Many of you are already fans of the multi-talented cellist, songwriter, composer, and photo-video artist, Kaitlyn Raitz. If you are learning about her for the first time, you are in for a real treat.
I had the privilege of speaking with Kaitlyn earlier this month in anticipation of the release of her first solo album next week, Me, Myself, Myself, and I. Be sure to watch her Cello Museum exclusive video premiere (below) – a recording of a live performance of “Ifs, Ands, and Buts” – one of the tracks on her new album.
Introducing Kaitlyn Raitz
Cello Museum: Thank you for doing this interview. Can you tell everyone a little bit about yourself?
Kaitlyn Raitz: My name is Kaitlyn Raitz, and I’m a multi-style cellist out of Nashville, Tennessee. I’m originally from New York. I am not a unicorn as they say here – I’m not originally from here.
I’m classically trained. I have a master’s degree from McGill University in Montreal. But I’ve always been interested in other styles of music and particularly an Americana style. I grew up listening to country music – that’s what my parents listened to. So I’ve found ways to incorporate that all into composing and songwriting.
“This is impressive. You can’t miss this!”
CM: Why the cello? How did you end up choosing this instrument as your musical voice (or one of your musical voices)?
KR: To be quite honest, I think I liked the cello because of how big it was. “This is impressive. You can’t miss this!”
I had played a bit of piano, but I didn’t like that. I didn’t like the act of sitting down to the piano. I found that difficult as an ADHD fourth-grader, I guess. And I also played the violin for a bit, and I played the trombone for one week! I was like, “This isn’t for me.” Luckily the orchestra teacher asked, “Do you want to try the cello?”
And that was it for me. I’m so grateful to her.
“I like my little Jay Haide!”
CM: What cello or cellos do you play in your performances and your recordings?
KR: I’ve been playing a 2010 Jay Haide forever, I guess. I got one Jay Haide cello in high school, and I ended up getting another, similar model for one reason or another, through college. These instruments – you don’t pay a lot of money for them, in relation to other instruments. But it got me through a master’s degree, and it sounds great and I’m not so afraid to travel with it as I would be with a more expensive instrument. I like my little Jay Haide!
Off the Beaten Path
CM: What was the spark that set you off on your path away from classical music? Or were you always on this path when you started?
KR: I definitely wasn’t always on this path. I didn’t even know that you could do these kinds of things on the cello. For example, I didn’t know that chopping existed. I didn’t know you could play fiddle tunes on the cello.
Basically, I couldn’t get scholarships to go to Aspen or these really amazing festivals that cost so much money. And one year my teacher, Julia Lichten at Purchase College, got a flyer for the Mark O’Connor camp – a week-long camp in New York City – and it was 500 bucks. And I thought, “We can make this work!”
“There’s so much more than ‘Julie-O’ out there!”
KR: I went to this camp, and I thought I was cool, because I played “Julie-O,” you know – we all know “Julie-O,” right? I was like, “Look at me go, I can do this. I’m basically the best!” But I went to that camp, and I was like, “Oh, there’s much more than “Julie-O” out there!”
At that camp, I met a cellist named Mike Block who went on to make his own camps – non-classical string camps. He doesn’t call it fiddle camp, but at that camp, you are immersed in all sorts of styles. There’s Scottish Fiddle, there’s Indian music, there are Americana styles.
“I did my recitals during the year, and I spent the summers learning fiddle tunes and how to chop.”
KR: So that was the thing I did over the summer. I did my recitals during the year – I played my etudes, and my sonatas, and my concertos. And then I spent the summer learning fiddle tunes and learning how to chop.
Then, when school ended, I was like, “What am I gonna do now? There’re no parameters for life!” So I started a band with a person up in Montreal. We were a band for a year and a half. We were called “Bride and Groom.” And that was my first ever [experience] writing my own music and just exploring what I could do with the cello outside of classical music, outside of camp.
“I just wanted to play the cello. And then I learned I could.”
KR: I feel, with [the] COVID [situation], I had a lot of time to think about things, and I determined that it’s not necessarily been the type of music I’m playing that I’m attracted to – it’s just the instrument. I just wanted to play the cello. And then I learned that I could.
I grew up listening to country music and boy bands and pop music. No one in my family really listened to classical music. I mean, I love classical music, too, but when you get to play the music you grew up listening to, it feels a bit different so I was excited.
I thank Mark for his camps and Mike for his camps. They were really great for me!
CM: What advice do you have for other cellists who want to explore paths other than the classical track?
KR: I think the thing that was most helpful for me [was] one of those camps. They’re really intensive. They’re a week long and you’re just immersed in this community, and you get to learn so much. A lot of them have scholarships, so you can try to make it work, but I think the most important thing is to try to listen a lot.
A lot of times people want to play fiddle music, but with fiddle styles, you learn them by ear. You can read them off the page – but you can’t really. People are trying to do this, and they’re trying to notate the most minute ornaments, but it’s not possible.
It comes down to listening.
KR: So, to hear that groove, and hear how those ornaments are being played, comes down to listening. Then, once you find something that you’re like, “Oh, man, this is amazing” – really try to learn what’s happening.
What I did in my first really formative summer of working on this stuff, coming back from camp and being desperate to keep going, I got a bunch of videos off YouTube and put them into a program that slowed them down, which you can do on YouTube now just automatically. I was looking at videos of Rushad Eggleston and Natalie Haas, and trying to figure out chopping and groove. I slowed them down, and tried to do exactly what they were doing.
The internet is full of things that we can use to learn how to do this. You just have to know where to start. Any of the cellists like Mike Block, Rushad, Natalie, Ben Sollee – look at what they’re doing and try to copy it.
CM: You are also a photographer and video artist. How did you get into these different arts? Cello, photography, and video – each one could be a full-time job. How do you make time for everything?
KR: I agree! “How do I?” is the question.
I started doing photo/video work with the same partner that was in the Bride and Groom band, actually. His name’s Jesse Daniel Smith, and he’s a Montreal artist. He was self taught in music and photo/video, and anything creative. He decided, “I’m just gonna learn how to do it.” And we were a pretty scrappy band. He gave me my basic understanding of that stuff.
Video written, recorded, filmed, and edited by Kaitlyn Raitz
90% of the people I have worked with so far are friends. I probably don’t charge as much as someone who only does photography and that’s what they’ve dedicated their life to. So that’s how it’s become what it is now.
“It only informs your music and makes it better.”
KR: Too often, musicians get in this mindset of thinking, “If I do anything other than music, I’m a failure.” Or – “If I do another job, that’s not my instrument, that means I failed.”
I cannot stress enough how destructive I think that is to our psyches and our mental health, because it’s hard to be a musician. Sometimes you need to do some other stuff to make ends meet or, actually, because you have other interests. And it’s okay to pursue those, especially if it’s something else you’re passionate about. It only informs your music and makes it better.
And so photo/video are the two other building blocks in my career. But I also enjoy doing it, because it’s making art and getting to hear my friends make music. I think that everyone should have something else to do. Volunteer, or do something else with your time other than music, because it only makes music better to go back to after doing the other thing.
CM: A lot of your tunes or pieces, you are telling stories. Would you be willing to share some of those stories or choose one?
KR: Sure. The first piece or tune I wrote – I like to switch back and forth between calling them and pieces and tunes, because they’re both to me – was actually the story of this album.
The first thing I wrote for this album was “The Spinning Wheel,” which is going to be the second track on the album. It’s already out as a single, but I wasn’t writing an album when I wrote “The Spinning Wheel.” I was writing out of desperation because I was in the depths of COVID winter.
It was December of last year when none of us traveled for Christmas. And I was looking at 2021 coming in a few weeks later, and feeling like, “Yeah, it’s gonna be a new year, but nothing is going to change. COVID’s not going away on January 1st.”
I sat down to write “The Spinning Wheel,” telling myself: “I’m just gonna sit down and try to write a minute of music. And I’m just gonna share it on Instagram.”
“A big part of why I play music is getting the response from other people.”
KR: A big part of why I play music, I learned, is getting the response from other people and hearing how the music affects them. I’m like a tree in the woods. If I’m playing music for no one, does it even matter?
So I sat down to write “The Spinning Wheel,” and I got to a minute in, and it was hard at first. The first half hour, I thought, “This isn’t going anywhere.” And then it became something, and I thought, “Wait – I want to write more!” So then it became a proper song length – three and a half minutes or something and, I thought, “This feels great.”
The name “The Spinning Wheel” came out of this idea of how time felt like it was moving so slowly, but also so fast. We were already at the end of 2020, and the world keeps turning, despite the mayhem that’s going on on it. And so “The Spinning Wheel” is what birthed all of the music that came after it.
CM: Do you think the effects of the pandemic will continue to influence your work?
KR: Definitely. The music I had composed before the stuff on this album was commissioned. I was asked to be a composer-in-residence for an ensemble in New York before this, where I wrote three little pieces for them. Before that, I had written maybe two or three others, written and published – or put out into the world, two or three other arrangements or compositions.
I’ve been constantly searching for answers to questions like, “Who am I? Where is my niche in music? All of these weird things I do – what do they mean? And what is the music that I make naturally?” I feel like this album answered, “Here you go. This is what you do.”
“I feel like this album is the foundation of what I know to be me and my music, so I’m really grateful for it.”
KR: I love contemporary classical music. I love Saariaho and I love textural, delicious, contemporary classical music. And I also love fiddle tunes. And I love groove. This album is the first one I’m putting out under my own name without a band or anything. And I probably will evolve and change, but I feel like it’s the foundation of what I know to be me and my music, so I’m really grateful for it.
I guess the pandemic gave me the time to figure it out. Definitely, I’m going to take stuff from it and go forward. I get to play [selections from the album] with four other cellists in a few weeks, which I’m excited about because the album is just me – it’s like “layered” me.
CM: Please tell us about your new album and exactly when it’s coming out.
KR: It’s an album of cello quartets and quintets, but it’s just me playing them, so the album is called Me, Myself, Myself, and I, and it comes out on October 27th.
There are 11 tracks. About half of them have been released as singles already – I’ve done the slow leak of the album. There’s a range in terms of genre or style – whatever we want to call it. There’s one that’s pretty classical, but it still has hints that maybe it’s a Scottish tune. Then there’s one called “Ifs, Ands, and Buts,” which is the most deadly I could get and bluegrassy. They were really fun to make for the most part.
Exclusive Premiere of Kaitlyn Raitz’s “Ifs, Ands, Buts”
Unique Offerings on Patreon – And How Patreon Played a Part in Creating the Album
KR: I started Patreon in January . Depending on the tier you subscribe to, there’s sheet music, there are downloads, lessons, and melody transcriptions. I also do commissions.
Two of the tracks on this album are commissions from Patreon. It’s actually the same person who commissioned both of them. They’re very sweet – they were wanting to support me, so I wrote two pieces based on loved ones who had passed. They told me about the person and the kinds of things they loved and what they did – and tried to give me their essence. Then I tried to put that into music. So I offer that on my Patreon as well.
How to Follow and Support Kaitlyn
Kaitlyn is on most social media platforms, regularly releasing videos on YouTube. She says she’s probably most active on Instagram. Here’s where to follow her:
Pre-order Me, Myself, and I here.
Has your cello journey as a cellist or as a listener taken you off the beaten path? If so – where? Please tell us in the comments and be sure to subscribe to our weekly newsletter.