Del Osei-Owusu interviews Katy Rose Bennett…
Hello Katy, how are you?
Hello Del! I’m good. I love the summer. I’ve spent a lot of time recently lying in my hammock, looking at the sky.
Congratulations on making the Fresh Faves, how does it feel?
Thank you so much! I was really chuffed and quite surprised to make the Fresh Faves list this week. I’ve known about Fresh Faves for years so it felt really good to be included alongside some really awesome music. A proper eclectic mix in there!
Sleep is quite simply put a stunning track, with lyrics I can personally identify with as I don’t sleep very easily (it’s 3am!). How did it come about?
Thank you! Well, I’m glad you can relate although I do not wish insomnia on anyone. I actually wrote the lyrics and bare bones of the song a few years ago when I wasn’t really sleeping well and having a generally tricky time of it. I was just in the process of getting divorced and had a lot of worry on my mind. As you can hear, there aren’t many words and they repeat quite a bit which is a bit like what happens when you’re really trying to get to sleep – you end up having circular, repetitive conversations with yourself which in turn keep you awake. That’s my experience anyway! I know a lot of people have found this pandemic period anxiety-inducing, overloaded with news and finding it hard to sleep so I hope the song has some resonance for now.
It’s an acapella song, what inspired you to record this way?
Ever since I can remember, I’ve loved singing vocal harmonies. When I was growing up, there were a lot of family gathering sing-alongs of Beatles, The Band, Joni Mitchell, Simon & Garfunkel and all that good stuff.
I’ve done a fair bit of acappella singing in groups over the years and I’ve always layered up vocal harmonies on my previous records (often with my brother Joe Bennett of Dreaming Spires).
This is the first time I’ve made a purely vocal record, of just my voice. It’s also the first time I’ve written, recorded and produced a record entirely self-sufficiently and independently.
It feels like both a departure from the kind of music I’ve been making up til now but at the same time an obvious continuation of my musical path, if that makes sense?
I’ve also been running acappella community choirs and vocal workshops for the last 15 years (which I absolutely love doing) and so all those vocal experiences fed into making this record.
You are a singer/songwriter/musician from Birmingham, how did it all begin for you?
I’ve lived in Birmingham for nearly 20 years now, but I was actually raised in rural Oxfordshire. I’m from a big family (both my older brothers are musicians) and there was always a lot of musical chaos in the house. I wrote my first proper song aged 9 (a really terrible Blues pastiche). The quality of my songwriting has definitely improved
What did you listen to growing up?
I listened to a lot of 60s songwriters growing up (my dad’s influence), a lot of 90s indie, a lot of jazz standards, and a lot of female singers including Patsy Cline, k d lang, The Be Good Tanyas, Gillian Welch, Bjork… in terms of vocal harmonies, I was hugely influenced by The Beach Boys and Brian Wilson, and The Beatles.
You have been writing for over 20 years, what was the catalyst for this?
My older brother Robin (of Bennett Wilson Poole) started writing songs when he was about 12 and, as his 7-year-old sister, I wanted to do whatever he did! So, you can probably blame him for me starting to write songs. But, over the years, songwriting has become my means of navigating the world, my way of processing experiences of love and heartache, mental health, community, social justice, parenthood, relationships, trees, birds… I am very happy that it is now a habit I have for life! It’s something I will always do. A song is one of the most direct means of communicating an idea or an emotion, straight to the heart. In our fractured world, art and music are going to be more important than ever to bridge the gaps. Music especially has such an incredible power to encourage empathy and to bring people together and that’s why I write songs. That kind of answers the question, I think!
You released your sixth album in 2020, what was the inspiration behind it?
The idea was to look back on nearly 20 years of writing and releasing music and hand-pick a collection from that body of work to represent my music. A bit like an assorted chocolate box! It was called ‘Where Does It Hurt? An Introduction to Katy Rose Bennett’ – kind of does exactly what it says on the tin!
You have another one coming out, Alone On A Hill. Describe it in three words.
Vocal. Emotional. Folktronicappella
What are your favourite tracks from it?
That varies depending on the day! There’s a 30-second section in I Have A Song where there are about 20 layers of voices providing the backing for the lead vocal – that is one of my favourite moments.
Devil (which is the second single from the album and coming out early September) is quite dark in subject matter but was a lot of fun to make. There’s lots of multi-tap delays and reversed vocal stuff and some weird manipulated vocal sounds. I was really pleased with how that turned out, eventually, partly ’cos it took a while to get there!
I feel really emotional around Makes Me Forget too – it’s like a secular hymn to nature – and was the first song I started recording for the album but the last one to get finished as I was struggling to finish the lyrics.
What were the main challenges you faced recording it?
The limits of my vocal range (I could just about get to an Eb below middle C) and the fact that a recording of my voice has a very similar timbre to another recording of my voice so differentiating between vocal parts was sometimes hard to do. I think I got there in the end through panning, doubling and some other sonic processes. I’d love to record a live album with the 5-piece vocal ensemble I’ve put together for my tour this September. That’s probably next on the to-do list.
What are you listening to at the moment?
My friend Jim Cornick (of Ersatz) did the final mixes of the Alone On A Hill album and he suggested I listen to Julianna Barwick. Her album Healing Is A Miracle I just love. She’s touring the UK in September and I’ve got tickets for her Brum show. I can’t wait!
I’ve been really enjoying my fellow Brummies Katherine Priddy’s new stuff as well as the brilliant Kiriki Club album. I’m just getting my ears round Allison Russell’s Outside Child which is beautiful, powerful stuff.
You’re from Birmingham, what are your three favourite things about the city?
- The number 11 bus (just because I must have spent years of my life on it) – it’s a circular route on the outer ring road that essentially gives you a tour of the city.
- Highbury Park, Holders Woods and all the parks and green spaces which people just don’t expect to be part of Birmingham – it’s one of the greenest cities in Europe, don’t you know?
- Kitchen Garden Cafe, Kings Heath – it’s a cafe, it’s a garden centre, it’s an amazing music venue and it’s a little oasis of calm.
You have tour dates coming up later this year, what have you missed about gigging?
Connecting with people in real life. Sharing music with other people. Communing through music. All of it. I even miss the overpriced lemonade!
What are you looking forward to doing next?
Having a little holiday by the sea with my son and my family. I’ve really missed the sea.
Getting my new album to people’s ears in September and playing some real live gigs!
Collaborating with other musicians and artists of different disciplines – I’m currently composing music to accompany a dance piece about the menstrual cycle!
I’m hoping to record an album with a duo I’m in called The Katies (with multi-instrumentalist Katie Stevens of Bonfire Radicals and The Destroyers amongst many other bands) so that might happen soon, fingers crossed!