If debut album ‘On A Mission’ was all disillusioned club-going, relentless skanking and backroom antics, then ‘Little Red’ is her realisation of adulthood. The mature album, as it were. “Now, everyone’s got their home to go to. They’ve got careers to think about,” states Katy. “They haven’t got a crap Saturday job any more. They’re not a student. You have to really concentrate under the pressures of life, paying the rent. This has all kind of sunken in a bit more now that I’m a bit older.”
Taking a couple of years out to spend time with her family and friends, life became more 9-to-5 than all-night-long. But the party still goes on. Latest single ‘5am’ is a throwback to her club roots, hinting at that solitary post-party lull. “You’ve been having fun all night with your friends,” she explains, “and then you go home and you realise that you’re all alone. And you start to feel a bit lonely and anxious.” It turns out this is another emblem of her growing up. “You know, when I was 18, I didn’t feel that way about it. I wouldn’t even go home. That wouldn’t have even come into my mind.”
The promo video is a sight to behold, as a stately home in Bexleyheath’s Danson Park is overrun by an elaborate masquerade rave. All rather appropriate for a song about feeling a bit “on edge.” “It was really weird actually,” the Peckham star giggles. “During the day, it was actually still open to the public so there were all these grannies eating scones and jam while we were having this strange rave in there.”
Back in 2010, we came to love Katy for her witty realism and incisive comments on youth culture. Her finger was constantly on the pulse. No surprises: ‘5am’ features some of the best Katy B lines yet (15 seconds in: “That beat’s so sick / that tune’s so ill”). Hardly deviating from the usual house music grooves, the song is also a continuation of her unique and inspirational bass-pop sound, whose influence is telling.
In fact, there’s no getting away from it. Debut single ‘Katy On A Mission’ revamped and remoulded chart music for good, initiating the crossover of underground dance music into mainstream pop. Songs like ‘Easy Please Me’ and ‘Perfect Stranger’ were irresistible slices of sparkling, catchy greatness. Cutesy melodies and sub-bass booms crossed paths. In turn, dubstep became a thing huge pop stars could legitimately champion. UK Funky was dug out and revived. Disclosure and Rudimental both had Number 1 albums. Jessie Ware broke America. Everybody danced.
No pressure on the follow-up then, hey? “The first one was so relaxed,” she reminisces. “You know, I used to go to the studio after school, and after uni, and I’d be at Rinse [FM] maybe once or twice a week. It would just be kind of anything goes, really. First time around, I didn’t even have an advance on my album or anything like that. This time, the team is a lot bigger and I want to do good for everyone.”
While “being pushed to break boundaries” on a music course at Goldsmiths university, community radio station Rinse FM (and its record label offshoot) became her spiritual home and its founder DJ Geeneus was Katy’s “missing hand” and mentor. Offering first exposure for Dizzee Rascal and Wiley, Katy was the next on the list of Rinse success stories. “I think what makes them so special is that they’re all about new music and support new artists,” she says. “That hunger for what’s fresh makes them really important. With Rinse, I knew that they would bring the best out of me.”
Geeneus, also a real-life genius, still ‘When I was 18, I wouldn’t even go home.’ co-writes songs and crafts beats for Katy. This was the case with ‘5am’, ‘What Love Is Made Of’ and ‘Tumbling Down’, her favourite song from the new album, which uses collapsing walls as a metaphor for head-over-heels infatuation. On songs like these, and others produced by bass legends like Joker, MJ Cole, Artwork and Skream, the song-writing process was free-flowing. “Sometimes I have these moments where the lyrics just start coming out,” she reveals. “I just want to describe things and I have this imagery in my head. It’s almost like a dream.”
“I think that’s how I really enjoy writing songs”, she continues. “On this album, I’ve kind of experimented with a few different ways, like on some of the tracks I wrote the chords with someone first, and then wrote over it, before writing the beat. But I do love a good instrumental, I think I’m a bit of a frustrated rapper like that. I really like to zone in to the beat and voice, and tap in to my emotions like that, to see what flows out really.’
Another nostalgic love-song set to wow listeners is ‘Blue Eyes’, co-written with Fraser T Smith (whose previous credits include Adele’s ‘Set Fire to the Rain’). It’s the meeting point of memories, coincidence and train gazing. “I was actually on the train to meet Fraser and there was this boy opposite me and he had blue eyes”, she says. “Then I started thinking of my ex-boyfriend and his blue eyes, and thinking about how I felt about him. I was listening to ‘Blue’ by Joni Mitchell while I was looking at him too. Her vocals are so, like, acrobatic, so that inspired me on the song. Acrobatic is probably the best way to describe the vocal.’
It appears tube journeys provide an unusual form of inspiration for the singer. Just this morning, she was listening to the rather transportive ‘Immunity’, by Jon Hopkins, and her imagination got a little carried away. “With that album, you’re on another plateau and it lifts you higher and higher, and then you’re just like, ‘wow’”, she explains before guffawing, “it’s amazing that music can make you feel like that. Opposite me, there was this guy and his son and it was just like a movie. The boy was eating a chocolate bar, and the whole thing became so, so emotional.”
On her own album, though, the biggest shock to the system is ‘Crying For No Reason’, a proper rewind-worthy showstopper and her next single release. It’s like nothing we’ve ever heard before. Whereas other songs were constructed in spontaneous, “frustrated rapper” mode, this one was built on a more standard chords-and-scores approach. Hell, it’s a ballad. “I had this idea because my friend had called me and said she was crying and didn’t know why”, she says. “And then, she realised why she’d cried, just because she just pushed all these emotions away. Basically, I have definitely been in that situation. I’m the kind of person who always tries to bury over things and feels like things don’t matter, just trying new things all the time, at least until it gets too much for me. That was something really important that I needed to write about.”
At the bridge, lines like “Forgive me now / ‘cos I said that I’d be there for you / care for you / I let you down” tug at the heartstrings and sweep up the listener. But the song isn’t totally unfamiliar: mid-way through, trance-like synths and a thudding house beat enter the fray at half the usual speed and everything is anthemic, hands-in-air wonderful. Live, the song should be something else. “Do you know what?” Katy quips at DIY. “Next year, I’m really looking forward to being able to sing in different, more emotional styles and doing different kinds of performances from what I’ve done before, with songs like this. I usually enjoying playing places where people like to party, but this will involve a change of setting, and I’m really looking forward to that.”
In other words, Katy B has gone a little more serious, but so much the better. One clear role model for her change of tack was childhood hero (and co-vocalist on ‘Lights On’) Ms Dynamite. “I was thinking about Dynamite,” she explains admiringly. “She was like 19 when she won the Mercury Prize. I just thought that that was like incredible that she was that young, that she was writing songs that were questioning society and talking about real issues and things like that. I was like, I really need to pull my finger out and be writing about some important things.”
If this means less clubbing, then so be it. But her calendar is still crammed with nights out. 2014 is going to be huge, but first, she’s buzzing about one particular party: Rinse at London’s Fabric on Boxing Day. “I go there every year,” she says, perking up. “I go there with 15 different friends or something and we just split up and then bump into each other throughout the night. And obviously there are all the DJs who we know as well, so it’s like being in one ginormous house party. I can’t wait to go. It’s the highlight of holiday season. The. Best. Night. Out. Ever.”
Katy B’s new album ‘Little Red’ will be released in February 2014.
Taken from the new, free DIY Weekly, available to read online or to download on iPad now.
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