Kate Todd: New Country Re-Boot

Kate Todd may have had a little luck along the way in terms of establishing herself as a bona fide actress, country singer/songwriter and music teacher, but her success is mostly the result of natural talent combined with hard work. She began her acting career portraying singer/songwriter Lily ‘Shady Lane’ Randall in the television series ‘Radio Free Roscoe’. Her most well-known role followed on the Teletoon/Disney series ‘My Babysitter’s A Vampire’, in which she played the fang-toothed Erica Jones. It wasn’t long, however, before her musical side came to the fore leading to ‘Finding My Way’ her debut album from 2012 and her outstanding new sophomore disc ‘Anywhere With You’. The singer sees parallels in her dual career that occasionally overlap and take her down new roads.

“The duality has always been there,” Kate says over the phone line during an early morning interview. “I got on my first show, Radio Free Roscoe, because I played music so I fit into the role of a singer/songwriter. I was fortunate enough to continue on and get acting roles and I worked very hard at it. A lot of my friends were going out partying and going to university while I was out on the set shooting every day and, if I wasn’t shooting, I was practising my guitar in the basement on weekends. It wasn’t handed to me. I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of a lot of different shows, most recently as a voice actor for the video game ‘Assassin’s Creed’. To be able to have pockets of fans from My Babysitter’s A Vampire, Assassin’s Creek and the new album is really unique…it blows my mind.”

In terms of her fan base, Anywhere With You may turn out to have the deepest pockets as it contains a dozen tracks that are ready made for country radio. The title track and first single finds the singer on the back of a Harley, propelled down the open road by an irresistible beat. Hot guitar licks seem to be order of the day throughout the album as evidenced on the anthemic ‘My Country’ and a sterling cover of ‘Hit Me With Your Best Shot’ which features a searing solo from the late, great Jeff Healey.

“I grew up in the country but I was listening to the Stones, Aerosmith and that type of thing so when we wrote My Country we wanted to highlight my specific country-rock roots,” Kate begins. “I respect all kinds of country music and I love it, but on this song we wanted to rock and not be crying in our beer. I’m a huge fan of the guitar so it’s a very guitar-driven album. The track with Jeff Healey really rocks out and it was kind of cool to be able to sing on a track with him. It was a little weird to do a collaboration with somebody on a track from so long ago, but it turned out great. Eddie Schwartz, the Canadian composer who wrote the song, heard it and he called me up to say that he loved the version and he loved my singing. It was a huge thrill for me to have the writer of one of the most iconic songs ever compliment me in that way.”

Although Kate sings about ‘Lucky Boots’ on Anywhere With You, luck really doesn’t really have anything to do with her prolific song writing. (“I’m not really that superstitious because reliance on material things to get you through something can always fail”) Aside from the Schwartz track, she and manager Peter Linesman co-wrote the bulk of the numbers in Nashville with some of Music City’s elite tunesmiths. She is extremely proud of the material that they produced and, lucky boots notwithstanding, she does consider that good fortune played a role in the outcome to some degree.[quote]I’m very happy to have been able to act because it lends itself to my music[/quote]

“It was my first trip down to Nashville and I was very fortunate to have some sessions set up,” she says. I was nervous because I didn’t know if they would like my ideas or concepts but people were very welcoming of me. It turned out that everyone was down to earth and they really connected with my sound and my style. Bernie Nelson, who has written for people like Kenney Chesney and Wynonna Judd, hooked me up with a few gigs on Music Row which is really the heart of the country music industry in Nashville. He also invited me on stage for his rounds at the Bluebird Café, which is the city’s legendary songwriter’s performance venue. It was all very cool.”

Kate displays a wide range of style on Anywhere With You from the heartfelt ballad ‘Kiss Me First’ to the down and dirty rocker ‘Bad Girl’. (Asked if the latter is autobiographical, Kate says “Seeing as I’m up at 10:00 a.m. for this interview, you figure it out”) While the majority of the album is a guitar aficionado’s dream, Kiss Me First demonstrates that Kate’s voice is an equally strong instrument.

“That’s a song that Peter (Linesman) and I wrote where we just used the demo vocal,” Kate explains. “We didn’t go in and cut the vocal after we laid it down as our guide track. A lot of the vocals on the album are original takes just because we wanted to capture the vibe that we had in Nashville and get it onto the record. When you go over it too many times and make it too refined, it loses its feeling. I had a very clear idea of how I wanted Kiss Me First emotionally delivered and I think we captured that, so we decided to keep it that way even with imperfections. I play it a lot in my acoustic sets in my shows because it’s a good song to kind of break it down after you’ve been rocking out for a while.”

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Kate shows that she can also mix things up vocally on the track ‘High’ where she does a little rhythmic rapping which might not threaten Iggy Azalea, but is certainly well to the left of Carrie Underwood. The singer wasn’t aiming at introducing a contemporary feel or unique sound to the disc, but just doing what comes natural.

“I don’t set out to write what’s going on in radio because if you’re chasing that it will have changed by the time the record’s released,” she says. “I’ve always had this kind of rappiness in my vocals. I kind of skirt around it sometimes but I nailed it on that song and I think it’s a really cool track. On my last album I had a song called ‘Hands Off Jack’ that had the same kind of vibe, so I just kind of built on that idea and that Sheryl Crowe-esque style of cool, conversational lyrics.”

Upcoming gigs for Kate include television-promotional tours in Winnipeg and Calgary, and a couple of Ontario dates in July, including the Yonge-Dundas Square in Toronto and the Brooklin Fair. Hopefully a fall tour in support of the record will follow. In the meantime Kate has enough to keep her on the go with another ‘secret’ video game gig, and her ongoing role as a music/acting teacher and mentor.

“I’m very happy to have been able to act because it lends itself to my music,” she says. “They go hand in hand in so many ways and I try and teach my acting students and music students that the two fields of study do tend to cross over. To be able to sing proficiently is nice, but in order to really move people you have to know why you’re singing it. You have to find the meaning behind it and it’s much the same principle with acting.”

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