Katey Brooks : I Fought Lovers EP / Interview
I can remember exactly where I was when I first heard Tim Buckley sing - playing a newly bought LP, Dreamletter Live, in an early-90s park-edge student flat, and being completely transfixed listening to the magic of the track Pleasant Street / You Keep Me Hanging On.
Rooting around the bill of the new singer-songwriter festival, Gorjys Secrets, I was not anticipating a similar shock, but came across Katey Brooks for the first time - listening first to Call Out, then her cover of Wrecking Ball.
She has been described elsewhere as the female Hozier; as an instrument her voice brings to mind the 'otherness' of Joni Mitchell and the clarity of Sara Bareilles, but in what it can convey - real emotional openness and intensity - she is as pure and unique as Tim Buckley.
It has brought her recognition and studio work - she has featured on tracks with Paloma Faith, Imelda May, The Rolling Stones' Bill Wyman, Nick Mason of Pink Floyd and Brian May.
Brooks divides her time between South Wales and London, having been raised in the latter, Bristol and Arizona. She has released a very good album with a folk/blues/pop sound, Proof of Life, an exemplary (mostly) upbeat Live NOW EP, and most recently a poised set of country tinted Dylan covers with Tom Moriarty, I Shall be Released, but 2015's I Fought Lovers EP most accurately represents where she is in terms of her solo work and live shows. This EP is fascinating, and a desire to learn more prompted an exchange that offers some insight into her work.
I Fought Lovers was recorded in Wick St Lawrence Church, a location that warrants some explanation, and she was quickly forthcoming about why it was chosen:
"Initially it was the acoustics. I went there to record an acappella song years ago, and I just fell in love with the sound and the atmosphere in there. I love the quiet, and the feeling of simplicity in the building. When I sing there I feel enveloped by my voice, and that to me is a really important feeling when I'm recording."
The church setting has resulted in an intimate recording. The EP has a short, atmospheric vocal and heartbeat-drum intro, then the hushed guitar and plangent voice of I Fought Lovers - in the first verse seemingly a straight forward lyric about a fierce moment of spark:
I saw you lover in the forest,
I saw you lover in a moment,
And you were mine,
I saw your light in the cold ways,
I saw your eyes in the cold light of day,
And you were mine,
the moment I laid eyes,
And you were mine,
the moment I laid eyes.
But from then on the sparely worded song seems to contain a world of complexity - when she repeatedly sings "I will remember all the pain" you can't help but be present. It is raw and profound. You have to assume this, and the other songs here, are from experience, which she confirmed:
"They're totally autobiographical. At the same time, I'm constantly thinking about what the listener can receive from the song, and how they might make it there own. I think stepping outside of yourself at some point during the process is very important as a songwriter."
The second track on the EP, State of Mine, is a beautiful, expressive and slightly tortured love song - the following one, Hunger, is about desire - it starts with an echoing organ and the plain lyric "I am hungry for you", then builds, aching and sensuous, with effective percussion, and a repeated short-burst of low and visceral guitar riff.
So open is the heart testifying in the songs it begged the question how she came to this point creatively:
"Honestly I think age and life experience had a lot to do with it. By the time I wrote the 'I Fought Lovers' EP I had experienced and been through so much, that the emotion definitely came through more intensely. It happens naturally over time I think with singer-songwriters. That's not to say that I didn't feel the emotion with the first album, but I was still pretty young, and learning how to express myself through my music. Which of course I continue to do, we never stop learning!"
The set closes with the lamenting Dominique, which with its simple guitar melody and piano / organ backing is utterly compelling - but it was quickly written, as she explained:
"I actually wrote 'Dominique' whilst at Wick St Lawrence Church, while we were recording State of Mine, in what must have been about 15 minutes. I was just so inspired, it fell out of me."
There's a heartbeat outro to balance the intro, and that's it. But these four songs fly as close and as bruised as contemporary music can to art, whilst retaining the vivid humanity of the form. There is a new album in the pipeline - We The People - which is rumoured to be imminent:
"I can't tell you exactly when it'll be released just yet, but soon! You can expect it to be fuller sonically, with big musical arrangements, as well as some beautiful stripped back moments. The record definitely has a more soulful/bluesy vibe, whilst retaining that folky, ethereal atmosphere from previous records. I have to say I'm very excited about sharing it. I've never been happier with a record - it's a lovely feeling."
This described shift in sound (although the recent video Call Out confirms that the spirit of the I Fought Lovers EP has been held and honed) led to a moment of focus on her key influences whilst writing and recording the new album. She spelt out the creative freedom she has had, and what has driven her, rather than the expected cultural specifics:
"I could say it was other artists (who of course naturally you're influenced by everyday without even thinking about it) But really it would be honest to say, both my mentor, and my 'muse'."
"My manager/producer/mentor has had a big impact on me, both musically and personally. He has encouraged me to explore areas of myself as an artist, that I'd previously shut off or dismissed; which has resulted in a real evolution in my writing. For that I'm extremely grateful."
"And then of course, that muse...The break up of a very significant relationship, and the journey that sent me on, has been an enormous influence. Love and loss has gifted me with a lot of art!"
There's a lot to anticipate; most immediately there is her appearance at the Gorjys Secrets festival in North Wales (Time Out states she is "Not to be missed" live) - at the close of the interview asked to describe how she feels about playing at this event in just four words, she shot back:
"Excited. Honoured. Intrigued. Joyful."
In the answer you can feel her being both playful and at the same time deadly serious. Completely human, and able to express it.
KATEY BROOKS I 'I Fought Lovers' Live in session at Wick St Lawrence Church
KATEY BROOKS I I Fought Lovers EP