- Lee Bemrose
Zoe Keating calls herself an avant cellist. Indeed, this gifted Canadian performer takes this wonderful classical instrument to new levels with the aid of technology. To watch her is to watch an artist at one with her music. But listen to recordings such as the album Into The Trees, or indeed close your eyes whilst in the audience, and thanks to her use of live looping you will forget that you are listening to one woman and her cello, such is the multi-layered richness of her sound.
Very much in demand the world over and apparently constantly on tour, Zoe Keating graciously gave a little of her precious time to answer a few questions for Australian Stage – just hours before performing back-to-back shows.
Where are you now and what are you doing?
I just gave my two year old a bath in the hotel in Melbourne
On Twitter you describe yourself as 'avant cellist and amateur nerd'. Surely you must qualify as a professional nerd by now?
Well, I'm not employed as a computer programmer, so that's why I consider myself amateur. But I suppose I'm a semi-pro nerd.
How are you finding juggling motherhood with touring and everything else that goes into living an artistic life?
The multitasking has kicked up a few notches and there are times when I feel like I hardly have time to brush my teeth, but I wouldn't have it any other way.
I think I read that the opening track on Into The Trees is the only song you've written specifically for another person. Did you feel you were communicating to Alex?
Yes. I was talking to him in an abstract way about what life is like in this world.
Does he respond to that track? Generally, how does he respond to your music?
He definitely knows and responds to my music. He starts playing air cello whenever he hears me live or recorded.
The first time I saw you live was at The Sydney Opera House in a show with Amanda Palmer and Meow Meow. I hadn't heard of you then but for me you stole the show (shh – don't tell them). Do you stay in touch with Amanda and are there any plans to work with her again?
Ah shucks, thank you! I do stay in touch with Amanda and see her when she passes by. I have plans to make an all cello version of one of her new songs Trout Heart Replica. I hope she likes it.
Amanda comes to Melbourne quite a lot – why don't you come here more often?
I would like to. I didn't have any connections in Australia previously, but Jordan Verzar from Topshelf stepped up to help me arrange this tour. My son and husband come with me where I go so it is a bit expensive to get here, but luckily I think we'll break even this time around.
You keep up a pretty hectic touring schedule. Have there been some stand-out memorable performances lately?
Two weeks ago I played in Quito Ecuador. That was pretty amazing.
Do you play other instruments?
Alas no, unless you include patch-cord Moog.
For years I had been telling people that the movie Tous Les Maitins Du Monde is my favourite movie about the cello, only it's not a cello at all. Have you seen it? Do you think it would have been better if the instrument had been a cello?
Ha ha! I have seen that movie! It is a viola de gamba. I really wanted to like that movie, but the actors were not convincing at playing their instruments and so the air-gamba didn't match up with the music. It was so distracting that it's all I remember about the film.
I don't think I've met a person who doesn't like the cello. What is it about this instrument that has such universal appeal?
I think it's because it is in the range of the human voice. When the cello sings it is like a person singing.
You took up the cello at eight years of age. Did you also naturally embrace technology early on?
Actually, I wasn't exposed to computers until I was in my 20s. I just figured things out myself and tended to become resident tech expert at early post-college office jobs.
There's a perception that technology is a bit of a necessary evil for the artist. Your thoughts?
Not evil at all. Technology is just a tool to get things done, like a pencil. I also think it's good in general for everyone to continually learn new things. Technology being ever-changing, it's good for our brains.
Somehow you manage to find the time to tour, perform, record, be a mother, blog and keep active on social networks, design T-shirts (very cool design, BTW)... do you find the time to do anything you're not good at? What's something you're hopeless at?
I'm not very good at sitting still and doing only one thing at a time, but for my son's sake I try to do this and focus only him for much of the day. I'm also pretty hopeless at most sports and don't have very good balance. I'm always running into things, like I don't know where my edges are.
What's your favourite pancake?
Buckwheat crepes!! I make them often when I'm home.
The first Melbourne show has sold out so you're adding a late show, I believe. Do you often do back-to-back performances? How does it work for you?
Yes. I have a hard time sometimes convincing promoters that I can sell out a show, so I tend to get booked in small venues that then sell out. I feel bad when people can't come, so I'll see if a second show is possible. It works for me because I just stay in the flow. However, no matter how late I stay up, my son will wake me up at 6am the following day.
Are you going to get the chance to experience a bit of Melbourne while you're here?
I hope so. I have a few hours after I finish typing this to go out!
Zoe Keating is currently touring Australia. Details»
Top Right – Zoe Keating. Photo – Lane Hartwell