flat for a chat and stripped everything back to her raw beginnings. One of the most interesting things I learnt was that she actually spent 5 months working on a ship and went around the world, which led to a lot of insanely cool experiences including sleeping on the Great Wall of China.

Where are you from originally?

So, I’m from Muncie, Indiana. It’s a small town in the mid-west in the US. Lots of corn and John Deere tractors. It’s a university town actually. There’s a university there called Ball State.

????? (laughs).

It still brings a hilarity to me, because I know that I’m telling it to foreigners most of the time. It actually has a lot of nicknames.. like testicle tech, but that’s the only one I can think of right now. I have a diploma from there, if you want to prove the legitimacy of Ball State (laughs).

Nice, and what did you study?

I studied education, secondary education in undergrad at Indiana university and then my masters was in university administration at Ball State, so that’s kind of how I found myself in this mixture I do now of teaching and administration.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be?

I went through phases. When I was really young I told my Mum I wanted to be a teenager. She was happy to report that I probably would achieve that goal. I also wanted to work at McDonalds when I was 6. I wanted to be a doctor when I was in high school and I did a two week internship stint. But with my first interaction with bags of blood I nearly fainted so that soured me.

Both of my parents were teachers so I kind of grew up thinking I would never be one even though I played school with my friends and dolls. My favourite game when I was a kid was actually ‘librarian’ (laughs). I made a library out of my living room and I made my family come through and check out books. Yeah it didn’t take much for me to get engaged in something.

And how did you get here?

Well, I worked for a study abroad program called Semester at Sea which is a university study program on a ship, I was on there for 5 months as a councillor. We were in 13 different countries and circumnavigated the globe – it was an amazing experience, I would totally do it again. But basically, I met a lot of English teachers on that journey and before that I hadn’t realised that teaching English abroad was a way to live abroad. I did my student teaching in the UK so I kind of always new I wanted to relocate to Europe at some point. So I came back from working at Semester at Sea and decided to book a one way ticket somewhere abroad. I chose Prague because I was there for 3 days in 2004 and loved it. I remember thinking it was one of those cities that I could live in. At that point there were a lot of cities in Europe that I thought I could live in, but I fell in love with Prague.

That experience at sea sounds great, tell us something that happened there.

Well, we were in Brazil for Carnival, in Bahia which was incredible… I’ve seen my fair share of partying, but these people… thousands and thousands on the street from all ages being out day and night. You thought it was going to end at some point, and then a concert or something would start again. I also went skydiving in Brazil, that was my first and only time.

Would you do it again?

Yeah, I would! It’s definitely thrilling. I’m trying to think of other stuff I did in Semester at Sea… What was it that I did?.. Oh yeah! I slept on the Great Wall…

Wow, really?

Yeah, I even have a t-shirt saying that (laughs). I had a really tight group of six friends also working on the ship. We all did this great wall experience. When you see documentaries people usually go to the same part of the Great Wall, but the part we were on was quite far from there. We took a bus with migrant workers going to the fields for their weeks worth of pay and we had gotten the phone number of a man from a friend of a friend. We went and stayed with his family for a night and he somehow had a key to one of the guard towers on the Great Wall with some cots. He walked us up there and gave us a huge basket of Chinese beer and whiskey and whatever else we wanted and just said “ok, here you go! See you in the morning!” That was amazing, an unforgettable experience.

That’s incredible. So you’re a singer-songwriter too!

Yeah!

When did you start that?

Well I started playing guitar when I was in college. I grew up actually playing piano and singing in a choir, but I started playing guitar in university in my sorority house and it kind of turned into an open mic thing and from there I got gigs!

And what is one of your favourites to play?

One of the first songs I learnt and still one of my favourites is Joni Mitchell – Both Sides Now. It sort of changes with the crowd and my mood at the time though. I like older stuff, I like singing Bob Dylan. An accoustic version of a pop song always really surprises a crowd and I really like that too. If I play Miley Cyrus or Justin Timberlake, people really like it. And sometimes you learn what a great song it is when you hear it stripped down.

You’ve been playing since you moved here?

Yeah, I started at the Oak which is now U Kravaty, they still do open mics and live music. I started going to the open mic there. It’s still a great scene for expat musicians because you can really connect with people who know the scene around Prague. Since then I’ve been playing more in here than I ever have in the States. I had a weekly gig in the States in a sandwich shop and they would give me $50 and a sandwich.

Ok, I thought for a second you were going to say that they gave you $50 worth of sandwiches! (laughs)

(Laughs) I would’ve taken it! It was such a funny gig because it was just a sandwich place, so my gig was 5-7pm.. and it was a takeaway place – ‘We have some music while you stand in line.’

Have you ever had any rowdy or drunk people try to use your microphone or anything like that?

You’ve just described my Friday night! Hmmm, a few things happen regularly. On Sunday I saw this group of people drinking, I knew how much they’d been drinking. They were a stag group and on my break a guy was like ‘hey, I play guitar! Can I go up and play something?’. So I usually say ‘no, the bar doesn’t allow it’. I mean if they haven’t been pounding jagermeisters all night then sometimes I’ll have them up. But I guess the most memorable thing is people constantly asking for songs I don’t know. Even if I don’t know it, they insist that I play it anyway.

What famous musician would you like to have dinner with?

Ummm, I would love to have dinner with Ingrid Michaelson. She’s an American singer-songwriter and has a lot of cool and quirky stuff, but also stuff that’s really easy to listen to.. and she’s alive! A lot of the people I’m thinking of are dead (laughs).

Which famous musician would you not like to have dinner with?

I feel like having dinner with Bob Dylan, even though I love his music, would be so intimidating. I would so be on a different plane than him. I would dread that dinner.

Ok, a change of topic. People dressing up as Santa, singing songs around town and collecting money for charity with the beer stops in between – this is SantaCon, which you started here in Prague! Tell us a little about it.

I heard about it from a friend that initiated it in Indianapolis and he just sort of chose a charity and got some friends together on Facebook. So I contacted some of the local bars I played at here and it just blossomed from there. Between the first and second year it’s grown a lot, now it’s kind of a mix between the English teaching community, couchsurfers, random Facebook people – it’s hovering at around 50-60 people at the moment, which is good because Prague deals with a lot of annoying stag parties and I don’t want it to be like that. A small group of people, but enough to make some smiles and be noticed.

katesanta

How would you describe Prague?

I would say manageable, in terms of size. Liberal… livable. Let’s see, what else… Open-minded. I feel like every time I think of an adjective, I can think of something to contradict it.. It’s open-minded but it’s not.

What do you miss about home?

In order of importance, Coffee Mate. It’s this powdered fake creamer.. it’s flavoured, but I can sort of get it here so that’s ok. I miss Target as well. Ok, now we’re done with material things. I miss people more than anything because most of my friends and family are sort of spread out around the US. I miss English speaking banter at a bar or just making a joke about something.

Who would play you in a movie about your life?

Ok well in terms of people that I look like, I often get Sheryl Crowe. I don’t really know what she is like as an actress though. I feel like Anna Paquin is a bit of a bad-ass. I guess if I was thinking high of myself, I would choose Tina Fey!

She’s awesome, I could see that! And finally, if you could go back in time, what would you see?

Hmmm. The pressure! Maybe the milestones of the 60s, like the moon landing. I would also like to see major milestones here like the Velvet Revolution, people protesting and celebrating in Wenceslas Square and also the fall of the Berlin Wall…. and the big bang!

 

Written and transcribed by Ryan Keating-Lambert. Photos by Ryan Keating-Lambert.

 

 

 

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