Interview with Musician Heather Schmid About New Album Transformations

 

Heather Schmid is a classically trained opera singer who has worked around the globe as not only a singer but also a television host, philanthropist and spokesperson. She recently released a new album, called Transformations, that serves a beautiful reflection on the last three years of her spent touring Pakistan.

“The songs highlight the heart-stopping experiences, true grace, life, death, and humanity as she promoted world unity throughout Pakistan.  The lyrics on the album were written by Pakistani legend Anwaar Magsood and the melody by Ashaad Mehmood.  Phelay Hum Pakistani Hay fused the American pop rhythms with Pakistani regional instruments and local musician melodies.  … Heather is a new-breed, millennial performer. Within our extant global community, Heather envisions her music as the bridge that can span cultural differences and connect people in their over-arching sameness.”

Heather shares more in our interview:

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What does Transformation mean to you?
Transformation to me equals change so dramatic that you are never again the same. I think of Life never being the the same after a transformation. To me, transformation is growth. That’s why I named this album Transformations. After the past three years, I was transformed. I will never be the same person. I am changed forever because of dramatically positive and dramatically difficult struggles that I faced and I hope I am strong and better because of it. 
How did you come to spend the past 3 years in Pakistan?
When I was a sophomore at Boston University as a music student, I went to Kenmore Square to learn how to meditate in a hotel conference room. As it turns out, on this night there was only one other person who also wanted to learn how to meditate. That was Rafay, and he was originally from Pakistan. Rafay and I are soul mates that traveled thousands of miles together and plan to travel thousands more. We were married in Pakistan among all of our relatives and I have traveled there ever since. Three years ago we decided to create a Unity Project in Pakistan to talk about Unity and celebrate the positive aspects of the nation. It was our hope to reignite a peaceful dialogue between our two nations. 
Amazing! What is one stand out experience in Pakistan that has affected you?
There were moments in Pakistan that were quite harrowing, but that is never what I focus on. I remember the deeply rewarding positive interactions with everyday Pakistanis. Finishing the Unity song, performing in Pakistan, meeting and hearing the positive responses to the music is the greatest, most rewarding thing of my music career. 
After the Unity song was released and become popular on the radio, TV and social media, I started to hear from people on the streets of Pakistan. Many talked about how the song was meaningful to them and how much it meant that in the middle of such negative press about their country, this was something that they could feel proud of. I was in a hotel lobby when a few medical school students eloquently expressed their reaction to the song. They detailed their feelings of despair with the current environment in Pakistan, how dangerous it was because of terrorism. Students credited the song with helping to ease their feelings of helplessness and shame. 
What global issues are of most concern for you personally? 
Access to Education is a very important issue to me.  I mean… I can’t solve the world’s problems but I can help with education. In Pakistan, I see firsthand how lack of education perpetuates poverty. Kids that cannot read street signs are taken advantage of. Parents without enough education take their children out of school to help feed the family. Education is a pathway for a better life for generations. Even for me, educated myself about the cycle of poverty provides a much deeper understanding and hopefully keeps me from perpetuating subconscious biases. But nobody want to hear from a singer how she “educated myself out of my biases” blah blah blah… I was never the popular girl I will tell you that!
You were educated in music through Boston University. How has your classical training at BU influenced your career? 
Classical Training means freedom and autonomy to me. I never had to rely on a producer to arrange a track for me. I could read music, write and arrange parts and open up pro-tools session and do it myself. If I had a great musical idea, I could write it down and arrange the parts mentally and sketch out the idea to see if it was any good. 
I could sing any style of music because I had the classical training which provides a solid foundation vocally. I have the range to sing any part because I trained my voice for so long. I never had to wait for a song to come along that I could sing on. I never had to beg a producer to work with me. As an artist, when inspiration strikes, you want to be able to fulfill your musical vision. That is all possible with my classical training. 
In China I learned and wrote music in Mandarin because of the language learning in opera school. When I was asked to perform and sing with an orchestra, we spoke the same language. Rhythms, beats, measures and notes was our universal language. 
The other thing is, I own all of my own music. If I could not write, produce and arrange, which I learned from my classical training, I would be at the mercy of the owner of the tracks. 
You also had a TV show in China, right? How does your TV show influence or tie in with your work as a musician? 
The Ambassador was a show on CCTV in China. It followed my live shows, meeting locals, exploring the fun local tourist spots, also the charity that each show benefited. It was so friggin’ cool. I loved every minute of my touring life in China. It was basically a travel show, combined with a reality show, combined with my life as a touring artist. I learned how, as the only American in a region, you become a Music Diplomat almost by accident. It definitely seemed like local people were judging my actions to form their opinions about all Americans. I learned I better watch what I say! I definitely learned about music diplomacy through this show. It is what influenced The Unity Project in Pakistan. 
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What is your favorite song off Transformations?
Journey. That cello line seduced me. I am the snake with swirls in my eyes slowly uncoiling from the charmer’s wicker basket with that cello line. I’m done. The lyrics are brutally honest. I feel my own relentless anxiety fade away into peace through that song. It’s like a therapy session. Then I go back into my wicker basket and say “what just happened?” 
What is the process of working with Anwaar Maqsood and Ashaad Mehmood on these songs?
Working with Anwaar Maqsood and Ashaad Mehmood was like being in the presence of greatness and just trying to soak it all in. They call Anwaar Maqsood the Shakespeare of Pakistan because he is such a legend. He is brilliant and smart and hilarious all at the same time. He has produced TV shows, songs, movie scripts, poetry for more than 40 years in Pakistan the whole time poking fun of the government  in a smart articulate way.
It is no easy task to be an artist in Pakistan.  There is virtually no support for artists in the nation. In a country with a history of martial law, military takeovers, widespread corruption, and terrorism; artists struggle on every level. Their forward-thinking mindset is welcome and persecuted at the same time. How can anyone think of inspiring, articulate, creative phrasing when they are worried about road closures and whether their family is safe? Ashaad Mehmood runs the only Cultural Arts School in the whole country. The stories they told as artists in Pakistan were inspirational, difficult to hear, and deeply moving all at the same time. 
So powerful! What do you hope listeners will take away from the album?
Transformations is about connection … higher connection, universal connection, ancestral connection, spiritual connection. I hope the words, struggles and resolutions are universal. It is what helped me recover from failure, struggle and disappointment. I hope we make a connection through the music. 
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WhimSea! And Kat Robichaud’s Misfit Cabaret Album on Kickstarter

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Last week I went to a beautiful performance at The Great Star Theater, my favorite theater, to see Kat Robichaud and the Misfit Cabaret. I loved every moment of the Thursday night Whim-Sea show, and it was my intention to do a post at the time to let more people to know that they must go see it that weekend before it closed. Good intentions, and all that … all I managed to do was get a few social media posts up hoping to send people to check it out, and to share the photos that I took with a reviewer from SFist. But it’s not too late to share, because the two original songs that Kat performed were my two favorites of the night and they are going to be available on her next album, which is in Kickstarter funding right now. So, let me tell you a little about the show and then some more about the Kickstarter.

WhimSea

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Whimsea was a cabaret performance inspired by the sea so it was filled with mermaids, modern sea shanties and references to underwater-related things from olden times to pop culture. The whole thing was hosted by Kat who was the undeniable star of the show but gave great stage space to a variety of other performers.

(If you’re asking yourself is it that Kat Robichaud, yes, of course it is her because there could be no other. She did perform on The Voice where she did a great job but it’s really much, much more of a joy to see her up close and personal where she’s doing creative stage work in a way that seems so much more authentic to who she is. Not that I know her, but that’s the sense I get from watching her perform.)

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From Kat’s Instagram

In any case, I absolutely agree with Joe over at SFist when he writes,  “Her act seamlessly fuses the jazz chanteuse and screwball comedy genres that have no business working so well together.” And I agree with the two star acts he named – Carnie Asada is endlessly hilarious and Frankie Fictitious is stunningly beautiful – but I disagree with his assessment that the other variety acts were somehow not up to par. The music from Rabbit Quinn and Justin Seagrave couldn’t be more different from each other and yet somehow they worked in the same performance, separated by various acts, loosely hanging together with a theme of the sea, each lending their individual musicianship to the overall perfect ebb and flow of the night.

carnie asada

But, as I said before, Kat is really the star of the show. Her voice is amazing, and it’s not just that, it’s that she is a true performance artist. She’s funny and charming and sassy and her costume changes are fabulous (plus she supports local artists and costume designers with them). She created two new original songs for the show, both of which I fell in love with. One is in honor of David Bowie, and it has the perfect tune and lyrics to exactly express why he should be honored. The other is The Last Waltz of The Wrights, which was amazing not just for the song but for the Whimsea stage performance in which two dancers dramatically perform a rock waltz about a romantic murder-suicide. It gave me chills.

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From Kickstarter

I loved it. I love everything about Kat and her Misfits and I love everything about Great Star Theater, where they will be performing again in October for a two night show called A Very Bloody Misfit Cabaret.

Kickstart the Album

And as I mentioned, the two original Whimsea songs that I loved are going to be on an upcoming album currently on Kickstarter. It includes eight other songs from different performances. I was only able to pledge a small amount to get the music and some small bonuses but there are some awesome artistic and performance prizes at the higher donation levels … and I happen to know firsthand from my own crowdsourced funding, first through Indiegogo for Hook to Heal and now through Patreon for ongoing work, that even the smallest amount you are able to donate is truly helpful to individual artists in getting their work out there. Support amazing creative work!

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Bang Bang. Photo and Music I Like

bang bang

I saw this graffiti when I happened to wander down a dead end alley in a slightly sketchy area near my house. I’m sure that there’s a sinister meaning behind it but as soon as I saw it I wanted to take a picture with the words Bang Bang. That’s because there are a couple of songs that I adore that have that same phrase in them.

The first is a Christina Perri song that’s actually called Bang Bang Bang. I really enjoy her whole Lovestrong album. There are some great metaphors in her lyrics and a lot of terrific emotion. This is one of the more fast-paced songs but there’s something about me that gets a kick out of it:

The other song that immediately came to mind was the Gatsby song by Will.I.Am:

And then, after thinking for awhile about what other songs had Bang Bang in them, I was also reminded of Cher’s Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down) which I also love:

I also ended up doing a search on Spotify and found a few more Bang Bang songs I really like:

I think there’s just a part of me that’s always wanted to be a cowgirl with a holster and an attitude and these songs trigger that. :)

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Music Art at Yoshis on Fillmore

yoshis san francisco

I’ve lived in San Francisco for more than seven years and I’ve lived near the Fillmore Jazz District for almost three years but for some reason I didn’t ever make it to the famous Yoshi’s restaurant and jazz club until really recently. I swear there are just so many places to see in San Francisco that there are always ones I miss out on for awhile even though I stay pretty active!

yoshis san francisco

In any case, I actually still haven’t seen a show at Yoshi’s but I did go have dinner there (which you might have noticed in my post a few days ago on recent SF eats) and I checked out the art exhibit in the lobby which is about Sonny Buxton. Buxton is a local jazz radio personality and important member of the jazz community. He’s worked with many big jazz artists and was recently the recipient of the 2013 Jazz Hero award.

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In addition to the Buxton photo exhibit there are some other music related art items on display in the lobby of the restaurant / club.music art

art

That piece of colorful musical art was one of my favorite pieces in the exhibit area!

 

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Maybe I Want an MP3 Sports Player

I am one of the only people that I know who doesn’t own an mp3 player. Maybe music just isn’t as important to me as it is to other people. Or perhaps the fact that I don’t commute to and from work makes it so that I don’t need the distraction of a music-playing device as much as the average person does.

The reality of my life seems to be that when I’m home I’m typically busy with work and other things so I don’t listen to music much there. If I want to have music on in the background, I just set it up on my laptop. And when I’m going somewhere, I usually want to be aware of where I’m walking and what I’m doing so I don’t seek out the distraction of a music player.

Nevertheless there are some times when I think a music player would be nice. When I’m working out is a great example. I would love the distraction of music when hiking up some of our bigger hills here in San Francisco or when doing basic stretching exercises at home.

Because of this I think that maybe mp3 sports players are the way to go if I do decide to get a music-playing device. These are designed specifically to be lightweight and durable for use during exercise. They even have functions designed to assist you with your workout goals. I’m not one hundred percent sure that this is a purchase I want to make but I’m fairly certain that this is what I’ll look at if I do decide to get a music player.

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