It’s barely midday on a sunny Thursday in Bristol, but Katy J Pearson is already on the sauce. “I’ve had a cup of tea, and now I’m having an oat milk cappuccino,” she exclaims animatedly, picking up the phone in the middle of an impromptu coffee meet at lively pub-cafe The Gallimaufry. And, as words stream out of her mouth faster than a spilt flat white, the bubbly singer clearly isn’t stuck for chat ahead of this month’s debut album ‘Return’.
Born in Swindon (“famous for the Oasis Leisure Centre”), Katy was brought up in Cirencester, a market town in the Cotswolds barren of musical opportunity in spite of its lush surroundings and country pubs. It was more of an “Oh, you should go on the X Factor!” kind of vibe, she says, exaggerating her West Country accent to mimic the advice she was given growing up.
Gathering inspiration on yearly camping trips to Devon, where she would spy on Kate Bush’s cliffside house with her dad, Katy did opt to give the major-label route a go in the early stages of her career. But the glitz and the glamour wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, and when an early project with her brother “went to shit”, Katy was, frankly, relieved.
“We were sharing a twin room in a Premier Inn, doing writing sessions five days a week,” she laments of her early forays to London. But with another West Country girl in PJ Harvey providing some much-needed inspiration (“She went to London and was like, ‘Fuck this, I’m from the West Country’”), Katy eventually moved to Bristol to start afresh. “We were really happy to get dropped,” she concludes. “We went for a curry after.”
“I was brushing my teeth and [producer Ali Chant] was like, ‘That sounds great’, so we literally recorded me brushing my teeth.”
Seeking out producer Ali Chant, known for his work with the aforementioned Harvey, Perfume Genius and Aldous Harding, Katy then spent years cultivating an earthy, Americana-tinged sound that today feels wholly fitting of her rural roots. Originally penned as folk-inspired “rock” numbers, songs like ‘Something Real’ and ‘Tonight’ are enriched with acoustic guitars and Rhodes piano, strings, brass and even electric sitars. Taking cues from the orchestral soundscapes of ‘60s crooner Scott Walker, ‘Return’ ultimately puts Katy’s powerful, lilting vocal front and centre.
It wasn’t just heart and soul that went into the recordings, either. “I kept forgetting to brush before I went to the studio, so I always brought my toothbrush with me. I was brushing my teeth and Ali was like, ‘That sounds great’, so we literally recorded me brushing my teeth on ‘Fix Me Up’. We had a cup so I could spit while we were doing it, it was actually pretty gross.”
Having ditched the well-trodden path and found something closer to what she calls home, now Katy couldn’t be happier about the release of her debut. “I’m buzzing, I feel like I’m about to give birth or something,” she grins. “I am the leader of the new country scene!” We’ve heard stranger things this year.
'Return' is out now via Heavenly.
As featured in the November 2020 issue of DIY, out now. Scroll down to get your copy.
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