A Conversation With… Kat LucasTuesday, February 11th, 2014
We’re pleased to host yet another edition of Canadian Musician contributor Jeff Gunn’s “A Conversation With…” series. In addition to his own solo career and a line of guitar method books called Hidden Sounds, Jeff is also the guitarist for acts such as Emmanuel Jal and Kae Sun. This edition of “A Conversation With…” finds Jeff catching up with Pink’s guitarist, Kat Lucas – who also happens to be a Canuck.
It was on a sunny autumn afternoon when I sat down for tea and conversation with Kat Lucas in Toronto. Lucas was on a brief break between legs on Pink’s The Truth About Love Tour. A multi-instrumentalist, performing on keyboards, guitars, and backing vocals, Lucas’ musical abilities are only enhanced by her powerful stage presence.
Born into a musical family, Lucas began playing piano at the age of 3. After some persistent asking, her mother enrolled her in the Yamaha Music School the same year (two years before the standard age of 5). She chuckles while recalling how she had to stand up in order for her feet to reach and play the piano pedals. Lucas began composing original songs at 5 years old, began vocal lessons at 6, and directed her first original concerto, “Dreamcatcher,” with the Toronto Philharmonia Orchestra at just 15 years old.
After contacting the drummer for Pink via email back in 2008, Lucas flew to Los Angeles and auditioned, landing the spot as keyboardist/guitarist and backing vocalist. She has performed on Pink’s Funhouse Tour (2009) and, more recently, The Truth About Love Tour (2013), which has taken her to Australia, Europe, and across North America. Lucas has performed on The Today Show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Jimmy Kimmel, The X Factor, BBC Live, The Daily Show and Canada AM and performed at the American Music Awards and MTV Video Awards.
Beyond Pink, Lucas has performed on keyboards, guitars, and backing vocals with a variety of artists including Lights, Ashley MacIsaac, Shiloh, and has co-written with Japanese pop star Kumi Koda. Lucas fronts the group Belle Ayre as lead vocalist and pianist/keyboardist. She places her band within the parameters of blues/rock and Motown and, describing the sound, says: “Think Amy Winehouse meets The Black Keys.”
I had the opportunity to ask Lucas some questions about her career, the experience of touring with Pink, and women in touring bands.
KL: It’s all about the energy. When everyone on stage and in the crowd is having fun, it’s a great show. I love interacting with the other performers and the crowd – laughing, smiling, and being silly and spontaneous. In a great live show, everyone on stage listens to and watches out for each other, working together as a unit like one big, well-oiled machine.
JG: How important is music education in schools and beyond?
KL: I think music education is great, but not absolutely necessary. I started as a classical pianist and had formal training, but I know a ton of great musicians that don’t know how to read music or haven’t had any formal training at all. Don’t get me wrong, I learned a lot from my music education, but to me nothing beats real life experience – touring, gigging, grinding. You can practice scales all day with a metronome but setting foot in a room to jam or playing in front of a crowd is a whole other monster. Regardless of your training, or lack thereof, if you keep learning new things and growing as a musician, you’ll be just fine.
JG: Which guitars, amps, pedals, and keys do you use live and in the studio?
KL: My main guitars are my signature hot pink ’67 Gibson custom Flying V and a Taylor 712CE acoustic. I also use a black ’67 Gibson Flying V tuned down a half step and a white ’67 Gibson Flying V as a backup. I use Orange Amplification, specifically the Rockerverb 50 MKII Heads and PPC412 cabs. I’ve got pedals like a Line 6 MM4, a DL4, and an OCD Overdrive on my board and I use a Roland keyboard and Muse Receptors.
JG: What does your vocal, guitar, and keyboard warm-up entail?
KL: I start my vocal warm ups in my morning shower, do some more before sound check, and then about a half hour before the show I do more vocally demanding exercises like scales, arpeggios, and slides. I play through songs on my acoustic, electric, and keys during sound check to make sure everything feels right. I also do yoga for about an hour before every show.
JG: How did you land the Pink touring gig?
KL: I always thought it would be awesome to work with Pink. In 2008, I heard she had a new album coming out so I sent a bunch of emails out to see if anyone knew anything about auditions. I came across Pink’s drummer on Facebook and he mentioned there was a possibility they were looking for someone. The spot ended up going to someone else but over the next few months I stayed in touch. To my surprise, they ended up holding auditions again and the musical director invited me to audition in LA. Of course I said yes! There were two rounds of auditions where I played through Pink’s songs with her band on keys, guitar, and vocals. I also played a classical piano piece, jammed with just the drummer on guitar, improvised a pop song, and was taught parts on the spot to jam with the band. Pink showed up at the call-backs to make the final decision. After we all auditioned, I was called back into the room and told that I was the one – I got the gig! I had a week to pack up my life and be back in LA ready to start rehearsals and go on tour with Pink for a year. The whole thing was pretty surreal.
KL: Playing the Air Canada Centre is always really special because it’s in my home town and I get to share what I do with my family and friends who’ve been there since day one. Others include the Isle of Wight and Hyde Park Wireless festivals, Madison Square Garden, and playing a record-breaking 18 shows at the Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne. Also, during VH1 Storytellers, I got to hear Pink tell the stories behind her songs, which brought new meaning and emotion to my playing and singing.
JG: Comment on the experience and role of women as touring musicians.
KL: As a female musician, I’ve come across my fair share of challenges in this male-dominated industry. I’m so happy that women are becoming more respected and common as touring musicians, and I feel that with more and more women touring with major artists and as major artists themselves, we are part of a revolution, breaking down boundaries and inspiring other females to live their musical dreams. Throughout my career, being a female has both helped and hurt my chances in getting gigs. I look forward to the day that a person’s sex does not play any part in determining whether or not they are fit for a gig; that simply their musicianship and talent is enough. We’re getting there!
JG: Describe your current musical goals.
KL: I’m looking forward to writing new material with my band, Belle Ayre, and taking things to the next level. I’ve done a lot of soul searching on tour, and I can’t wait to share the stories through our music. I’m going to do a lot more songwriting and production and continue to build up my studio. I’m also interested in starting a label and developing new artists.
JG: What advice do you have for up and coming guitarists and keyboardists?
KL: Be yourself. Be authentic. People can always see through bullshit. Be in the moment. Master your craft. Work hard and never give up. If you want to quit, you’re probably doing it right. Make mistakes and learn from them. Let go of perfection, learn to be flexible, and to adapt and improvise. Don’t take criticism personally – use it to make you a better musician. Never stop learning. Try new things. Embrace change. Be confident in yourself. Follow your heart and your gut. If you can dream it, you can do it. Don’t worry about what other people think.
I left the teashop that day feeling inspired knowing that I had spoken with someone who has been on a musical journey throughout virtually her entire life. Lucas’s depth of musical knowledge and life lessons is immediately evident through conversation.
Look for Kat Lucas’s project Belle Ayre in 2014, follow her on Twitter @thekatlucas, and visit her website at www.katlucas.com. Also, thanks to Stephane Hamel for the shots of Kat with her Orange amp.
Jeff Gunn is a Toronto-based guitarist who has toured with Emmanuel Jal, performed with DMC, Swizz Beatz, and Kae Sun, and opened for Peter Gabriel, Janelle Monae, K’naan, and Feist. His guitar is on Emmanuel Jal’s track “We Fall” which will be featured in the Hollywood film The Good Lie (2014) with Reese Witherspoon. Jeff contributed guitars to the Peace Concert in Juba, South Sudan, which was recognized by the United Nations in the form of a Peace Award to Emmanuel Jal and DMC (RUN DMC) by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon in NYC on December 18 2013. His new series, Hidden Sounds: Discover Your Own Method On Guitar (Book 1-4) with Mayfair Music Publications is now available for purchase in hard copy at music stores across Canada, US, UK, South America and the Caribbean, and eBook formats are available at www.jeffgunn.ca and www.mayfairmusic.com. Jeff is endorsed by D’Addario Canada, Godin Guitars, Levy’s Leathers Guitar Straps, and Planet Waves. Join Jeff on his cross-Canada Hidden Sounds/Hidden Self Guitar Workshop Tour with Long & McQuade music stores (Spring 2014). Follow Jeff on Twitter @jeffgunn1.