Indie Music: Kimberley MacGregor finds a Community in her Corner
This article originally appeared in the Fall 2021 print issue of Quench Magazine.
One hidden treasure of stepping out on your own is discovering how many people you can count on.
A little over a decade ago, Edmonton singer/songwriter Kimberley MacGregor had settled into a career track that guaranteed advance-ment and security in the world of banking. The job didn’t exactly conform with her desire for a career in music, but the stability kept her comfortable while she kept her dreams on the backburner. Music had always been a part of her life: she’d sung in choir, played flute in high school, and taught herself guitar.
Wanting to take her natural talent further, Kimberley became certified in opera by the Royal Conservatory and found people to play with—at one point she counted herself as a member of six bands. It wasn’t until near the end of her twenties, with a milestone birthday looming, MacGregor began to question if what she needed was to be less comfortable. Thinking “one day, perhaps…” had finally led to her own personal crossroads where the choice seemed obvious. Put herself, her voice, and her songs upfront and foremost in her life, or let the dream wither into a sideline hobby.
“I felt like if I didn’t choose this path that I would be miserable. That I would not be able to live with myself,” MacGregor says. Initial encouragement came first from a surprising place: her bank employers, who offered a minimized working option that would help subsidize living expenses while giving MacGregor the time to compose and
arrange the songs for her first album. Next, several musicians from the bands she’d been involved in as a supporting player offered to back her up as a lead singer and front person. The songs came together as if they’d been waiting patiently to be written; songs about life, love, loss, and finding your way. And in 2014, Kimberley MacGregor’s first album was released. True showcased her talent on ten original songs sung with effortless power and control—a voice that could deliver across a range of music—and hold up alongside the 13-piece band she put together for live shows.
The Edmonton music community, which has given the world such notable figures as country superstar k.d. lang, rapper Cadence Weapon, and indie-rocker Mac DeMarco, responded with enthusiasm. Kimberley took home two top honors from the Edmonton Music Awards, winning Female Artist of the Year and Best RnB/Soul Recording.
Inspired by the autonomy and musical integrity of activist and artist Ani DiFranco, MacGregor embraced every aspect of the process involving the creation and the business of music.
“It’s not enough to practice, write, and make records, she says. “I have learned—through trial and error—how to write press releases, run my own website, do my own bookings, organize a band, apply for grants. And I pay for all my own recording costs.
This independence allows me to make the music I want to make. But it’s a full-time job.”
Following up on a successful debut can be daunting, but Kimberley had hit the ground running, propelled by the fulfillment of realizing her lifelong dream. In 2015, she wrote and recorded her second album, I Am My Own, utilizing the same self-driven focus, now augmented by the acclaim of peers and fans. This record brought more affirmations—radio airplay, press reviews, showcases and touring. And if Kimberley thought her hometown could not uplift her any higher, she was soon set straight, taking home for the second consecutive time, the 2016 Edmonton Music Award of Female Artist of the Year.
The second award multiplied tour and show offers, and in a classic case of “be careful what you wish for,” MacGregor found herself caught in a blitz of momentum.
“I was working full throttle,” she says, “15-hour workdays without breaks, touring across Canada.”
On the verge of burning out, life threw a curve when her mother unexpectedly passed away. The loss led Kimberley to a new search, this time for the space to process the changes she’d been through and choices she’d made. Slowing down to a more sustainable pace, she found outlets in her creativity, and support again from her community.
With her long-time friend and musical ally slide player Nathan Burns, she put together a new band, calling it the Right Band, featuring bassist Melissa Walker, Kevin Brereton on drums and vocals, with Twin Peaks singer Lindsay Pratt providing backup vocals.
Bringing the musicians together felt like a fresh, balanced beginning for her next record. Kimberley wanted to be certain the new work was a strong step forward and would capture the experience and progress she’d made since launching her career. Although grateful for guidance in making her first two records, Mac-Gregor had very specific ideas about having the next one reflect her vision entirely. She began by choosing a predominantly female team to make it, including Nashville-based producer Brandy Zdan and Edmonton engineer Emily Bachynski.
“It was really important to me to amplify the voices of women in the studio, in the roles of engineering and producing. I get so much strength and support from women, so it was a wonderful experience,” says Kimberley.
The result, Sitting, With Uncomfortable Feelings was released digitally in February of this year. As in the past, MacGregor’s voice takes the spotlight. With remarkable ease and fluidity she shapeshifts her instrument to fit the songs, from gritty and raw lo-fi tracks—think Black Keys—to modern soul, blues stompers, and folk tinged rock. Authenticity is the key element. A solid branch off the Lucinda Williams, Bonnie Raitt, Melissa Etheridge or Patty Griffin family tree.
Kimberley melds these influences with her own attributes to make every lyric and emotion believable, holding nothing back from listeners. When she sings “It’s just a hard day / it isn’t always this way / try to do some work on these hard days, hard day” it is a simple truth that resonates with the condition of being human.
Late summer and into the fall saw successive releases: a physical release, three additional B-sides for singles, and an entire video set created by filmmaker Heather Hatch to accompany each song. Stretching out the release means taking more time and building a slow burn while enjoying initial radio play and the visual storytelling of her songs with Hatch.
With pandemic and Covid protocols easing and gatherings becoming safer for vaccinated people, she plans to have a local event unveiling the entire work. Kimberley says getting to share the triumph of Sitting, With Uncomfortable Feelings is important to her: it’s like a birthday, shower, and wedding, all rolled into one big party.”
Kimberley MacGregor has a lot to celebrate with the community that has supported her emergence as a fully realized professional singer, songwriter, and musician. And she has every reason to expect that community to grow alongside her continued creative achievements.