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Interview with The Crane Wives

The Crane Wives - Kate on the left

The Crane Wives (Grand Rapids, MI) will be playing in KC on June 12, 2018 at The Rino. Kimmy of I Love KC Music loved seeing them at Folk Alliance and highly recommends seeing them when they are back in town on the 12th. Kimmy had the chance to pick Kate's brain and learn more about the band in this interview. Here's what she learned.

Kimmy: Introduce yourself-what do you play? What's your role in the band? Who else is in the band with you?

Kate: My name is Kate Pillsbury. I sing and I play guitar. The rest of the band is made up of Emilee Petersmark (vocals, guitar), Ben Zito (bass), and Dan Rickabus (Drums, vocals).

Kimmy: What did you have for breakfast today?

Kate: Coffee with cream and sugar.

Kimmy: Window or aisle seat?

Kate: I prefer the aisle seat. I like the view out the window, but I worry the person next to me will fall asleep and block me in if I have to use the bathroom.

Kimmy: Vinyl, CD, Cassette, or Steaming? (How do you listen to music?)

Kate: Streaming all the way. It's so convenient, and digital tracks can't get scratched.

Kimmy: You recently recorded a video for NPR's tiny desk concert contest. How did you decide which song to record?

Kate: "Daydreamer" is a song that we wrote several months before the Tiny Desk Contest, so we had had a chance to perform it live a handful of times before recording the video. We thought it was a distinct song that might show off some of our favorite attributes about our band: down-to-earth lyrics, 3-part harmonies, and a groovy rhythm section.

Kimmy: I grew up in Grand Rapids and got to experience first ever Art Prize. Art Prize is a giant, open art contest with all over contests from all over the world began in 2009 right before your band formed in 2010. How have you seen it change the art scene in GR?

Kate: ArtPrize has really given a voice to artists in Grand Rapids and in Michigan, but more-so, I think it has encouraged people to see the world through an artist's eyes. Walking the streets of Grand Rapids during Artprize, people are exposed to all different levels of artist, with art that is created in infinite mediums. You might see a portrait of Abraham Lincoln comprised entirely of pennies that are aged to varying shades of copper. Or you might see a pencil sketch of a life-size wave. Or a man painted like a robot. Seeing those varying art forms helps people to wander the world with fresh eyes, and those fresh eyes help to form an artist. I think anything that helps someone see the world a little differently is beneficial to humanity at large.

Kimmy: In fact your song Easier won an award from Art Prize. You have won some other prizes as well. How has winning the awards impacted your music?

Kate: Winning awards always feels like a pick-me-up. Making a living as a musician isn't always easy. Between the nights and weeks away from home, playing for empty rooms in far-away states, and getting paid questionable sums of money, sometimes touring feels like beating your head against a wall. It's nice to be acknowledged every now and then; it helps rebuild momentum, and affirm the path we are on. We have been particularly lavished with awards in Grand Rapids, between ArtPrize and WYCE's Jammie Awards over the years. We are so grateful to the people in our city, and we always feel the love. And feeling the love is what keeps us writing the music and touring.

Kimmy: What is your creative process like?

Kate: My personal creative process is erratic. Some days I sit down to write and it's like turning on a water faucet with words and melodies. Other days the well is completely dry. Sometimes a song takes thirty minutes to write, and sometimes it takes me three years to complete. Generally, someone will say something, or I will read something that inspires a thought that strikes me as making a good lyric. I'll elaborate on the idea in chicken-scratch in a notebook or on my cell phone. I will usually pick up my guitar and find chords that I think fit the tone of the concept of the song, and then I'll press record on my voice memos app and let myself improvise lyrics and melodies for a solid ten to twenty minutes, and in that span of time I might hit upon a few good seconds of music, and I just keep hacking away in a very undignified manner that is rife with bad lyrics and laughable pitches, until I finally stumble upon something that resembles a song. Then I perform the song for the band a couple of times, and the bandmates improvise parts until they find parts they believe serve the song. We generally build upon each other's musical parts; the bass and the drums always vibe together, and the guitars and bass tend to flirt with each other. As I'm writing this, I'm realizing how difficult it is to talk about the way the music works. But generally, we each sort of "feel" something in a song that clicks into place, and we trust each person's intuition about their part in the song. Our favorite aspect of working together has always been the songwriting process: there is a certain magic that happens when a songwriter finishes a song and brings it to practice so that we can all write our parts.

Kimmy: What albums are you all listening to right now?

Kate: I've been really digging into Leon Bridges' Good Thing, The Barr Brothers' Queen of the Breakers, and Southland by Lindsay Lou.

Kimmy: One of the things that makes live music so powerful is the community experienced. Do you do anything to try and create that?

Kate: Community is crucial in the music industry, and there are so many different levels to it--the community in our local scene, and the broader regional and national music community, the community that exists between artists, and the community between the fans and the artists. We try to cultivate community by performing shows in town with other local bands, visiting music conferences, and performing at festivals. I think you can find community any time you sit down with another person and have a genuine conversation. Without human connection, there is no art, and vice versa. So when we perform at venues, we meet the staff, we try to have a conversation with them. When we perform at festivals, we watch other bands perform and tell them how much we liked their music. Every year, we perform at our favorite festival, Harvest Gathering in Lake City, Michigan. We get to see hundreds of other bands, and for a whole weekend, it's basically a family reunion amongst musicians.

Kimmy: That festival sounds like a blast!

Kimmy: One of my favorite moments at Folk Alliance this year was seeing you and The Accidentals play Sleeping Giants together in the lobby. What was Folk Alliance like for you? What were some of your favorite moments?

Kate: Folk Alliance was a mad rush. We only stayed for a couple days this time around, and we tried to pack as much into those two days as possible, which made it a fun and slightly chaotic adventure. A lot of my favorite moments happened in the Michigan Room, where our friends had organized some of the most fantastic private showcases I've ever seen. Natalia Zukerman made me weep. And we had a jam session late into the night on our last night at the festival, with many of my favorite Michigan musicians.

Kimmy: Speaking of Sleeping Giants, I've been kind of obsessed with that song. What's the story behind the song?

Kate: Sleeping Giants was born of bonfire-inspired midnight jam session on a beach in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It was the sort of magical song that seems to fall out of the sky.

Kimmy: What role do you think musicians have as citizens of this world?

Kate: I think the role of a musician is multi-dimensional and vast, and I think it must be different for each musician. Some fight for social justice. Others try to remind people to lighten up and have fun. For the Crane Wives, I think our role has been more centered in helping people have a good time at a live a show, and a good cry when listening to the album in their car. We write songs that are often centered on our struggles with anxiety, depression, and just trying to make a place for ourselves in the world. I think we provide a cathartic outlet for our fans. My hope is that we help people to come to terms with their struggles, and to try to be forgiving toward themselves.

Kimmy: Thanks so much!

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