Interview: Katy B – Singer and Songwriter

Posted: July 29, 2011 in interview, music
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Katy B

Date of Interview: 07/29/2011

Katy B is one of Britain’s rising talents from the underground scene. As a member of RINSE FM’s “community” of artists, her success is both personal and political. The release of her first single, “Katy On a Mission,” came shortly after the pirate radio station’s granting of an official broadcast license, which had spent 16 years broadcasting underground. Her success gives credence to the emergence of grime and dubstep – paying homage to her fellow musical soldiers: Dizzee Rascal, Wiley and countless others.

On July 19, 2011, Katy’s debut album, On A Mission, was nominated for the 2011 Barclaycard Mercury Prize. The album will be distributed States-side via Columbia Records. In support of the project’s US release – September 13, 2011 – Katy B managed to squeeze some time out of her busy schedule and settle down for an interview with Clayton Perry – reflecting on her early years at RINSE FM, the influence of DJ Geeneus, and the lessons learned from Ms. Dynamite, Britain’s top female MC.

Clayton Perry:  Having experienced a great deal of success in the U.K., long before your U.S. introduction, is there a particular obstacle that  you think you’ll have to tackle during the American phase of your music “mission”?

Katy B:  A lot of my album is club-based stuff, so I want to have a start similar to the one I had in the UK – getting into the clubs and playing with my DJ.

Clayton Perry:  Various media outlets have dubbed you the “first lady of U.K. dance.” As a long-time fan of dance music, do you find that title a bit overwhelming?

Katy B:  I don’t know. There’s loads of other females out doing similar stuff, so I don’t think I could take that crown. I love clubbing and I guess that comes through in my music.

Clayton Perry:  Not a lot is known about the U.K. garage underground scene in the United States. As a native of Peckham, a small district in South London, what early experiences do you feel led to your signing with Rinse FM?

Katy B:  Well, I started off making tunes when I was about sixteen, seventeen. I made a track with someone who was on Rinse FM, which is a radio station but also the label that I’m signed to. I was told Geeneus – [the producer of my album] – had heard some of my tracks and he was looking for a singer to work with on an album. Basically, he wanted to create an album where he would get all the DJs to put forward an original track and make a compilation album of original material. They needed someone to kind of sing over all the tracks because they did different genres in different styles. So, they asked me and I was kind of over the moon about it, really, and I just turned it into my own thing. It wasn’t really meant to be my album. It was meant to be like a Rinse FM all stars kind of album where it was all these different producers and it was mainly going to be about the producers. I would be just singing over the top with Geeneus together. And then over time, I felt I worked really well with Geeneus, Zinc, Magnetic Man and Benga, who were the producers on the album. We did quite a lot of tracks – and we just clicked. I was at university at the time. It took a long time to make, over three years, because I was at university – [the BRIT School] – at the time. All those boys are professional DJs, and Geeneus was running the radio station, so they were all really busy. We actually got quite a lot of demos done, so I think it was kind of cool that we could pick the ones that sounded like they linked together.

Clayton Perry:  Looking through the album credits, I noticed that DJ Geeneus worked on the bulk of your album. One of your collaborations happens to be one of my favorite songs: “Power On Me.” Is there a particular life experience that served as the influence for this track?

Katy B:  The song is about a situation where you really like someone and say to them: “Do you have any idea what kind of influence you can have on me?” It’s kind of scary, really. I think that kind of thing about love where you will do anything for that person, and it’s kind of the same. “Do you understand that if you asked me to do so, I’d jump off a cliff?” And I’d probably do it! [laughing] And I remember at the time feeling like a bit overwhelmed by that.

Clayton Perry:  Alternatively, a perfectly-executed DJ set can take power and control of dancers on the dancefloor. I found the duality of the song’s lyrics to be very powerful, and I think it was the perfect song to open your album. When you look back on the early part of your life, when did you realized that music had a certain “power over you”?

Katy B:  Since I was a little girl, I always knew that I wanted to do some kind of performing. I used to dance and go to acting classes on Saturdays. I also played the piano and I preferred that to doing anything scientific or academic. Even artists and art can be academic. And I liked learning about it, so I always had music around me, even when I was at university.

Clayton Perry:  As the primary songwriter of every track, were there any experiences during the recording process that directly affected the album’s mood or overall direction?

Katy B:  Oh, definitely. I did a lot of partying, when I turned eighteen, because that is when you can start bar clubbing in the U.K. So, I was on a bit of a roll. I was going out quite a lot. I had a boyfriend, and all of those experiences about love, and the drama with friends. All of those were influential, and it was really the first time that I had that independence, really. “Lights On” is about me being in a club, and the lights literally coming on and me not wanting to go home. It happened to be my friend’s birthday, and I was thinking: “Why hasn’t anybody written a song about this? It keeps happening to me.” “Disappear” is about falling out of love, and “Go Away” trying to keep someone from having a hold on you anymore. All these kind of things definitely are things I’ve been through. Some of them are some things that my friends have been through. “Perfect Stranger” is a story about an incident my friend had at a festival. She was walking though the crowd and this boy is walking towards her. They end up kissing. They didn’t say anything to each other. No words or anything. They just started kissing, and I just always thought it was just really weird how you can read someone’s body language or get into someone else’s mind, kind of like a spiritual thing.

Clayton Perry:  Very true.

Katy B:  That was her experience. But I also recognize the experience of the producers, as part of the underground scene. Their story comes through as well as mine. There is so much knowledge going into the record production side that is totally separate and distinct from mine. So there is a mixture of many different things.

Clayton Perry:  “Lights On” features a collaboration with Ms. Dynamite. How did the two of you connect with each other, and did she share any advice on the performative aspects of the business?

Katy B:  Meeting Ms. Dynamite was great, because I was a big fan of hers. I really love her lyrics – especially the album A Little Deeper. In the studio, I felt quite shy around her, but she’s got such a calming personality that I just felt her easy straightaway. I learned a lot off of her, in terms of performing and how to deal with the crowds. She said to me she wants to make people dance when she’s onstage, and I feel that. That’s rubbed off on me, and I’ve definitely got a little better at that side of things from being around her.

Clayton Perry:  Since On a Mission took three years to complete, I imagine that there were many “false starts,” or tracks that you had to turn down or reconsider at the last minute. Do you have any special plans for those songs?

Katy B:  Well, one of the tracks – [“See Through”] – is the B-side to “Witches Brew,” my latest single. I think we’ll be coming out with a lot of B-sides in the future, because that would be a waste to throw any of the tracks away.

For more information on Katy B, visit her official website: http://katyonamission.com/us/home/

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Comments
  1. Emma Aistrop says:

    Such a great interview from such a great artist. Her new album is available for streaming on Spotify: http://open.spotify.com/album/6KV9kNSuC1mmzrXKx6p6vV. You’ll have to create an account, so use this invite for a free version: http://sp.myplay.com/collegemarketing/. Now you can listen to Katy B 24/7 🙂

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