Text: Alec Coiro
Photo: Graham Tolbert
As soon as you put on Rachael Kilgour’s new album, you recognize its maturity and the wisdom behind it. This is why it’s not a breakup album, but a divorce album. The kind of album that goes beyond just the personal angst of lost love, and deals with the full ramifications of ending an adult relationship, like struggling through what the implications will be for you and your step daughter.
An award-winning songwriter, fans will already be familiar with the way her own story and worldview weave into the songs she creates. “Rabbit in the Road,” the title track on the album, evokes a memory of Kilgour’s ex-wife in a way that is both poignant and best discovered through listening to the song itself. Suffice to say that this sort of metonymic ability to evoke the whole of someone or the entirety of a feeling is typical of Kilgour’s poetic songwriting. The songwriter herself explains further in our interview.
To what extent do you think it is a songwriter’s responsibility to make personal stories relatable to an audience, and to what extent do you think the onus should be on the audience to figure out their own ways of relating?
I think it is a songwriter’s responsibility to make art that makes sense to them and gives them life. In my opinion, that is an artist’s only job. The universality of the work is implicit in the fact that we all share the human existence. That said, people connect in different ways. Not everyone will respond to every piece and I think it is a serious error for an artist to alter their work to be more accessible to a larger audience. It is the job of the audience to be open and receptive and beyond that, the outcome is out of everyone’s hands.
After listening to the song, I get the impression that there was an actual rabbit in the road incident. Is that the case?
It is! I knew there was a song about forgiveness on its way and so I sat down and made a list of all of the positive things I could remember about the person I was feeling hurt by. I kept coming back to the memory of them pulling over the car to snap the neck of the injured rabbit – an action that seemed both morbid and extraordinarily empathetic at once. I actually tried to avoid putting it in the song for a while and then it kind of became the ultimate metaphor. People are complex.
What singer-songwriters would you see yourself following in the footsteps of (if any)?
Oh, I like a lot of them – Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, Janis Ian, Greg Brown, Rose Cousins, Nellie Mckay and quite a few spoken word artists as well. Sometimes I feel a bit more like a writer who happens to sing. I’ve always admired Leonard Cohen – often the turn of a phrase is more important than the fact that much of his musical content is the same! But music, particularly the human voice, is such a direct line to our emotions. The words I write leave me feeling vulnerable and the only way I know to share them is in song. I am not really aspiring to match any artist’s career goals, but to leave songs behind that make people feel less lonely, more empathetic, challenged. Political and personal at once.
The subject matter on the record deals with what must have been a difficult personal experience. How did recording the record help you get through it?
You know, recording is a difficult process. It is so final and yet we are always evolving – it can be difficult to let go. I would say the most healing part of the ordeal was the actual writing! Yes, from the conception of the songs to the live performances to the recording studio, I have most certainly learned a lot. I don’t think we are taught how to grieve in our culture and I feel blessed that my work required me, requires me, to go up in front of an audience every night and ask myself how I’m feeling. I am forced to look at the dark parts that could so easily have been shoved in a drawer somewhere and never looked at again.
I understand you are from Minnesota, but you recorded the album in North Carolina. Have you relocated or did you have a particular reason for recording at the Echo Mountain studio?
I actually recorded most of the album in Massachusetts and then a few tracks in NC. True, I’m from MN but I kind of felt the need to take some distance to make this album happen. I decided to work with my longtime friend, Boston-based folk artist Catie Curtis, to put the original recordings together. After meeting Gar Ragland and the folks at NewSong Music, I decided to record a couple of the more solo tracks in Asheville while we mixed the album.
Will you tour with the songs after the album comes out?
Absolutely! Here are the dates I have lined up for the next couple months:
2/24 Uncommon Ground // Chicago, IL
2/25 The Broad Museum // Lansing, MI
2/25 The Pumphouse // Lansing, MI
3/3 The Park Theater // Hayward, WI
3/4 Crescendo // Madison, WI with Josh Harty
3/8 Glensheen Mansion Unplugged Series // Duluth, MN
3/11 House Concert // Cedar Rapids, IA
3/12 Des Moines Social Club // Des Moines, IA
3/19 Teatro Zuccone // Duluth, MN
3/23 Root Note // La Crosse, WI
3/24 Cafe Carpe // Fort Atkinson, WI
3/25 Paradigm // Sheboygan, WI
4/1 Cedar Cultural Center // Minneapolis, MN with Lucy Kaplansky
4/8 Aster River Room // Minneapolis, MN
4/22 Electric Fetus Record Store Day // Duluth, MN
4/23 Jubilee House Concert // Duluth, MN
5/6 Circle of Friends Coffee House // Franklin, MA with Catie Curtis
5/8 Club Passim // Cambridge, MA with John Craigie
5/11 Light Club Lamp Shop // Burlington, VT
5/12 Greenwich Village Showcase // NY, NY
5/18 Burlap and Bean // Newtown Square, PA with Ethan Pierce
5/20 Burghsong Concert Series Pittsburgh, PA
5/26 Focus Music // Rockport, MD with Kipyn Martin