At the turn of 2011, the music press did its usual trick of trying to predict who would be ‘the voice’ of the year ahead. Jessie J, Anna Calvi, James Blake and The Vaccines were all variously hailed as pop music’s new saviours… along with Katy B.
While some on that list have enjoyed the full might of a major label marketing machine (J), remained purposefully enigmatic (Blake) or made a rushed attempt to justify the hype with an album (Vaccines), Katy has kept her feet where they’ve always been: on the streets of South London, surrounded by the DJs and producers she used to experiment with on pirate radio.
Which is why, when she shows up almost an hour late for our interview, you know it’s a ‘sorry-slept-in’ moment rather than evidence that she’s allowed the hype surrounding her imminent debut to go to her head.
Another clue is the setting. While pop’s bright new things are usually installed in a sterile hotel room to do ‘media’, Katy is perched comfortably on a tatty sofa, separated by a sheet of glass from two DJs messing about in a recording studio in trendy Shoreditch.
Pretty, poised and polite, she told AOL Music about going to school with Adele, her many underground influences and the decision to stay loyal to the dubstep label she grew up with…
What’s your new single ‘Broken Record’ about?
It’s about being in a relationship and being scared of losing someone, which is slightly more ‘lovely-dovey’ than my other songs which are all just about being in a club!
How was making the video?
It took two days and was really fun. They had to build an entire set of a hotel room in Fabric [the nightclub] and I also had to a bit of acting, which was a great experience because my other videos were just me walking around. Although I did do a bit in the ‘Perfect Stranger’ [her Magnetic Man collaboration] video too…
Did you enjoy making that one as well?
Yeah, except the director made me run around the block three times so I looked genuinely out of the breath! I was seeing stars around my eyes! It was also very hot so I moaned a bit, but I enjoyed it really. When I was young I used to act a bit. Maybe I’d be doing that if it wasn’t for the music…
How did you get into performing?
I grew up in Peckham [South-East London], where a lot of people were into making beats in their bedroom, that sort of thing. I was always volunteering when they needed a singer. The first track I appeared on got played a lot on pirate radio, so my name got out there a little bit and it snowballed from there. The people I was collaborating with were making instrumental house or garage beats and didn’t give a dam about the lyrics, so they left it up to me. My parents had always told me to make sure I wrote my own songs, so I did!
What was it like going to the Brit School with the likes of Jessie J and Adele?
It gave me the confidence to believe I could make a career out of doing what I loved. You also get exposed to a lot people who are as passionate as you are, and to a lot of new music. One of my favourite singers is Jill Scott – Adele introduced me to her. She was older than me and more of a classmate than a close friend, but she’s a great girl and it’s lovely to see her doing so well.
Did all the ‘voice of 2011′ hype bother you?
It’s flattering, but I try not to run away with myself or read much of what’s been written about me. It’s hard to resist, but I think it’s a dangerous thing to get wrapped up in all that.
How’s your relationship with your label?
Before I signed for Rinse, there were other people who wanted to manage me but I didn’t get a good vibe from them. With Rinse it’s been more organic. I’m free to write my music and get to work with wicked producers. Also, it suddenly meant I could get into nightclubs for free, which did wonders for my street cred!
What’s the album like?
I was making it part-time while I was at uni, so it’s taken a long time to finish but it feels great now it’s done. It’s inspired by UK underground genres. The two main producers – Genius and Zinc – has put together a hybrid of grime, garage, dubstep, funky, break beat and jungle, with my music on top of it. The songs are all about being a young woman in London – going out, being in love and friendship.
Who else would you like to collaborate with?
Cee Lo Green! I love his voice and have been listening to his album a lot. So Cee Lo if you’re reading this – give me a call!
What are you looking forward to in 2011?
I’m doing my first headline tour. I’ve only ever done support tours and appearances before, so it’s pretty nerve-wracking! I’m also playing just about every festival this summer. Hopefully I’ll be able to bring my friends and have a good time…
Which is exactly what Katy – unlike her all of her fellow ‘voices of 2011′ – seems most interested in.
Interviewed for AOL Music March 2011
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