Legacy and what memories we leave behind in the minds of others can often grip us with justified anxiety. Our desire to be understood and for our achievements to become history is the string that helps book-bind our goals and aspirations: a principle which couldn’t be truer for artists and creators. However, alongside this yearning to be remembered is the hand in glove passion to self-determine what paths we choose and how our efforts are undertaken. After all, the pen that writes the story of our lives gets its ink from our successes or our failures.
Ascending to the status of being one of the most magnetic and sought out performers of today has been a hard-fought journey for Katy J Pearson. Stumbling into the web woven by the mainstream music industry at an early age and finding its inner workings creatively stifling, the unfortunate reality that she was trapped in an impersonal and by-the-numbers environment became frighteningly all too apparent. With a burning desire to break free from the puppeteering and a need to present a true and undiluted vision of her work, signing to Heavenly Records in 2018 proved to be the galvanising fresh start that Katy had been waiting for.
Now revelling in the space to blossom, KJP is finding herself drafting a newfound chapter on self-discovery and artistic exploration. Releasing her debut single at the tail end of 2019, she set the scene for her and her band to start moving forward. With an array of swirling strings and poignant lyrics capturing beautifully the unsteady awkwardness of a new romance in bloom, ‘Tonight’ demonstrated what doing things at your own pace and with your own vision could achieve. Now with horizons broad and clear, circumstances couldn’t be more favourable, shedding loose the restrictions of her yesteryears and leaving Katy with the pen that will write her future firmly in her grasp.
Wax: In the past, you’ve made references to a previous life of writing songs, “to impress men in suits”, hinting towards being a part of the more traditional songwriting structures found within the music industry. That intrigues me – could you elaborate a bit more on what your musical life was like before your current solo venture?
Katy J Pearson: So, before the current solo project I was in a band with my brother (Rob Pearson) and we were signed to a major label – I won’t name it. We were signed when we were 19 and it was just the wrong deal, the wrong time and it was a very different vibe to Heavenly Records, obviously. We were put into a load of co-writing sessions and were kind of forced to write things we didn’t want to write, and release things we didn’t want to release. It was just a very classic major-label commercial story really. We just wanted to stop and in the end they dropped us – which was great!
Looking back on it, although it was terrible, it was also a massive learning curve for me. While my friends were at uni, I was going into this major part of the music industry. I stayed in Premier Inns with my brother, went to writing sessions every day and met a load of people, but it was just a very corporate world that wasn’t me. It was good for me to see and do exactly what I hated, though, so now that I’m in a position where I’m fully in control it feels great!
W: So comparing that to where you are now, working with Heavenly must be a breath of fresh air creatively. How does the creative experience differ from the past now that you’re writing more for yourself rather than for others?
KJP: It’s just so easy. I’m with people that have a genuine love and support for what I do, and it feels like I’m now part of a family, you know? There’s never been any point where they’ve made me feel uncomfortable; they’re just completely on my side. My ideas for music videos, for artwork, there’s never really been a point where they’ve been like, “oh my gosh, this isn’t right!”. They’ve always been fully behind where I want to take things and it’s such a privilege to work with people who are in it for the music and not for anything else. It’s amazing and I haven’t got a single bad word to say about them – they’re a brilliant label.
W: Do you feel that you approach songwriting differently now, perhaps with more freedom when it comes to subject choice?
KJP: Yeah, I think before I was under so much pressure it got to a point where I started to completely loose touch with my own personality, because I stopped writing for myself and started writing for ‘them’. When they were praising me it felt good, but I wasn’t really thinking about if I liked the songs anymore, you know? Whereas now, it’s so much more relaxing. It’s now a cathartic process rather than feeling that I should be writing because ‘they’ feel that I should be writing. With Heavenly, I can write something and even if I love it or I hate it, I can still send it over because I just want their feedback and I respect what they say. I feel whatever they come back to me with, I’ll take it on board.
W: One thing that I’ve noticed being a constant element within your creative endeavours is the support from your brother Rob. As you’re siblings, is there any kind of unique connection between the two of you that helps aid the creative process?
KJP: Yeah, absolutely! From a young age we’ve all just loved music. My dad played guitar when he was younger and he taught us the basic chords and I think, because we were surrounded by such a musical environment, playing music together was simply a way of having fun. Some people would go out and play football together or go play a game on the Playstation, but we used to sit down and write songs because we had fun with it.
When it comes to my songwriting now, he’s still very much involved. I mainly write the songs, but if I just want to add additional production he’s there. He’s got a very good ear for that kind of thing, so he’s good at helping out with demos and thinking of things that he can hear which I wouldn’t necessarily pick up on. I feel like I’ve got someone who, if I want to do something and I don’t know how to do it, he can help me out. It’s a very good working relationship.
W: So let’s talk about your recent single. I know you’ve stated in the past that you wrote ‘Tonight’ out of a want to pen something ‘classic and universal’. So I wanted to ask, as the song is so successful in its execution, is it easy for you to write about the subject of love and romance naturally, or was this skill of capturing the ‘classic and universal’ something which you learned to perfect in your previous venture as a songwriter on a major label?
KJP: I think in a way, I didn’t go into the studio that day and say to myself, “I want to write about this.” But, I think when I was constructing the song, I hit upon the subject naturally, and it was nice to be writing about something that was universally relatable. I wanted to write about something quite literal and straight forward. Everyone’s gone through it, I’ve personally gone through it, and I think it was nice to have something that was a bit more upfront and have lyrics that are plainly understood rather than something where people have to question what it’s about.
W: I think using the dance floor as a metaphor for the journey of romance, with its looking for cues and the awkward missteps experienced along the way is quite apt: some people are good dancers, whilst others not so much.
KJP: Absolutely! I think it was nice to channel a bit of that into the music video as well. I wanted it to feature line-dancing and just have a playful reference to the subject matter of the song. I was kind of nervous because I had never done line-dancing before and I was literally winging it (laughs). But I guess the idea was to be very honest. I was putting myself out there by doing something quite bizarre. What I’m so pleased about is that people are finding it quite charming and very honest and it’s just a representation of myself which is quite clumsy and kind of a bit quirky. So it felt really nice to put myself out there as a frank representation of who I am.
W: That being said, as we live in an era where we make a lot of our connections through screens and messaging apps rather than through experiences in the real world, do you think the type of blossoming romance you chose to write about in ‘Tonight’ still exists to be explored?
KJP: Yeah, I think so. I think it’s definitely something that’s disappeared more thanks to all the dating apps. But I still think there are places where it still happens. I have friends who it has happened to: they meet someone in a club and they start dancing and then chatting. I think people are a bit more scared to be more upfront about it these days, but I think it was nice to focus on a time where that’s the only way it happened.
W: So going back to what we spoke about in the beginning of the interview, it’s obvious you feel much less constrained now that you have more freedom when it comes to your songwriting. So looking ahead, what are some of the things you are most looking forward to in the future as you continue to pursue this chapter of your musical life?
KJPI’m just excited to keep creating and to release my album. I just want to release a body of work which I’m really proud of, one which I feel I’ve worked really hard on and that represents me. I’m excited about all the music videos that I’ll be making and the fact that I’m thinking of the concepts myself and I have control – I can finally present a full package of “this is me.”
Words by Dan E Brown (@dan_e_brown) / Photos by Aidan Stojsavljevic