Kate Earl, at first blush, is an even-keeled, crunchy singer-songwriter cut from the same cloth as Feist or Cat Power, but it quickly becomes clear that the dominant trait in Earl’s DNA is a very woodsy ruggedness—her aureate Alaskan beauty icing on the cake. Earl’s third album, Stronger, released this winter, chugs through with confident, countrified songs dedicated to the struggles of motherhood as an artist, break-ups and being gutsy enough to plow through it all and emerge even tougher on the other side.
The hardiness was instilled in Earl from an early age. “I grew up in Chugiak,” she says, “which is halfway between Anchorage and Wasilla. It’s an Anchorage municipality. It’s a town of 15,000, but it doesn’t feel like that, because it’s so spread out. We would go fishing. There’s not that much to do, so if you’re going to be doing something, usually it’s pretty practical. I helped my mom pull in a 250-pound halibut. The body was as big as me, and with the tail it was even bigger. It didn’t even make the derby. It was too small. They get about 450 pounds, but they’re so old, they don’t taste good at that point.”
Earl’s sweet-burly duality came alive when we plopped an 11-pound salmon in front of her. “Salmon fishing season in Alaska is summer,” she explains. Depending on the population, a family of four can take about 20 salmon on a license. “And you can barter—there’s hunting and fishing and berry picking. Everyone does their canning and preserves. A neighbor will say, ‘I’ve got tons of moose—what do you have?’ Another would say, ‘Well, we went hiking and got loads of blueberries. I’ll trade you.’ I like moose meat. Lots of people mix it with pork. I don’t hunt. There are enough hunters.”
In a sequined shirt that compliments the salmon’s scales as much as her beaming smile, Earl gets dirty and shows us how to clean a fish.