Reflections on ALIVE:ness – An Interview with Mad Kate


Read the full interview with a.muse Berlin here>>>

“Being physically apart is not so very different from what it’s like to be together. –This is how we generations are learning to understand love and sex, community and communication. And yet we are still yearning, still urgently tearing and needing the physical, the visceral, the sex. The blood even.” a.muse interviews Mad Kate ahead of her “ALIVE:ness” album launch performance and party in Berlin…
Mad Kate | the Tide’s latest album release “ALIVE:ness” stuns with its poetic impulse and hints of soul and punk in a truly genre-bending album embellished with spoken word intervals. Stories, anecdotes, questions and answers, and affirmation emerge in a narrative of exploring what it means to be alive, particularly for others to be alive to us. From the personal and heartfelt “dream about dad” to the inherent struggles of being alive and defining identity as found in “only one person” – this album explores the urgent existential impulse to understand what it really means to be present. The text interludes are strong and powerful. Identity, loss, other lives, being and presence in the digital age – and how to reconcile virtual and physical loss; relative and absolute loss. Or even encounters in a dream-state; how much of what we perceive is real, is necessary? a.muse interviews Mad Kate to learn more about what inspired this album and delve into the the aspects defining “ALIVE:ness”…

a.muse: Congratulations on your latest conceptual album release “ALIVE:ness”! What can we expect to encounter during the launch event in Berlin?

Mad Kate: Thanks! Because the ALIVE:ness album was born out of a series of texts and conceptual forms, for the launch I’m trying to capture some of the conceptual background for the term “ALIVE:ness” putting on exhibit the texts that I wrote, the images that I collected or filmed with friends (VJ’d by Marit Östberg), and some tangible objects that I think of as “evidence” to illustrate the idea. I want the audience to enter a new space that surrounds them with the ideas explored in the music and text. I’ll also have another performance artist, Dwayne Strike, express some of the concepts through his movements. Then I’ll perform the album in its entirety and afterwards we’ll celebrate with DJs JuanOfaKind and TUSK.

a.m: ALIVE:ness is a culmination of conceptual performance work and writing that you have produced since arriving in Berlin 9 years ago. How has Berlin been your muse during this time? What has kept you here?

MK: Berlin has been my muse over the last nine years because it has been a site of relative freedom. I still remember the first few days in Berlin – in fact they are crystal clear. I never felt so free in my life, cut off from everyone that I knew, fairly cut off from communication. It really excited me. Even though I don’t experience that same level of anonymity anymore in Berlin because I’ve become part of an art community, I still feel like the city has a vast darkness to it that sometimes I crave, one that I can walk into and let swallow me when I want it.

a.m: What does the title “ALIVE:ness” mean to you? What would you say the “:” represent?

MK: ALIVE:ness is a term I invented to mean not our own feelings of being alive, but rather, the extent to which we feel the presence, the life, of things/people/body parts/concepts which are not with us in the physical. ALIVE:ness is … the extent to which they are alive to us. ALIVE:ness takes into account especially how virtual communication has changed our ideas about the significance of time and space and community. I want to question why and how we consider ALIVE:ness. To give you an example, why is it that people of our own nation, our own family, our own “facebook community” are more alive to us than the people who fall outside of those categories? Should we, do we, care more about their lives? Are we actually closer to them, physically, emotionally, than strangers? The : is an aesthetic thing, in an effort to define a new term, a term about relativity, rather than about self, I wanted the word to look different than just aliveness, which one might think to mean, how alive one feels. I think I explain it best in the introductory essay to the project, its here.

a.m: You worked with Jacopo Bertacco from the Tide on this album, how did you both meet and when did you start working together? How has your sound evolved together?

MK: Yes. Jacopo actually found me. He emailed me out of the blue and asked me to form a new band with him. After meeting him, I felt that we had a strong spiritual connection and similar approach to the creation of music and our artistic practice. At the time, I was desperately seeking someone who would help me to build my performance art project, so I proposed to him that we form a “band” that walked the line between band and performance art. We spent one month working almost 10 hours a day improvising together. It really clicked.

a.m: The lyrics in the album ruminate over what it means to be alive and present in the physical and virtual realities that surround us. How do you see (physical) presence and being as necessary for someone to be more “alive” to us?

MK: The idea is, to what extent do we consider other people to be alive? To what extent can we use our imaginations to make more people alive to us? Why, if time and space are no longer significant, should we care more about the people living on our street than the people living far away, the people who are perhaps affected by the foreign policy of our nations? Why are we creating closed communities of “care” and what is this based upon? “If everyone were alive to us, the depth of our mourning would be unending” is a lyric from our album. The idea is, the more alive people are to us, the more we care about their fate. The more we feel motivated to take action for those whom we consider to be our family members and in our community.

a.m: How is this influenced by the digital age (to which many songs refer to)? Is aliveness reinvented by technology and virtual realms of existence, such as Facebook?

MK: I’m an eternal optimist, so even though I often feel over saturated by the digital age, I want to believe that all this information, all these networks and communities we are forming virtually, can take us to a new dimension of thought and imagination, that they contain possibilities for activism. I think that we are at a point of crossroads between the modern and a more enlightened spiritual future. At the moment, we are still planted in the digital, modern world. It is getting increasingly “advanced,” but yet we are still obsessed with the same old ideas of measurement, truth, how much, how far away. Where were you born. To which country do you belong. How do I define your gender. But we have the opportunity to take what we’re learning from the digital world (ideally, the opposite of these things, a multiplicity of identity, a lack of space and time) and extend these ways of thinking into the spiritual realm, the imaginatory realm. Otherwise we will still be clutching on to technology for the passé questions about distance time and sight, sight as proof. What I am hoping is that as technology acts as a temporary crutch, we will decide to take ourselves into the place where we no longer need the virtual world to redefine community (through Facebook, through LinkedIn) but that we use our imaginations to decide we are a community and then go forward as advocates of each other.

a.m: The track “Dream about dad” is particularly powerful with spoken word interludes igniting the track. There is an anecdote about meeting your dad in a dream after he passed away, and then there is the story of wanting to reach him while reading one of his books (“it’s as though i could feel you through the words that you’ve underlined … like, if i touched the ink that touched your pen that touched your hand … then i could pull you through the pages you’ve underlined.”) This experience of yearning for connection and wanting to merge or become one is very human and relatable. In a world where “we are still yearning, still urgently tearing and needing the physical,” how do you come to terms with separation and physical distance?

MK: Thanks for taking the time to listen to the words! It means a lot to me. In this song, the first text sample is about my father appearing to me in a dream after he passed away. But in the next text sample, I’m actually making a link to a book that my mother sent to me after my father died called “A Widow’s Story” by Joyce Carol Oates, who is a little older than my mother, but has a lot of similarities with her, and especially in her experience of losing her husband. My mother sent me the book in lieu of talking extensively about her own experience with being widowed. At the time I found it deeply touching. My mother was alive to me through Joyce Carol Oates. My mother was alive to me through her pen marks on the page. I was making the link between mother and father because even though my father was dead, on some level I felt just as little communication or understanding of my mother as I did of my father. In other words, I was comparing their ALIVE:ness in my life. Was my mother more alive to me than my father? My father more than my mother? Was the fact of his death a factor in the difference or actually irrelevant? Was the fact of their physical distance to me a factor in the difference? I wanted to explore this … In part I wanted this exploration to help me heal my relationship with my mother. To accept the things that she IS for me rather than ruminate on the things that she cannot be. I translate that to every relationship in my life. I try to concentrate on what they ARE, the ways that they ARE alive rather than pine away about the ways in which they are DEAD.

a.m: You recently became a parent, and in the final track of the album you can even hear a baby screaming or crying – feeling, experiencing and experimenting with it’s aliveness. How has your experience of parenting influenced the album and your notion of aliveness?

MK: You could say that becoming a parent was an act of familial aliveness. ALIVE:ness is about imagining something to be real which is “not” readily felt as real. … It is about imagining possibilities of multiple partnerships, homes, body parts, imagining new realities. It is about making real or making ALIVE a new perspective which may not appear alive to us on the daily ins and outs. I both was given and chose parenthood because I wanted to imagine a new kind of family that had multiple parents and multiple children and multiple homes and ways of sharing. My partner and I were faced with a kind of decision about whether to run away scared from a complicated situation, or instead to do what we did, which was to move into a multi-parent patchwork family and concentrate on the joy that this new family would bring us rather than lament about the idea that our nuclear partnership, a family that was bolstered and fortified by societal expectations and the expectations of our family, might die through the transition into a truly polyamorous family.

a.m: What moments make you feel most alive?

MK: The moments that make ME feel most alive? Performing. Sex. Dancing. Biking

a.m: Who is the album dedicated to?

MK: The album is dedicated to my father, Klaus, who died in 2009, my mother, Eva, with whom I’m deepening my relationship, and my friend Tomek who also died in 2009 and with whom I found the queer heart that is on the front of the album. Its also dedicated to a group of queer sex workers and film makers in Berlin, a little group of us who started meeting together some years back, called SOBJECTS.

a.m: What are your plans for 2014?

MK: My plans for 2014 … well I have two main projects now in the works, Mad Kate | the Tide and HYENAZ. I know that in February 2014 HYENAZ will be releasing our debut album and then traveling to the USA to perform at sxsw. I also hope that 2014 will bring new conceptual material for me as an artist; I’m ready to explore new ground after giving birth to ALIVE:ness.

Thanks for the interview, Kate! Listen to her release here and be sure to catch the album and e-book launch performance and party at SHIFT (Köpenicker Str. 70, Berlin) on November 23, 2013 starting at 9pm.

Interview by Julie Anne Miranda-Brobeck