Tamara Wight: Of Music, Love, and Motherhood
“You’re here to become a sort of therapist for the human soul, a spiritual version of…someone who works with our insides to see if they get things to line up, to see if we can come into harmony with ourselves and be healthy and happy and well.”– Scott Ainslie / Cattail Music LLC
Our comprehension of time is incomplete, probably inaccurate, and linear. That in mind, once upon a time in a small Ontario Canada town, our featured artist experienced an instant and overpowering “recognition” of a customer who strolled into the diner where she was waitressing.
An old soul of 18, what she felt at a glance seemed ancient and certain. It would become an integral part of the story in a life both ordinary and extraordinary. She approached the table to take breakfast orders from him and the other men with him, but couldn’t stop from asking if they had met before. She was sure of it without knowing how. Be it past life memory or something far more mystifying, in her bones she felt that this was the person she was meant to spend her life with.
Instead she spent a summer with him. She was in that small town and he was in Toronto, laser focused on chasing the rock band dream. His Dad was inexorably losing a battle with cancer… she was in her late teens and he was in his mid twenties… the intensity of her feelings for him became mirrored but at the time he wasn’t ready. He felt overwhelmed by it all and in spite of his inner voice whispering “don’t fuck this up”, he ended the relationship and broke Tamara’s heart.
The lingering pain of his departure was tragically exacerbated when she was told of his death, by drug overdose no less, and in the swirling maelstrom of their all too brief relationship’s aching aftermath, Tamara had to get on with her life. The certainty she had felt about the two of them must have seemed like a cruel cosmic joke, but somewhere in all of that… a memory. A house party with an open mic that the two of them attended. When Tamara took a turn at singing he was blown away and afterward said “THIS! This is what you should be doing with your life!”
Time in the “now” brings us to the present day and we begin with IAMUR’s handy overview of “likes’ ‘ and “dislikes’ ‘… take it away, Tamara.
LIKES: The first coffee of the day, the sound of the wind brushing through the treetops, spirituality, a rich full bodied Cabernet-Sauvignon, UFO’s, all things related to nature, reading, knitting, getting my hands dirty while gardening, walking barefoot in the forest (well, being barefoot whenever possible, in general!), sharing my life with my amazing family, the sound of new strings on my guitar, sunrise vs sunset, being a Massage Therapist, homecooking, painting, watching indie movies, quiet walks in the forest, the sound of laughter, intelligent and meaningful conversation, naming my plants (and yes, I DO talk to them lol), hugging trees (100%!!), sweaters and scarves, peace of mind, the study of biology and anatomy, catchy bass lines and catchier beats, stargazing, thoughtfulness, cutaway guitars and alternate tunings, when a hummingbird looks me in the eye, all the great artists I’ve been discovering on Bandlab!!
DISLIKES: Hatred, hypocrisy, racism, violence, corruption, war, religion, ignorance, narcissism, eggplant, wastefulness, the fact that we KNOW we are destroying our planet yet we continue to ignore the inevitable and destroy her anyway (that is some kind of stupid!), sitting in front of the computer for more than an hour, fast food, does anyone use cursive any more????, internet trolls, negativity, greed, see through coffee (blech!), inequality, talking about myself (yet here I am! lol), money, vanity, when my cats kick their kitty litter all over the place, Monsanto/Bayer/Nestle, when you take a big swig of milk not realizing it’s gone sour.
I’m with you on the eggplant, although I don’t mind the color. Off the top of your head, can you give us a few tidbits that sketch an overview of who you are?
Born in Sherbrooke, Quebec. My parents moved several times across Ontario before settling in the small town of Chesley Ontario. Oldest of my two other siblings. I am a mother to 3 wonderful human beings, and wife to my soul mate. First ever “jam session” was with my friend Heather. I was 13 years old, and could manage a few simple chords on the guitar. I hadn’t really been doing any singing (at least outside of the privacy of my bedroom) yet, but Heather and I managed to eke out some harmonies to “Take me Home Country Roads” by John Denver and “Blowin in the Wind” by Bob Dylan. In my mind, I thought we were world class! LOL It was such a liberating feeling, making music with another person. Vancouver Island, Canada is a place that calls to my heart. I collect heart shaped rocks, or rather, heart shaped rocks find me and I bring them home 🙂 I don’t believe that serendipity is a random “happy accident”, but is rather a positive force in play that is guiding your life. I’m pretty stubborn and don’t give up when the going gets tough. Once I settle on an idea….look out!
Stubbornness can be an attribute when it comes to songwriting. On that topic, what first sparked your love of music? Please feel free to detail any artist influences or genres that were formative.
Music has always been a part of my life. Growing up, my mother was always humming some tune or another. She was too shy to sing out loud, but her voice was always so soothing to hear. Apparently, when she was growing up on her family dairy farm, she would go into the milk house and sing into the milk tank! I can only imagine how awesome those acoustics were!! LOL When I was in my mid-teens, my Dad bought a keyboard, which she took to right away and taught herself how to play. Her “go-to” songs were church hymns. Although that type of music was never my cup of tea, I suppose it played some sort of influence on me. But who really got me into music and guitar playing in particular, was my Dad. He was a very talented guitar player and the house was always filled with the sound of him playing, or him and his other musician friends jamming.
His main influences were what became my early influences; the Beatles, John Denver, Glen Campbell, Willie Nelson, Carole King, James Taylor to name a few. I would sit on the floor, watching him play; soaking up the “how” of what he was doing to create all these chords and sound structures, where he placed his fingers on the frets, the rhythm of his strumming or fingerpicking. Once in a while he would let me strum his guitar along with him (*sigh* that memory makes me smile and cry all at the same time). By the time I was old enough to hold his guitar in my lap, he began to teach me a few simple chords. And that, my friends, is the moment that changed everything for me.
By the time I was 16, I was listening to almost everything. Off the top of my head, Led Zeppelin, Genesis, Peter Gabriel, Tina Turner, Joni Mitchell, Wang Chung, ELO, Prince, Steve Winwood, Simply Red, INXS, Howard Jones, The Cult, The Jeff Healey Band, Jane’s Addiction, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Annie Lennox, Sinead O’Connor, Tracey Chapman, The Hothouse Flowers, Bill Withers, Crosby Stills and Nash, Kate Bush, Tom Petty, Stevie Wonder, Jefferson Airplane, Bob Marley, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Aerosmith, The Beatles, Joe Cocker, Don Henley, Bruce Hornsby, Hall & Oates, and when I was in the mood – classical music and jazz anything (later I would come to appreciate particular artists, but at the time I just loved jazz in general and didn’t pay much attention to who the artist was)
At 18, I met a man who would become the biggest influence in my life both musically and in my heart. But more on that later 🙂 Fast forward to today, my music collection has become very eclectic. And I wish I could write as diverse a body of work as what I listen to, but in general I tend to lean towards blues/jazz/folk/country or a mix thereof when writing a song. I can’t say that I have a main influence, really. Music influences me….whether it be a groove, a feel, the certain way an artist has arranged their chord structures, a unique vocal sequence or expression. One thing I can attest to though, in my development as a musician and songwriter, I have been particularly drawn to other strong female songwriters/musicians. Bonnie Raitt, India Arie, Fiona Apple, Melody Gargot, Norah Jones, Lady Gaga (not a big fan of her music per se, but I have total respect for her talents), KT Tunstall, Corinne Bailey Rae, Janis Ian, Michelle Ndegeocello, Ani Difranco, Esperanza Spalding and Nina Simone.
That is an impressively diverse list of artists! For our readers who don’t know much about you yet, can you describe what instruments you play and to what level of proficiency?
I am a virtuoso on many instruments…. in my head! The “in my head” drummer Tamara is killer!! Just sayin’ LOL All through highschool I had really enjoyed playing the clarinet, and was becoming quite good at it. I remember experimenting with making unusual sounds…scoops and “growls” like. I’m sure it drove the neighbours insane, but my Dad thought what I was doing was cool. I regret that I didn’t stick with it….shoulda, coulda, woulda. I can tinker on the keyboard, but definitely not proficient at it. The guitar is my main instrument. I have 4 (all cut-away’s); a Martin Dreadnought, Seagull Mini Jumbo, Yamaha APX 500 (this one has Nashville High-Strung strings on it; which I use for some of the “classical” and folk pieces I’ve written) and an Aria Pro II – my only electric hollow bodied archtop. It’s a massive guitar that I inherited from my Dad. If you’ve been to my YouTube page, you’ll see just how puny I look in comparison to it!!
As for my guitar playing, I realized early on that I would never ever be able to achieve the chord structures that my Dad could (he had long fingers that matched his 6’ 7” frame and was able to make chords that spanned 5 frets AND use his thumb on the E string. So not fair!! ) I never gave it much thought before, but I’ve been playing the guitar since I was 10. Wow! To think about how much I have evolved as a player, from when I learned my first chords to now; it surprises me to realize that I have been on a constant growth curve, sponging up inspiration from other artists. Through that, I have developed my own style.
I happen to believe that female guitarists don’t get the recognition or respect that they clearly deserve, compared to their male counterparts. Sure, Bonnie Raitt – Joni Mitchell – Nancy Wilson – Ani Difranco – Liona Boyd and many others are monster talents who get their respect but it seems muted by comparison to the god-like status bestowed on the male players. You are a very complex and original guitarist who has come up with a percussive unique style that melds itself with pure melodic invention. Does it ever bother you, even just a little, when most of the focus is aimed at your singing voice?
First and foremost, I am a songwriter. The life of any song I write always starts with the guitar. I find that playing the guitar is my primary voice when creating a song; it pulls from my deepest thoughts and emotions and expresses the words that I haven’t yet been able to formulate. So, the development of my style is really just another “language” that I use to communicate. When we speak, do we not use facial expression and hand gestures to convey our thoughts to others? It’s the same kinda deal with my guitar playing. I often use alternate tunings to form different chord voicings and textures and play percussively, essentially to speak with expression and gestures.
Part of my playing style evolved during the years when I was gigging, as well. Without having a band to back me up, I felt that I needed to fill in the missing rhythmic dynamics, so I made my own rhythm/beats in a manner of speaking, with my strumming hand. I don’t recall that I had to consciously think about it, it was just something that came natural to me. I knew what I was hearing in my head and what I was feeling; I guess it was a way for me to communicate that to the audience. After the guitar part is formulated, then comes the lyrics. For myself, when lyrics are added to a song, it’s because I really feel that I need to say or share something important. I think about the listening audience too. What’s going on in their lives? Are they stressed, feeling overwhelmed, weary, unable to put into words what is consuming their hearts, souls and minds that maybe I can speak for them and make them feel a little more complete? What joyful memories have they had that a song might help bring that to mind and thus really make their day? What important global issues can I address through song, that otherwise is ignored on the news?
My hope is that whatever I write, it resonates with someone in a positive, heartfelt way, and helps them take comfort in knowing that someone else understands what they are feeling or encourages beneficial change. Putting those lyrics into a melody is a means to strengthen the intention, message and feel of the song. Thus, I sing but by no means do I consider myself a vocalist; that is a talent unto itself, and there is a lot of work that goes into being a pure singer. Many people compliment my singing voice, which is great that I’m not terrible at it! But that is only a part of who I am as a songwriter.
You own several wonderful guitars, but I can’t help but wonder what your wish list is for others you would love to add to your collection. Care to share that with us?
I have primarily been an acoustic player; which lends itself to a certain style of writing. What I would really like to explore is my inner rock-chick (yes, she is definitely there) and add a proper electric guitar to my collection….and effects pedals!!! Never have I EVER used effects pedals….oh my god, I would be like a kid in a candy store LOL. I did once own a Gretsch G5122 – but I found it too cumbersome for my small frame, so hardly ever played it. Happily it has found a home with another player who is a better fit for its size. What I purchase next, I’m not sure. Until I try different models on for size, feel and sound, I can’t really say. But I’m leaning towards a Fender Telecaster. Other than guitars, there are several wind instruments that I would like to acquire and learn how to play. The Pan flute, Ocarina and the Didgeridoo are three instruments I hope to add to the collection. Their sounds are so ancient and deeply soulful. I think that they reverberate with us because at the primal level they are voices from things made from the earth, which we are a part of. Now that I think of it, a Handpan would be fun to learn too. What a question to ask me…..now my mind is making a mental wish list….” I want a….and I want a….and I want a…..”!!!! At least my husband never has to try and figure out what to get me for my birthday. 🙂 Truth be told, I wish I could add hundreds of instruments to my collection, and be able to play them all well. Another lifetime. 🙂
I have seen you perform several times and you always seem so comfortable and are able to establish an instant connection with your audience. Have you ever been terrified before or during a gig?
Never during a gig, no. But definitely before. It usually took a song or 2 to work the jitters out and then I was fine. But during set up, I was a nervous wreck! Before I would play my first song, I often would look out at the audience and think to myself “look at these people…..they all have shit going on in their lives, but right now it’s my job to help them forget about that for a few hours” My focus was to imbue a “I feel you brother/sister” vibe, because those connections are so important for our wellbeing. I recently came across a musician on Facebook who posted the following, regarding our role as musicians and songwriters: “You’re here to become a sort of therapist for the human soul, a spiritual version of…..someone who works with our insides to see if they get things to line up, to see if we can come into harmony with ourselves and be healthy and happy and well.” – Scott Ainslie / Cattail Music LLC
I feel those words to the core. At this point in my life, I don’t have any aspirations to delve into a music career that would take me on the road full time. I’m more interested in just making music that people can enjoy and connect with. If by chance it gets the attention of another signed artist, or ends up in a movie/documentary, great! But I’m not actively pursuing that.
As a mother of three children, how did you balance that huge obligation with the need to write and perform your music? There must have been many times when musical inspiration hit you hard and you just couldn’t find the physical time to address it. How did you cope with that?
In the early years, when my children were small and not yet self-sufficient, it was hard for sure. “Me time” for songwriting was dedicated to early mornings or late evenings. Sometimes, I’d be lucky enough to have a day off from work while the kids were at school. I’d quickly get whatever house work needed to be done and then immerse myself in the few remaining hours for writing. On weekends, I would take advantage of the time that the kids were sleeping in, made a big pot of coffee and sat down with my guitar. I have to give props to my children too, they were so understanding of how important it was that I be able to have undisturbed time to rehearse for gigs, and work on my writing. Their patience during that hour was so remarkable; and the older two would keep their little sister busy so that I could have that time to just focus on music.
Of course, you can’t control the timing of inspiration so when those moments hit I would put my little Zoom recorder on the kitchen table, regardless of how noisy the house was at the moment, and record the idea before it got away from me. As the kids got older, and they got into playing instruments/singing themselves, family jam sessions happened on occasion. So much fun!! Other times, they often sat around me while I jammed out some new ideas, or messed around with some cover songs. You know you’ve reached some sort of “star status” with your kids when they ask you to play one of your own songs….and they sing along to it!!! I don’t do as much performing these days, but during the years that I had regular gigs, the kids were either with me (for family friendly shows and festivals) or I would have a sitter take care of them. These days, it is much easier to dedicate time to writing, with two kids out of the house and the youngest in her pre-teens. It also helps that I have a partner who is a very talented musician in his own right. We spend countless hours jamming, writing, and recording together. He is also very respectful and understanding of the time I need to work independently. Passage of time has certainly allowed the scales of this music makin’ momma to be balanced!
You are a gifted songwriter and seem to have always written memorable songs even early on. Do you attribute this to any specific artists who influenced your pre-songwriter years or did you just have a knack for it right away?
Well, thank you very much for saying that! I don’t have any preconceived ideas when I start writing a song, other than it coming from my heart. There are many songwriters that will tell you that oftentimes a song will come from out of nowhere and they feel as if they are just channeling something that is beyond their consciousness. The same is true for me. Part of the process is also about allowing myself to enjoy playtime. Just as children immerse themselves in the freedom of play, getting lost in their made up stories, running, jumping, tumbling around, believing themselves to be superheroes or whatever persona they have taken on; it’s kind of that same idea when I have the urge to pick up my guitar. Suddenly I find myself lost in another realm, filled with sonics and vibrations; allowing myself the freedom to just be creative, whether the chords sound good together or not. Sometimes a song comes out of it, sometimes it’s just an idea, sometimes nothing. Do I have a “knack for it” ?……hmmmmm, all I can tell you is that I’m just me. I have a strong desire to facilitate human connection through music and words. If what gets written through me touches someone, then I have achieved the purpose for which I am here. All that being said, there are two artists who have played a major influential role in me even becoming a songwriter and the development of my style.
Do tell, and please feel free to share any further details regarding the influential man you met when you were 18, as mentioned earlier. It sounds intriguing.
When I was 18, I was working as a waitress at this little breakfast diner in a small beach town on the west coast of Ontario. At the time, guitar playing was just a hobby for me and I hadn’t even tried to write a song. One early morning shift, while I was getting the coffee pots filled with fresh java, the bell above the diner door rang and I turned around to say hello to the new patron(s). When I say “time stood still”, I kid you not, for in walked the most beautiful man I had ever laid my eyes on and yet, and YET, this overwhelming certainty of knowing this person came to mind and I remember thinking “aah, there you are!” I don’t know where I got the nerve, but I walked right up to him and asked point-blank “Do I know you?”
Those four words initiated what would become the most unforgettable love story of my life, both in my heart and musically. He was a musician in a rock band, so I had many opportunities to watch him play. I really admired the ease with which he played; like his guitar was an extension of his body, his confidence on stage, the quality of his playing (so clean and prolific). And the music he wrote! I swore he wasn’t from this planet, because the ideas that came out of his mind and executed on his guitar were so kinetic and intriguing. I had never been witness to anyone who could play like he could. Jeff Beck comes to mind though.
Anyway, one evening we were at a house party. At some point in time, someone pulled out a guitar and a microphone. While people took their turns jamming on the guitar, the microphone was getting passed around for the rest of us to sing along. Before I knew it, the microphone was placed in my hand. I was terrified (I had never sung in front of anyone…ever!). But my music-man just looked at me, smiled and gave his head a little nod as if to say “come on Tam, you’ve got this”. What happened next still makes me laugh out loud. As the guitarist strummed some bluesy riff, I belted out some Etta James-esque vocal (hell, I don’t even know where it came from! lol)
The room filled with whistles and shouts and my music-man, eyes wide with surprise, his jaw dropped open, he grabbed my shoulder and yelled “What!?! Whaaaat!?!!! You can sing!!” Later on, he would encourage me to pursue music in my life. I took that to heart; especially a year and a half later when our relationship had not only ended and we fell out of touch with one another, but I was told that he had passed away. The birth of my first song came from the loss of the greatest love I ever knew. I couldn’t stay sad forever and so I moved on with my life, all the while continuing to improve and grow in my songwriting and guitar playing abilities. My first ever live performance and recording experience happened in the early ’90s. Friends of mine encouraged me to enter a songwriting contest that was being hosted by a local radio station. As scary as it was, I took on the challenge, found an engineer who would record my song, and proceeded to submit it.
I ended up placing 3rd, and played live in a theatre packed with nearly 300 people for the radio station’s promo concert. The song? It is called “Possibility” – the first song I ever wrote. Yes, that song. Over the following years I was in a couple of local bands that performed covers. but I quickly became disenchanted with that whole experience because my presence in the band wasn’t being fully acknowledged, I was to sing lead or do backup vocals, and although they were fully aware I could play guitar as well as they could, the idea was quickly shot down when I brought it up. That was frustrating, because they would bring in other male guitarists from time to time. I definitely felt that I wasn’t “one of the guys”, or respected for my talents. Needless to say, I left and decided to just do my own thing. It was around 2004 that I came across this female American songwriter/guitar player, Ani Difranco, who completely changed my idea of how to both play an acoustic guitar and be free vocally. Her use of bizarre alternate tunings was so intriguing, and her wildly percussive style blew my mind. She was fearless. I certainly didn’t aspire to be like her, but she definitely influenced me. It was exciting to experiment with these new tunings, because it meant relearning new chord forms. The chordal textures inspired the development of new songs. And so it went.
By then I was gigging regularly, playing both covers and originals. There were many artists I got to know and perform with around the area, and I had been invited to perform my original material at several festivals and concerts. One of the most memorable events I performed at was the Orangeville Blues and Jazz Festival in 2013. This is a very popular festival that takes place annually; bands from all over the world perform on stages that are spread all over the town. It’s an impressive event to say the least. I was blown away when I was invited to perform there! As luck would have it, I got very sick with strep throat, the day before the concert. There was no way in hell I was missing this opportunity though! I loaded up with anti-inflammatories, ginger tea and echinacea lozenges, went out and gave it everything I had. It was one of the best performances I had ever given, and the interactive energy coming from the crowd gave me the strength to get through the night. Needless to say, I dropped like a stone when I got home, but wow, what a night!
Around that same time, I had also won a regional songwriting competition which gave me the opportunity to record some of my songs with a Nashville Producer. That experience gave me some insight into how women are sometimes treated in the music industry; something that left me feeling a little bitter and distrustful towards producers in general. Not to say that all women in music have the same experience, but for myself, I was made to feel inadequate and that my ideas and style of playing were not going to find me having any success with a music career.
The loss of confidence I developed in my abilities as a musician and to write good music sat with me for a while. I found it difficult to feel good about anything I was trying to write. Although I was still performing, which was great, very few new songs were being written. A chance encounter, in November 2013, would change all that and help me rebuild trust in myself as an artist, and find the joy I once had for making music. One quiet, early weekend morning, in the middle of November 2013, coffee in hand, I was scrolling through Soundcloud, looking for some new artists to listen to. Now, if you told me 25 years earlier that on this day my life was going to change forever, I wouldn’t have believed you. But there I was, staring at the profile page of MY MUSIC-MAN (!) with a compilation of his music from the last several years. Heart pounding, how could this be?!? He was dead. Not dead!
With much trepidation, I sent him a message via Soundcloud. My profile had a last name different from who he would have remembered me as, and I didn’t want to scare him off, so I didn’t immediately tell him exactly who I was. We exchanged several pleasant messages back and forth, always talking about music and how we came to be the musicians we were. Eventually, I asked if he would like to meet in person. To my delight, he agreed! And so we set our meet up at a brand new live music venue that had literally just opened up that month in Toronto. I arrived first and waited in a discreet spot where I had a full view of the entrance.
I recognized him immediately. My music-man. It took everything I had not to run into his arms and cry with pure joy. Our introductions were casual and friendly. We spent the whole night talking, listening to music, comfortable in each other’s company. As the night came to a close and he was indicating that he had to take his leave, I said to myself “Tamara! Tell him!!!” And so, I thanked him for the lovely evening, and thanked him for liking my music. “Because,” I said. “it was you who got me started making music in the first place”. A look of confusion came across his face and he asked me what I was talking about. A smile spread across my face as I gently told him “You met me many years ago. We were together…………I’m Tamara Wight”
Grabbing my hands and looking at me deeply, the veil of time being drawn back from his eyes, the room slipping away, he and I in our own time-warp bubble, he said “I see you!!!”. We hugged and cried and hugged some more. Vowing to stay in touch, we went our separate ways but the force of true love wasn’t to be ignored and we found ourselves needing to be together. And so began the rebirth of what was meant to be. Only this time, we had the love of creating music to share. Although our styles are very different, there is this uncanny familiarity when we play and write together. Respect for each other’s ideas and abilities is a constant. He has definitely been, and continues to be an inspiration for me; always encouraging me to get out of my comfort zone and explore new sounds/ideas/vocal abilities. The “possibility” I wrote a song about has come full circle and I now have the pleasure of making music with the love of my life. Oddly enough, the very place where we met up closed 3 weeks later. as if the Universe opened a portal where he and I would find each other again.
Boom. Quite a love story there. Love of Music. Love of Motherhood. Love itself. I ought to know because if you readers haven’t figured it out by now, I am that lucky man in this story. (Never a drug abuser, not dead, just blessed). Thank you for sharing with us, Tamara, and if there are any songs or videos you would like to also share let’s do that now.
This wonderful songwriter can be found on Bandlab right here: Tamara Wight