Little Red's back on a mission
6:00am Saturday 1st March 2014
6:00am Saturday 1st March 2014
As Katy B gets ready to take her new album, Little Red, on the road, she's feeling reflective about her success - most of which came as a total surprise, as the singer tells Andy Welch.
Perhaps the best thing about having a surprise hit is not having enough time to get nervous.
That was the case with Katy B's debut album On A Mission. Recorded over a three-year period, it was released in April 2011 - and was duly nominated for that year's Barclaycard Mercury Prize as well as kick-starting a two-and-a-bit-year touring cycle.
"At the time, I never thought I'd be a singer, even when I was making the album," says Katy, real name Kathleen Anne Brien, who worked with, among others, Geeneus, on the album.
Geeneus, or 'G' as Katy calls him, is the head of community radio station Rinse, once a pirate grime, dubstep and jungle station, until it was handed a legitimate licence in 2010.
"I thought it was a nice project to be involved with, and I was doing guest vocals on friends' tracks, too, but I didn't think I'd end up on my own," Katy, 24, recalls.
"I was doing so much other music-related stuff - running club nights, going to gigs and studying music (at Goldmsiths, University of London) - that it all just felt part of the same thing.
"I thought I might end up as a music therapist or a music teacher, but hadn't considered it any more than that. There was no pressure, from me or anyone else."
There's a marked difference now it's come to her second album, however.
Little Red - a nickname of the diminutive redhead singer - was released in early February and went straight to the top of the UK album chart. Quite the result, even if Katy says she feels a lot more responsibility this time round.
"I'm still having fun but it was definitely a different vibe," she admits. That will happen when you're signed to a major label like Columbia, part of Sony. Where there was once a pleasing ramshackle nature to her sound, that's now gone, replaced by a more business-like approach.
"It was a lovely feeling just before the album was released, knowing it was finished and ready to go, although it was a bit like finishing school - excitement, mixed with this feeling of being unsure of the future and not knowing what opportunities there are going to be," she says. "Mostly I'm just excited to show my new creation."
Her second album should have been out a year ago, but a combination of changing staff at Columbia and her songs not quite being ready - she's vague on the details - meant a long delay.
"I had some songs, like Aaliyah," she says of the lead track from 2012's free Danger EP.
"The label realised they didn't have a big email mailing list of my fans, so we gave that away as a way of getting the contact details," she adds, perhaps taking a little of the magic away from the frankly brilliant four-track offering.
"I wanted to have something out as it had been so long, too. I have to keep myself excited too."
She spent a long time thinking about her second album before she started writing. The first thing she realised was that, while with her debut she'd written lyrics over the top of an existing song or beat, the same way a rapper or topline melody writer would, this time, she wanted to work on songs from the ground up.
Cue the likes of Guy Chambers, writer of most of Robbie Williams' biggest hits, and Fraser T Smith, who's worked with everyone from Craig David and Adele to Lily Allen and Ellie Goulding.
Katy says going to Chambers' house was a bit like a first day in a new job, although having Geeneus with her meant they arrived as a team.
Smith wanted to sit and have a cup of tea and chat before they got started.
"I definitely clicked with those people and that's not always the case," she says. "I won't name names but there are definitely some people I didn't click with and won't be working with again.
"I remember telling my manager I didn't want to go back to work with someone again, and it felt a bit like telling your mum you didn't want to go to Brownies again."
On the whole, however, making Little Red was a hugely positive experience, with writing in a new way making for some very different sorts of songs.
"Writing over beats means you react to the music and get one sort of song, whereas lyrics first means you tell more stories. Like one day, I was on my way to the studio and there was a guy opposite me on the train that reminded me of someone I had feelings for - they both had blue eyes. So when I got to the studio I wrote a song called Blue Eyes, which is a bonus track on the album. I'd never have been able to do that working in the old way."
Something else that got Katy excited was having Jessie Ware, South London's other premier former-guest-vocalist-turned-solo-star, come in. She features on Aaliyah, the song they co-wrote together with Geeneus.
"I wrote my verse and sent it to her to ask for an opinion. Then she came in, wrote her verse on the spot and I watched her record it, sounding amazing. I was so, so happy that day. That's when I started to get a great feeling about the album."
The tour is next, and after so long in the studio writing, recording and now promoting, she can't wait to get back on the road.
"It's always the same; when I'm touring I want to get back in the studio, and when I'm in the studio I just want to get out and perform," Katy says.
"But I'm ready. I had a great Christmas seeing my friends and family, which I hadn't done enough of for a while I realised, because I was working so hard, and now we've got the band together sounding great."
Extra Time - Katy B
:: Kathleen Anne Brien was born on May 8, 1989, in Peckham, South London.
:: She appeared on numerous garage tracks as Baby Katy before being signed in her own right.
:: Her biggest guest vocal came on Magnetic Man's Perfect Stranger, which featured on both their debut album and her first album. Magnetic Man's Artwork (Arthur Smith) also co-writes and produces on Little Red.
:: So far, 5 AM and Crying For No Reason have been released as singles from her new album.
:: It was recently announced that she would appear on The Voice as a special mentor alongside Ricky Wilson.
:: Katy B's second album Little Red is out now. She begins a UK tour in March. Full dates below
25 - Brighton Concorde 2
26 - London Koko
27 - Oxford O2 Academy
28 - Birmingham Institute Library
29 - Manchester Academy 2
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