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Culture, Music

A Peaceful Place with Katya

KATYA press shot 2

Festival season is well and truly upon us. Among the esteemed Henley Festival’s jam-packed line-up is singer, songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist KATYA who is this year’s winner of the inaugural Westcoast RISING Star Award, celebrating outstanding achievement and great potential in music. We spoke to Katya ahead of her performance at Henley, about this incredible achievement, as well as what it takes to navigate a male-dominated industry, and what lies ahead for her.

Tell us about your new EP, Garden in The Sky.

It’s slightly different to the sound of my previous single, I’ll Take Your Number. It’s more atmospheric in terms of production and I was layering a lot of different sounds through Ableton (which I use to programme) so I’ve kind of melded a lot of electronic and experimental sounds with acoustic.

I watched a BBC documentary called Hubble about the wonders of space and I ended up being really inspired by it. I had this moment where I felt the magnitude of the universe. That feeling stayed with me and it was quite powerful and so as a result, I had this shift in perspective which led to me writing this song. It’s essentially about taking yourself or others out into this garden in the sky, which is a peaceful place away from all suffering on earth. [The song] takes you through the feeling of the suffering and tension, and then it transports you – I hope – to this place.

Did this change in perspective extend to other parts of your life?

I think it did actually, it was a bit like a meditation in that you step back from yourself and see things from a bigger picture, and everything feels a bit less intense. I try to maintain that in my everyday life, sometimes it’s hard to keep hold of that.

I understand Stuart Hawks did the mastering on this. He’s worked with some huge names from Amy Winehouse to Stormzy. What was it like to work with him?

It was really cool, I worked with him for my previous track, as well. It’s interesting because I do everything myself from home in terms of production, writing and recording and then I decided to mix this track, which is like sort of the next level. It’s a bit more technical. I’m not really a mixing engineer but I just decided to do it, which was a whole other challenge. Then I get to go into Stuart’s studio and learn more about the process of mastering. Mastering really is the icing on the cake and makes it work on every speaker.

How does your role as a producer influence your music?

I worked with some people to produce my music originally, but I wasn't really that happy with the results; it’s such a personal thing. If you find someone that really gels with you and your work then that’s amazing. I guess that’s why people have these pairings that last for years. I wasn't that confident to do my own production, probably because female representation is just so little, I mean there’s only like 3.4% female producers in the industry which is just crazy. I spent a long time going through and learning it myself off YouTube, just trying things and experimenting and then got to the point where I decided this is good enough.

What are the main challenges that you have faced in terms of being a female in such a male dominated industry, and how do you kind of navigate those whilst staying true to your own sound?

I’ve learnt what I want to be doing and I’ve decided that that matters to me more. I mean I love all kinds of music, but in the end, I just want to feel like what I’ve been putting out is authentic and that matters a lot to me. I don't currently work with a label or a team so I don’t necessarily have people telling me which way I should go, but I have had that in the past. They've made comments about my sound, but I think that’s something that develops with time and confidence – I’m still feeling it out. I hope that what I’ve been doing is inspirational in some way because I just think every time you see another woman producing everything themselves and taking control of their narrative, it’s really inspiring. If I can keep doing that I’d love to, and I hope that it inspires other people to do the same. 

You started song writing when you were quite young, how do you feel your creative process has evolved?

I’ve always used song writing as a way of trying to understand the reasons we react and act in certain ways – I think it was half psychological and half philosophical. I remember always musing about the world and I would stare out of my window and try to understand what we're all doing here so think those topics came in to my writing from around the age of 12. I hope they’re slightly more refined since then, but I do feel a connection to where the music and topics are coming from.

I recently read something about how if you’re trying to find yourself, you should look back to what you used to enjoy as a child – do you think this applies to what you enjoy writing about?

As we get older, we tune out a lot of what we were allowing in when we were young, and I’m really interested in that because I think connecting to ourselves at a young age is really important, particularly when you’re creating. I’m reading this book called The Creative Act by Rick Ruben, who’s a famous music producer. He talks about this as well and how to allow the inspiration to filter in. We need to stay open to that wonder and curiousity that we have at that age because as we get older our minds get so busy that we don’t have space. When I’m creating or producing or just coming up with ideas, I really try to keep it fun and light because often that experimenting you do when you’re much younger is where the ideas come from and it’s a place of excitement rather than pressure.

Your music – and performances more specifically – have been described as quite personal and immersive. Can we expect that from your performance at Henley Festival? 

When I’m on stage I feel very calm and comfortable, so I’m myself on stage and I like the feeling of being connected. I was taken to a lot of concerts by my parents when I was younger, people like Eric Clapton, Dolly Parton and Billy Joel, and I noticed I could connect with them, and I even felt like I knew them, and they were talking to me. That’s stuck with me in terms of my performances. I really want to experiment with the visuals to make it more immersive – I think that would be amazing, so I hope that my show at Henley Festival will be similar to that. I’m working on building it and improving it constantly because I think that it keeps it interesting.

Henley is a festival which champions emerging talent, particularly with their RISE program. What does it mean for you and what opportunities does it open up for upcoming artists? 

I’m really happy to be involved in their RISE program. It’s quite tough to get certain opportunities when you’re starting on the scene, so be spotlighted like this is really helpful and supportive. There are times when you’re new in this industry when you feel confident about things, and there’s times where you don’t feel as confident because it’s hard to get these opportunities. There are goals that you have, but you’re juggling quite a lot. I think to get that validation is so important. For me as well, I’ve been given the Rising Star Award and I’m just so grateful for the support and recognition.

It's great that it spotlights not just the person at centre stage, but everyone who's involved in the process, like technicians.

I often feel that they don’t get enough praise. I played at a few festivals last year and I was amazed by the backstage, they have to be on it constantly and it’s such a quick turnaround, so it’s just hectic but it’s great. 

I understand you studied music at Oxford, is there anywhere in the city which holds a special place in your heart?

So many places. I loved being in Oxford and I loved Oxford Uni. I went to a lot of gigs on Cowley Road, like at the Bullingdon. I also I remember I played a gig at the Turl Street Kitchen. I loved that area – I was at Brasenose College in the centre, so I have a lot of fond memories around there, it’s just beautiful. I found it very inspiring because it’s just so rare to be in such a beautiful city. 

These places that you’ re mentioning are all independents, which is so Oxford-specific.

I loved that. My favourite little coffee shop where I would go and write was Missing Bean – I loved going there and I loved going up to Port Meadow in the summer.

What’s next for you after Henley?

I’m going to be releasing a lot more music. A couple more singles, and I’m also hoping to do a music video for Garden in The Sky, so there’s quite a lot of things on the horizon. I’ve also got a show with BBC Introducing, and Southbank Centre’s showcase, futuretense – things are still being confirmed but, yeah.

KATYA is performing at Henley Festival on Friday 12 July.


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