Katy J Pearson’s debut album may have put her on the musical map, but with its follow-up, she’s pushing out her horizons and doing it in her own way.
Words: Neive McCarthy. Photos: Indy Brewer.
Country, Americana, folk – Katy J Pearson has heard it all. Her debut album ‘Return’ saw her release a video for single ‘Tonight’ bedecked in a rhinestone jacket and line dancing on a hilltop. The result? An unbelievable number of people hailing her as the next coming of country, the future it girl of cowboy hats and pickup trucks. At best, it was plain wrong – ‘Tonight’ only has the slightest tinge of country influence, if you squint. Worse, though, is the disservice it clearly did Katy. As she returns with her second album ‘Sound Of The Morning’, she proves that she’s far more multi-faceted.
“I realised that as long as it feels like a cohesive piece of work, you can do anything you flipping want!” declares Katy, animated and lively. “This record, I was like, I don’t fucking care. I can do whatever I want. Every song is so different, but it’s given me that freedom. It’s about beating your own drum.
In abandoning that need to do things a certain way, Katy has discovered a liberating means of creation. The outcome may range in style and sound, but a levity stems from that weight lifted from her shoulders which neatly ties them all together. The titular opening track feels like a deep breath in preparation to turn this new leaf and see where it takes her. There are lingering touches of her previous album, but there’s no escaping that this is something else entirely.
“As long as it feels like a cohesive piece of work, you can do anything you flipping want!”Katy J Pearson
“The record is such a mixture of styles,” Katy muses. “It goes from proper acoustic folk to ‘Confession’, which is more of a heavier, aggressive production that otherwise maybe wouldn’t have been written. It would be so easy to bung on a really overproduced single for the first song from the record, but that would feel so not what I want to do. The first record felt like a good, strong journey of emotion. I wanted to follow that. I feel like every record is a real story.”
‘Sound Of The Morning’ has a powerful story to it, that’s for sure. It’s one of coming into your own, taking ownership of your creativity and captaining your own ship. “It was hard as hell, but I was also calm,” Katy explains. “I managed to put my foot down and be like, no, this is where I want it to go. It’s hard to follow through with your vision when you’re still a bit insecure about what you think you are. But luckily, working with Ali [Chant, producer] again and my band, it didn’t actually take as long as I thought. I was really worried – the first record took two years to finish; it was such a long process, it was excruciating. So it’s nice that this one took three or four months, and then it was done. I was like, this is a miracle; I can’t believe we’ve done it!”
Though she reunited with previous collaborator Ali Chant in part, her latest album also saw Katy branching out down different avenues. A lot of the album has a celebratory, connected feel, undoubtedly a result of collaboration. “When I was like nineteen, I remember I’d been collaborating so much, and it was a very negative way of collaborating – it was a very pop way. I was so against collaborating for a really long time. I think something just shifted for me. Also, being in lockdown, I wanted to have my peers around me. I wanted to learn from these people I admired. I got to sing a song on Orlando Weeks’ new record, then I got him in to sing on ‘Howl’. I also had Samantha Crain’s music, which I love. We got chatting, and I got her on. It felt like everyone connecting, and I’ve got all these amazing people contributing to my work. It feels really flattering that they wanted to be a part of it.”
In broadening those horizons, the album transforms into something far braver. It isn’t afraid to experiment and lean into something that might be too indulgent – ‘Talk Over Town’ is a sprawling, near six-minute odyssey which hurtles along, but there are no attempts to hold that back. Elsewhere, ‘Storm To Pass’ is all lilting vocals and an atmosphere arresting enough to bring pause. It’s otherworldly.
In pushing the boat out and testing the limits of how much she can change shape and style, Katy sees the scale of her sound stretch outwards. “I wanted sonically for the sound to be bigger and be pushed more. I wanted the mixes to sound more atmospheric and more anthemic as well. I think, luckily, that kind of works. I also wanted the production to feel a bit nastier in places, and not be so light. Some of the songs tread on difficult themes. I don’t think I could ever go fully, fully dark vibes because it’s not in my nature. I’m always like bittersweet – it’s painful but also joyous. That’s always been my balance. In ‘Alligator’, the verses are painful, but the chorus is a really happy release.”
“I wanted to have my peers around me. I wanted to learn from these people I admired”Katy J Pearson
The album blows those complex themes and dark emotions into full view. Katy doesn’t just scratch the surface; she dives deep into those situations and feelings without fear of intimacy. It’s a tricky line to walk, but it never feels as though those emotions are weighing it down – the expansiveness of her sound means we work through those emotions with her. There’s a catharsis to be found.
“I feel things very deeply,” says Katy. “It would be wrong to not write the lyrics in a personal and vulnerable way. It’s taken me a long time to get to that point. When I was younger, I wrote songs about nature, trees, and things. It was fine; it got me somewhere, but you can’t shy away from true emotion. I’m getting older now, and things come out easier. It’s important to put those emotions onto a song, and it seems it’s really helped people. It’s my natural port of call now to be completely vulnerable with it.”
In being so open and unashamed of those feelings, there’s a lot of support to be found in Katy’s music. ‘Confession’ looks set to offer resonance and reassurance to a lot of listeners, especially her female audience. Born from a conversation with her mum following the #MeToo movement, it’s a tense moment, but one that is so important. In the wake of so many harrowing, hard-to-watch news stories of women coming to harm, it sonically mimics that unsettled anxiety and yearning to be heard.
“Before, I was kind of scared, worried that I didn’t want to seem tokenistic, like I was jumping on the bandwagon,” Katy reflects. “I think there are two sides to it – I’m so passionate, and being a female in music means I’ve encountered some shitty people and been in some uncomfortable situations. But I was anxious that I didn’t want it to seem insincere if I was going to do it. If it was going to happen, I didn’t want it to be something that was forced.”
“I was saying to my friends: you could be drunk at a party, and someone says ‘Oh, this happened to me ages ago,’ and you’re like that’s awful, I can’t believe that’s happened, but they’re like ‘oh it was ages ago, it doesn’t matter now’. You look at these big rock stars, who were literally going out with twelve-year-olds in the 70s, but everyone’s always like, it was a different time! It was the 70s. It was so long ago! That ‘it was a very long time ago’ felt like a sum up of everything to do with #MeToo.”
“A lot of us are fucking angry. It’s so frustrating”Katy J Pearson
She continues: “It also missed the music industry. Me and my female friends in music, we could be in a green room or backstage at a festival, and there are bands there that have countless allegations and accusations. It’s a really difficult situation, and you feel uncomfortable. You feel scared if there’s someone there that you know has done something awful to someone. Like, you’re just in the dressing room next to me? It was important for me to express that with that song. A lot of us are fucking angry. It’s so frustrating. As women, we go to these festivals, do these gigs, and are so professional with it. It’d be so easy to go and have a go at them, but we get on with it and do our jobs. It just shows that we’re so used to it, it’s a survival mechanism – like, okay, there’s an abuser over there, but I need to do my job because I’ve got here, and women have to work a thousand times harder to get into the position they’re in. I’m really glad that song will be coming out. It was important for me to express it because I think I was afraid to talk about it – everyone’s very vulnerable about it.”
It’s a conversation that is tip-toed around but needs to happen – so many bands and artists with allegations against them still seem to appear on festival line-ups, heralded as absolute kings. It’s a lack of care and protection for women in music; having to live with that fear and accept it as the norm should not be the case. With any luck, ‘Confession’ might spark a long-overdue conversation about why the music industry continues to let these situations occur, and why there has not been more movement to hold abusers accountable. It’s a gorgeous song and one which offers so much solidarity and hope.
It falls in line with that newfound need to create what Katy wants to create – she’s saying what she needs to say, to a sound she likes, without any care for who might not like it. ‘Sound Of The Morning’ is totally on Katy’s terms. It’s bold, but it’s a necessary boldness. Thought-provoking and affirming, Katy proves to both herself and her audience that she knows exactly what she’s doing and will continue to do so, reaping the benefits along the way. “The fear has gone down a few percent,” Katy rounds off with a laugh. “Now I’m onto the second one, it’s easier each time to share things. The fact that I’m brave enough to share a body of work with the world in the first place just made me like, fuck it. Let’s just carry on. It is what it is.” ■
Taken from the July 2022 edition of Dork, out now. Katy J Pearson’s album ‘Sound Of The Morning’ is out now.