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EXCLUSIVE: Kat Wright Shares Her Experiences As A Woman In The Male-Dominated Industry

Kat Wright is a stellar musician, performer, and entrepreneur, leading Kat Wright and the Indomitable Soul Band on an extensive tour through May and into the summer with appearances at festivals such as Summer CampFrendly Gathering, and Arise. The singer based in Burlington, Vermont, also happens to be a woman, which makes her an unfortunate rarity among musicians in the scene. We were recently able to catch up with the singer, who sat down with us to talk about her experiences as a woman in the music industry, the man who inspired her to get there, and how she thinks things could change. You can check out her upcoming tour dates with the Indomitable Soul Band as well as information about the group on their website here.

 


 Live For Live Music: I know you did an interview with us back in January, during which you discussed the eclectic collection of music that was played in your household growing up. Were you parents very influential in your attraction to music?

Kat Wright: Totally! My dad, like I said in the other interview, is a live-music fanatic. He’s still one of my favorite people to go to shows with. My dad loves everything, and growing up it really was everything from Irish music, to jazz, to rock and roll, to folk, to Celtic and everything in between. He was very influential and just kind of showed me that it was a big release. My dad was also someone who worked from 9-5, and that was how he would enjoy his life; he would do his day job and raise his family, and then he would go out and see music. He just loves it more than anything—he really does, and that super-inspired me. He started bringing me to free outdoor festivals from the time I could walk, so I’ve been going to see everything from Little Feet, to Bonnie Raitt, to P- Funk, to David Grisman, to just everything all across the boards. He was huge in helping me learn how to appreciate music as a recreational outlet.

L4LM: So was he very supportive in trying to get you involved in the music scene?

Kat Wright: Yeah, I took violin lessons when I was a kid, but thought it wasn’t cool so I quit. So I didn’t really start exploring my own musical path until after college. And no one really took me seriously until I started working with this band. Everyone in my family thought I had a good voice, but it wasn’t until I put this band together and started really doing things that everyone realized I was very serious about it. And it wasn’t that anyone was discouraging, I just think it wasn’t really on anyone’s radar that I was going to devote my life to this, which is what I’m doing now.

Everything that I do is based around this. Every penny that I make goes towards this. And every moment of my day is centered around managing all the aspects of keeping everyone informed, in the loop, in the know, inspired and together; it’s a small business. So I think I kind of turned heads when I started working with these guys, because they’re so talented and they kind of validated me in this way, which is . . . something. Previous to this, I performed with my childhood best friend, another woman, Maggie, and we did primarily folk music. 

L4LM: Was that duo something you always viewed as more of a temporary dynamic?

Kat Wright: You know it’s funny; I feel like I got caught in a whirlwind with music that I didn’t quite expect to get caught in realistically. If you had asked me when I was eight years old, what I wanted to be, I would have said I want to be a singer. But I think I got that pushed out of me. . . . I mean that just seems so out of the question, right? It seemed like something totally impossible, so I kind of forgot about it.

L4LM: You mentioned before that you felt like you weren’t taken seriously as a musician until you started working with the group that you’re in now. Why don’t you think that you were taken seriously in the folk duo?

Kat Wright: Probably because it was two girls.

L4LM: You think that’s what it was?

Kat Wright: I think that was part of it. I often think of all the different ways that you can develop a career and develop a group. A lot of times I think that I miss doing quiet music, but I think that in this outfit with the big band and with all the super talented guys, it’s easier for me to make a statement than if I had a folk project.

The way I see it, this incarnation, a female vocalist, horns and seven dudes on stage, it’s more eye-catching than a female folk duo. This is more accessible for whatever reason. I think part of it too is that the music industry is very male-dominated. It definitely seems like men are more encouraged to play instruments and be instrumentalists; it’s more normal for them to pursue that and less normal for women to be encouraged their whole lives. Every festival we play at, there’s literally one or two female acts every single festival, and it’s just a fact right now.

L4LM: I always think about growing up and getting to that age in elementary school when you get to pick an instrument to play. I feel like girls are always expected to gravitate towards the flutes and the clarinets. But why aren’t we playing the drums or playing the guitar?  

Kat Wright: Totally! I don’t know. We still have a lot of things culturally that are considered lady-like or appropriate or sexy—that’s a big part of it too—which is really challenging to understand when you think of it critically. Because a lot of people don’t think a badass woman crushing the drums is sexy.

L4LM: See, that’s the sexiest thing in my opinion.

Kat Wright: I’m with you! But I feel like that’s a little more difficult for people to swallow sometimes, so there’s definitely that shadow.

L4LM: How do you feel about the things going on politically for young women?  

Kat Wright: I think it’s more important than ever to encourage women to have a voice. While I have a crew of totally amazing gentleman in my life, the world is run by men. All of the problems that we have right now are because of a male-dominated world system. They have failed to make anything sustainable. I don’t know how to explain that, but it is a fact that the world is run by men.

All of the major governments of all of the major countries on earth are run by men, and they are literally driving all of these cultures into the ground. I think that if things were in more balance, in terms of having a female perspective in the major countries and the superpowers, we would have a much different conversation and a much different reality. By nature, women are the bearers of life and they offer a different innate perspective than the male perspective.

Now more than ever it’s important to encourage women, and it’s going to be challenging, because for however many years we’ve been continually cutting funding for the arts and cutting funding for different disciplines that might give women like me a voice. If I didn’t love to sing, or if I wasn’t okay at singing, maybe I’d be on a professional track to work for somebody else. But because I was encouraged, and because I was able to participate in the arts, I can be an entrepreneur.

L4LM: In the music industry in particular, have you ever felt that you’ve faced difficulties based solely on your feminine exterior?  

Kat Wright: Yeah, definitely. Our first official booking agent was incredibly misogynistic, especially when there was conflict. He would be incredibly demeaning and tell me things like I was a diva or that I was oversensitive. The moment you stand up for yourself, people will sling any number of insults at you. So that was one really sucky relationship where I was definitely treated like a lesser person and not respected for all of the work that I had done for the band.

There’s definitely been many times too with venue owners where we’ve had a contract, and when I ask for what is stated and agreed upon, they act like I’m a crazy person. So I think a lot of times as a woman, you get treated like you’re blowing things out of proportion whenever you stand up for yourself.

L4LM: It’s so true! If you’re too nice you’re a pushover, and if you’re too insistent you’re a bitch. Do you think there will ever be equilibrium among men and women in music?

Kat Wright: I think it’ll take a really long time. I think it’ll take like a hundred years.

L4LM: But you think it could happen?

Kat Wright: Yeah, I totally think it could happen if we continue to open more doors for women and encourage young girls to learn music, play instruments, write songs. If we encourage the youngest generations among us to get involved, I think it is possible, but I still think it will take like a hundred years. And if that were to be the case, it would have to have people at all of the top levels. All of the booking agencies would have to have X number of women as well as men, all of the management agencies would have to have the same amount of women, and every band as well. So that’s going to take a long time, it seems like it will be forever. I can imagine it though.

L4LM: In contrast to much of our conversation, what would you say is the best part of being a woman in the music scene?  

Kat Wright: The best thing, let’s see. . . . I think that I’ve said this forever, but I am so grateful as a woman that I have society’s permission to wear makeup and glitter and eyeliner and do my hair, to wear cute dresses, and to feel this permission to be a certain kind of sexy. If I were a man, I would be so bummed that I couldn’t wear makeup whenever I wanted without people giving me a hard time. So I love being able to mascaraed, I love being able to be in costume, I love being able to exaggerate my personal physical appearance, because if I were a man and I wasn’t able to do that I would feel very limited in being able to express myself. So it’s a little thing, but it’s something.