THE LIFE IN A CULT, the music and inspiration with KATEY BROOKS
Katey Brooks is a clear-eyed rebel in an industry that demands consistency. A devastating songwriting talent that has drawn comparisons with Jeff Buckley (Supajam), Brooks has no shortage of famous admirers and yet she has resisted formula.
Over a career spanning four continents, she’s journeyed from intimate living rooms to opulent concert halls, from dive bars to decorated studios with some of music’s biggest names. The wandering troubadour defies easy classification, with a back-catalogue incorporating soul, folk, blues and country.
It was really nice to interview Katey on lots of different things.
MT/Tracey: Hello Katey so nice to cyber meet you! We’ve had your music on Music Talks a few times and we are a huge fan of you. Your music has been compared with the great Jeff Buckley; who are your inspirations; who did you and do you still listen to?
Katey: HI! Lovely to meet you too! Ooh so many. Growing up I listened to John Lennon, Elvis, Tracy Chapman, Joni Mitchell, Annie Lennox and many more. These days I still listen to them, with the addition of artists like The War on Drugs, The National, The Staves, Matt Corby, Foy Vance, Hozier, Florence and The Machine. God the list would be endless!
MT: Ultimately who makes the decisions on which of your music is recorded and released?
MT: Do you consciously sit down to write a song or do you always have your guitar nearby for when the moment or feeling comes over you to just sit down and sing/write out of the blue?
Katey: A bit of both really. And if there’s no guitar I just record a vocal on my phone for a later date.
MT: Do you have a particular formula for how you write?
Katey: No, but I have habits. I tend to just pick up my guitar and see what comes out. Other times I will hear a whole song clearly and write in all of 15 minutes. And if I’m with my pianist he’ll start playing something on the keys, and I’ll just start singing a melody and some lyrics, and when the first raw spurt of inspiration is done, I go off and put it together. It’s different every time.
MT: Your personal life journey is certainly not one to be wished upon anyone. How did you find that it was the music which was your connection to finding your words and feelings?
Katey: It just connected. It’s hard to describe. It just feels good/healing/moving when I listen to or write music, so I keep doing it. I think my mind depends on it!
MT: Many artists who try their hand at writing music, often ask common questions such as, ‘how do you write your songs’. How much of an impact has your personal journey had on your music and writing?
Katey: Massively. I can’t imagine writing what I do without it. I think above all it’s added a lot of emotion to my voice and my words, or at least that’s what gets remarked upon the most.
MT: What would your advice be to young upcoming or less experienced artists or musicians in regards to either writing or performing?
Katey: Whatever you’re doing, do it with total authenticity. Don’t try to be anyone else – it doesn’t work. And work on your craft. Always put that first. I didn’t do that for years and instead I coasted on my natural abilities. It’s not the way to be, you can always be better.
MT: There is an incredible sense of soul and hope when listening to you sing, when you are singing your songs live, how much do you lose yourself within the songs you are singing and comparing that to how much do you feel you are performing them to the audience?
Katey: That’s a really great question – one I’ve not been asked before! It all depends on the show, the audience, the sound, the song, and how I’m feeling that day. I don’t think I ever ‘perform’ fully, it’s always me being me. When I’ve tried to do that in the past it’s always felt a little awkward and unreal, but I definitely make sure I’m holding my sh*t down. To the same degree, I wouldn’t say I completely lose myself very often, because I’m always concerned about giving a good show. My mind can be full of questions and analysis as I’m playing – although that’s my mind off stage as well! The time I most switch off is when I’m writing and recording to be honest, because I can be fearlessly creative without worrying about what anybody else is thinking. There are of course those magical moments on stage when you feel completely at one with the song, yourself, and everyone in the room. That’s very special, and what keeps people like me coming back for more!
MT: Personally, I’m loving, ‘All Of Me’, like really loving it. What a song! Can you tell the readers a bit more about this song?
Katey: Thank you!! It was a process that spanned across a few years. I started it when I was dating someone totally unpredictable. One minute she’d be travelling across the country to see me play for half an hour, and telling me she’d fallen for me, and the next she’d disappear. We had had one of those instant connections when we met, which had taken me aback so much that, in hindsight, I held on for longer than was self-respectful. That feeling doesn’t come around around everyday, and I think I hoped it would just eventually come together. Then fast forward two years and I’m in the studio recording my new album Revolute, and I’m in a situation with a similar level of ambivalence. Different behaviour and situation though – this was an ex who had always been completely doting and dedicated when we were together, but after a split, and then an attempt to rekindle (which came from her) her behaviour became unpredictable and incongruent. At that time I remembered the song I had started to write, and knew it was time to finish it. I felt I finally had the inspiration to do it justice. I love the way songs do that to you. They decide when and where they want to be written, whether it takes 15 minutes or 15 years. They are their own world.
MT: I saw the official video clip for ‘All Of Me’, and read a comment from you in regards to how much fun it was to make it. Are the storyboard or ideas of your music video’s your ideas?
Katey: I always come with a vision and an idea of what I want, yes. I can’t imagine how anyone wouldn’t! Because it’s so personal, and I’m also a bit of a control freak where my work is concerned *hides face*. With All of Me I knew I needed to be dancing with someone, and it felt like it needed to be a waltz because the song is in ¾ time, so it has a swing to it. And I felt it needed to be pretty raw and intimate between myself and the person playing my love interest, but done in a tasteful and beautiful way. I also felt it needed to be super natural and authentic, so instead of asking an actress I asked a friend who fit the physical description in my mind, but also happened to be someone I knew I could relax and have fun with. However none of these feelings and ideas would go anywhere without Michael Sides (Director and Editor) He was and is amazing (he also made In Your Arms, and Never Gonna Let Her Go) He has this wonderful way of listening to your ideas, coming back with a stack of his own, and then quickly going off and putting something awesome together, as if it’s all just very easy! I love that. He makes the whole process extremely chilled, and then he produces a beautiful finished product.
MT: Can you tell us what went on behind the scenes of shooting ‘All Of Me’?
Katey: Well, I can tell you there was quite a lot of wine consumed… The estate we filmed on (King’s Weston House in Bristol) was really beautiful, and the sun was shining, so we’d sit outside and drink prosecco during breaks. The dance scenes were pretty intense…so much so that we’d all have to take a breather between takes (!) My love interest Fleur did a phenomenal job – she made it so easy to relax and be real. As neither of us are actresses, there was always a small concern in the back of my mind that we could get there and it would be awkward or ‘wooden’, but that didn’t happen, we just had fun and didn’t take ourselves too seriously.
MT: Apart from writing from life experiences, have you tried writing about something completely the opposite to writing a song for the sake of having to try and write a song?
Katey: I’ve written for many different reasons and in different ways yes. My favourite is definitely the life experience one though. Probably because it’s most natural and there’s a wealth of inspiration!
MT: I understand that you grew up in a cult. I’m very curious to know, what kind of cult and what was that like?
Katey: I don’t feel to go into too many specifics at this stage, but I can talk a little about what it was like. It was chaotic, dramatic, and terrifying in moments, on a frequent basis. But I thought that was completely normal because it was all I knew. There was a broad spectrum of people – from those who should be in prison, to those in need of treatment for severe mental ill health, and those like my mum – sweet, kind, a little naive, and just searching for a sense of belonging. The kids were an add-on – an inconvenience to be silenced, or used in some way – never a precious and vulnerable little being. If you stepped out of line you tended to be punished with everybody’s favourite tool – shame. It wasn’t a fun experience that’s for sure. However, it also brought some very special people into my life, back then, and as a result in present day, so if I had the option to change it, I don’t think I would.
MT: Did you feel a part of the cult, or did you feel differently to others there?
Katey: I don’t think I felt ‘a part’ of it, but I think I wanted to believe in it, so I very much ‘talked the talked’ for a while. But like I said I was very young, so it was all I knew.
MT: How did you get into the cult in the first place?
Katey: My mum. She had not long since split from my dad and she was looking for a sense of belonging and meaning. She just happened to find it in the wrong place.
MT: How easy was it to leave the cult and how did you manage to do this?
Katey: I don’t really remember to be honest because my mum dealt with it. One day we just moved to Bristol, and that was it. So I guess it was easy – for me anyway!
MT: A part from your music, what hobbies or past times do you enjoy?
Katey: Well, I always find myself saying this in interviews (so I should probably do something about it hah!) but over the past few years finding time for hobbies has been challenging. Or rather, making time for hobbies, as it is my choice. But when I do make time I love film, surfing, snooker (yep haha), squash, dancing, climbing (or at least I’m desperate to get back into it) and most importantly, hanging out with good friends.
MT: What’s your typical day like?
Katey: Work, work, work and more work haha. That can be on my laptop answering a lovely interview like this, sending emails, social media, creating/editing promo videos, playing my guitar, writing, meetings…It’s hard to say specifically because the is just pretty endless! And I’m also a manager at a venue in London, so that takes up a large portion of time. But I’m definitely not complaining, I absolutely love my work, I like interesting projects and I thrive on being busy I guess.
MT: What’s next for you? Any touring coming up?
Katey: Yes. There are sporadic dates and festivals throughout the UK this year, an Italian tour in November, a US trip in September, a Canadian tour in the works for later this year, and more structured tours being prepped for next year!
MT: Any chance of coming to Australia?
Katey: Hell yeah. Very very soon. It’ll be my fourth tour and I can’t wait – I LOVE Aus. Watch this space!
MT: Is there anything else you would like to mention?
Katey: Just thank you for the questions and for supporting the music, and thank you to you the reader for reading. I hope you all enjoy the new record!
Thank you so much for your time Katey, I really appreciate it, and all the very best with Revolute!
LINKS to KATEY BROOKS