Katie Malco graced the Preaching From The Pews page on this website late in 2011 as one of our hot tips to look out for in 2012. This was hot on the heels of a year spent touring, as well as her new release, Katie Malco and the Slow Parade, the first release on new record label Alcopop Records gaining huge positive reviews from music press. I caught up with Katie to pick her brains on her music, whether there was any added pressure after a fantastic year and what she really thinks of the comparisons to Laura Marling.
Hello Katie, firstly, I hope you had a great Christmas and a Happy New Year.
What inspired you to pick up a guitar, start writing lyrics and ultimately start playing shows on your own?
I remember that I started learning guitar because I wanted to write songs. I used to go around singing to myself all the time but I never wanted someone else to be in charge, I'm a bit of a control freak like that - not much of a "collaborator"!
I already played piano, and I used to try to write on that, but I was only young so the songs were mainly about farmyard animals. Then, when I got to 14, I wanted to be Alanis Morrisette and Chrissie Hynde. I thought they were so goddamn cool, and the guitar was half the reason for it so I taught myself a few chords on my dad's old guitar. Then I wrote a song that was literally the most depressing thing anyone has ever written or heard. I hadn't really attempted lyrics before that, I used to write jokey poems for my family growing up, but I always shied away from anything too serious. I suppose because of that reason, writing the long depressing song felt like a bit of a release, and so I wrote songs nearly every day, just for me, and I never showed them to anyone.
Then one day I joined an angry girl rock band, played some shows, and it kind of went from there......
All very clichéd!
How would you describe your musical journey up until now, from when you first started out, to your first EP on Skyeyesea records, to the release on Alcopop Records and your plan for the future?
I would say it has been very slow and steady moving, and I feel like I've learnt a lot between the two EP's. I don't feel like I've changed too much in my attitude towards it. I've never tried to write for any particular reason, I've never tried to write for anyone else, I'm not trying to be anything I'm not, I'm just writing songs to make me feel better, the way I did when I was fifteen.
There was definitely a point where I went from just writing for myself, to feeling like I wanted people to hear the songs. It wasn't enough to just play for myself anymore. When that change occurred, I started recording Four Goodbyes, my first EP, at home on my own. And now I am trying to figure out how I should record the next release, whether it should be another home project that I can kind of run with and not answer to anyone, or whether I actually have some set ideas for the new songs that can really only be executed in a studio. I haven't figured it out yet to be honest.
You recorded your first EP on Alcopop Records with Iain Archer of Snow Patrol fame, what was it like working for him in comparison with recording by yourself previously?
It was strange for me, to move from having complete control, to working with someone on songs that were really personal. It was hard to let him in at first and I was pretty sensitive to any criticism, but I loosened up after a couple of days. Obviously, I have recorded in studios before and worked with producers, but that was when I was in bands, and the songs weren't necessarily my babies. The whole recording experience as a solo artist was very different.
Obviously Dave from Tubelord and Sophie from My First Tooth came in to the studio to record their bits too, but unlike recording with a band, they weren't there the whole time, so it was kind of lonely and I got very stuck in my own head during recording.
Iain was great though, he has a very honest, efficient and to the point manner, which I think I needed. I had to battle my corner a bit sometimes, and Iain certainly had to battle his, but I think I needed to have someone tell me; "No, that take was not good enough, you can do it better." So it was a learning curve because it made me a lot more critical of my own playing - like I can hear Iain in the back of my head telling me to do it again whenever I play now!
If you had to sell your EP in five words, what would they be?
The EP has led to you being on many blog lists as a great upcoming artist. Does that put added pressure on you for the next release?
I think it does a little bit, but I also think that the key is to just make sure you write first and foremost for yourself. If you don't write from the heart then people pick up on that, and you come across as phoney. The next release will just be songs that I've written that are for no audience in particular, they are just songs that I felt the need to write. If people hate it, there's nothing much more I could have done, it is what it is.
That train of thought, for me, cancels out any pressure that I might have felt before.
Musically I think the EP owes a lot to the likes of Joni Mitchell with a fresh twist on it, but do you feel that the ever growing in popularity folk scene, especially with acclaimed singer songwriters like Laura Marling has helped or hindered you in terms of plying your trade?
I just write what I write, and I have been doing this for a long time - before Laura Marling was ever in the public eye. I do tire of the comparison, particularly when, in my mind, we are very different songwriters. I know that my friend's band, My First Tooth, get compared to Mumford and Sons a lot - and it’s a very easy, dare I say lazy, comparison to make, and I know they tire of hearing it. It’s hard for us, because the minute folk started to become "uncool" as it got bigger, we get accused of jumping on the bandwagon. As I say, I just write what comes naturally, and I can't change it to fit in with the cool kids again.
I would like to say, for the record, that I love Laura Marling's music, and I think it’s amazing that she has done so well. I do feel like we've come from a similar background or perspective musically, but I also don't feel like we're writing music in the same way. So I don't feel that this has helped nor hindered me, I think it’s just one of those things, if it wasn't Marling, it would be someone else. I don't think Laura Marling has "paved the way" for lots of aspiring female singer songwriters, I think Laura Marling is just the one out of all of those female singer-songwriters in the underground indie folk scene that made it big.
Since joining Alcopop Records you've been able to play with a band comprising of ex-members of the likes of Reuben. I know that you already class bands such as Refused as an influence but do you think that playing with these members will further influence you to incorporate different styles into your future releases?
Well, I do love Refused, and I really love Reuben, but I don't think I could ever pull off that kind of music! I only wish I could.
It’s really interesting playing with guys from a background in 'heavier' music, because they interpret my stuff very differently to musicians that are from the same musical world as me. Chris, my drummer, is in a grunge alt punk band called Hold Your Horse Is, and I find that he comes up with some really great stuff for my music, that isn't so "folk-by-numbers", if you see what I mean. I think this is because he doesn't listen to that kind of music really, and he is used to blasting out the heavy rock!
So it’s really cool and makes it really interesting to play with them. The new as-yet-unheard songs we've been working out together are a bit different to what I have released in the past, and I think this has a lot to do with having a different foundation to work rather than just being left to my own devices.
You seem to have been on tour everywhere throughout 2011, have you noticed your popularity grow as the year moved on, and what are your plans touring wise for 2012?
I think touring in 2011 certainly did help get the word out a bit, and I especially loved the little Cornwall tour we did at the end of the year. Mainly because it was like a nice holiday!
The band tour was great too because it meant we could play bigger venues and other places where a solo show might not work. It was also a lot of fun and made a change from travelling around on my own feeling lonely!
At the moment all my plans for the start of 2012 are centred around recording, and I will just do a few gigs here and there. But there will certainly be a full band tour very soon.
I played a gig with you in Penzance, Cornwall and you seemed to thrive on the small intimate crowd. Do you prefer the small intimate gigs, or the bigger ones?
Yes I recall! That was a good night, and that pub was awesome! I think I do thrive on a smaller crowd, because I feel like you can actually have a chat with them, and get some banter going. I know it sounds clichéd, but it brings everyone together a bit, and makes for a more friendly and relaxed atmosphere. The situation can sometimes be a bit intense and awkward, so it’s nice to be able to have some connection with the audience rather than just stand in front of them and expect them to pay attention.
Having said that, I've played to a crowd of 1000 people before, all of whom were absolutely heart-wrenchingly silent throughout the set. And we still managed to have some laughs in between songs, so, it felt kind of intimate on a bigger level. That was cool.
Statistics have recently been released for album sales showing that CD sales have decreased again. Is this something that you think about or something that worries you in terms of trying to make a living out of music?
It does and it doesn't worry me really. I know that music lovers will still buy vinyl and CDs, and when there are labels like Alcopop and BSM who like to do something different with their products, and give the buyer another reason to buy it which gives me some faith in the physical format of music.
I think we're in an age where bands and artists need to be creative about their merchandise, and give the listener a reason to want to buy it other than just the music. Unless you're Coldplay, and will sell a ton of CDs to a middle-aged audience no matter what, then you will have to accept that people expect music to be free now, sad as that is.
The only thing we as musicians can do is work with that and try to find another way.
Last question: If you could recommend one band for people to watch out for this year, who would it be?
Well, my friend's band, Veils, are doing good things, and are definitely one to see live this year when they're touring. Also, Hold Your Horse Is are releasing an album very soon too, which, between you and me, is AWESOME. (I am sorry that's two bands.)
Thank you for your time Katie, I hope 2012 is a great year for you.
Katie Malco’s and the Slow Parade EP is out now and can be purchased via http://alcopop.wordpress.com/shop/
For all other information visit www.facebook.com/KatieMalco