Is 2011 in British pop music set to be the year of the, for want of a better word, normal female? With Adele topping the album charts for what already seems like a decade, if you head in to more uptempo pop music you will once again hear the tunes of self proclaimed ‘girl from the city’, Kathleen Brien better known as Katy B.
The underground haunts of house, garage and dubstep are her home turf, but when we come to call she’s out touring the promotion of her first album, On A Mission. There is an almost blissful naivety to her progress with this so far. “It’s going good, but it’s crazy!” she trills. “People have been saying to me, ‘Are you nervous?’ and I’m like, why would you be nervous? I didn’t clock it at first. When you’re making music you just do it, you don’t think about reviews, but then you do get a bit nervous”.
On A Mission is a self proclaimed, natural piece of work. “I made it while I was at university,” she explains, “and it was a part time process. I was going to uni, being a normal girl, so it’s not like I was in a studio or anything. I’m really glad it happened like that.” The record talks of the life and loves of a young woman. “It is about day to day stuff, definitely,” she agrees. “I guess life is deeply felt though, and that’s what I wanted to write about. Love is such a powerful emotion, the different feelings you get from loving someone”.
Rather than seek out producers, it seems there was an orderly queue at her door. “They came to me. I did a couple of house tunes on pirate radio, and Geenius approached me; he works closely with Zinc. They approached me to make an album with Rinse that was in all different genres. It was a bit all over the place, and we released lots of tracks before the album. I guess it’s a similar sound vocally, but each track is very different with the beats added.”
“I’ve always dreamed of being a successful singer rather than a famous singer” – Katy B
The producers, and other close influences on Katy’s life, get their own shout out in On A Mission’s closing track, Hard To Get. “When we do that track live I always big up the band, so it seemed like the right place to big them up here. I think that’s part of taking each day as it comes. I’ve always dreamed of being a successful singer rather than a famous singer.”
So far she’s managing to keep her feet on the ground, despite a shift from underground to mainstream awareness. “When I made this album before, albums came out by my label and there were queues around the block, and they were never a pop audience, it was underground. With that I didn’t really expect my singles to go in the chart. I feel like I’ve come around at a cool time. A couple of years ago this music might not have been embraced, but everything goes in cycles, and it seems to be a good time for it!”
There is a pause while she turns her attention to her Twitter account. “I’m running these competitions for fans and I keep making mistakes,” she says, “getting the wrong date and wrong city, stuff like that.” We suggest blaming it on autocorrect, which is of course the root of all that is evil. Katy B, of course, wouldn’t dream of passing the buck.
She may have embraced social media in all its time-consuming glory, but is she still keen to stay in touch with the underground no matter what happens? “Yeah, definitely,” she says emphatically. “And apart from the support I’ve had from producers and friends my parents have been really supportive. Going to the BRITs school gave me a lot of confidence. When I went there it was in a school sense. I thought it would be wicked rather than having to do maths! But I realised you can do that as well. Also my label have been really cool, you know when you get on a good vibe. Some people gave me a bad vibe but then Rinse is all about the music, they’re so passionate about supporting the music. It’s cool about the look that goes with it, but for me it’s not really so important, it’s still all about the music, with everyone really supporting each other.”
Part of her extended family includes Magnetic Man, with whom she sings Perfect Stranger among other guest slots. She knows them well. “I’ve been on tour with them, we shot the video for Perfect Stranger in Bulgaria, and Skream‘s done a couple of tracks for the On A Mission album too. Easy Please Me is a Magnetic Man tune.”
Katy B plays at Brighton’s Great Escape Festival on 13 May and London’s KOKO on 18 May. The album On A Mission is out now through Rinse. Festival appearances this summer include Glastonbury, Lovebox, V, Wireless, Camp Bestival and Bestival. Full tour dates and more information can be found here.