The first time I saw Kate Sloan live, she was opening for a friend of mine. I didn’t really know what to expect, as with many artists I’m introduced to in a live setting. She got up on stage with a lil ukulele, using a shoelace looking string as a strap. When her lyrics started to flow out of her mouth, they took me by surprise. They were honest, clever, but what really blew me away was the sexual content of a few of them. As a songwriter myself, I’ve never had the confidence to sing about my sexuality. It can be a very touchy subject to perform and can be awkward for the musician or too taboo for the audience. Sharing your music on stage is like sharing your soul, but I had never been able to go that deep. She inspired me, and gave me a boost to write what I was really feeling and not worry if it was going to make other people uncomfortable. I think that’s what really drew me to not only Kate as a musician, but Kate as a person. I wanted to ask these questions to a person that I felt had confidence in different ways then I could ever imagine or hope to have.
Kate is a sex journalist, and her honesty with her readers translates to her music. It makes me wanna ask questions, get to know her and hope some of her wisdom and respect for all things will rub off on the world.
So on a surprisingly hot September afternoon, I sat down in her bedroom, and asked her these questions
Inspirational Songstress: How would you describe your music?
Kate Sloan: I’m very influenced by musical theatre, so a lot of my songs have an element of dramatic tension and plot development. I really love the witty lyrics you often hear in musical theatre, so I try to do a lot of that. I also listen to a lot of jazz, especially golden era of jazz like Sinatra, Louie Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald type of stuff. I also really love folk, indie, pop people. I listened to a lot of Regina Spektor and John Mayer when I was getting into songwriting, so I feel like all of those things bake together to form my style.
IS: How would you define confidence & what does it mean to you?
KS: I think confidence is believing that you deserve to take up space in the world, and your opinions and ideas are valid and important. I think that’s something women in particular struggle a lot with, ‘cause we’re often told that our ideas are not important and that we don’t deserve to take up space in the world. For me personally, confidence has been a struggle because I deal with social anxiety, so a lot of my day-to-day involves worrying about “How are people perceiving me? Do I look weird right now? Do people think that I’m strange?” So a lot of my confidence journey has been about learning that, first of all, most people are not paying as close attention to me as I think they are. Most people are not paying that much attention to other people in general. Also, that I can be weird and that can be fine, it doesn’t mean I’m bad.
IS: Do you feel more confident on stage or off?
KS: It really depends, ‘cause if I’m on stage, I have to feel like the people who are there are interested in listening to me. I’ve had situations where I was opening for someone else and the people there did not know who I was. In those situations, I definitely feel like I have to prove myself a little more. I have to be really really good in order to get them onboard. Generally, I think I feel more confident onstage because the adrenaline kinda kicks in and I become a more confident put-together version of myself. I notice myself making jokes at things that I might not make if I was just offstage. I also know that I’m good at what I do, not as good as some people out there, but I’m fairly confident in my musical skills. I definitely feel more confident playing a song then I would be walking down the street and feeling anxious and awkward.
IS: Where does your strength come from to share your art?
KS: So when I was like 15 I discovered this blogger, her name is Gala Darling. She writes about fashion and beauty but all from a perspective of self-love and confidence. Before I found her blog I was really insecure and negative and pessimistic, just basically a cynical teenager. Which is not something that I wanted to be. I think I took that on as a defence mechanism, ‘cause I didn’t know how to process my feelings or my insecurities. As I started reading her blog, I became more positive, ‘cause that was the attitude she held, and started working towards self-love. Ever since then I’ve always really wanted to be that for someone. I’m a blogger and a writer and I often orient my work towards, what would a younger me need? Or someone who’s reading my blog, what do they need to hear? What would be helpful for them? So I try to keep an ideal reader in mind and I do the same kind of thing with my music. I try to write something that someone might empathise with and that might make them feel less alone. So many of our feelings, they’re not unique to us, but they can feel like they’re unique to us. That’s extra isolating, ‘cause if you feel sad or angry and also feel like you’re the only one who’s ever been sad or angry in this way. I try to create something relatable ‘cause I think that’s important for people to hear.
IS: What is your first memory of feeling musically confident?
KS: I went to an arts high school and I had to do this audition, it wasn’t really an audition, it was like a skills test to determine what level of vocal class I should be put into. I played a Regina Spektor song called “Samson.” I played it on the piano and sang it. I think people were impressed that I was playing piano at the same time. Which, to me, at that stage, I was still new enough to that, that I was like “Yeah, that is impressive!” I also just really really love that song; I think it’s beautiful. That was before I was really writing songs on the piano of my own, so it was like I was borrowing a bit of Regina’s confidence and ability to make myself feel more accomplished. I remember people’s reaction to that song being really powerful and feeling awesome about that.
IS: Why did you pick this location? What about it is special to you?
KS: I can’t imagine having picked a location that isn’t my bedroom. I almost never write songs outside of my home and specifically my bedroom. I think part of that is because until very recently I lived with my family, so if I was outside of my bedroom I was in a space where someone could immediately hear me. Because of anxiety and whatever, I find it really difficult to write in that environment. A lot of my songwriting process is improvisational so I’m just trying out a bunch of different things. If I come across anything that I think works really well, then I keep that and build on it. It’s really hard to do that when people are listening, ‘cause you feel more of a pressure to make it perfect the first time, which is never how it works. In terms of musical confidence, it always starts in my bedroom. Then once I’ve practiced enough there, then I can take it out into other places and maybe eventually a stage. It’s built first and foremost in my bedroom. Which is a double meaning ‘cause so many of my songs are about sex. Haha.
IS: What’s your biggest battle in keeping the confidence and to keep it growing?
KS: I think something I struggle with a lot is the notion that if I’m not sexually desirable to men, that I’m not worthy as a human. That I’m not good or interesting. Which is a culturally instilled fear but also something that’s important to me, because sex is important to me, relationships are important to me. That’s definitely something I’m trying to unlearn ‘cause I think some of the most powerful musicians and artists, especially women, are the most powerful at moments when they’re not trying to be attractive. When they’re being scary and weird. I think women in particular need permission to be scary and weird and unattractive, and there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s that famous quote where, Amy Poehler did something gross on SNL and Jimmy Fallon joked and was like “I don’t like that!” and Amy was like “I don’t fucking care if you like it!” I’m trying to work all the time on the idea of, I don’t have to impress men. Maybe if I don’t try so hard to impress them, then I’ll impress them in a different way.
IS: When you’re performing, what makes you feel most powerful?
KS: I think clothing and makeup are big things for me. It’s taken me a long time to get to a point where I was comfortable with that because again, culturally we’re told those are superficial trappings that mean that you’re shallow and are ultimately unimportant. I think that there’s something powerful about dressing up exactly how you want to and doing your face exactly how you want to, and really presenting yourself how you want to be perceived. It’s almost like casting a magic spell, it feels very witchy to me in a way. I also, at this point, really enjoy playing songs that I’ve written that are about sex. In part ‘cause that’s my wheelhouse as a writer, I’m a sex journalist and I’m very comfortable writing about that subject matter. There was a time when I was really nervous about playing songs about sex, because it’s one thing to do sex journalism and report on certain aspects of sexuality very objectively; it’s another thing to share this song like “Here’s this really hurtful or important thing that happened to me in my sex life.” Especially if there’s family there. I used to make up fake lyrics and stuff so I could practice in front of my family without feeling weird about it. Now I feel like my sexuality is a core of where my power and confidence comes from. So I really enjoy playing songs about that. Because I feel that not only does it make me feel more confident but I also feel like it’s very arresting or disarming for people to hear that subject matter, ‘cause we don’t often hear it. So that makes me feel very powerful.
IS: Who is your female inspiration? Musician or not.
KS: There’s a writer, her name is Alexandra Franzen, she’s a ghostwriter and a copywriter, but her whole thing is she likes to be what she calls a “daymaker.” So her whole objective is to make people’s day, and to make people’s day a little bit brighter. She’s very much about like, why add more negativity to the world if you don’t have to? Which I think is really nice. Obviously there are times where negativity is warranted, there are a lot of things that you can validly complain about and be angry about. She’s more about focusing on the positive and amplifying people who are doing good work and not focusing so much on negative stuff that you can’t change. So I really like her whole message. Also she’s a really good writer, I really admire women writers. I think there’s so much bravery involved in being a woman and being bold enough to be like, “Yeah, my words and ideas matter!” Because we’re told all the time that men dominate the bestseller lists and the high-up portions of every field. So I think it’s brave for women to be like “Well I’m important too.”
IS: What has been your biggest personal confidence setback? Did it help or hurt your music?
KS: I think my biggest setback for my confidence has always been unrequited love situations, which have happened to me a lot. I don’t think that’s necessarily unique, I think everybody goes through that. Most recently, I have a friend, who I’ve been friends with for two years. For a year of that time I was head over heels in love with him and he did not return my feelings, but still wanted to be my friend and still wanted to have sex with me. So that was really really hard because I just kept coming back to the question of like “Why doesn’t he love me? What’s wrong with me?” I would see him pursuing other women and I would be like “Why them and not me?” It really decimated my confidence, which unrequited love always does. In the past I’ve often been able to be like “Well he’s not attracted to me because I’m just not his type.” That’s fine, and you can’t control who you are and are not attracted to, and I know that. But this one in particular for some reason I was just like, “But why doesn’t he love me? We’re clearly meant to be together! I don’t understand.” So I spent a year doing that. It really affected my dating life in the sense that I wasn’t confident and was really distracted. It’s really hard to commit to new people when you’re really super in love with someone else who doesn’t want you. Which definitely affected my music as well ‘cause all my songs were mopey and “Why doesn’t he love me?” Which I actually think those are my favorite songs of mine, ‘cause they’re cathartic to listen to. I’ve had a lot of people write to me and say “Those songs helped me through a hard time. Made me feel not alone.” So I think it was really good for me creatively, but I don’t wanna do that again. Haha. It was really hard. I think I needed to go through it to understand some things that I needed for my art, but yeah, yikes. It took me a while to bounce back from that.
IS: It’s so much fun to suffer for your art. Haha
IS: What do you think is the most important thing to remember as a female musician?
KS: I think it’s just important to remember that your experiences are valid and important. There’s a trope in writing, more generally, that when a woman writes about her life and her experiences it’s self-indulgent and overly personal. When a man does it, he’s writing about the human experience and it’s relatable and important. I think that comes from cultural misogyny, and there’s so many women out there who feel alone because we’re presented with a certain image of what a woman should look like. We’re told that being pretty and desirable and a “good woman” should be easy and effortless and it’s not. We’re not supposed to talk about all the effort we put into performing femininity properly. Women’s experiences are really important and we’re not a niche group, we’re a huge group of people who have been through a lot. I really admire any woman who’s really brave enough to talk about what she goes through as a woman in any medium. I think it’s super important that they continue to do that.
IS: If you could go back to a time where you felt taken back by whatever obstacle, what would you tell yourself knowing what you know now?
KS: It’s hard ‘cause I feel like often the advice that we need to hear when we’re going through something hard is advice that, if we did hear it, we would ignore it. We’d be like “No, that’s not true.” For example, I often wish I could go back to myself a year ago and be like “You know that dude that you’re in love with? He’s not actually the only person out there for you. There are way more amazing dudes out there!” Because that’s true, but also everybody in my life was telling me that at that time. I was like “No, you don’t understand. He’s the only one I want.” I don’t know how useful it would be, ‘cause I don’t think I’d listen. I think something that I needed to hear that maybe people in my life were not telling me so much was, even if you don’t get him to fall in love with you and even if you don’t get anyone to fall in love with you, you’re still a good person and you can still have a great life. You can still do amazing work, you can still change people’s lives, and lift people up. You can still have love in your life, even if it’s not romantic, and that can still be very fulfilling. I think I tend to externalize all my hope into romantic relationships, which is really silly and I’m trying to work on that. I tend to just catastrophize that if something bad happens in the romantic part of my life, that my life is worthless and there’s no point in continuing. But no, there’s so much other good stuff going on, and that’s usually when I turn to my art and I find art is just as fulfilling, if not moreso, as relationships. My ukulele will never break up with me!
IS: Or leave you, you might break a string once in a while.
KS: I can just go buy another one, it’s fine. Haha
IS: Do you have a message you hope to send to people who see you live or listen to your recordings?
KS: In my work as a sex writer I really try to emphasize the message of sex-positivity. Which to me means that, whatever weird thing you’re into, as long as you’re doing it safely and consensually, it’s fine. You’re not broken, you’re not a pervert, unless you enjoying using that word to describe yourself. I think I try to do that with my music as well, especially as I get more into writing about kink. I think sexual liberation, it might seem like a small issue compared to a lot of other issues, but I think when you manage to take away the aspect of sexual shame, it really frees up a lot of emotional energy for other things. If you go through life feeling ashamed of this very deep core part of yourself that you can’t really change, it really limits your ability to love yourself and love other people and feel comfortable in your own skin. I think it’s really important to eradicate sexual shame to the extent that we’re able to.
IS: What’s your advice for other women, young or old, who struggle with confidence?
KS: I think for me it’s been helpful to try to change my images of what an attractive, confident woman looks like. For me that’s taken the form of needing to spend less time reading magazines, watching TV, watching Hollywood movies, and more time looking at random women’s Tumblr blogs, Instagram feeds and stuff. I don’t like to use the phrase “real women” because models and actresses are still real women. But, I’ve needed to spend a lot of time looking at images of women whose bodies more resemble mine, and who I still think are attractive. To remind myself that I can still be hot even if I don’t look like Jennifer Lopez or whoever. Specifically for women who are interested in men romantically, but really for all women, I think we all need to work on unlearning our reliance on men for emotional validation. There are some great men out there but, if you’re waiting for some man to come along and tell you “You have value and you’re important and you’re worthy of love,” you might be waiting for a while. You need to be able to give those things to yourself. I think it’s also really important to cultivate strong friendships with other women and non-binary people, basically anyone who’s not a cis man. I mean, you can have friends who are cis men too, but I have found it really important to make friendships with people who understand my experience of having been socialized as a woman. Those friendships have definitely improved my confidence because they’ve taught me if I’m feeling scared or insecure about something it’s usually valid, and it’s not ‘cause I’m broken or doing something wrong.