Today we’ve had an opportunity to interview Tara Kye, and it was one of the most inspiring interviews so far. I warmly suggest you to read and listen to her music.
At the age of 24, whe was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma stage 2B, moving quacking into stage 3. Life had been irreversibly altered. 25 years later, John Dean bought an 1878 Steinway Grand Pano and said we should write a song about how we first met and try to raise some money for Cancer Research….
Molten metal was born. A celebration of life, triumphantly conquering all odds. That was the start, then John Dean and Tara Collaboratively wrote 17 songs together in total as of today’s date including “Put Your Phone Down”, “You Only Live Once, Let’s Get Away!”, “Let’s Go! Let’s Go! Let’s Go!”, “Rise”, “Where is that Man”, and the dog song “Do the Wag”…. Read more here:
Lisa: Hello Tara! Your collaboration with your friend John Dean seems to be the fusion behind your work that is giving the best results. Please tell me more about that.
Tara: John Dean is an amazing musician, producer, writer, and friend. I am grateful to have worked with him for 25 years. We met when I bought a Roland RD500 electronic piano at a music store he was working for at the time. I had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Stage 2B, moving into stage 3 quickly, my wedding was cancelled so my parents bought me an electric piano to learn to play while I was doing my one year of chemotherapy. Back in 1994 the treatments were not as sophisticated as they are now, I participated in a clinical trial and I am grateful for the care that I received from the BC Cancer Foundation, Dr Murphy, and all the amazing programs and staff, they saved my life. I had wanted to be trained in Classical Piano and Rock Piano, so John Dean became my piano teacher. However, the chemotherapy ran its toll on me, the veins in my arms started collapsing and my nerves just plain old were not working, the pain was real and vein pain is not relieved by aspirin. So, practicing became excruciatingly painful. I was devastated. My dream to learn to play the piano and the time to do it was ruined by my illness. John Dean was so supportive, he suggested if I needed to just hear the piano to heal that maybe doing some arpeggios with some of the Roland’s soothing sound selections might provide me the relaxation that I needed to heal. So, John started creating music patterns for me to learn to arpeggiate and do finger exercises like hannon to try to regain some dexterity of my fingers. John was patient with me and kind for which I am grateful. One night the pain was so unreal, I put my headphones on tears streaming down my face and arpeggiated madly into the night, the pain went away the music filled me with endorphins which overrode my pain, so then I went back to sleep. Then whenever the pain became too much, I would simply play piano arpeggios. I never really learned to play the piano, but it healed me. One day I heard on the radio, Courtney Love’s song Violet by Hole, I said John if she can sing so can I. So, I signed up for vocal coaching. My first vocal coach was not well suited to me in my healing from Chemo, so I found another coach, Gary Zellers a local tenor who used to back up Joan Sutherland when she toured to Vancouver, BC. Gary Zellers was extremely kind and patient with my healing, he taught me how to use my “natural voice” and all kinds of neat vocal techniques like trills, thrills, rolled r’s, harmonies, and stage whispers. He taught me to back off my diaphragms, being that I had played saxophone before learning to sing, I would “overdrive” my vocal cords creating a bad tone. I continued working on piano with John. John and I worked together off and on for 25 years, when I came back in 2013 and said, I really want to record that album, “it is my life’s dream”. So, we got to work. John had bought a Steinway, he sat down and started playing, I said wow! I love the deep dark voice of that piano!!! It sounds so sinister and beautiful!!! John said we should write a song about how we first met 25 years ago and donate the proceeds to the cancer clinic in honor of the life you now have. So, we did. Molten Metal was born. The song, we wrote and rewrote until we felt it was perfect. It was our first work of art together. We learned it is ok to throw out and restart. The Chorus we rewrote and by accident the old chorus was playing on a playback, so we decided to fade the old chorus in and out at the end of the song. The video played by an actress, was to portray and convey how I felt about the diagnosis, the blackness of the tears and fears washing over me stopping in the middle of nowhere and balling my eyes out. I play my mom in always being right there behind me. Obviously, I had my whole family my dad, parents, siblings, friends behind me but I could only choose to play one role in the video to be the guiding light or guardian angel. That one song, fueled us into the next one and the next one.
Lisa: Growing up, how important was music in your life? Can you recall the moment when you decided that you wanted to be a musician? Was it an easy or difficult choice to make?
Tara: Music was always a part of my life growing up. I loved music!
My Dad’s mom, Grandma, used to play dress up with me and we would go to see Musicals, Opera and the Ballet. I tried Ballet but found I had two left feet and got all tied up, but I loved to sing. Shirley Temple was my favorite!
My first real love of music was the movie Grease, which we saw at a drive-in theatre. I was hooked! I wanted to become Sandy. I was about eight, so my parents bought me a red satin jacket and red satin pants, it was my favorite play time to sing along and pretend I was the singer. My sister and I would watch rock videos, jumping on the couches playing air pillow guitars and lip syncing. My sister Candace was going to play the guitar like Nancy Wilson and I was just going to be Anne Wilson from Heart. Then came Darby Mills, oh! Did I ever love to sing at full volume turn it Loud! Much to my parents dismay!!! Grammy, mom’s mom, would just watch us with that secret smile. If Grammy had enough, she would tell us to go practice having our photos taken in front of the mirror, so we got prepared for all our press.
I begged my parents to buy me a piano, but we lived in a townhouse, so they said we didn’t have room for a piano, so I learned to play the clarinet and then the saxophone. I joined jazz band, jazz choir and had private saxophone lessons as a kid.
Oh, how I longed for a piano.
But the saxophone was portable.
Whenever I would feel frustrated with my life, and with communicating with people, I would turn to my saxophone and play for hours or take my dog walking. A brilliant student, straight A’s I was your solid “nerd”, hated by many not because I was not kind but just rather my skills were never in socializing, rather in creating, designing, dreaming, innovating in music and in sciences.
When I was 14, my dad told me to just go play my saxophone on a rock while we were anchored in a beautiful cove on our family sailboat. I said but Dad, I do not know what to play and there is no music stand on the rock! Dad said just go play, I want to hear what you have learned in your music lessons. I said but dad I cannot take my music out there. He said just make it up, I said but it won’t be a song, he said I will never know but I’d love to hear you play. So, I rowed my boat to the shore and improvised. Dad taught me to create.
In the same year, my 10 th grade science teacher arranged for me to go have a tour of UBC, he felt I would be an excellent geneticist/biochemist discovering new novel chemistries and treatment options because I was very creative, intuitive and a natural with numerical equations. He arranged for me to meet Dr Tom Grigliatti at UBC and he showed me all the Drosophila labs, I was hooked, this is what I wanted to do so I worked hard at my studies and earned my Double Major from UBC as a Biochemist and Geneticist.
All the while in high school playing my saxophone to ease my frustrations of my nerdiness, unfortunately, I didn’t have time to play in university as I had to work my way through to pay my tuition and living expenses. Then I became sick. The oncology team counselled me to find what I had lost, so I said I always wanted to be a Rockstar, like Sarah Brightman, Sarah MadLaughlin, Darby Mills, Joan Jett, Annie Lenox, Cindy Lauper, Blondie, Gwen Steffani, Anne Wilson, and Olivia Newton John!
Lisa: Being classically trained in opera, what are some challenges and what are the advantages in creating and performing pop music, or other genres your music is influenced by?
Tara: Being Classically trained in opera has been a challenge to create pop music because as a lyrical soprano all you want to do is enjoy hitting the high notes which may or may not be what a listener wants to hear….
John Dean is an exceptionally talented and patient co-writer, recorder, producer, and audio engineer. We have learned our own language of describing what we want to create. John calls my saxophone overdrive voice “Miss Piggy”, we giggle and laugh, and I adjust my style to be more pleasant.
Because I learned saxophone, I learned some interesting tricks such as vocal growls, controlled “rasp”iness, bends, and throaty qualities which are used in our songs in sparing ways. These techniques are not vocal techniques, and some critics judge them harshly, I do not care it is who I am and who I am meant to be.
Recently, I lost a music promotions coach, he said I could not sing and so he fired me which is fine I will never be good enough for him and that attitude does not inspire me creatively. I did listen to his suggestions and reinstated a regular vocal rehearsal schedule, but I couldn’t make him like me or be happy with me, although I listened to him and implemented what he wanted to see, we couldn’t communicate due to my social inadequacies for which I specifically asked him to help me with, so we parted ways. Yes, it hurt. Yes, I did cry…. But that’s life.
Vocally, I have many different challenges which I consider to be my greatest assets and strengths. John Dean is always there for me pushing me to do better. I am determined so I just continue to rehearse, write, record, and get better. It is my passion and my love for music which I am addicted to, but also of the story we are creating in the song.
Some of our absolute best lyricists are not the greatest vocalists but we still love listening to them. Voice is like wine, it is personal, either you like it, or you do not.
But nobody sounds good singing if you are afraid to sing, you must just say, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn” (Clark Gable in Gone with the Wind – 1939) and on goes the show. On a side note, I was named after the house of Tara
Opera training liberated in me a creative curiosity to dabble in many different styles of singing. John is good at saying no, not like that try this instead, so I am grateful for John’s taming of my style. John, he is the cool one, I am just the nerd.
Lisa: You’ve had a serious health crisis and beaten the illness. How has music helped you through this period?
Tara: Music healed and continues to heal me. Gratefully, I am 25 years clear of cancer now however, I have some lifelong challenges which continue to plague me but that is ok because I am still here, and tomorrow will be better.
An example of some lifelong side effects is not being able to have children, lymphedema and collapsing veins, both of which are most effectively controlled with sleep, diet, and exercise. I try to be disciplined, but I am human, and I do love some of the bad things I am not supposed to have, especially chocolate! Grateful for Blueberries, Strawberries, Cheerios, and milk which is still my go to if I do not feel well, it was my daily breakfast during chemotherapy.
Hair, I am so grateful to have hair, I never have a bad hair day anymore.
So, when my vein pain gets me which it still does, I play arpeggios on the piano, saxophone and sing until the pain goes away. I never give up even if I must hit the music hard for a few hours before I get relief from the pain.
The songs have also healed my soul. When I cannot process how I feel, I will write lyrics. Therefore, we wrote “You only Live Once Let’s Get Away” for losing my Auntie Christine to cancer. She fought right up until her last breath, she wanted to live so badly, however, she wanted to be remembered for the love, laughter, and zest she had for life…. so…. I initially wrote the lyrics, and I sang it very sadly, we left it for that night, and I bawled behind the wheel driving home. I talked to my Grandma, she said it is a beautiful song but honey, Christine, wants to be remembered with a smile. Then the next session John said we need you to sound happy when you are singing this song. You need to sell it. I was trying to capture that extremely intense love you feel when you know any moment might be the last time you see your loved one. When I would visit Christine in Kelowna, I would stay at the Grand Hotel, not because I could afford it because I couldn’t afford it, I just decided it was a worthwhile investment to see my aunt’s smile at the pool with her son and granddaughter, the beautiful dinner and she said “this is so awesome! I feel like I am in a grand resort on a tropical vacation”. One of the last visits I had with my auntie she said to me “you must enjoy your life while you still can get away on a holiday” The message is that today is a present, enjoy your life and your love right now because tomorrow is not guaranteed but today is a love and kindness. I made mistakes, I didn’t spend enough time with my cousins as they were growing up, I was too focused on my bad romantic relationships, so I am grateful that now and then I get a chance to visit with my family. Family is love. Love is life. Sometimes friendships become family. John he is my brother.
Lisa: How would you describe the music that you typically create?
Tara: Every song tells a story. I write from an experience which inspires me to write either because I want to share the joy, share a tale, inspire somebody else to have more courage, and sometimes my communication inadequacies need to be worked out through song therapy.
Let’s Go! Let’s Go! Let’s Go! Was written when I was riding my motorcycle with friends and they said to me “Let’s Go! Let’s Go! Let’s Go” I thought perfect! I am going to write a song about this experience! Then I asked John to do a piano solo, he says well this song does not suit it you need a guitar, I said no, I want the solo to sound like you are spinning your wheels then you kick down a gear for more power. I said you know like that piano piece the Dance of the Sabre Toothed Tiger. John says I need to tune my piano. I said ok. So, the solo was created. I also wanted a Kate Bush inspired vocal solo which led into the piano solo.
I never know when inspiration is going to hit, but when it does it is amazing.
Or I was wearing my glasses in Las Vegas, and I thought “gangsters where Gucci now” which became Beautiful Gangsters, a song meant to describe to our youths of today that crime only makes you somebody else’s slave. I wrote that spoken vocal piece in five minutes.
Then there was that time that my friend Walter (Azul) Liberty was visiting me. I was telling him about the stresses of the day. He looked at me handed me a glass of wine, dropped me a beat, and said go play with your dogs. Do the Wag was born. I edited that play time into the song. Then I asked John if he would play the squeaky toy as percussion, so John sampled the squeaky toy and then after he was finished, he said “I forgot to ask, did you clean that before I played it?” of course I said no, so he threw the toy at me. We were laughing hysterically.
Lisa: Do you get creative blocks? If so, what do you do to move past them?
Tara: Yes, of course! Everybody does. I take a “break”. Change is as good as a rest. Sometimes it is 15 mins, 30 mins, a day, two days whatever I have time for.
My breaks include: changing instruments, dog walking, playing with dogs, swimming, motorcycle riding, water or downhill skiing, cooking, reading and writing cooking recipes, soil sampling (which I really love because I love the way the soil smells), reading biochemical and genetics textbooks, deriving equations from laboratory data collected from fields, visiting friends and family.
I never know which break I need or have time for, I just enjoy the break then get back to work, sometimes my work is my break.
I am also an agriculture consultant trained in biochemistry and genetics, so it’s not uncommon for me to be in the middle of rehearsal at home, then get inspired about a solution to a problem for which no solution previously existed, then to go and derive a new equation, create a new hypothesis to test in field studies next year, look for trends to determine better nutrient management to optimize agriculture crops yield, growth and sustainability. Because I grew up in a financially challenged divorce situation, I learned to be frugal and to reuse, so I try to incorporate into my agriculture programs sustainably recycled many other beneficially wasted materials to be used)
A sense of humor. Laughter is the best medicine. A five-minute belly laughing session is more healing and stress relieving than anything else I have ever experienced. I never take myself so seriously as to not make a joke about a past or present foible.
Lisa: You’re latest single “Become the Phoenix” is awesome. What inspired you to write it? Is there a story behind it?
Tara:It’s a real life story. I was told I needed voice lessons so I dived back into daily opera training rehearsals.
I have been a key witness in a legal battle defending my farmers from a chemical spray which was sprayed on their fields prior to fruit forming but exceptionally crop damaging. I was warned to walk away that the people who made the mistake were very powerful and that they had ways to destroy me personally so I would not be a witness for my farmers, that paying somebody to make me look “crazy”, or “bankrupt me” or “kill me” was cheaper and more likely than them paying my farmers for the damage that they created. I found this hard to believe and I laughed saying they’re a big corporation, why on earth would they want to hurt me to avoid paying the farmers for their mistake? Well I was wrong and so I wrote a song.
My Harley Davidson Motorcycle was sabotaged, the friends of the person who sabotaged my bike, admitted to me accidentally “well the oil leak was only supposed to make you slip and scare you at slow speed”. However, what had happened was that the oil leak ignited on my hot engine when the clutch went, so my bike caught on fire while I was riding it on the freeway. It was hot, so I looked down and flames were climbing up my leg, so I eased off the throttle and let the bike fall in the slow lane of the freeway. When the bike fell the fuel shut off automatically, so the fire went out. I jumped to my feet grabbed the handlebars and seat facing the bike and dead lifted the bike up. I was lucky that a lady had stopped to help me. She stopped me from pushing the bike right over and whispered… kick stand. The man that had stopped was watching us, he just said, I think you ladies have this handled and so he left.
A couple weeks earlier, I was leaving a farm field and I drove past a parked car, I caught the glimmer of a gun, floored the gas and evaded the bullets that I could hear and see behind me as my truck hit 100kph on a back farming road. I never stopped to call 911 or the police. I just hit the gas.
After my bike incident, I had a car try to run me off the road. They started following me then tried to side swipe me into the meridian of the freeway. When we stopped there was no damage on my truck but a scratch on my running board, which had opened car doors of the BMW SUV like a can opener. I guess her SUV Had a few minutes to ride on my running board, she saw I had no damage and I saw the really intimidating looking man in her vehicle. She got back into her car, floored it and I never saw them again.
I said to John I am going through this…. He said that sounds “nuts”. I said I know right? So, we wrote the song. Originally it was going to be a hip-hop gangster dance cross over. But then I was watching Mama Mia one night and I said, John I want Abba vocal harmonies. He said well that’s gonna change the style of the song, I said ok, let’s make it a Latin Dance Vibe. So, I got busy and emailed John a bunch of youtube latin dance videos, John changed the groove.
Then as we were recording the back up vocals, John said, he can you do that stage whisper for the back up harmonies to make it sound more softer? I said ok. So, we recorded “stage whispered” vocal harmonies in three parts. Then John said, ok, now we have the vocals recorded. I am going to polish them and edit them, then I will record the rest of the instruments. I said ok, he then sent me a track of the vocals, and I said John, you are right there isn’t really any room for instruments, I love what you did let’s release it just clean. So, John mixed, edited and sent me the track.
John’s vision for the stage whispered vocal harmonies is a cool effect. No synthesizers were used to get that whispery sound, that is my voice. It takes an incredible amount of vocal control to get that whispery airy sound on key on pitch and on time, it was a fun challenge. I love the way it turns out as a choir vocal which could be the voices in your soul encouraging you to grow to be strong to be invincible like a superhero Fiery Red Phoenix.
The elements of the lyrics are meant to make you feel the gentle feminine power that we have in loving grace, to overcome life’s obstacles with stunning elegance. Dancing on your head till your dead wasn’t meant to be vicious but rather kind, because killing you at the devil’s ball in hell gives you a chance to go to heaven, that’s why I wrote I am gonna teach you how to pray. Honestly, we don’t know what happens in the afterlife whether we are reborn, go to heaven or go to hell, but I believe we pray to the same God just under different names. But if we are at a point of absolute crisis, the only option is to pray with all your heart and soul for salvation or a rebirth. I believe we can always become better versions of ourselves, but only when we are guided by the light of what is good and right.
Lisa: What’s your favorite piece of music you’ve ever written, and why?
Tara: My favorite piece of music we have written would be “Become the Phonenix”, because it’s the last song we wrote together, and I feel as though our songs continue to evolve to become better and better. John and I push each other into a writing a better song than the last one, that has always been the way we work. Sometimes though, we will look back and revisit a work not completed….
Roaring into the 20s, was originally written to be “Sunshowers” one of my favorite corny lines from that song was “There’s marvelous things and fairy wings we’ll see”, but John said the lyrics were just hilarious and way too corny. I said ok, but I love your boogie woogie piano, what if we wrote about the 1920s Spanish flu epidemic after the returning war heroes, with today’s pandemic? So, we started writing. Research on the internet to get our facts straight that the Spanish flu killed more people than WW1 had done. John and I created many different versions until we found the right one. John cleaned up all my vocals, removed the piano, and put in back up vocals. I played the version with the piano and the version without the piano, for my mom’s mom, Grammy who was staying with me during the original first pandemic lockdown. We listened over and over and over again. Grammy and I decided we liked the piano version best, so I talked to John and he agreed. John mixed the piano piece and kept the music real.
This boogie woogie music was my late grandma, my dad’s mom’s, favorite piece of music. I played her sunshowers and her face lit up, I lost her in 2018. We took the vocals to a flapper 20s style fused in a bit of rap hip hop and we played and had fun. After all, “to Play” is a happy verb. Grandpa and Grandma were always dancing, Grandpa won a “jitterbug Dance” competition but chose to settle down and marry my Grandma instead. Grandpa always loved playing sing songs around the campfire, there was always a banjo, guitar, and harmonica nearby.
I adore live music, real instruments, and real voice. It has always been my dream to make real instruments cool again. The discipline to learn an instrument teaches our youths valuable life skills.
Lisa: What does your curiosity look like? How do you explore things?
Tara: My curiosity is insatiably active, this can be really frustrating to somebody who is not curious and is following a tried and true method. But that is not my problem! Smile.
Life is curious. It was in a genetics class when I realized how completely conserved our genetic codes are to be a viable life form that I realized that there had to be a spiritual entity superior to us mortals that created us, the idea that science proved to me that spirituality exists is the source of my curiosity. Some of the most perfect things and impossible things are found to exist in nature, for example a bumble bee should not be able to fly according to aerodynamic studies, or that milk is a perfect food designed to help an infant grow and to impart the natural antibiotics of mom to child.
Then I realized that all numbers have a rhythm, which is the basis of writing good scientific equations and that rhythm is necessary to create music! Life has a rhythm.
Curiosity is so much part of me that my bigger challenge is learning to shutdown the curiosity and go to sleep. If I can’t sleep, I turn on some prayer apps on my phone to relax to. Prayer changes my mind and that has changed my life.
Studying sciences taught me how to record my observations, re read, evaluate, create innovative hypotheses, prove hypotheses, and change the way we view our current reality. So naturally this skill set transferred over to music from science as is transfers over from science to music. I literally create music, scientific studies, recipes, fashion styles, etc so that my life is “real” not “created”.
Lisa: At the end of the day, what do you hope people take away from your music?
Tara:I hope to entertain people, to make them feel better. Maybe a lyric I write gets stuck in their head. Maybe a song Changes the way the see a person or situation. Maybe the songs help somebody through an emotional issue that they are dealing with. Music has healed me, and I would be delighted to hear that the songs help somebody’s life in some way. I believe we are all one community, and we can create that community to a successful happy wonderful place to be if we choose to do so. Optimism, hope, and prayer are the center stones of my being, negativity leads to problems and sickness. You must see the mistakes, learn, and grow from them. I hope that my songs prevent the pain that I have endured to learn a lesson, that the lesson can be learned without the pain for somebody listening. Life isn’t perfect but being present to really live your life with your most loving self is perfect.
Lisa: What are you currently working on, and what’s next for you?
Tara:Currently, I am working on cleaning up my youtube channel and replacing my homemade videos with more professional videos; and trying to create a business from the music to earn a living. I had planned to rehearse and get prepared for live shows and touring for the winter months after agriculture but this pandemic has decided for me that I am best to stay home, write more, create more and learn to become a better business person.
Also, I work in agriculture, so right now I am attending conferences, tweaking past equations, evaluating this year’s crop performances, and preparing for next year’s crops. I love food, making, cooking and growing food are a lifelong passion. I have always committed to my farmers that if ever my music can promote agriculture, I will happily do that for them.
The next song we write is going to be a love song, a torch singing piano playing love ballad. Which is going to be interesting because I am single, so I will be writing from a position of what I imagine a perfect love to be….
If you have imagination and curiosity, life can never be boring….
Thank you very much for interviewing me.
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