Following her Fulbright year (2008-09) in Cape Breton, Kyle has had tremendous success as a musician, including the release of her debut album
(www.kyleannecarey.com)! Kyle spent time in Ireland working on her album and continues to tour. After completing her exchange from Skidmore College to Cape Breton University, Kyle set out to pursue her passion for music and Gaelic, and in an interview with Fulbright Canada she described her latest project and how it relates to her Fulbright year.
“When I was in college I was interested in old-time American music, particularly Appalachian music. Following that, I went to Cape Breton Island on my Fulbright grant to study traditional music there. Their fiddle style and their Gaelic singing were kind of interesting, because it correlates with the music of the Appalachian region in the United States, an area that was originally settled by Scottish-Gaelic speakers from the Highlands of Scotland.” Kyle says her year in Cape Breton brought out her love for Gaelic, and led her to pursue in-depth studies of the language. “It was just an amazing year, but it was challenging! I sing in Scottish-Gaelic on my album, and there’s a song called Star Above Rankin’s Point, which is based on a short story by a Cape Breton author named Alistair McLeod. It was something I wrote when I was in Cape Breton. There is certainly Cape Breton influence on the album, and there is a Cape Breton fiddler on the album, Rosie MacKenzie, and she’s actually going to be coming on tour with me in the fall.”
The music style of Kyle album is notable for its uniqueness, and she admits her sound is a mixture of many influences. “Rosie says that I’ve invented a new genre of music. Because you know it’s kind of Appalachian, but then there’s Gaelic, and it’s produced by an Irish guy, and there are a lot of other Irish players on there, but it’s still very distinctly Americana. So it’s exciting, doing something that I haven’t encountered anyone else doing, and I’d say that is probably the most exciting thing about the project, just feeling like we’re doing something entirely new.”
I’ve been really lucky, and there is a lot of that if you try to do music. There are so many talented people out there; so, at the end of the day, it really just comes down to luck, and being in the right place at the right time, and I think that’s what happened to me this past year.”
Kyle says her Fulbright award and her time in Canada served as a catalyst for her album, helping her make the shift from research to practice. “When I was in Cape Breton I realized that I wasn’t quite cut out to be an ethnomusicologist, and that it wasn’t really my passion. But playing music, and meeting people, and writing creatively, is my passion – oh, and Gaelic of course! So it was really great having that year in Canada to figure out the things I really love, and it’s really incredible now to be going in the direction of being able to make a life out of those things.”
When she found out about being granted the award, Kyle says she was actually in a music lesson with John Kirk, a friend and teacher who is also featured on her album: “I was thrilled. I was just ecstatic. It was really ‘a dream come true’. If I hadn’t done the Fulbright I wouldn’t have made this album.”
Kyle says one of her favorite moments from her Fulbright experience was getting to know famous Celtic fiddler Jerry Holland, who has since passed away. “Spending time with him, and playing music with him, is one of my fondest memories of being in Cape Breton. It was just another friendship I made there that really struck a chord, and resonated with me.”
Having had the opportunity to immerse herself in the Cape Breton music scene, and the corresponding culture, was another important aspect of Kyle’s Fulbright, and she says getting to participate in Milling Frolics, a Scottish tradition, was particularly special to her. “It’s not a living tradition anymore, it is done symbolically, but in the Highlands of Scotland people used to walk tweed and hit it on a table. It was women’s work, and they would sing these very rhythmic songs while they were working to get the fabric to tighten. They are beautiful songs, and one of the songs in Gaelic on my album is actually this type of a ‘waulking’ song.”
Kyle says that having the time for these experiences also played an important role in her personal growth, as she learned a lot about Canadian culture. “In Canada, people seem to retain their cultural identity from the country they come from, or from where their ancestors came from, and I definitely picked that up in Cape Breton. I became sensitized to the fact that Canada is different – culturally different and geographically different – and I’m more attuned now to the danger of generalizations, and also about how Canadians view Americans as well.”
“I think it’s important for the United States in particular to have these types of exchanges because we have such a large contingent of our population that doesn’t travel or leave the country. And we often get blamed for being ego-centric and unaware of the greater world beyond the US. So I think, while of course that is also a generalization, that people who go on these types of programs with Fulbright and travel abroad, then bring that back to the United States, and that is something that is hugely valuable.”
Kyle says she hopes that her album’s mixed background will resonate with audiences, as she describes it as “rightly her Fulbright project.” “The message of the album is really coming from the Appalachian region of the US, but with this mix of Scotland and Ireland and Cape Breton – and what comes from it is something that I think can be perceived as uniquely American. And that’s what I think Americans do best, is that we mix and out of that mix comes the most beautiful things, which I hope the album is!”
Kyle Carey’s debut album is on sale now at www.kyleannecarey.com.