Friday 16 May 2014

MTV IGGY: Katy B: The Underground Pop Princess Has Arrived

By Joseph 'JP' Patterson

With her second LP, Little Red, charting at No. 1 upon its release in February of this year, Katy B’s transformation from underground songstress to bonafide mainstream star was firmly cemented. Beginning her path to stardom by "taking every opportunity" she could to record garage, grime, and house tunes, Katy, in her teens, soon met and started work with Geeneus, producer and owner of pirate-turned-legal radio station, Rinse FM. And it was whilst studying music at BRIT School, that her vocals became the common thread running through the offerings of Rinse’s production roster, adding her sweet, pop-R&B sheen to DJ NG’s bongo-driven Tell Me in 2007 and, later, other UK funky staples such as Good Life and As I, both produced by Geeneus.

Kathleen Anne Brien was, and still remains, a large part of what made the UK funky scene so successful. A genre that many now feel has died out due to the swarm of MCs jumping on it with their simple bars and even simpler flows, Funky’s First Lady, while not going quite that far, does agree there was a shift. "I think any genre is going to evolve and change," she says, "and there’s lots of different ways in which things can go but things come in cycles. The reason why those funky tunes got MC’d on was because they were good, and people wanted to hear them," before conceding with a laugh, "I loved the funky scene when it was, quote, unquote, alive."

It’s clear the sound is still dear to her heart, "Some people will forever be influenced by or love that kind of house with lots of percussion, chords, and real instruments. It’s really soulful and brings an amazing vibe." Continuing to champion the scene in which she first made her name as Baby Katy, the chanteuse adds: "I’m actually having a party in a couple of weeks and have booked Geeneus and Supa D for funky sets, because I love it. Funky will always be an influence of mine. I’ve always loved new music that I can dance to, and when I would perform Tell Me live, I could see all the girls singing it back because they’d had their hearts broken. When your tune can smash a dance floor like that, it’s just such an amazing feeling. I caught the bug for wanting to tear up a dance floor from that point."

While her reputation in and around the UK funky scene continued to flourish, Katy B was busy recording for her pop-tinged, club-nodding debut album, 2011′s On A Mission. When she released the first video from the set, everything changed: "I did the video for 'On A Mission' and, all of a sudden, it got loads of views, loads of support, and then I was getting signed to a major label. It all just took off, and it was a really, really weird time." A No. 2 album slot, tour with Tinie Tempah, Mercury Music Prize nom, and advert for the 2012 Olympic Games, alongside Mark Ronson, followed with a slew of Top 10 singles in the process. Three intermittent years between offerings, it feels as though Katy B has never been away, and the aim for the somewhat autobiographically-titled Little Red has been progression and evolution.

"I definitely stayed true to my roots with this album," she affirms. "I worked with people like Joker, Route 94, Artwork, Geeneus, Huxley, as well as a lot of up-and-coming talent but, at the same time, I felt like I wanted to write with people who were really interested in chord sequence. I wanted to work on my songwriting, too, which is why I hooked up with the likes of Guy Chambers and Fraser T Smith, but that was only on, like, two songs. I feel like I had a nice balance."

Still going to Fabric, experiencing clubland first-hand (and even learning how to shuffle), Katy B, now 25, comes across as being very unaffected by her success and subsequent media attention. "I really like talking to people in raves. I don’t really have any creepy fans," she laughs, "they’re all on a level and it’s lovely when they come up to me and tell me their memories attached to my songs. I still feel like a girl from Peckham. I feel like I’m exactly the same."

"At first, I was wondering why people were treating or looking at me differently. But, once I realized this is my job and I’m an artist who can keep my feet on the ground and not let anything affect me, I could make sense of it all. I’m in the real world, and know what’s real. Plus, I’ve still got the same friends and my mum is always around, which helps."

There seems to be a real appreciation and genuine bond between Katy B and those who live much the same life, besides the No. 1 albums and massive live performance, of course. She’s an artist who is instantly relatable to millions in their early 20s, and it’s truly reflected in her songs. "I think anyone who has grown up in London will identify with my music," she explains. "It’s just a hybrid of everything I would listen to, from R&B, to hip-hop, to grime, to garage, to house, drum and bass and dubstep. One day, I might play the R&B role. The next, I might like the tomboy vibe and go on some dubstep. I like to change it up quite a bit and I really enjoy that about what I do because I get to be a bit of a chameleon.” (See: 2013’s feature-heavy, free EP, Danger).

Sitting down to start work on the second album just reinforced what a perfect home Rinse (via Columbia) is for her. Nothing is ever forced: "The great thing about being at Rinse is that the studio is in the same building as the label and the radio, so if someone is playing a beat next door, I can be like, 'Who is this?' It’s a real family environment, and people have suggestions all the time. George Fitzgerald was hooked up by a guy who organizes FWD, Route 94 is also signed to Rinse so it was suggested we do some work together. I also wanted to work with Sampha, and he was cool to come down to Rinse HQ and do a track. Working with people who I respect, and whose ideas I know that I’m going to like, is a big thing for me."

With a UK tour kicking off in October and Little Red making inroads in the States of late, most would say Katy B has officially arrived. However, regardless of the established and forthcoming successes, she believes there is always room for self-improvement. "I went to college and uni to do music and I feel like I’m a musician who is never, ever going to stop trying to get better," says Katy, earnestly. "I still have singing lessons and I’m constantly practicing and learning new songs. I’m just always trying to better my craft, and I never want that to stop."

Little Red is out now.

This also appeared over at MTV IGGY: H E R E