Katy J Pearson on “Sound of the Morning,” #MeToo in the Music Industry, and Paul McGann | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Sunday, February 25th, 2024  

Katy J Pearson on “Sound of the Morning,” #MeToo in the Music Industry, and Paul McGann

Taking Back Control

Jul 13, 2022 Photography by H. Hawkline Web Exclusive
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Katy J Pearson’s debut album, Return, released during the UK’s second COVID lockdown in November 2020, saw her go from “Katy from Bristol” (her description) to one of UK’s buzziest critically acclaimed breakthrough artists. In some ways, the pandemic may have contributed to her upward trajectory. Return seemed to be the sort of album that people stumbled upon during lockdown. “It did seem to resonate,” reflects 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 gigging again, people knew the words. People also got in touch to tell me it was an album that really helped them with their mental health, which is obviously very gratifying.”

There had been some discussions about delaying the album release due to the pandemic but Pearson had already begun work on her second album, Sound of the Morning, and didn’t really want to put back the release date any further. “We’d already sat on Return for a while,” she explains, “and my feeling was that we didn’t know how long the restrictions would last for. I also thought that people needed new music, and felt we should just go ahead and put it out there.”

Return was written after Pearson’s previous band, Ardyn, featuring her brother Rob, had been dropped by a major label. “After being dropped it took about a year or so for me to finally get some of my old songs back,” she reveals. “I had a few that my old label didn’t really like from my old project which I knew I’d always wanted to release, so I thought ‘Okay, I can use these as a starting point for my solo work’.”

After relocating to Bristol and with no regular job Pearson threw herself into 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 it was originally meant to be just a couple of singles. But as I’d been faffing about with singles and EPs in my previous project and the fact this felt like kind of a second chance at music, I decided I really wanted to put together a full album and arrive as a solo artist with a body of work.”

Whilst Pearson states that Return was written over a period of time in quite an instinctive way she took a different approach for Sound of the Morning. She was able to think things out in more detail and had a definite sense that she wanted to expand her sound into different areas rather than simply replicate Return.

“I think I felt more confident as an artist this time around,” she reasons. “I knew I wanted things a bit darker and a bit heavier. The first album is quite light at points and certainly has elements of folk and pop, so I guess I wanted to stamp on that a little bit and show there’s a lot more to what I can do.”

Despite being considered a relative newcomer, Pearson had her first deal when she was 18 and there were times she felt her ideas weren’t listened to when working with various producers. However, having teamed up with Heavenly Recordings for her solo work she found the perfect collaborators in the shape of producers Ali Chant and Dan Carey, who 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 attempt 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 difficult 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 record. I really want to try and self produce some of that next time too.”

As her music suggests Pearson, is a curious artist whose certainly been open to collaborations. Indeed she’s recently worked with Yard Act for the End of the Road festival and joined trad-folk collective Broadside Hacks’ 2021 project Songs Without Authors, as well as providing guest vocals on Orlando Weeks’ recent album Hop Up. Indeed Weeks repays the favor on Sound of the Morning, adding vocals to “Howl,” one of Pearson’s older unreleased songs.

“I kept rediscovering old songs I’d written but not released. ‘Howl’ was one such song. Initially, I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to include older tracks on a new album, but Heavenly Recordings heard it and really liked it, so I thought ‘Fuck it, I’ll work on it again rather than discard it and give it the time it deserves.’ And as I began working on it I could kind of hear Orlando’s voice in the chorus, he’s got a really good falsetto and our voices do meld nicely together. I thought if he was ever going to collaborate on a song of mine then this would be the perfect one.”

And Pearson doesn’t limit her collaborations to the music, her videos are often bold, inventive, visually striking, and laced with wit and humor. For example Sound of the Morning single “Alligator,” which also features actor Paul McGann (Withnail and I, Doctor Who), was overseen by up and coming director Edie Lawernce who has previously worked with IDLES and Jamie T amongst others. “Actually it was a video she did with Pixx called ‘Bitch’ that brought her to my attention,” reveals Pearson. “It had all sorts of surrealist imagery and animation which I knew would work for this song.”

By chance Pearson met McGann when she played a Warchild event in Bristol, which he was compèring. “I’m such a big Withnail and I 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 really nice chat. I thought, ‘Imagine if we could get him for the cafe scene in the video.’”

And in the spirit of nothing ventured nothing gained Pearson decided to reach out and ask him. “He was so nice and said, ‘Yeah sure I can do that,’ and he popped in for a few hours. He was such a great laugh, he wore the leather jacket and glasses [à la Withnail and I]—it was such a moment.”

Sound of the Morning is certainly an album that mixes light and shade perfectly and sees Pearson expand her sound and songwriting into slightly darker places than her debut, perhaps no more so than on “Confession.” It’s a song inspired by the #MeToo movement, reflecting on trauma, and specifically female trauma, and the bravery of individuals speaking out.

“For me as a young woman in music, who was signed when I was quite young, I suddenly found myself thrown into this commercial world full of meetings with older men and some of it was very inappropriate. I didn’t feel protected at all,” says Pearson. “I mean the #MeToo movement happened in the movie industry but with music, there was this really weird kind of overlook. And then reading articles about underage groupies in the ’70s and after watching the documentary Look Away, which shines a light on how the behaviour of huge rock stars was normalized, and excused, well, it really is disturbing as a female artist. When I talk to other female artists within the industry we all have stories to tell. Even now for young female musicians coming through it’s still not a safe place. So ‘Confession’ came out of that really, how as women, when we have bad experiences with say a sound engineer or someone we work with we have a tendency to kind of downplay it and say things like, ‘It was a long time ago.’ When you do tell someone about your experiences they’ll often excuse it by saying, ‘Oh well it happens to everyone,’ which is a way of invalidating your own experience. Of course there is also the fear of speaking out, as a woman you are vulnerable because there are so many men in the industry with the power who could really fuck you over. So yeah, the whole #MeToo thing kind of bypassed the music industry, which left a lot of us fuming.”

Sound of the Morning concludes with a cover of “Willow’s Song,” taken from the 1973 soundtrack from the cult movie The Wicker Man, which was composed by Paul Giovanni and performed by the band Magnet. As you might expect from such a gifted musician, Pearson has certainly put her own unique stamp on the song, as she reveals. “I actually watched the original Wicker Man just prior to last Christmas when I had COVID and I 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 previously covered ‘Willow’s Song’ and I was saying to the boys in the studio I’d love to cover it, but re-imagine it, give it a psychedelic, Krautrock vibe. We started playing it at festivals and I felt it would just be really liberating and fun to finish the album with that cover.”

After being in and around music from a young age, Pearson certainly feels liberated as a solo artist as she explains. “I have found it empowering, which I never thought I would, as initially I found the thought of going it alone quite scary. I mean I was ready to give up music when I was 21 and become a gardener! So getting back creative control has been such a positive experience. When I appeared on Jools Holland’s show,” she says, referring to the long running BBC music TV show Later… with Jools Holland, “we went to the pub to watch it back and as soon as the opening titles started I burst into tears. It was a real bucket list moment and felt like such a validating moment for me as an artist.”


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