Katy J Pearson on “Sound of the Morning”, #MeToo in the music industry and Paul McGann
Take back control
Jul 13, 2022
Photograph by H. Hawkline
Katy J Pearson’s debut album, Come back, released during the UK’s second COVID lockdown in November 2020, saw her go from ‘Katy from Bristol’ (her description) to one of the UK’s hottest breakthrough artists, to critical acclaim . In some ways, the pandemic may have contributed to its upward trajectory. Come back seemed like the kind of album people stumbled upon during lockdown. “It seemed to resonate,” says Pearson.
“I guess with people sitting at home, they had time to really get to know the album,” she continues, “so by the time I started playing again, people knew the lyrics. People also contacted me to say that it was an album that had really helped them with their mental health, which is obviously very rewarding.
There had been talk of postponing the album’s release due to the pandemic, but Pearson had already started work on his second album, morning sound, and didn’t really want to push the release date any further. “We were already seated Come back for a while,” she explains, “and I felt like we didn’t know how long the restrictions would last. I also thought people needed new music and I thought we should just go ahead and release it.
Come back was written after Pearson’s previous band, Ardyn, with his brother Rob, was dropped by a major label. “After being abandoned, it took me about a year to finally get some of my old songs back,” she reveals. “I had a few that my old label didn’t really like in my old project that I knew I always wanted to release, so I thought ‘Okay, I can use those as a starting point for my solo work’.”
After moving to Bristol and without a regular job, Pearson took up songwriting and wrote ‘Beautiful Soul’, ‘Tonight’, ‘Return’, ‘Hey You’ and ‘On the Road’ within a month. . “It was a busy time,” she laughs, “by the time I was ready to go into the studio with Ali Chant, there were originally only going to be a few singles. But since I had fun with singles and EPs in my previous project and it felt like a kind of second chance at music, I decided that I really wanted to create a full album and come in as a solo artist with a body of work.”
While Pearson asserts that Come back was written over a period of time in a rather instinctive way, she took a different approach to Morning sound. She was able to think things through in more detail and had a definite feeling that she wanted to expand her sound into different areas rather than just reproducing Come back.
“I think I felt more confident as an artist this time around,” she explains. “I knew I wanted things a little darker and a little heavier. The first album is pretty light in some ways and definitely has folk and pop elements in it, so I guess I wanted to mark that a bit and show that there’s a lot more I can do.
Although considered a relative newcomer, Pearson got her first contract when she was 18 and there were times when she felt like her ideas weren’t being listened to when she was working. with various producers. However, after teaming up with Heavenly Recordings for her solo work, she found the perfect collaborators in the form of producers Ali Chant and Dan Carey, whom she immediately connected with.
“They were essential,” enthuses Pearson. “I felt safe and confident that they would listen to me and produce the album that I wanted rather than trying to put their own stamp on it. Dan and Ali respected me as an artist, they listened to me and helped me find my way without influencing me too much. Sometimes it can be really hard to articulate what you want to do, but they made me feel really good about everything and now I’m looking forward to the next album. I really want to try producing some of this myself next time.
As her music suggests, Pearson is an inquisitive artist who has certainly been open to collaborations. Indeed, she recently worked with Yard Act for the End of the Road festival and joined the 2021 project of the trad-folk collective Broadside Hacks. Songs without authorsplus guest vocals on Orlando Weeks’ recent album Climb. Indeed Weeks Reciprocates morning soundadding vocals to “Howl”, one of Pearson’s oldest unreleased songs.
“I kept rediscovering old songs that I had written but not released. ‘Howl’ was one of those songs. I wasn’t really sure at first that I wanted to include older tracks on a new album, but Heavenly Recordings heard it and really liked it, so I thought ‘Damn, I’m going to rework on that rather than to throw it away and give it the time it deserves. And when I started working on it, I could hear Orlando’s voice in the chorus, he has a very good falsetto and our voices blend well together. I thought if he ever collaborated on one of my songs, it would be the perfect one.
And Pearson doesn’t limit his collaborations to music, his videos are often daring, inventive, visually arresting and imbued with wit and humor. For instance morning sound single “Alligator”, which also features actor Paul McGann (Withnail and me, Doctor Who), was overseen by up-and-coming director Edie Lawernce who has previously worked with IDLES and Jamie T among others. “It was actually a video she did with Pixx called ‘Bitch’ that brought her to my attention,” Pearson reveals. “There were all kinds of surreal imagery and animation that I knew would work for this song.”
By chance, Pearson met McGann when she played a Warchild event in Bristol, which he was attending. “I’m so tall Withnail and me fan,” she enthuses, “so I was like, ‘Oh my god, it’s Paul McGann!’ I met him backstage. He had heard of me and my music and we had a great conversation. I thought, ‘Imagine if we could get him for the cafe scene in the video.’ »
And in the spirit of nothing dared, nothing won, Pearson decided to reach out and ask her. “He was so nice and said, ‘Yeah, sure, I can do that’ and he spent a few hours. He was laughing so hard, he was wearing the leather jacket and the glasses [à la Withnail and I]– it was such a moment.
morning sound is certainly an album that perfectly blends light and shadow and sees Pearson expand his sound and songwriting into slightly darker places than his debut, perhaps no more so than on “Confession”. It’s a song inspired by the #MeToo movement, reflecting trauma, and specifically female trauma, and the bravery of individuals speaking out.
“For me, as a young woman in music, which was signed when I was quite young, I suddenly found myself thrown into this commercial world full of dating older men and some of it was very inappropriate. I didn’t feel protected at all,” Pearson says. “I mean the #MeToo movement happened in the movie industry, but with music there was this really weird kind of neglect. And then reading about underage groupies in the 70s and after watching the documentary look away, which shines a light on how the behavior of huge rock stars has been normalized and excused, well, it’s really disturbing as a female artist. When I talk to other female artists in the industry, we all have stories to tell. Even now, for young female musicians getting there, it’s still not a safe place. So “Confession” really came out of that, how as women when we have bad experiences with, say, a sound engineer or someone we work with, we tend to downplay it and say things like, ‘That was a long time ago.’ When you tell someone about your experiences, they will often excuse it by saying, “Well, it happens to everyone”, which is a way of invalidating your own experience. the fear of speaking out, as a woman you are vulnerable because there are so many men in the industry with power who could really fuck you So yeah the whole #MeToo thing kind of got around the music industry, which left many of us furious.
morning sound ends with a cover of “Willow’s Song”, from the 1973 soundtrack of the cult film The wicker man, composed by Paul Giovanni and interpreted by the group Magnet. As you’d expect from such a gifted musician, Pearson certainly put her own unique stamp on the song, as she reveals. “I actually watched the original Wicker Man right before last Christmas when I had COVID and already had the soundtrack on my Spotify playlist. I just loved what Magnet and Paul Giovanni had created, it’s such a strong and interesting soundtrack. A few people had already covered “Willow’s Song” and I was telling the boys in the studio that I would love to cover it, but re-imagine it, give it a psychedelic, Krautrock vibe. We started playing it at festivals and I thought it would be really liberating and fun to end the album with this cover.
Having been in and around music from an early age, Pearson certainly feels liberated as a solo artist, as she explains. “I found it empowering, which I never would have thought, because initially I found the idea of going it alone quite scary. I mean I was ready to give up music when I was 21 years and becoming a gardener! So taking creative control back was such a positive experience. When I appeared on Jools Holland’s show,” she says, referring to the long-running BBC music show. Later… with Jools Holland“we went to the pub to see it again and as soon as the opening titles started I burst into tears. It was a real to-do list moment and I felt such a moment of validation for me as an artist.