Katy Rose: London’s Patti Smith?
It’s difficult to take your eyes off Katy Rose. She has a softened attractiveness, and a softened charisma—softened, but not soft. She puts one at ease, but only through what is clearly inner force. Lounging on the sofa, her curly hair in plaits, she looks like a blonde Lara Croft on break. “Is there anything you’d particularly like me to focus on in the interview?” I ask. “Well, if you could ask me about my favourite sexual positions I think that would really hit the demographic” she says, laughing. “And you could move on to ask me about my religious views, and then maybe just insult me.”
Katy Rose is a Californian musician who shot to fame in the early 2000s with her debut album Because I Can. The album single Overdrive hit number one spots worldwide, and her songs were featured on the soundtracks of films and series including Mean Girls, Thirteen and One Tree Hill. But just a teenager then, she took a break to—as she puts it— “grow up”. And she certainly has.
So, why London?
Katy: “Well, I wanted to be in Europe, and I’ve written this album all over—between London, Paris, Sweden, LA, Nashville and Atlanta—but London is great because I do my best writing when the weather’s bad.”
Outside the window the sky is duly bruised. We meet in the Notting Hill flat she’s been sharing with her friend, the photographer Anouska Beckwith. It’s a calm, civilised terrace house, and the sitting room is airy and light; on the wall behind Katy there’s a black-and-white lithograph of a naked woman running through a Baroque hall trailing a sheet. Except for the guitar in the corner, none of this fits the wild rockstar I remembered from Rolling Stone.
Katy: “More specifically, though, I love British history” she says, as her eyes light up. “A bit pre-Tudor to Plantagenet, mainly. The Wars of the Roses, and then my interest stops at James I; it’s much more about the females. Elizabeth I killing Mary Queen of Scots then leaving the throne to James. For me it’s about these women in history who didn’t have a voice—but you know they had to do with these huge events in history—the EU reformation, the purging of Catholics, the Spanish Armada.”
It’s really interesting you say that, because despite that focus on women, this album’s called I’m Your Man. Whence that title?
Katy: “Well, first of all it’s a nod to the Leonard Cohen song of the same name, but it’s also about sexual discovery and self-discovery in my twenties, and the stories of my friends at the same age. I have friends who are men and women and gay and straight and everyone has similar stories.”
Does it have anything to do with gender fluidity?
Katy: “Not so much, in those terms. It’s much more about not being afraid to express a strength generally allocated to masculinity. I was never a very ultra-feminine girly girl, and I grew up with a lot of girls who were really energetic and competitive. So, in one sense I’ve never thought of myself as either male or female—I don’t think that’s the weirdest thing anyone’s ever said—I mean that I just don’t care. This album’s much more about strength and adventure than it is about any kind of politics at all.”
Is this album more British-influenced, if there even is a difference in sound over here? Or are you planning on bringing a more American sound to Europe?
“Good question. There are definitely typical British sounds. I think of jangly, unpolished, choppy guitars: The Libertines, Arctic Monkeys, The Hives, Blur, Bloc Party. But that’s just one kind of music—the Top 40 at the moment here and in the US is much more about this R&B sound, particularly from women. My project isn’t aimed at the Top 40 anyway, but I feel like everyone is super polished in a way that’s quite uninspiring.”
The early 2000s, when you released your first album as a teenager, was a period with a lot of strong women.
Katy: “Right; gone are the days of Fiona Apple, Kate Bush, Tori Amos, Patti Smith, Alanis Morrisette—all those raw female voices of the late 90s that a lot of the young women making music when I was kind of took over from, so then it became The Pretty Reckless, Avril Lavigne, Fefe Dobson and Lillix bringing a more punk sound.”
Me: “And Katy Rose.”
Katy: “And Katy Rose.” Her smile revs into a laugh. “But something has been lost since then; the radio Top 40’s not open to diverse sounds, especially from women. As someone influenced by these truthful women putting themselves out there, people deserve that, to be given something real.”
It’s a bit of a different scene and generation now, with social media etc. How have you had to adjust and cope with that?
Katy: “I like that you use the words adjust and cope, because a lot of people just adjust and they also need to learn how to cope; whilst it’s really an exciting time, there are no rules. There are so many ways to get music out there, but therefore so much music out there, which isn’t always a good thing. It’s like the Wild West.”
Do you have anything you think you can offer generation Y?
Katy: “Well, that’s what this album’s about. I feel like listeners and particularly young women are being patronised by these musicians on Instagram and Twitter, who write songs about being liberated and powerful and an individual but all sound the same, or they publish posts or pictures about individuality or self-expression and they all look the same. There’s this carefully curated image of glamour, and everybody’s made to aspire to a level of luxury that is identical—there’s an essential sameness to all of it; everyone’s drinking the same Moet, might as well be by the same infinity pool, you know?”
Me: So the kids deserve more than that?
Katy: “Everyone deserves more than that. I hope I can give them something else, at least the message that it’s ok to be messy and to be yourself, and be angry and sad and express emotions that aren’t immaculately filtered.”
Whether she’s singing or speaking, Katy-Rose’s words are music to my ears.