With 4 Top 10 UK Chart hits already under her belt (Katy On A Mission, Lights On, Broken Record and her guest vocal on the Magnetic Man track Perfect Stranger) not to mention her debut album reaching #2 on the UK Album Charts Katy B is a young woman to whom the future must look like an open buffet. Studying at the BRIT School for Performing Arts and Technology, Katy who is a classical trained pianist found herself working with influential London pirate radio station Rinse FM toward the tail end of the last decade, providing vocals for some of bass culture’s most well recognised producers including the likes of Benga , Magnetic Man and Rinse FM station head Geeneus, the latter going on to become the main producer on her debut as a solo artist, On A Mission, released in April this year.
Her first single, Katy On A Mission, produced by Benga proved to be one of the surprise club and chart hits of 2010, leading to subsequent singles and support tours with the likes of Tinie Tempah, all while completing a degree in Popular Music from Goldsmiths, University Of London and working on her album. Set to visit Australia later this year, we caught up with the 21 year old from South London to discuss the process of making her first album as well as the direction she’s taking with her new work.
Music Feeds: So tell me about the album and how it came together? It took about three years didn’t it?
Katy B: Yeah it started out as a very different project. RinseFM, my label, they run a radio station and they were planning on putting together a compilation of original music from their DJs and they wanted to get someone to sing over it to tie the songs together, because they were all different genres.
Some songs were drum n bass and others were grime or house and they weren’t gelling very well, but I was doing a lot of good work with Geeneus the head of the radio station, so we decided to work on an album together. I was also doing some good stuff with DJ Zinc, so we kept those two and Magnetic Man as the main producers on the album. It took about three years though because I was at university as well and obviously Geeneus is really busy running a radio station so things were a bit hectic like that but it was great because I was living life and at the same time making an album. I wasn’t locked up in a room or anything I was experiencing the world as a young woman and writing about it.
MF: So the songs were all written over a long period then, or is the album more made up of later material?
KB: There is a song on there that is like four years old, Hard To Get, it’s the oldest one on there, but also I mean there are songs like Broken Record, which is very recent. It was made maybe a few weeks before we decided it was going to be a single, so the process was really varied in that sense.
MF: Was that intentional or did it just happen that way?
KB: It just happened. We wanted to make the album as quickly as possible, which obviously didn’t work out, but hopefully we can do the next one faster.
MF: You’re a classically trained pianist, yet on the album you’re only really working as a singer/songwriter. How come? Why don’t you take on more of the instrumental side as well?
KB: I don’t know, when I was growing up I had piano lessons because my aunty had a piano in her house and I wanted to learn how to play it. So I had classical piano lessons but it wasn’t like I went home and listened to classical music. I kept going with it and I learned the songs, but I don’t think I could really relate to it that much. When I started singing it just felt so much more free. It’s my favourite because you have words you can really express yourself and speak about how you feel, and it’s very powerful. But I wish I did connect more with the piano or an instrument. I mean I did all my grades in the piano, I trudged on practicing for an hour every night and in the end I didn’t really feel like I could play the piano.
MF: How did you come to bass culture then?
KB: I suppose I grew up listening to a lot of RnB and soul, and also grime and garage were huge when I was about 11 or 12. Club music has always been really important in London and when I started singing that was sort of what I had access to. Then as I got older and I started working with Rinse and I started going out more and it really became part of my personality and I really wanted to incorporate that into my music.
MF: Yeah you can really see that, your lyrics and music seem so well matched in terms of feel and emotion.
KB: Well because I work with a lot of producers who make a lot of instrumental music I get a lot of beats given to me first. So whatever emotion the beats draw out of me that’s what I write about. You could say the music determines a lot of what a song’s about because that’s what’s inspired the lyrics. So Lights On for instance, that sounded very upbeat to me so I wanted to make it really uplifting, On A Mission had a much darker vibe and just made me think of making my way through a club.
MF: That’s really interesting, it reminds of artists like Bowie or Burroughs who’d use cut ups and fold ins as sort of off the wall starting points for their work.
KB: It’s always good to have a starting point. Recently I’ve been working in the studio with producers where we’re starting from scratch, which is a very different process. We work through it together you know so I can be like ‘oh I don’t like that bassline,’ and they can suggest maybe changes to words here and there.
MF: So in the beginning then were you get finished beats or did they more come in sections you could then re-arrange to fit the songs etc?
KB: Kind of, I had freedom to say ‘put the chorus here,’ or whatever, but they’d record the song and because they’re producers go back in and layer stuff up and add parts and all that. Make it sound good pretty much.
MF: When you were working with them, did your training and background make itself felt at all?
KB: In what way do you mean, like am I going to start playing a Beethoven thing over it? (laughs)
MF: That could sound pretty gangsta if you ask me?
KB: Yeah (laughs) but I don’t know though, Geeneus is still doing most of that side, but I’m good with melody so sometimes I might add a little synth line or something. He’s really good with the drums though.
MF: Cool, well what’s the plan for the next few months then? World Tour?
KB: At the moment Australia is the only place outside of Europe I’m planning on touring to, so it looks like I might be over there for a while, I’m really excited because after school a lot of my friends went traveling over there and I never got to go, I was working on the record. But they’ve all told me how much fun they had over there and how great it is so I’m really excited to be coming over. One of my friends actually lives over there so I’ve got a party buddy for when I arrive.