When Cara and I had our chat, COVID was just starting to get serious in Canada. I was in quarantine thanks to a sore throat and a mild fever, and Cara was in lockdown in Victoria. Weird times. But, on the bright side, time for music, and time for chats about music. And life. So here we are.
The thing that strikes me most about Cara is her determination. That, her stunning voice and that somehow… sophisticated is the word that might most describe what I feel when I listen to her music. When I met her a couple of years ago at a very short-lived open mic at the Heatley in Vancouver, I was absolutely convinced that she must have been playing music for years. And while that was true for the vocal part of it all, at that point she would have played guitar for about two, maybe three years. But let’s start at the beginning.
Cara grew up in Delta, and the first memory she has is of herself singing. She would just constantly do it, and often not even notice it – much to the chagrin of some of her co-eds in school, who would get annoyed with her at times when she was lost in thought, serenading the hallways or the classroom. Interestingly enough though, if anyone actually asked her to sing in front of people, she would tense up, and get shy. When her friends basically forced her to sing at a school function she “almost died”, she remembers, and this pattern continued into her years at UVIC. Alas, thanks to open mics, and friends who played guitar, and maybe also a drink or two, eventually she got into performing more regularly. Thank God.
After graduating from High School, Cara did a 2-year theatre program at Douglas College, but it ended up not feeling like something she wanted to pursue as a career. Thinking about getting a job as an actor was “beyond terrifying”, which I guess is not surprising for someone who’s been shy to perform all their life – and at the tender age of 19, no less. So she moved to Victoria instead, and ended up doing her undergrad in French literature, after 3 years of General Studies and not really having much of a plan. “I like school”, she says – but it was never her passion. French lit kind of seemed to make sense, because she already knew the language and loved the culture, so why not, right?
As often seems to be the case with things like that, it seems that maybe Cara needed that time to brace herself, to get ready for what she’s now stepping into. When she realized after a while of playing open mics with friends that what she really wanted was to play music on a more, let’s say, professional level, she also realized that she would need to learn to accompany herself, as the people she was playing with were doing it mostly for fun, and on occasion. It was hard to find someone who would potentially be interested in building something more steady, and commit to playing music together more seriously. Plus, she wanted to play her own stuff, and communicating what you have in mind for your songs when you don’t know how to play an instrument is just really freckin hard.
So she picked up the guitar, and even though she wasn’t all that into the technical part of it all in the beginning, the more she learned, the more she came around and is now hooked on music theory, and honing her craft as much as she can. In that sense (and that sense only, really), COVID has been a big help, as she got laid off of her waitressing job and suddenly had a bunch more time on her hands to practice, play on-line shows – for example on the now massively expanded, positive-vibe-art-sharing Facebook platform “Get Down With The Lockdown” as well as her own social outlets – and start recording, too! “It’s a steep learning curve”, she says, but thanks to an interface that was gifted to her by her brother and a more spacious room she had recently moved into, she felt like she had the opportunity to create something entirely of her own during this strange time of isolation.
This wouldn’t be the first time some of Cara’s songs that made it to production. Within a year of playing guitar, her first EP – fittingly titled “First Songs” – made it onto Spotify. Her style, then, was quite country, which was very much what she felt inspired by when she first started writing: That old-timesy folk sound that original country really is, from which she then moved towards a more grungy, alternative sound, and now graduated to gospel, soul, and jazzy sounds. “The more I learn on the guitar, the more my sound changes”, she reflects. A few months before COVID ended all the fun, she recorded another EP with some “very, very talented” musicians she met at a show they played together in Victoria. While her first EP feels quite “polished” to her, she was going for a more direct, live-session kind of sound with this one, trying to record as much of the vocals in one take, for example.
This seems to be a trend for her, that focus on the raw, the more direct sound. “I find that, when there is a little bit less of production, there seems to be more feel – just that emotion and that feeling and that soul”, she says. So the next project that she’s hoping will come out of this time of isolation and retreat will be even more of that*.
Growing up, Cara listened to a lot of music. Her parents are, although not playing music themselves, big fans of the arts, and always encouraged her and her brother to explore their creativity. So when Cara decided to make music her life, and her career five years ago, she had her parents’ support. And a backdrop of years of listening to her family’s records, singing along to songs she loved and working on them “without realizing I was working on it. Any songs that I really loved, I would just obsess over it – rewind, trying to get that part right, rewind, go back, try to learn it again.” Ultimately, the dream is to be able to comfortably sustain herself just with her music – a cozy little house, maybe a cat… And to collaborate with as many of the people that inspire her as possible.
To the question who that would be, I get a whole plethora of amazing artists that I never heard about before, local as well as international. To name but a few: Madison Ryann Ward from the States, Quarterback and Kubla from Victoria, Eloise from the UK, who is “probably one of my biggest influences right now”. They’re all at home somewhere in that jazz/gospel/soul realm, and even though their styles are still quite different in many ways, “it wouldn’t be weird to find them all on the same Spotify playilist”. And then there is, of course, John Mayer. Which “sounds crazy” as a potential collab partner – but then again, who knows? John Mayer, a house and a cat – that sounds like a pretty straightforward life plan to me. That, and music. Always music. Because there’s no doubt in my mind that’s what Cara is meant to do. So please, John Mayer, if you read this, give the girl a listen. You miss out if you don’t.
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* Speaking of which: In the meantime, Cara has started releasing some of that sweet new material, namely her first single Love Is that’s been released on all your favorite streaming platforms. And I got a little sneak preview of the video on her YouTube channel – I’ll just say, keep your eyes peeled, you won’ wanna miss that.