The Sonic City
CMW: Interview with Cairo’s Caitlin Grieve
Casey: Today, I have Caitlin Grieve, violinist of the Toronto band, Cairo. Welcome Caitlin, great to have joining me on The Sonic City!
There’s a lot to discuss today, but to begin, tell our readers a little bit about how you came to develop your eclectic sound, and how the band decided on the name ‘Cairo’?
Caitlin: Originally, about six years back, we all met. At that point, the band was originally called ‘The Nate Daniels Band’ because form the beginning it actually began as a solo project with Nate, who was a singer/songwriter. Believe it or not, we all met on Craigslist, which sounds a little strange, but we all met in the musicians wanted section. We were all drawn to a post that Nate had put up there where he mentioned a few of his musical influences, and for all of us, one of our main influences is Radiohead, so i think that’s what sort of attracted us initially to meeting Nate and hearing his music.
Two years into us playing together, we decided that it was time for a different name, and getting the four or five of us to decide on a name, and all agree on a name just wasn’t going to happen. What we actually did was we all sat down and had a dictionary party, and someone had bought a travel dictionary with them and the city Cairo came up and for one reason or another, each one of us identified with it, and we all loved the idea of ‘Cairo’ for some reason. It turns out that with Nate the leader singer, every year he chooses a word that is going to represent his year. That year his word was conquer. He wanted to conquer the next year and it turns out that Cairo meant conquer; it seemed too good to be true. We all finally agreed on Cairo.
As for our sound, we often have a lot of difficult pinning down our genre when we’re asked to describe it, and I think that is because we all come from such eclectic backgrounds. Myself, I grew up playing classical violin, so I’m classically trained. I also did a bit of fiddling, so that definitely contributes to the variety of the band. Then we have others that have more formal training as well; for example our drummer and our bass player. The beauty of it is that two of our members are also not necessarily what you would call formally musically trained, but i think the balance of all of our backgrounds, and interests, and training have sort of merged perfectly together to create what is Cairo.
We all enjoy different types of music. Myself, my favourite artists range from Radiohead to Mumford, to a bunch of DJs as well. I love house music whereas the other guys can’t stand house music, and they might prefer some kind of alternative rock music that I might not particularly enjoy, but i think that it’s all of our differences and all of our unique talents that come together to make what is Cairo.
Casey: When everyone can bring something unique to the table and yet still work together, I think it always generates a really interesting sound. That leads me to my next questions: As a violinist playing a significant role in band such as Cairo, some might say that you’re in relatively new territory. With this said, were there any particular artists that inspired you to branch out of musical realms. For example, stepping out of the strictly classical, and crossing over to the different styles and idioms that would create the sound that Cairo now has.
Caitlin: Yeah, for sure. I admire a wide range of violinists in various genres, even within classical. James Innis, a Canadian violinist is one of my favourites. I’m not sure that there’s necessarily a violinist that sort of opened my mind to try different things. I mean, Ashley MacIssac I love, and he’s always pushing boundaries with his music. I think my decision was based on the fact that I still wanted to play music, and I was finding that I didn’t really feel like devoting the eight hours of practice a day to maintain to play classical music. So for me, I was looking for something, but I didn’t necessary know what I was looking for. I knew that I didn’t want to be front-and-centre classical violinist with the spotlight on me, and I was sort of attracted to the idea of playing with others and creating something. I don’t think I was looking for a certain sound or a certain band even, but as soon as I met Nate and he sang a few of his songs for me, it just felt right.
Casey: I think that’s definitely a good balance there. As you were saying, being front-row-centre as a strictly classical violinist, that’s not always something everyone wants to do; it’s very particular, very high stress, and a lot of people enjoy the interaction with the band atmosphere. What I think is interesting too about Cairo is that the violin is still up there, not that’s it’s a solo instrument, but it’s still up there playing an equal role with the rest of the band, which I think is great. I know some bands have a string section, but it tends to get put down lower in the mix. I find the equal roles between the violin and rest of the band create a really unique sound. The band appears to really have picked up momentum in recent years since the release of 2011’s Young Love. Some artists that I’ve spoke to have said that forging a career as a Canadian artist can be quite challenging due to our country’s small population, yet massive size geographically. Have you found similar challenges as a band?
Caitlin: Absolutely. Yeah, regardless of where you are, it’s difficult to make a career out of music. For sure the size and the low-population of our country come into play. I mean, we did a a little east coast tour, and you’re just driving, and driving, and driving, but that’s why we’re actually super excited. We’re heading overseas in May to try and connect ourselves with the European market which is where we’re actually told our genre and our sound might become a little more popular than in the Canadian industry over here. We’re actually heading over in May to play in a festival called The Great Escape. We’re going to be playing in Brighton for a few days and heading to London for about a week to try to branch out and network to see if we can establish a bit of a career there in the future.
Casey: Your recent record, History of Reasons was co-produced with Nygel Asselin who has worked with names such as Half Moon Run and Mother Mother. What was it like working with such a renowned producer?
Caitlin: Words cannot describe how amazing it was working with Nygel. We knew of the amazing work that he has done, and we actually really look up to Half Moon Run and the music they create and their sound. That was definitely one of the reasons that we looked into working with Nygel, but from an individual standpoint I can just say that Nygel made the process just feel so comfortable. Recording can be frustrating, it can be nerve-racking, but by the end of the process, he essentially became one of our band members and we still speak with him on a regular basis, and we’ve all basically become a family. He helped us bring out ideas that we didn’t even know we had. It was honestly up to this point, probably the best two weeks of my life. No joke. It was such a special special time.
Casey: We also heard that you’re going to be part of Canadian Music Week and we’re very excited to hear that. Tell us a little bit about Cairo’s involvement with it this year.
Caitlin: We’ve done it a few years now. This year we’re playing a few times, but the main show is going to be taking place on the Friday, which I believe is the 8th, and we’re going to be playing at Sneaky Dee’s at midnight. We’re really excited because each year the venue that we play at gets better and the time slot we get gets better. We’re really looking forward to kicking off our May tour, if you wish, and getting to see musicians and looking forward to continuing some networking, and Canadian Music Week is always a great time.
Casey: Speaking of Toronto, every city seems to have particular aspects of its music scene that puts it on the map internationally. What would you say makes Toronto special from your experiences?
Caitlin: That’s a great question because everywhere I travel, I always come back thinking Toronto has the best music scene and I think the beautiful thing about Toronto is how diverse it is. Literally, there is a scene for every genre of music. If you want to go out and hear indie music, if you want to see blues, house; we have an amazing house scene as well. The DJs we get here are absolutely incredible. I think the beauty of Toronto and its music scene is its diversity of the people for sure, and music. Every night of the week if you check out the music listings, there’s a million things you can see, which is amazing. I never want to leave.
Casey: Do you have any advice for any emerging artists out there that are just starting out?
Caitlin: I’d say always stick to what you believe, and stick to your gut feeling. Things will get tough, and they will get a little challenging, but strengthen yourself with like-minded people who are doing what they love and going for it. It’s really about staying true to yourself, but also creating a team around you so you can all help one another progress together.
Caey: Any final words for our readers?
Caitlin: It’d be great to meet them. Hopefully we’ll see them at our shows sometime soon. Enjoy the beautiful spring weather that’s hopefully approaching!
Casey: I’d like to thank you for joining me today on The Sonic City today, Caitlin. For our readers, be sure to check out Cairo on the links below as well as their record History of Reasons, which is available on iTunes, Compact Disc, and vinyl.
CMW: Friday, May 8th – Sneaky Dee’s at 12:00AM – Buy Tickets
About the Author
Casey Robertson is a genderqueer human rights activist, musician ,composer, and graduate student researching musicology and cultural theory. In recent years he has been involved with the committees of LGBTQA projects such as the Durham Pride Prom, Allies for Equality, and Queerstock Canada. He also served as a member of the board of directors for PFLAG Durham Region from 2012-2014, where he was a member of the peer2peer support team and a facilitator for monthly sharing evenings. Casey currently resides in the Church-Wellesley Village of Toronto and enjoys spending his free time scoring independent film projects and playing with his band Liberty Street, while on the constant search to discover new artists of all expressive forms. Follow Casey on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at CaseyRobertson.net