All it took was a midlife crisis, a therapist, some pills, and a dose of higher learning for Kat Goldman to pen the best songs of her career.
I meet Goldman, 41, at a Starbucks in north Toronto. Dressed in faded blue jeans and a loose tank top, the songwriter has just driven 13-hours from Cambridge, Mass. – where she calls home these days – accompanied by her Cockapoo Max.
Over the whir of grinding coffee beans, Goldman and I share some apricots (which she recently read help prevent lung cancer) and some candid conversation. We chat about her third CD Gypsy Girl and the journey documented in the disc’s 11 strong songs.
Gypsy Girl opens with the pensive “Just a Walk Tonight.” Goldman’s arresting voice grabs the listener from the first soulful notes. Backed by some rhythmic acoustic picking, the songwriter sings of a nighttime stroll through downtown Boston and the observations this outing with a friend conjures up. The rest of the songs showcase Goldman’s gift for turning phrases with ease; take this poignant one from the second cut, “Moving Pictures”: “If only I could stop the moving pictures/I would find my way home.”
Trying to find her way home — both figuratively and literally — is Gypsy Girl’s recurring theme. Flash back to 2009. That’s when this journey began. The songwriter was at a turning point. Tired of life in the Big Smoke, Goldman had lost her focus and her joie de vivre. Where to turn next she wasn’t sure; all she knew was that she needed to escape her hometown for a while.
“I had a life crisis,” Goldman recalls. “I was very unhappy with Toronto and the music scene here. I knew I needed a change. All I could feel was that I wanted to go somewhere else. Where I was going to run I wasn’t sure … that was the big question.”
Goldman felt a change of place would be good for her soul. She considered New York City, but quickly realized Manhattan’s madness would be too much to handle. So, the songwriter settled on the Greater Boston area since it was a familiar locale. (Goldman attended school and lived in Massachusetts in her early 20s.)
With the destination determined, the songwriter grabbed her Guild acoustic guitar, a bagful of clothes, and, along with her dog, she headed south. For the first summer, Goldman rented a place she found on craigslist, which turned out to be a cockroach-infested flat. After this summer-sublet to forget, she found a great place in Cambridge, Mass. where she now lives happily.
“I’m loving Boston,” Goldman comments. “It’s a slower pace than Toronto. Cambridge is very mellow. It’s been a great place for me to focus.”
With this newfound focus Goldman decided to give university a try again. “I was really taking a chance,” she admits. “I was 38 when I left home and had my roots planted in Toronto, so I really was starting my life all over again.”
The move to the U.S. was therapeutic in more ways than one. Goldman reveals that she started seeing a therapist once she was settled south of the border. During the course of these sessions her doctor diagnosed that the singer had a learning disability.
“It explained so many things,” Goldman says. “Why I had trouble reading for so many years and why I didn’t finish college the first time.”
The doctor prescribed a pill to help her focus. It’s obviously working. She’s getting straight As in school for the first time and it also fueled her muse.
“I used to have trouble completing songs … where to go next with an idea,” Goldman comments. “After the diagnosis, and taking my medication, suddenly it was like my brain was completing songs for me. It’s been very satisfying.”
While this wonder drug is not like those pills folk singers of yesteryear popped to get high and tap into a new creative dimension, Goldman’s daily dose has certainly helped take her songwriting to new heights.
Gypsy Girl was born in Toronto; here, the title cut, along with “Summersong,” were penned while she was mulling over where to run. The remainder of the creations came to fruition once she was settled in Beantown.
“World Away,” – one of the records best cuts – came to Goldman while she was walking in a snowstorm across the Charles River; it was inspired by a classic of American literature.
“We were reading The Scarlet Letter and I said to my professor, who was also a songwriter funny enough, ‘I have thrown this book against the wall seven times … I’m having so much trouble with the density of it,’ and my professor said, ‘why don’t you write a song about it.’”
Goldman says the common theme that runs throughout this song cycle was not planned. “It just evolved. Every song came to be about running, finding a home, coming to peace with where I was living … I don’t know if it was the change in scenery, or going back to school, but my confidence in songwriting just peaked. I had always been a little bit insecure about my songwriting not being at a high enough level, but with these songs I felt like I finally crystallized the process I was chasing after.”
As our candid coffee-shop conversation ends and Goldman heads off to visit her sister and niece around the corner, I wonder when we will next hear from this gypsy girl since Goldman admits she’s at a career crossroads.
“I’m a very reluctant musician at this point,” she concludes. “I hate performing … the joy has completely gone out of it for me. I feel like when I get on stage I’ve entered some kind of contest or I have to pass an examination. I’m extremely uncomfortable and don’t feel like I belong.
“Where I want to put my energy right now is in academia. Bob Dylan says ‘you’ve got to hoard your energy.’ I’m 41 and I want to protect my energy and make sure I’m channeling it in the right direction.”