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20 Questions With Katie Ditschun

The jazz-pop artist on spare skirts, polka dot ladies and what's brown and sticky.

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More Canada Day CanCon? Of course! My next interviewee is a familiar face around here: Jazz-pop singer-songwriter Katie Ditschun has been kind enough to premiere or showcase a trio of videos in these pages: Here We Are (read more HERE), HER (read more HERE) and That Is That. (read more HERE). The first is even one of the most popular clips on the site so far this year (read more about that HERE). So it was probably only a matter of time before she submitted to my harebrained Q&A. And that, as she would say, is that.

 


 

What is your musical origin story?
I don’t remember learning to read music. As a baby, I was diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis. The doctors recommended activities that would keep my joints moving. Piano lessons were perfect exercise for my fingers. I sang in church from a young age, too. Classical voice lessons and Royal Conservatory exams began at 16. I entered songs from Broadway musicals into competitions, as well. I studied lieder and arias at Wilfrid Laurier University but that program wasn’t the best fit for me. Transferring to Berklee College of Music, I fell in love with jazz and blues. Before writing and recording my own songs, I performed in a variety of acts, from learning to sing in Creole to doing ragtime. Of all things, it was by getting on stage at a local county fair that led to me developing my own style and sound.

What truly sets you apart from other artists?
For a long time I struggled to figure out what box I fit into. I’m a musician who is classically trained, loves musicals, studied jazz and blues, but writes songs that best fit into the broad pop category. So I finally decided that I would flaunt the industry’s boxes and make my own. When you listen to a few of my songs, you will realize how different they are from each other. My new single, That is that. features me on ukulele. But it’s the only song I have recorded on ukulele so far. If you hear just one of my songs, you won’t know everything about me. I draw on all my education, so here and there you’ll hear hints of straight pop, jazz, blues, Broadway, R&B, and Latin Jazz, even classical.

What will I learn or how will my life improve by listening to your music?
I try hard to make my songs relatable. I take my own personal experiences and try to find what is universal in them. It’s my hope that all kinds of people from all walks of life will hear one and think, “yes, that’s true,” or, “I have felt that way, too.” If I can do that, then maybe when you listen to my music you will feel less alone in this big/small world.

Tell us about the first song you wrote.
The first song I wrote was inspired by a photo of me taken on a trip with my sister. It was a dreary day, I felt crappy, and I was bundled up in my hooded coat and scarf. It made me think about different ways someone could be bundled up, literally or metaphorically. After completing it, I wasn’t totally thrilled with it. Many years later I revisited it, cleaned it up, and discovered how much I love it. All Bundled Up found a home on my album, Spare Skirt, 15 years after I debuted it.

What is the strangest performance you gave?
The strangest thing that ever happened to me actually took place after a performance. A woman gave me a skirt. Her skirt. The one that she was wearing! As I was walking to the dressing room, she pulled me aside. She said she made something that she wanted to give to me. She pulled a skirt out of a bag. Instead of giving me that one, however, she put it on underneath the one she had been wearing all day. Then she removed her worn skirt, placed it in the bag, and gifted it to me. This is how my debut album, Spare Skirt, got its name.

What is the most memorable performance you’ve seen another artist give?
I’ve been to a number of concerts where fantastic musicians had the crowd dancing and singing along. Of them all, Stevie Wonder stands out the most. The people in attendance were wholly immersed. He made it feel so intimate, the way he engaged with his audience.

What do you want to be doing in 10 years?
Singing, performing, voice acting, with a few chosen vocal students. Plain and simple. Well, maybe not plain and simple to do or accomplish, but that’s an easy question to answer.

What living or dead artists would you collaborate with if you could?
There’s an incredibly long list of performers and songwriters! Those that come to mind first are: Sting, Count Basie, Irving Berlin, Judy Garland, Julie Andrews, Sarah Vaughan and Richard Rodgers.

What artist or style of music do you love that would surprise people?
To pump me up, I turn to MIKA.

What are your favourite albums or artists right now?
My current playlist features Amy Winehouse, Alicia Keys and Regina Spektor. Oh, and I love singing along to Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog with my son.

How about some other favourites: Authors, movies, painters, you name it.
Artist: Yayoi Kusama. She’s a polka dot lady, too. Anyone who loves polka dots that much is my kind of person!
Movie: French Kiss. It’s a great modern romance story. Simple girl-meets-rough-around-the-edges-boy. I love Meg Ryan’s girlish charm and Kevin Kline’s compensating confidence.

Who would you be starstruck to meet?
I’d be speechless if I met Roberta Flack. Or Robert Downey, Jr.

What’s your favourite joke?
What’s brown and sticky? (Sorry! It’s the only joke I can ever remember.)

What superpower do you want and how would you use it?
Invisibility! I would use it only for good and never for evil. I promise.
That, or telepathy with dogs. Doglepathy?

What skills — useful or useless — do you have outside of music?
I’m good at figuring out how stuff works and have good spatial sense. I’m one of those people who don’t use the instruction manual.

What do you collect?
My husband is the compulsive collector, so there’s no room left anywhere… Ha! I don’t feel the impulse to collect. I prefer tidying, organizing, and donating things we don’t use.

If I had a potluck, what would you bring?
I’d bring homemade guacamole or hummus. When I was young, someone told me avocados were gross. So, I avoided them. Then on my first trip to a proper Mexican restaurant I couldn’t stop eating the guacamole. I also make my own hummus, which I insist on calling “yummus.” Why? Because it’s so yummy.

Tell us about your current and/or former pets.
We have two dogs with opposite personalities. The little poodle, Gem, is full of anxiety and doesn’t like people. The whoodle, Rex, is the most chill and loving dog I’ve ever known. Both dogs play feature roles in the video for my first single, Here We Are. We’ve also had a few bunnies. They’re great pets if you train them right.

If you could have any other job besides music, what would it be and why?
Music was always my automatic go-to. I struggled with finding other passions. As I get older I think I would have loved being a vet tech. Looking after animals when they need help would bring me joy.

What’s the best advice you were ever given?
At Berklee, I had the opportunity to take a course with Donna McElroy. There were try-outs for a student showcase and I was incredibly nervous about auditioning. I approached her for advice. She said, and I quote, “Pick a song that you love. You just sing the shit out of it. If they don’t like it? Fuck ’em.” It was exactly what I needed to hear.

Watch That Is That. and Here We Are above, listen to Spare Skirt below, and keep up with Katie Ditschun on her website, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.