Cate Friesen: Totally In The Moment



by Jan Vanderhorst

February 1999


For Toronto singer-songwriter Cate Friesen, raising a child is akin to then recording process.

"If you have eight tracks," she says, "the drummer usually takes up 6 or 7, because there's just so many the drummer needs. For me, (my son) takes up 7 of my tracks. Then I have 1 track to do the rest of my life!"

For a musician whose livelihood depends on writing and performing, this drastic realignment of time can mean quite an adjustment. For someone like Cate who runs her own publishing company "Wide Eyed Music", performs with a band and hosts her own folk music radio show, the adjustment can be huge. It has meant a change in her performing and recorded sound, which can be heard in her new CD "Joy's Disorder".

"Over the past 2 years I've been doing more solo performing. Partly because I don't have any time to rehearse and partly because it was an easier way to get out (of the house). So a lot of the new songs hadn't been played with the band, and I thought it gave me a chance to try something different (with the songs). I did a lot more writing on the piano, so even though I don't perform much on the piano, (producer David Travers-Smith and I) pulled in a piano more
for the recording."

Writing some of the songs for "Joy's Disorder" on piano, Cate noticed a change in style, which she welcomed.

"I think it's great for somebody who composes on one instrument to move to another one at some point. There are certain things I'm used to (doing) on the guitar and easily fall into. Because I don't write on (the piano) as much, I tend to explore things a little more melodically, in how things are voiced and in how I work out the chords. Even if I translate it back to guitar, it has a different feeling for me."

So it seems the changes brought about by motherhood have been beneficial from a creative point of view.

"I think kids demand you to be in the present, and that is the best place (for a songwriter) to be creatively as well. To be totally in the moment. Although I don't have as much time to write, the time that I do have, I feel I use more fully. So it's been a real gift for me."

In her two previous recordings "Tightrope Waltz" and "Wayward", Cate utilized a story-telling skill to convey the transition from her rural Manitoba upbringing to living in a large urban environment. "Joy's Disorder" moves away from that style of prose to what she calls more "emotive".

"Three of (the songs) are waltzes. I'm smitten by 3/4 time and one is about my son. They're a lot about both change and stability at the same time, if that makes any sense."

The new album also features songs Cate has written with Manitoba poet Patrick Friesen (no relation).

"Setting his poems to music brought out a different voice for me musically and that was exciting. The different words inspired a different way of writing and maybe of singing as well."

For her previous recording "Wayward", Cate had taken a few lines from one of Patrick's poems and (without prior permission) applied them to one of her songs. Luckily he liked the end result. This time around the collaboration was more interactive.

"About two years ago I got a grant from the Ontario Arts Council to compose. I felt I had lots of musical ideas, but I wasn't sure whether I had anything to say at that point. (It was) a little frightening. So I contacted Patrick and asked him whether he had any poems he wouldn't mind me setting to music. He (sent) me 20 poems the next day and we started from there. Some of the songs I set exactly to music (as they were written). Then we started e-mailing back and forth, and occasionally he'd pass (by) Toronto and we'd meet. I would play him some stuff and I'd say 'I really feel like I need a little more here to build a chorus'. I would sing him what I had and he would write, so some (of the compositions) would come out differently as a song
than they were as poetry."

For someone who has always written on her own, co-writing was an exciting change for Cate.

"We had a lot of interesting discussions about words that are singable. You can use some words in poetry when you're reading them and you just can't sing them. There are some words that are beautiful to sing. All the ones in the open vowels for instance. So I think (the co-writing) changed the way (Patrick) selected his words and it certainly changed the way I wrote as well. I feel like the theme of the album is very much like the title of one of the songs, which is called "Blade Of Light". (It's) about those moments in life where your vision kind of shifts, so your world is the same and it's different at the same time, because you're seeing things differently. Hopefully what I can translate into performance, (is) what I like as an audience member. (That's) to be able to be drawn into the music and maybe see something a little differently, even for a moment. That's the gift I hope I can give when I'm performing for others."

For more information on Cate Friesen, check out her website at, or CJRT-FM's website

Jan Vanderhorst can be reached at