In Conversation With Musician Kate Nauta

Kate Nauta is living proof of music’s power to transform intense heartbreak into hope. On her forthcoming full-length debut Love, Loss + Recovery—an album created soon after the death of her beloved older brother—the New York-based singer/songwriter brings her stunning vocals to a selection of songs both emotionally raw and beautifully nuanced. Built on her soul-baring storytelling and fearless reflection, the result is a body of work that promises pure catharsis and possibly even a life-changing shift in perspective.

Although Love, Loss + Recovery stems from a lifetime of devotion to music, Nauta’s creative urge took on a new ferocity following her brother Josh’s death in fall 2017. “The last time I ever talked to Josh, he made me promise over and over that I would put my music out into the world,” says Nauta, whose brother succumbed to brain cancer after a longtime battle with addiction. “It was almost as if he knew something I didn’t know—like, ‘You’ve got to do this, you’ve got to trust this.’ It was basically his dying wish to me, and it lit a fire under me that was so fierce. So this whole record is in honor of him, because it never would have happened if he hadn’t given me that inspiration.”

Photographed by Sharon Schuster

Produced by Kelly Winrich (multi-instrumentalist for California-based indie-rock band Delta Spirit), Love, Loss + Recovery finds Nauta joining forces with such esteemed musicians as Jesse Harris (a Grammy Award-winner known for his work with Norah Jones) and C.J. Camerieri (a multi-instrumentalist who’s worked with Paul Simon and Bon Iver), blending elements of soul and country and gospel to dream up a mesmerizing sound all her own. In that process, Nauta and her bandmates recorded at Winrich’s Brooklyn studio, laying down most of the album live and breathing a boundless vitality into each track. “Everything was done literally from scratch—just me and the boys bringing the songs to life together in the moment,” Nauta says.

Elegantly arranged and simply adorned, Love, Loss + Recovery draws much of its impact from Nauta’s voice: a formidable instrument that gracefully channels everything from sorrow to longing to full-hearted compassion. On the album-opening “Ready for Love,” for instance, she offers up a smoldering meditation on infidelity and forgiveness. “It’s about someone I loved at one point in my life, about living in the mistakes I made in that relationship, and the years of healing that came after that,” Nauta explains. An up-close snapshot of life’s endless complexities, Love, Loss + Recovery also includes such deeply introspective tracks as “Good Morning, My Friend”—a breathtaking slow-burner that speaks to the hard-won reclamation of self. “That came from a time in my life when making things happen with music felt so hopeless,” says Nauta. “I wrote it as a reminder to myself, saying: ‘There’s still so much more inside you, and you absolutely have something to give.’”

Elsewhere on Love, Loss + Recovery, Nauta looks back on her earliest years, delicately threading the album with the dreamy innocence of childhood. Brightly textured but exquisitely melancholy, “Wild & Free” muses on her experience in leaving home at 15 to embark on a modeling career. “I was able to see the world at such a young age, but there was a huge part of being young that I missed out on,” she says. “‘Wild & Free’ is about wanting to be little again, so that life can’t really touch you.” And on the luminous finale to Love, Loss + Recovery, Nauta conjures up a rush of warmly detailed memories of her brother Josh and their cherished time together as children. “Josh started using drugs his junior year of high school, and from then on I was chasing the little boy he used to be for the rest of my life,” she says. “‘Remember’ is about where we grew up in Oregon, with all these giant pine trees and fields of hay and a filbert orchard right behind our house. It was so hard watching him live and die in his addiction every day, so I’d always try to go back to that place in my mind.”

Originally from the Oregon town of Woodburn, Nauta first realized her love of music as a little girl in that idyllic wonderland. “We had this old cherry tree in our backyard, and I’d spend hours swinging in the swing under that tree, just singing myself to tears,” she recalls. “I was so young that I didn’t even know what I was singing about, but I’d curate this whole story about being in love and being swept off my feet—it just made my imagination come alive.” Partly attributing her vocal talents to her grandfather (a first-rate yodeler), Nauta grew up singing in church and discovered her passion for performing at her hometown’s annual May Day event. “We’d rehearse for months and the whole town would come out and watch as we put on a two-night show,” recalls Nauta, whose performances included such classics as Whitney Houston’s version of “I Will Always Love You.”

Photographed by Sharon Schuster

Upon leaving Woodburn to pursue modeling, Nauta quickly landed in the pages of such iconic magazines as Italian Vogue and worked with leading brands like Versace, L’Oréal, and DKNY. Moving to New York City at age 18, she then balanced her modeling work with her first serious foray into music, joining a local band as well as writing her own songs and recording covers—including a rendition of Roberta Flack’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” that caught the ear of the legendary Lenny Kravitz. “All of a sudden I’m in a studio with Lenny, sitting next to him at a piano and working on a song together,” she remembers. “He was my first-ever fan.”

Not long after that meeting, Kravitz and Nauta started working on an album together, meeting up to write and record whenever their hectic schedules allowed. Despite her dedication to the project, Nauta’s entire trajectory soon shifted when acclaimed filmmaker Luc Besson cast her in Transporter 2—a 2005 release in which she starred alongside Jason Statham and contributed two songs to the soundtrack. As her acting career took off, Nauta continued working with Kravitz but never quite managed to finish up their album. “We just never really seemed to wrap it up,” she notes. “I used to get very discouraged because my heart was always in music more than anything, and I just kept wondering, ‘Is this every really going to happen?’”

Determined to move forward with her music, Nauta connected with Kelly Winrich in 2017 and began recording some of the songs she’d gathered over the years. That determination intensified as her brother grew more ill, reaching its peak during her final FaceTime conversation with Josh in the brief spell of sobriety just before he died. “Right when I saw him I knew something was different,” Nauta says. “His eyes were brighter, he was so full of joy and life—it was like my brother was back.” Returning to Oregon to be with Josh for the last three days of his life, Nauta reconnected with Winrich several months later, and soon set to work on her debut album.

As she completed the batch of songs that would eventually comprise Love, Loss + Recovery, Nauta immersed herself in the same emotional outpouring she first experienced underneath that cherry tree back in Woodburn. “If I’m going through something hard or heavy, one of the best ways for me to process everything is to sit down at the piano,” says Nauta. “Most of these stories come from working through those feelings—just letting them all out into the song.”

Revealing Nauta’s extraordinary grace as a songwriter, Love, Loss + Recovery ultimately turns her personal pain into music with a universal resonance. “One of the most amazing things is when people come up to me after a show and tell me they feel like I was singing directly to them,” says Nauta, who’s recently opened for such artists as Mavis Staples and Anderson Paak. “And even though these are my stories I’m sharing on this album, I want everyone to feel like I’m telling their story too. I want my songs to speak to a part of their heart that feels untouched, and let them know they’re not alone in the world.”

You opened about your fertility journey. Why do you think women feel so alone during their fertility journeys? 

I remember feeling alone even though I was walking through it with my husband. I would tell him over and over that I felt like I was on an island by myself. And there are a few reasons. Firstly, the desire to be a mother and coming to grips with the reality that it may never happen is heartbreaking. Only we, as women longing to be mothers, can truly understand this feeling. There’s a sense of loss: a huge hole in your life that only that child can fill. It’s hard when everyone around you is having kids effortlessly, and you’re struggling to conceive, so we feel alone. Then there’s the physical aspect of it. It all falls on us as women. The numerous doctors’ visits, the needles, the tests, the surgeries, the waiting. Oh, the waiting. It can be very isolating. I think there’s a sense of shame wrapped up around infertility, which is why no one really talks about it and therefore feels alone. I want to change that. I have so many friends going through this, and I’m so thankful I can be a tiny light in the hardest time of their lives because I’ve experienced it myself. I am living proof that a lot of tears, prayer, and a bit of science can produce miracles. 

Now, you have a healthy baby girl named Marella. Can you tell us a bit about your birth with her?  

She’s 13 weeks now. We did our transfer almost a year ago (actually, on what would’ve been my brother’s 40th birthday, July 31st—not planned, of course, just happened to be). I was terrified about giving birth, but boy was I floored by the experience and honestly, I’d do it all over again tomorrow … all 27 hours of it!. It was so beautiful. I was induced the day before her due date, and if you’ve been induced, you know it’s a harder labour as your contractions are on top of each other. I had a godsend of a nurse that let me eat throughout the day because most nurses don’t let you eat! I hadn’t slept that entire time either, so thank God for food and ginger ale! I finally had an epidural at 19 hours. I think I could’ve kept going, but I was exhausted. It took me 19 hours to dilate to 3 cm, but I went from 5 cm to 10 cm in an hour, and she was out an hour later. Oh, the joy of seeing her for the first time! There’s nothing like it in the entire world! 

What advice would you give to women that are pregnant or that might be suffering from postpartum depression?  

Pregnancy is no joke! To grow a human inside of you is hard and a miracle at the same time. I was constantly in awe of what my body was doing. I was sooo sick the first three months. When you’re in it, you want to be out of it. When you’re out of it, you want to be in it. I can’t wait to be pregnant again! Just enjoy it as best you can, and remember to pamper yourself every now and then. 

As far as postpartum… it’s tough. I had a touch of PPD for sure. I’d cry every day around the same time with a wave of sadness that would pour over me. I felt so guilty because she’d been all I ever prayed for. I was adjusting to this new life that I thought I was prepared for, but we’re never really prepared for it. It’s so hard and exhausting. It was this sense of me gone and the loss of my life as it was before. Then as days go by, you begin to see through the fog, and you start to feel like yourself again and one day, it’s gone. You realize, wow, what was my life before she was here? Of course, there are still days where I cry right along with Marella, but it’s true what they say: it does get better. 

How has your breastfeeding journey been?  

HARD. The hardest thing I’ve ever done. I have stuck with it, but I want to tell mamas out there that are conflicted about BF and formula that’s it’s all ok, and whatever you choose to do, it’s ok! We hit some bumps in the road with Marella’s weight lately, so I’ve had to supplement some. It’s been so heavy on me. You blame yourself. Am I not enough? Am I not able to give my baby what she needs? Has she been starving? It turns out she’s a healthy little girl who loves to smile and coo and just happens to be a bird of an eater and started sleeping through the night so early (8 weeks), so she was missing those calories in the night. Sigh. Just quiet the voices around you (and inside of you) and do what’s right for you and your baby. As my GF told me, “this time is like a word on a sentence on the book of their life.” 

When do you feel most beautiful?  

When my husband tells me so and when I’m doing what I love. Music and now being a mama, I’ve never felt more beautiful. 

Lastly, who is your Mother Muse?  

My momma and my sister. 

Follow our Mother Muse Kate Nauta Here

Photographed by Sharon Schuster

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