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Kat Wright Reflects on 2017

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Kat Wright - MATTHEW THORSEN
  • Matthew Thorsen
  • Kat Wright

The last time we checked in with Kat Wright, the Burlington soul singer had just released By My Side, the first record put out under her own name, sans longtime bandmates the Indomitable Soul Band. The ISB is still intact and a huge part of the album and the live act. But by truncating the group's name, Wright and company set out to transcend genres and resist being pigeonholed by the retro-soul sound that had become their calling card. As she told Seven Days in November 2016, "For us, as a group, soul is the starting point, not the ending point."

In a recent interview, Wright said she had set two main goals for 2017: Gig farther from home than ever before, and create some "sexy" visual content. Missions accomplished. From Montréal to Colorado to Nashville, Tenn., the band expanded its reach into fresh markets and found brand-new audiences. While on tour in Chicago, Wright and company recorded sessions with the artist-discovery platform Audiotree. Also, two dazzling new music videos await an imminent release.

As a year-end treat, Wright and the ISB offer their hometown audience a pair of New Year's Eve shows. They perform on Saturday and Sunday, December 30 and 31, at the Higher Ground Ballroom in South Burlington, with support from the Eames Brothers Band, Julia Caesar and the new iteration of the DuPont Brothers, SoundBrother.

Seven Days caught up with Wright in Burlington.

SEVEN DAYS: We ran a cover story about you a little over a year ago, which came out the day after the 2016 presidential election. That must've been ... interesting for you.

KAT WRIGHT: It was horrifying. I was totally despondent, as I think everyone I know was. I didn't even look at it or post about it until many days later. I was embarrassed. It was, like — the world is so, so fucked in such a blatant way. I just looked at my face on the cover — it felt absurd. It was like a bad joke.

SD: What are some significant milestones you've had this year?

KW: 2017 was a really big year for us. There were a few venues we played that were kind of lifelong goals. We played Levon Helm's barn in Woodstock, N.Y., supporting our good friend Ryan Montbleau. Even going there alone would've been so cool because of all the history of the Band and all the work Levon did with the Midnight Ramble up until he died.

[Also,] we got a really great opportunity to play the Montréal International Jazz Festival. We had a crazy slot. [It was] on one of the huge, free outdoor stages. We had two sets: 8 and 10 p.m. We don't know how many people were there, but it was easily between 5,000 and 10,000. That's definitely the biggest crowd we've played that I can think of. We were really honored. Stevie Wonder played on one of those stages a few years ago.

SD: At one point, it seemed like you were having some technical difficulties on tour.

KW: Yes. We bought a used Sprinter [van]. We'd used it all summer, and it was a total rock star. That was a big upgrade for us.

[But] we started breaking down in the middle of Illinois. We were like, "OK. It's probably the alternator, which means it's running the battery into the ground. So, we'll stop at a Walmart, get a new battery and run [the current battery] into the ground. When it dies, we'll pull over, put the brand-new battery in and run that one into the ground. And when we're driving, we'll charge the other battery." It was an asinine plan.

SD: Eh, I've heard worse.

KW: We ended up [breaking down] at a 24-hour service station. They found out it was the alternator, and they couldn't get a new one in time, so we had to spend this horrible day in this awful hotel. Everyone was just so bummed. It was a nightmare. No one was sleeping. Everything just took as long as it could.

We ended up missing our first show in Colorado, which was heartbreaking, because I knew that that was going to be the best show of the tour.

SD: What can you tell me about the making of the new "By My Side" video?

KW: Content is really tricky. I'm really hard on myself because I'm also a visual artist. I probably have unrealistically high standards for what kind of content I want [to put out]. I previously released a video for "By My Side" that I thought came out OK — but it didn't get executed the way that I saw it in my mind.

For [the new] "By My Side," I found this [director], Trevor Wiggins. He lives in Texas. There was some preproduction on my end. I did a bunch of green-screen stuff here in Vermont. And then he made this incredible animated video.

Trevor had the idea of doing an [animated] animal band. I sent him photographs of everyone who played on the record, and he chose animals based on what he thought their spirit animal would be. And then Trevor just did his thing. And that's what I wanted. I wish I had the time and skills and training to do all my own content, but I just don't. I wanted this guy to make his art. And I love the long-distance nature of it. I've never even met him.

SD: There's another video coming out soon, correct?

KW: Yes, for the song "Come Dance." For that one, I really didn't want to be in it at all. I get tired of posing and acting. I don't even think I'm that good at those things. I just wanted to have something light. I get tired of taking myself so seriously.

I reached out to a friend from college. She's a dancer and a visual artist. She lives out in Portland, Ore., and I just love the work she's doing with movement. She [went] to all these weird places and did movements based on what the places inspired her to do. I just loved the lightness of her silly dance moves. It's exactly what I wanted.

SD: What's something you said to yourself a lot this year?

KW: The first thing that just came into my head was, "It's OK, baby." I have to tell myself that a lot. I have to be like, "OK. This is really hard. How are we gonna do this? Or, how are we gonna work around this? Or, what am I doing with my life?" Also, "Some money would be nice." I say that a lot.

I said "thank you" a lot this year. I've been trying to be better about acknowledging the people that I'm working with. The people in my band have been so dedicated to this project. Pursuing this path of trying to become a national act requires so much sacrifice. Any of us could be pursuing careers in something else.

SD: What can people expect from the New Year's Eve shows?

KW: We're going to be revisiting a lot of the classic soul stuff we played at [our former Radio Bean weekly soul night]. We're gonna dig back into that treasure chest of songs that we played every week for five years — the songs that inspired us to write our own music.


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The original print version of this article was headlined "Having a Ball"

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