By Katie Macleod
American singer-songwriter Kyle Carey spent her early years in Alaska, grew up in New Hampshire and currently resides in Brooklyn, New York – yet to
hear her speak Gaelic, you could be forgiven for thinking she was an islander.
That’s all thanks to the year she spent at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, studying An Cùrsa Comais from 2009 to 2010. “Oh my gosh, it was honestly – still – the best year of my life,” says Kyle of being immersed in Gaelic in Sleat. “There was structure, and I was doing something I was passionate about, and I had a really nice group of friends there. All of that just made for a really wonderful experience.”
Despite being “probably the most clueless in the whole course,” Kyle found herself reaching basic fluency after just three months, success she attributes to sticking rigidly to the campus language policy.
“A lot of people do revert to English after class, but if you do choose to surround yourself with people that don’t, you are basically in the full immersion environment, which is so rare to get as an English speaker really anywhere, and that’s kind of the key to fluency.”
Kyle came to Gaelic almost accidentally; it was Irish she wanted to learn initially but changed her mind when she discovered the dedicated campus and curriculum at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig. “I’ve always really loved Celtic music, and I wanted to sing in one of the Celtic languages,” Kyle explains.
“I’m part Scottish too so I felt a definite kinship there, but I also didn’t want to sing in Gaelic unless I did legitimately speak the language and it was an organic part of my life. I wanted that element of my music to be very authentic. That’s kind of why I decided to take the plunge and go to Sabhal Mòr Ostaig and properly learn the language.”
The resulting music is what Kyle calls ‘Gaelic Americana’, a melding of American folk and Celtic sounds. “I just love any kind of music where cultures come together, I feel like that always makes for the best art,” says Kyle of her musical inspirations.
“I thought, if I can offer this unique thing by being an American that speaks Gaelic and sings in it, but also does the Americana thing, I feel that would a really good reflection of my own heritage and who I am. I also try to bring in my love of literature and poetry, and studying English in college, and the different places I’ve lived, so it really becomes a big smorgasbord of all of my experiences.”
After Skye, Kyle returned to Dingle, Ireland, where she had studied abroad as an undergraduate, to record her first album, Monongah. “When I went back to Ireland, that was when I started getting more opportunities, and the album started to form itself,” remembers Kyle, who had kept her musical ambitions under wraps in Skye. “I knew what I wanted to do, but I just felt like I had to sort of wait for my moment, and then once I went to Ireland I finally had it, which was nice.”
For her second album, North Star, Kyle went back to Scotland, recording during Celtic Connections at Gorbals Sound Studio in January of 2014. Celtic Connections had always been one of her “dream gigs”, so finding herself on stage there two years later was a high point for the singer.
She performed in both English and Gaelic, singing alongside Gillebride MacMillan, the Mod Gold Medalist and Gaelic singer from South Uist. “The collaborative side was so cool, and it was so well run, and we were really well taken care of. I remember thinking ‘Oh my gosh, I wish every gig could be like this!’” she laughs.
Her new album, The Art of Forgetting, is currently in production, and Kyle’s excitement is palpable. In January she spent a week recording new material in Louisiana, in the studio of Grammy award-winning musician Dirk Powell. “It was just a wonderful experience, it was a really great week, and my producer Dirk Powell was amazing, it was wonderful to work with him.”
The crowd-funded album features two Gaelic songs on the set list, with another sung in both English and Gaelic. On top of that are the Cajun influences of rural Louisiana, and the input of both her producer, Dirk, and guitarist, Sam Broussard. “It was really cool to get him playing guitar on a puirt à beul, because he’s coming from this totally different tradition but doing something Celtic,” says Kyle. “There’s going to be a different sound and influence in the album for sure.”
Kyle goes back to Skye every time she tours in Europe or the UK, and hopes to visit again next year after The Art of Forgetting is released this autumn. “I definitely make an effort to get there every time I go back, because it’s just so nice to be back in the speaking environment, it gives me a little boost back in the language.” She now has another, more personal, reason to return to the island: her fiancé, Carmine Colajezzi, who recently won the ‘Gaelic Learner of the Year’ medal at the Royal National Mod, works at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig.
“There’s so much happening this year. After the album comes out I definitely want to do a good US tour, and then I’ll be back in Europe next spring, so there’s a lot of exciting stuff coming up,” says Kyle. From the streets of New York to the garden of Skye, over the next year Kyle will be busy introducing her brand of Gaelic Americana to new fans and old friends alike.