Natalie MacMaster is having a difficult day.
“I just broke a nail,” sighs the thirty-something, multi-award winning fiddler over the phone from a truck-stop in the U.S.
“It’s really not that big a deal, except that I can’t seem to find my nail-file.”
Make no mistake – these aren’t the grumblings of celebrity. Though her sensational talent, strong work-ethic and stunning good looks have taken her to the very top of her profession, MacMaster remains true to her Cape Breton roots; warm, humble, hospitable – and humourous.
“Maybe I can borrow a file from one of the guys in the band,” she laughs. “I swear, some of them pay way more attention to their appearance than I do to mine.”
These days, it would seem that practicalities take precedence over primping.
“I don’t care what it looks like – it just keeps catching on everything.
She muses that as she has gotten older, she has learned to put life into proper perspective. “The things that used to matter to me are no longer nearly as important in the big scheme of things. I mean, really, what the heck – it’s just a nail.”
On tour in support of her latest release, Cape Breton Girl, MacMaster has her hands full with things other than her fiddle (or her nail-file.)
“There are always plenty of distractions on the road to keep me busy,” she confides, adding that the endless demands of travel, interviews, appearances and motherhood doesn’t afford her the opportunity to practice her chops as often as she would like.
“I steal a few moments here and there when I can, like during our sound-checks and so forth, but really, when we’re on stage it’s all about putting that practice into the performance.”
And while she and her band-mates string together similar sets and song structures for each show, there is often space to stretch their playing.
“We have windows of improvisation during the concert where we can let loose a little bit and try out new musical ideas,” explains MacMaster. “We never really know what’s going to happen from one night to the next, as it often depends on the energy of the audience. But that’s all part of the fun right?
It is, she acknowledges, an entirely different experience from being in the studio.
“Recording is a much more controlled environment, and there isn’t the same kind of feeling involved as there is with a concert performance. I wouldn’t say that it is more stressful than doing shows – just that it is a different kind of pressure to perform. Those sessions can be very unforgiving.”
For Cape Breton Girl, however, the process was a little more lively and laid-back.
“This record is very much a return to my Cape Breton roots – nothing fancy, just old-fashioned jigs and reels – so it was fun and familiar ground for me.
“Also, it was produced at Glen Gould Studios in Toronto, which is a great space to get creative. There’s a real sense of musical history there.
“And I was surrounded by a team of wonderfully talented musicians who always worked towards what was best for the songs. That really brought out the best in me and took my playing to another level.”
It was only months after the experience that she saw how much her skills had evolved.
“Actually it was my mother and father who pointed out that my playing had matured. I was quire surprised actually. To be honest, I hadn’t really noticed it myself, probably because I’ve been so busy these past few years.”
While she concedes that having four children, all under the age of six, has meant less time for her creative endeavours – “that can happen when you’re making meals, doing laundry and rushing kids out the door to wherever” – MacMaster says that being a mom more than fills the musical gap.
“I don’t want to miss out on anything; they’re only this age for so long and they’re already growing up so quickly.”
Part of that presence comes in the form of daily home-schooling, giving the siblings the best chance to develop mentally and morally.
“Kids today are under so much pressure, especially at school, and there’s no need for them to rush into anything that they don’t need to rush into just yet. They’ll get their chance at iPods and iPhones and the like soon enough, but for now they don’t need that stuff.”
Pop music, however, is very much a part of their everyday lives.
“I’ll put on a CD at home and we’ll all start dancing together, or we’ll be in the car and everyone will sing along to whatever’s on the radio. They’re still a little young for Justin Beiber or Katy Perry, but they all like the big dance beats.”
Old-time TV shows are also very popular. “We’ve got the Davy Crocket DVD box set and the original Andy Griffith series also. Its wholesome entertainment, the kids just adore it, and it’s perfect for those long, dull drives in the van.”
The kitchen is often the centre of much commotion as well.
“They all want to help mom,” laughs MacMaster. “So I let them crack eggs, roll dough and stir the pancake mix. Sure it gets a little messy, but its great family time, good fun, and it can certainly make for some very interesting meals.”
“I love food,” she laughs. “Don’t get me going; I love talking about it, I love making it, and I love eating it.”
It would seem that celebrity chef loves to share it also, as a substantial section of her website is devoted to recipes for such mouthwatering munchies as Molasses Crinkles, Tweed Squares, Chocolate Truffles and Gingerbread Cookies.
“Can you tell I have a sweet tooth?” she giggles. “Actually, I think I may have a problem.”
The famous fiddler blames her fondness for feasting on growing up with her mother Minnie’s scrumptious home-cooking.
“As far back as I can remember she always had something on the stove or in the oven. We ate very well, and we ate a lot. I guess there is a part of me that wants to pass that love of food along to others as it was passed on to me.
“What’s the old saying? Take a penny, leave a penny?
“Most of these are simple, old-fashioned recipes – the kind that have been passed down through generations of family members. They are easy to make and everyone can enjoy them. And you just can’t beat home-style cooking.”
Sure enough, and still less than halfway through her North American tour which will see her crisscross the continent well into the fall, MacMaster is already aching for a taste of home.
“We take the kids on the road with us, so we do the very best we can to eat properly. It’s not easy though, because sometimes we just have to make do with is what’s behind the counter at a truck-stop. And if the kids don’t eat well, then everybody gets cranky.
“Speaking of which,” she adds, “I’ve got to get us into town for a proper supper before tonight’s show.
“And I have to find a drugstore along the so that I can pick up another nail-file.”
Reprinted from the Spring 2012 edition of Celtic Life International Magazine