Interview With Mama Kin

tweety stuff @ronanfromcork

This was first published in The Evening Echo [Cork] on 2018-7-5, text underneath photo.

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Part of the core ethos of the Clonakilty International Guitar Festival is to encourage touring artists and build the festival within the town, one of this year’s headline acts is the Australian act Mama Kin Spender who are returning after a great reaction to Mama Kin’s set of concerts in 2015.

Speaking from her home before she returns to Clonakilty she reminisced about the venue and the town, “I’ll never forget my first time of playing at DeBarras.  It was akin to a spiritual experience, something in that place breathes magic. Who can tell why some places feel like home but I know that I love your part of the world. Your people feel like my very own, and they make me feel like I am theirs. I like to tell stories, and your audiences are up for the ride, we fit together.”

Mama Kin, whose real name is Danielle Caruana, knows the world of music in many capacities: as a solo act; her current collaboration with Tommy Spender; the youngest member of a large musical family and as the wife of John Butler – one of Australia’s most successful singers and band leaders – she has seen every scale of music festival and venue, and she has a tremendous respect for the Clonakilty Guitar Festival, “I love a festival that is of the town, by the town, for the town and this is one such model. The town’s own venues host all the shows, there is no festival site, the town is the festival! These festivals are my favourite because I feel like the whole community is engaged and benefits from the festival, and as an artist I feel so welcomed and folded into the culture of a place.”

While her first two albums ‘Beat And Holler’ and ‘The Magician’s Daughter’ were solo affairs, ‎‘Golden Magnetic’ the album she touring now is as part of a collaboration, “the material is written by us as a duo, I play drums and Tommy plays guitar and we sing harmonies throughout each other’s songs. While we created this body of work as a duo, we decided to illuminate the recorded works with a large vocal section so wherever possible we perform with a choir… and guess what… we are doing this at Clonakilty!”

While many musician’s describe their work in terms of genre, Mama Kin measures this album differently, “the intention is connection and expansion. I believe that the most punk thing you can do these days is practice hope, love and connection. Especially in the face of all the news and data that we are fed every day which would have us subscribe to disconnection, fear, separation and hate. This new album is our act of hope. It is a total flip on what I am used to. It feels tough and visceral and I just love it so much.”

As well as making music with that mindset, she also spends a lot of time trying to help others make music in the form of The Seed Fund, a not-for-profit organisation she helped form that offer grants annually to Australian artists from any background, creating art and music across any genre, to establish themselves as self-sustaining, professionals, “The Seed Fund again is hope and abundance in practice. We all rise with the full tide and there is enough for everyone. I wanted to see that in action. So my husband and I created a fund and started giving out grants and running initiatives that would bolster our own industry. It has been a wonderful experience. I am not a fighter, I really go weak at the knees at the thought of conflict, but I can put all my energy into making good, that’s what I am here for…I just want to make ‘good’ at every turn.”

Mama Kin’s life has always been immersed in music, the youngest of six siblings, she had music lessons from the age of five – primarily in piano – and like the rest of her family would play in the band in church and for members of the Maltese community who visited their house in Melbourne. Aside from that, two of her brothers are professional musicians, and her first band featured them both, they had a working title of ‘Kin’ and when she learned she was expecting her first child the Mama Kin moniker grew from that. She feels very much an equal in the family now, “I feel more frequently like the Mama than I do the youngest child, so I suppose I have graduated somewhat. I feel like my own confidence around my songwriting and music making has grown so much over the past few years, that I can hardly recognise my old, insecure, unsure, little sister self. When I do meet her, I rub her back and tell her that she should sing and write, good things are coming! I love writing, recording and touring my music, and I love that every release is a bit of a different journey, sonically and personally.”

For two internationally touring musicians to manage rearing a family takes a lot of work, a lot different from running a family band’s weekly concert in the local church, “we live 3 hours south of Perth, the world’s most isolated city, in a little town called Margaret River, being immersed in nature is good for my writing and a great antidote to the highly urban touring lifestyle. It has changed so much in the last year or so for me, it is almost eerie. I have a 15 year-old and an 11 year-old and all of a sudden I have heaps of time. I used to covet time, methodically, obsessively! There’s still heaps of planning, we seem to operate about 7 months ahead at least, and sometimes we are ships in the night. The most amazing thing is realising that although at times it has been arduous to say the least, our kids are really great travellers, totally flexible, robust and resilient – really quite impressive people! However, I really don’t know whether they will follow in our footsteps, our eldest was saying the other day that although they love music they are not sure they would ever sign up for this crazy lifestyle!”

Mama Kin Spender & Choir play De Barras on Thursday 20 September and the entire festival runs Monday 17 to Sunday 23 September. Further details can be found at http://www.clonguitarfest.com

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