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Interview with Kate Owen

Clare Martin

Kate Owen’s debut album Not a Proper Girl released in March 2020 is one of the most interesting sounds to emerge in Aotearoa in 2020.  And an album which you could say was her’s life’s work.  Clare Martin talked to Kate on the launch day of a film series to support the album release. 

CLARE: Tell me about this triple launch, first the album release in March, today the film series and in October the live tour.

KATE: Well we were lucky enough to get the album out just before lockdown.  But we didn’t get on the road to do the tour with the album, we were interrupted by COVID. I was so looking forward to playing the album with the band.  And to have the chance to connect to the audience - this is how I like to create a connection to my music, with an audience in the room.  And I couldn't do that. So we had to re-think. The film series filled the void and gave me a chance to tell the stories of the songs and connect with an audience.

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The Not a Proper Girl unique video album is fully launched this week, delivering a total of twelve tracks over four days to subscribers.  There are four main themes - daughter, mother, lover and nature which underpin the songs.  The short films were conceptualised, directed and edited by Kate herself with digital realisation in a collaboration with NZ musicians Emma Cameron (Emma Dilemma/Decades) and solo artist Katie Thompson.  The film series was made possible by the Creative New Zealand Arts Continuity grant. 

Sign up here to view the short film series:

CLARE: You have been working in music and writing music for twenty years, why has the debut album waited until 2020?

KATE: My background made it difficult to be in music.  I had a father who was a refugee from Greece then Romania. My mother said I shouldn’t have children before having a career. There was not a lot of room to be an artist. So I just didn’t think I could be in music.  I did ten-hour shifts as a video editor then would have two hours to work on music…. I had to focus on what I had to do to fulfil some idea of being a ‘professional’. 

But music was obsessional for me. So eventually I signed up for jazz school, completed one year before taking a gap to take up a video editing role in Christchurch.  That was before the earthquake and there was so much music everywhere, especially in Lyttelton, music was very much alive.  Whereas in Auckland being a performer felt inaccessible.

However, in 2017 Kate’s priorities changed with the serious issue of Chronic Pain Syndrome.  In response, she jumped on a plane and chased down her bucket list of destinations, seeking out Fado in Portugal, Flamenco in Spain and the choral singing of Bulgaria. 

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Back in New Zealand she plucked up courage and approached Ben Edwards of The Sitting Room recording studios.

KATE: I felt like a bit of an imposter, I wasn’t local, and I wasn’t Aldous Harding or Marlon Williams or Delaney Davidson. My music just wasn’t along the same lines and I wasn’t a young artist.  But I went along and saw Ben and what he said to me just made the world of difference.  He said, “I want to record with you not despite your age but because of your age - because I’m interested in what you have to say as an older artist”. 

CLARE: Tell me about the process of working with Ben in the studio.

KATE: What I felt straight away is that he gave over his attention to me completely.  I just loved being listened to and wanted to just try everything!  I remember this mighty man towering over us but finding such attention for the music and finding just the right sounds, just the right pedal, and he found the musicians who played on the album. It was just a really incredible experience.

You can listen to Not a Proper Girl HERE

In the recording process, we found a shared vision.  And Ben was able to direct people to create the right sound.  Vocals were done last and we spent hours and hours, I learnt so much about crafting the music in this process.  Ben would say “don’t sing as much… it’s about story-telling’ and we would go over it and over it.  I never realised it could be so rewarding to work in a recording studio like this.

CLARE:  it is evident from your music and the films that intensely painful experiences in your life have given rise to this album. Can you tell me about that song-writing impetus?

 KATE: I think on some level I was always desperate to be heard. …. A beautiful Rumi quote sums it up … something like “Without loss, we cannot experience joy”… .and it is very much this that runs through my music.  Through writing songs, I can be heard.  I felt very silenced by my mother’s suicide, I felt silenced by my father’s refugee culture, and silenced by the misogyny in the music industry.  But my writing was screaming to be heard and through song-writing you are given permission to tell these stories.

I think making the films brought me full circle. It’s a way of being proud of my stories.  And it’s a way of asking the question - what do you expect of yourself and what does society expect of you that is causing you pain?  It has always been the struggle that interested me in the poetry and music of artists such as Tori Amos, Queens of the Stone Age, Björk, P J Harvey.

CLARE: And we hope to get the chance to hear your stories in your October tour, if the restriction levels make that possible.  You have some great intimate venues booked.

KATE: Yes but even if we don’t get the chance to perform, we will also record a live set in September as part of Alex Harmer’s Ōtautahi Live sessions.  And the band is really excited about that.  So the album will go where the music will go, it won’t stop!


3 Oct Grater Goods Christchurch

24 Oct The Third Eye Wellington

31 Oct Freida Margolis Auckland

Tickets available HERE


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Written By: Clare Martin Clare has performed as an opera, recital and oratorio artist in UK most notably the Queen Elizabeth Hall, South Bank, London. In NZ she has performed with NZ Opera and with the NZ Symphony Orchestra but more recently she has moved into a wider range of contemporary genres including jazz and even Leonard Cohen. Since 2008 Clare has been teaching from her own music studio working with professional and beginner singers. In 2017 she was a mentor on TVNZ’s The Naked Choir working with a cappella choirs and she currently coaches barbershop and a woman’s ensemble.