As Katy B gets ready to take her new album, Little Red, on the road, she’s feeling reflective about her success - most of which came as a total surprise, as the singer tells ANDY WELCH
Perhaps the best thing about having a surprise hit is not having enough time to get nervous.
That was the case with Katy B’s debut album On A Mission. Recorded over a three-year period, it was released in April 2011 - and was duly nominated for that year’s Mercury Prize as well as kick-starting a two-year tour.
“At the time, I never thought I’d be a singer, even when I was making the album,” says Katy, real name Kathleen Anne Brien, who worked with, among others, Geeneus, on the album.
Geeneus, or ‘G’ as Katy calls him, is the head of community radio station Rinse, once a pirate grime, dubstep and jungle station, until it was handed a legitimate licence in 2010.
“I thought it was a nice project to be involved with, and I was doing guest vocals on friends’ tracks, too, but I didn’t think I’d end up on my own,” Katy, 24, recalls.
“I was doing so much other music-related stuff - running club nights, going to gigs and studying music (at Goldmsiths, University of London) - that it all just felt part of the same thing.
“I thought I might end up as a music therapist or a music teacher, but hadn’t considered it any more than that. There was no pressure, from me or anyone else.”
There’s a marked difference now it’s come to her second album, however.
Little Red - a nickname of the diminutive redhead singer - was released in early February and went straight to the top of the UK album chart. Quite the result, even if Katy says she feels a lot more responsibility this time round.
“I’m still having fun but it was definitely a different vibe,” she admits. That will happen when you’re signed to a major label like Columbia, part of Sony. Where there was once a pleasing ramshackle nature to her sound, that’s now gone, replaced by a more business-like approach.
“It was a lovely feeling just before the album was released, knowing it was finished and ready to go, although it was a bit like finishing school - excitement, mixed with this feeling of being unsure of the future and not knowing what opportunities there are going to be,” she says. “Mostly I’m just excited to show my new creation.”
She spent a long time thinking about her second album before she started writing. The first thing she realised was that, while with her debut she’d written lyrics over the top of an existing song or beat, the same way a rapper or topline melody writer would, this time, she wanted to work on songs from the ground up.
Making Little Red was a hugely positive experience, with writing in a new way making for some very different sorts of songs.
“Writing over beats means you react to the music and get one sort of song, whereas lyrics first means you tell more stories. Like one day, I was on my way to the studio and there was a guy opposite me on the train that reminded me of someone I had feelings for - they both had blue eyes. So when I got to the studio I wrote a song called Blue Eyes, which is a bonus track on the album. I’d never have been able to do that working in the old way.”
Something else that got Katy excited was having Jessie Ware, South London’s other premier former-guest-vocalist-turned-solo-star, come in. She features on Aaliyah, the song they co-wrote together with Geeneus. “I was so, so happy that day. That’s when I started to get a great feeling about the album.”