Knowing a multitude of languages is one of the grandest advantages one can have. It’s not only good if you want to work in international business, but also from a creative aspect. Artists like Kat McDowell was born with Japanese in her heart but over the years other tongues have become as much a part of her existence as her first. Inspired by a friend who spoke a variety of languages like herself, she penned the delight “Language of My Heart.” We talked about what her heart would speak today, how it was like growing up with English as her second language and a lot more like what’s coming from her in 2018!
Kendra: In terms of home, you’ve had a lot. Do you feel that you can hear each place you’ve lived in your lyrics and music?
Kat McDowell: Most definitely! Growing up in New Zealand as a teenager I was heavily influenced by what was popular there at the time, it was a mix of American Top 40 and rock music, (I love the 90’s bands, like Goo Goo Dolls, Third Eye Blind, Green Day and No Doubt,) and also listened to UK artists like Oasis and Sting. My childhood friend in Japan and I would send each other mixtapes (on actual tapes!) of whatever music was popular in our countries at the time so I got to hear a lot of Japanese music growing up too and that had a big influence on me.
I find that my music in my earlier days were more British sounding, a little darker in tone. Then after moving to Japan and writing more songs in Japan, my melodies got busier because in order to fit Japanese lyrics in they had to be busy. Life in Tokyo is pretty fast paced too and that reflects greatly on the music there. Lyrics are more important than melodies a lot of the time in Japan and you have to say things without directly saying it which makes for very challenging, but interesting lyric writing.
Then coming to the US I am being exposed to more country songs and being such a big continent, the music here reflects that. The music here has wide open spaces and I was way more relaxed making this latest album TEN.
Kendra: It seems like every time you moved you picked up a new language. Was that something your family pushed on you at first or were you always interested in immersing yourself in the native tongue of wherever you are?
Kat: My mother (who is Japanese) is amazing and my parents made an effort to help me and my brother keep our Japanese when I moved to New Zealand at the age of five. I couldn’t speak English when we first moved so it was really hard to make friends in New Zealand and I lost a lot of confidence in my first six years of school. My parents would take us to Japan to visit friends and relatives once every two years, and I would go to Japanese school with my cousin for two weeks so that was always a very motivating factor in keeping up my Japanese.
The fact that I felt like I didn’t fit in at school growing up was also probably pushing me to find my identity in something that was outside the “norm.” My brother, on the other hand, saw an Asian kid getting teased at school so he decided he would hide the fact he was Asian and refused to speak Japanese at home for a season.
Kendra: Speaking of, your latest single “Language of My Heart” celebrates that love of language. Inspired by a moment with a friend, when you thought about the language of your own heart – what is it speaking?
Kat: I feel much more comfortable communicating in English most of the time because all of my schooling was in English but there are some beautiful words in Japanese that don’t exist in English. Words like “Komorebi” = “The specks of light that filters through the trees” are so beautiful and poetic.
It was so funny because I went to see my friend’s band play in Los Angeles earlier this year. They were a Japanese band who were over here for a tour and going backstage and talking with them felt like being in Japan and got me so excited that apparently, I started sleep talking in Japanese that night.
Kendra: You’ve got a handful of shows coming up as we round out the year. One in LA and a few heading east. What can fans expect who are heading out to those?
Kat: Happy vibes all the way!! I’ll be bringing my ukulele and acoustic guitar to all shows and I might mix up a few Japanese songs in there!
Kendra: What are your plans for heading into the new year after your run out east?
Kat: I am planning another Japan Tour in the Spring and planning my album release in March with a release party at Hotel Cafe in Hollywood on the March 24th. I’ll be making music videos for the songs on the album TEN and also keep writing and start working on new songs!
Kendra: Based on your love of language, if you had to make a multilingual mixtape – what five songs would have to be on it?