The past three years have been a journey of self-discover and self-reliance. A true test of not giving up on myself, and trust me, there were times I wanted to. Many people tell me that I have a strength in my vulnerability. A strength in allowing myself to publicly feel, and to admit when I am wrong, confused, angry, or joyful. Isn’t that what artist’s do? We create a space for not only ourselves, but also for others so that they may feel. We are the masters of projecting the exercise of self-reflection. The thing is, like anything in life, this path is not always easy.
Like many artists I appreciate the talents and gifts of other artists, especially when it comes to musicians. As a writer, I am continually in awe of how people can turn their thoughts and words into rhythmic and orchestrated magnificence.
I love music. I often would say in my younger years, that if I could die in a field dancing to a live band I would die a happy woman. This is probably why I surround myself with musicians and I love to tell their stories.
So today I want to tell you how one artist and her gift helped me rise up out of a dark personal moment.
Kim Wempe’s song, Down Here, found me when I needed to hear it the most. It pulled me into the light and reminded me that I could rise up over anything.
After the recession hit Nova Scotia my business felt it in a bad way. I went from netting $60,000 to $20,000 in three short years. I remained optimistic, reading books like Napoleon Hill’s, Think and Grow Rich, surrounding myself with financially successful people, and trying everything I could in order to save my business. Nothing worked and in the end, I had to close shop.
When I moved to Toronto in order to try and open myself up to more opportunity, I continually felt defeated. In fact, the small box of credentials everyone was trying to fit me into felt as if it was some form of personality prostitution just to get a job. With my entrepreneurial experience people were reluctant to hire me for fear I would leave. My breaking point came when I decided to lie to project a dumbed-down version of myself, by understating my credentials, and by pretending that I didn’t really know anything about photography. I went to those disheartening lengths in order to get a straight sales commission job, which barely paid the bills, photographing babies at the hospital. I had applied to over three hundred jobs in eight months and my optimism was wearing thin, and I was literally hungry.
I thought to myself, “What was the point?” and had a bit of a pity party until I saw on Facebook that Kim had released her album Coalition. Scrolling down the page and listening to each song that she released for the preview of the album I heard, “Down Here” for the first time. The upbeat introduction and the first lines, “I tried to be myself, but I come across as someone else, and every word that comes from my mouth is just and echo of someone that’s not good enough,” captured me instantly and with every word I felt more and more alive.
I wrote Kim right away asking her what inspired her to write this song. She told me that when she became frustrated with being broke she almost gave up on music to become and administrative assistant. She wrote the song to help herself “rise up” from the doubts she felt.
Thank God she listened, because Kim has gone on to develop an inspiring musical career.
Kim has earned herself an East Coast Music Award in Canada for Rising Star of the Year as well as multiple nominations for Female Artist of the year, Pop Recording of the Year, and Folk Recording of the Year. Her new album ‘Coalition’, is a big bold leap into a new sound that puts her vocals in the driver’s seat and her spirit in the spotlight. (Wempe)
Recently returning from her second tour in Australia I felt it was a perfect time for me to introduce you to this soulful singer/songwriter. Thank you Kim Wempe for your talent and reminding all of us to never give up on ourselves and our dreams.
Kim Wempe Interview
Kim, can you tell me how you began your career as a singer?
- ..I don’t know how far back I should go. I sang as a kid all the time to the point of annoyance for family members. Then we had a music class in grade eight where I got to learn guitar. I took it home everyday and learned 3 chords and just started writing songs. Then I entered talent shows, and I did the open mic thing, and then I went to school for music. That really helped my confidence and stage presence. Then one year, I made my first record, didn’t go back to school and just started booking shows and touring. Looking back, I probably would have planned it better, but…I learned a lot and I enjoyed the journey ahah!
When did you start seeing your career begin to take off? Was there a moment when you thought, “Wow, this is really happening?”
- Well I guess that was when I won my first music award. I was at Nova Scotia Music Week and I won Folk Recording of the Year for my Where I Need to Be EP. I got to actually hold an award and give a speech and at that moment, I was like wow…this is happening. Hahah! The first one is a pretty special moment. Then when I won an ECMA a couple months later, I was just over the moon. I still remember that feeling. I will probably never forget it, because it’s never the same as that first moment.
What are some of the struggles musicians’ face that you have learned to overcome with experience?
- Well right now, I’d say I’m struggling with the battle between the road and home life and the coming down from adrenaline when you get off tour. I don’t think you ever overcome your struggles, you just manage them better with more understanding and balance. I think that’s important because we will always have struggles. They don’t really go away. I just think you learn to deal with them in better ways that maybe make them feel a little less difficult each time. I guess another struggle would be dealing with the ups and downs of this industry. You can be on top of the world one day and the next you’re lower than you ever thought you’d be. The no’s and the criticism, the judgement, the pressure, the low’s never get easier, but like I said you just manage them better and you grow as a person developing a positive attitude, and self-love and assurance that can get you through those things.
When I first had the opportunity to hang out with you it was at the Stan Rogers Folk Festival in Canso, Nova Scotia. I had not heard you sing yet, but I admired how determined you were to get on stage and sing even though you were not on the roster. After only a short time you convinced them to let you sing in between set up and you wowed the audience with your voice. How do you think having this kind of drive helps you in achieve success as a musician?
- That drive is everything. It comes from your gut and it’s not something that typically goes away. It’s always keeping you going no matter how bad it gets I find. Recently though, for the first time in my life, I really lost that drive because I got caught up in negativity and other people’s opinions and just a cycle that was hard to get out of. Then I had a month off, wrote 10 new songs, and felt like I was 10 years old again writing my first song. So excited and passionate and I felt that drive come back to life. It was the most amazing feeling. That drive makes you feel alive. I think the best thing you can do, is try to never lose that drive. It’s an amazing thing.
In that same moment, just before you got on stage you grabbed my arm in excitement and said, “Don’t look Cara but behind you is Kathleen Edwards.” I turned around and said, “Who is Kathleen Edwards?” You grabbed my arm again and said, “I told you don’t look!” and you laughed. In response you said, “Kathleen is my Ani Defranco!” and then you hopped up on stage.
Ani Defranco is number one on my bucket list for singers to hear play live in my lifetime. She is a singer that inspires so many women (and men) and is revolutionary in the folk music industry. I was in complete awe that Kathleen Edwards was “your” Ani. I had to tell her.
I hopped down from the stage and ran over to her to introduce myself. (I am sure it didn’t hurt that I was on my 3rd beer). I told her, “Kathleen, do you see that woman up there singing. She said you were her “Ani.” Kathleen had the same reaction as me and responded, “Oh my God, I am someone’s Ani! That’s so amazing!”
- Hahaha! I love this story. Yes those moments where you meet or even come close to the women who inspire you so much on your journey through this are really inspiring moments. These are women you’ve looked up to and listened to every word they’ve recorded or said in a news article through their entire career! Trying to learn something from them. I love those moments when you finally get to see them live or talk to them.
Recently I sent you an article about how Kathleen Edwards has quit the music business and started a café called Quitters. After reading the article how did you feel about the struggles that Kathleen has faced in her personal and music life? Do you think this is something common that happens in this industry?
I think it’s an extremely common thing in the industry. Being on the road and the balance between the road and home is a hard thing. It affects your relationships and you give up a lot of things to be on the road. It affects your body health and your mental health. And musicians don’t have a choice these days. You have to tour to make money. It’s the only way you’ll survive today. And it’s always hard to have your life on display if you’re going through a hard time and you write a song about it. And then once you get out of that hard place, you have to go back to it when you sing that song every night. But like I said before, it is never not a struggle. It’s just learning to manage your struggles. And sometimes you can’t, and you need a break. And that’s okay. That’s what I’ve told myself recently and it’s great to hear one of the women you look up to say the same thing. I feel for her and I’m so happy she’s doing what makes her happy and going with her gut on this.
You recently toured Australia for the second time. Can you tell me how this opportunity presented itself?
- Australia came about through the East Coast Music Awards. You get to meet with international delegates and if they like your music and it makes sense to bring you over to tour, then they do it! I was the opportunity of a lifetime. I had a blast and I feel extremely grateful to travel and get that experience through playing music.
What were some of the highlights of the tour?
- Meeting other musicians and maybe ones I’d never heard of. I love finding new music. And it’s just good to get inspired right now while I’m writing a lot. Also just seeing my friends over there again. It’s hard to live on the other side of the world and only see them once a year!
Last year when you released the Album Coalition I heard the song “Down Here” for the first time. I still play this song on repeat in my car when I feel down about myself. Can you tell me what inspired you to write this song?
- Ah that’s great to hear because that’s what I wanted the song to do for people 😉 When I wrote that song, I was just so low and down and out. And I was just thinking about that negativity hole that is so easy to fall in! And so hard to get out! And I know you can’t do anything in that state of mind. You can’t do it from ‘down here’ in the abyss of negativity! So I wrote that song to get myself out of it and if it helps other people get out of it, then that is absolutely awesome! When I sing that song, I feel so much better and I feel grounded again. I love that a song can do that for me over and over again.
What advice do you have to artists who feel like giving up? How to you keep focused on your goals as a singer/song writer?
- I would say don’t beat yourself up for feeling like giving up. Just let yourself feel that way and work through your emotions. Maybe take some time doing ‘normal’ things in life like watching a movie and hanging with friends. Or go for a walk. Just step away and get some perspective. You’ll come back feeling refreshed. Sometimes you just need to step away. And know that everyone in that position has wanted to give up too many times to count so you’re not alone.
In some of your songs you talk about your love of Nova Scotia. How did you end up living in Nova Scotia?
- Yes I love Nova Scotia. I came here for school and it wasn’t the place I thought I’d end up in life. But life threw me for a loop and put NS in my path, because as soon as I landed here I fell in love with it! The people, the vibe, the scenery, the music! And then I met my husband Warren after living in NS for 2 years so it just kind of sealed the deal so to speak. Ahaha! A local Antigonish man…who knew. So here I am, living outside of a small town sometimes and on the road sometimes. Always trying to balance the two 😉
(Photography by Scott Blackburn)
Where would you like to see your career in the next five years? Are there any specific goals as a musician you would like to achieve? Is there anything you have planned?
- I’d just like to keep doing it. Keep writing. Keep playing festivals and getting ones off my bucket list. Getting some more songs in TV shows (ahem Grey’s Anatomy, Breaking Bad ahahah). I’d like to tour Europe and keep going back to Australia. I’d like to open for one of my idols. I just want to keep doing it. In some way, somehow.