Detroit Folk Songstress


Promotional photo for Audra Kubat

Emma Guzman, Flash Contributor

When becoming acquainted with Detroit folk music, it is impossible to miss the ubiquitous presence of Audra Kubat. For years she has been a beacon of positivity and part of the bedrock of the Detroit songwriting scene. Her lyrics are rooted in the heart and filled with an honesty that can only come from experience. She has released three original albums so far, and is planning to put out even more in the near future. Kubat studied at Wayne State University and now finds herself teaching music lessons at the Detroit Institute of Music Education, performing all over Michigan, writing fantastic songs, and undertaking her biggest project yet- the Detroit House of Music.


Guzman: Tell me about the most meaningful show you’ve ever played.


Kubat: There’s been a lot of powerful shows that had quite an impact on me, but when I released my latest record, Mended Vessel  in 2016, I did a show at the Diego Rivera court at the DIA. It was just a huge smash success, we had a little over 500 people show up. It was very meaningful to me, I think, because I wasn’t with a label or manager. I did it all myself: the posters, press release, and sort of everything for the event. It was magical to watch my hard work turn into success. Pulling it off through my own label and energy was really special.


Guzman: Other than music, what do you find yourself most passionate about?


Kubat: I’m in love with fashion. I’m actually kind of wearing a goofy shirt today, I decided to wear a NASA shirt to celebrate their rover landing on Mars. I just like how you can create a feeling with clothing. I’m quite interested in that. I’m also fond of the idea of recycling clothes, to be able to create looks from second-hand shopping or hand-me-downs. We have so many clothes in the United States, so it’s nice to be able to reuse it. The energy from old clothes is also fascinating, I think to myself, “somebody else wore this coat, what did they do? What was their life like?” It moves me back towards music, as well, as I start to think about the stories these articles of clothing hold. Another passion of mine is helping people, and connecting with all age groups. Especially old people, I love talking with them and listening to their stories. I find inspiration through their stories for my songs, and they always seem to enjoy having company. I’d love to start a program as a part of the work I’m doing, to pair songwriters with old folks from Detroit, and have the songwriters interview them and write a song based on what they discover.


Guzman: Speaking of the work you’ve been doing, tell me about your latest project, the Detroit House of Music.


Kubat: For a long time, I’ve been searching for a space that was capable of bringing the community together through music. Someplace to create a listening room, and provide a space for artists to work on their craft in a homey, musical environment. There also needed to be room to provide free lessons to people in that immediate area. To reach out to and service the neighborhood. It’s been going through my mind for the past 10 years. I never really had the financial support behind it, but now I’ve been granted a wonderful opportunity. This nonprofit called gave me this house to make this dream come alive. The first floor will be a place for live performances and musical workshops or even skill-shares outside of music. There will also be a music library to house donated instruments for underprivileged kids to learn on, and maybe even eventually be able to keep. On the second floor will be rooms for artists to reside, especially when they’re passing through Detroit on tour. The third floor will be my space to live and manage the space. The house is located in one of the poorer areas of Detroit, one that could use some extra love and care. My hope is to heal some of the hardships in the neighborhood through music.


Guzman: In your opinion, what is the best song you have ever written?


Kubat: That’s a hard question. I can’t say “the best” necessarily, because I’d have to think on that for a long while. But some songs just impact you and stick with you more. I’d have to say that song is one I wrote about my grandmother called “Mountain Woman.” It’s very dear to me, because it’s her story. She actually wrote a book about her life in the Appalachian Mountains growing up. So after I read the book, I felt compelled to write a song about it. When I sing “Mountain Woman,” I feel like I’m honoring her, and many other people have been able to connect to. I always end up talking about this song more than others when I perform.


Guzman: Tell me about the trio you’re apart of: Kubat, Finlay and Rose.


Kubat: I’m definitely inspired to write more, and to be more discerning of my writing. Especially because both of the women I perform with are amazing songwriters. I get a chance to share my songs with them and sort of hear feedback. We all try to give each other critical feedback, which is difficult among friends. You have to feel safe to be able to give and accept loving criticism. So I always try to up my game and be more critical of my own work as well. The writing aspect has been very inspiring. Singing with them in general has helped me become a better support player, and a support singer. I’m not a natural harmonizer like they both are. It seems effortless for them, but it encourages me to get better. The work has paid off, I feel more confident. It also helps to have their support. It’s such a joyful experience to be a part of something bigger than yourself.


Guzman: Do you prefer playing solo, or with the trio?


Kubat: I wouldn’t say I prefer one over the other. Both are very important to me as an artist, and as a person. With the trio, we try to support each other’s songs, so each of us ends up with about 3 of our own original songs. It’s great because we get to hone in 3-part instrumentals and harmonies, it always sounds so unique and special. But on the other side, playing solo is nice because you can switch things up at the drop of a dime, like tempo changes or key changes. During my own set, I can pull out all the songs that I like to play, the ones I don’t necessarily play with the trio. Both solo performances and the ones with my trio are very dear to me.


Guzman: Do you have any methods to supplement your income outside of music?


Kubat: I used to be a waitress and a bartender about 7 years ago. I had been for most of my musical career, to make ends meet. Then people started asking me to give lessons, and I started doing that here and there. I had some other organizations ask me to do workshops. I started doing all that while bartending, then at some point I decided to put my faith in that something would happen with music, and I quit that gig and focused on being a musician full-time. A few weeks later, I got a job at the Detroit Institute of Music Education, before they were actually open. They started as a popup and hired me as a songwriting instructor. Then the few nonprofits I was doing little jobs for wanted more, now I’m at 3 or 4 different organizations, and when you put it all together I’m making a living through music education.


Guzman: Where can people find out about your songwriting workshops?


Kubat: In the Spring I’ll be starting a new program, kind of a renegade-style songwriting workshop where we use murals in Detroit as inspiration. It’ll be sort of Guerrilla-style, I’ll post the location and everyone who wants to be a part of it can come with their instrument, and a pen and paper.


Audra Kubat’s music and workshop information can be found online on Spotify, Pandora, iTunes, YouTube, FaceBook, Instagram, and her website Stay tuned for her newest album which is currently in the works.

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