Saturday, 9 March 2013
Kat Webb: A Welcome Change [Interview]
Chances are, if you’ve heard the name ‘Kat Webb’, it may very well have something to do with her brilliant new – and potentially breakthrough – single, ‘Old School’, which is currently doing the rounds and doing exceptionally well here in the UK. Kat Webb – the Brooklyn residing, Texan born soul singer – may sound like a new name to the music scene but, currently promoting her second album since 2011, her incredible work ethic and singular approach to her music, which includes having trained with the Yale School of Music, having written and sung background vocals for other artists and interning in audio engineering at The Honablue Institute, raises hopes for an ever-growing discography.
They say an artist has a lifetime to write their first album, so it’s definitely interesting that a writer as skilled and succinct would choose an album of covers in which to introduce themselves to the grand stage, in many ways though, that served as the perfect method to whet our musical appetites…
The aptly entitled ‘An Old Soul’, released in 2011, showcases soul and jazz classics like ‘I Heard it Through the Grapevine’, ‘Fever’ and ‘Cry Me a River’ which are tackled with such a distinctive charm and personality that it was exciting to consider what an album consisting of new and original material would sound like. Thankfully, the wait wasn’t long and 2012 brought us Kat Webb’s sophomore effort, ‘A Better Picture’. Following on from the groundwork laid out in ‘An Old Soul’, this album builds expertly on that foundation and expands it even further with a swathe of everything glorious 90s-esque r&b and sweet summer soul thrown in to the mix.
Even more exciting for ‘A Better Picture’, is the first-time pairing of Christian Ver Halen and Jesse Fischer as co-producers helming the entire project. Ver Halen, having established his name through his production work with Maya Azucena and Kendra Ross (the latter of which even turns up for backing vocal duties on a few numbers), and Fischer whose work with his band, Soul Cycle, as a musician and producer garner an increasing amount of praise with each of their releases, not to mention his work with the UK’s very own Laura Izibor, amongst countless others.
Kat's success seems to already to be moving so fast but for the uninitiated, it’s The Blue-in-Green Blog’s distinct pleasure to introduce you all to a fantastic new artist… Kat Webb!
What are some of your earliest memories of music?
One of the earliest memories I have of music are my parents dropping me off at voice lessons when I was about five. I remember spending works on the Theme from ‘Mahogany’, ‘Do You Know Where You're Going To’, originally performed by Diana Ross. Looking back, that's probably an odd song for a five-year-old to be learning, especially considering I wasn't even close to being born when the movie came out, but I guess I was an old soul from the beginning.
What made you decide on an album of covers for your debut?
I had been singing since I was very young, and singing background for artists in the NYC area, but no one really knew who I was. I thought singing covers that everyone knew would be like being introduced to me through the mutual friend of the music. Plus, I wanted to let people know from the beginning that I would be performing soul, R&B and jazz, since that music will always be close to my heart.
How did you go about selecting the songs to tackle?
If the song is either a cover or an original from another writer, I make sure that the lyrics are discussing something positive or empowering, since I'm not a fan of a lot of the negative songs that are out there about love. That's not to say that I won't sing about heartbreak, but you won't hear me singing a song about cheating or lying, since that's just not something I believe in. With my own original songs, obviously I can skip this step, since I only write about what I want to sing about. Then I listen to the song and see if I like the melody and it's in the genre I enjoy, or can be arranged to be in the genre that I enjoy singing. And last but not least, I sing it. Sometimes you love a song, but it doesn't actually sound great in your voice. I got started writing for other singers, and there are some songs that I will never think I should sing.
How did you come to collaborate with Christian Ver Halen and Jesse Fischer?
Jesse Fischer and Christian Ver Halen are both working musicians in the NYC area. I'd been introduced to Christian through the producer of ‘An Old Soul’, Chris Rob, when he was performing with Kendra Ross at The Blue Note. I loved his work with Kendra Ross and Maya Azucena and thought that sound would be great for my original album. I also met Jesse through other musicians, and saw his band, Soul Cycle, totally rock out live. I loved their funky and jazzy sound and wanted that for my original album as well. I reached out to both of them and they both said yes. They knew each other previously, but this album was their first chance working together.
How would you say the creative process in writing, producing and recording new music usually works for you?
It depends. My acapella music and some of my other music just comes to me. I tend to write a verse, a pre-chorus and then the chorus all in one sitting. Then I take a break and work on the next verse and bridge either the next day, or maybe the next week. I tend to write songs pretty quickly once I get going. But I also love to write music to instrumental tracks. Those get written very quickly, usually in less than a week, including harmonies and everything, and then they're rearranged to be performed with live instruments in the studio, and possibly the chords tweaked by the arranger. I will always prefer live instruments to synthesized.
Can you talk a little about what went into making 'A Better Picture'?
Wow. That's a big question. I contacted Christian and Jesse in July 2011, only about two months after I released ‘An Old Soul’. I wanted to get started with original music because I knew cover songs didn't have the same longevity in people's minds. In late Fall 2011, they began sending me songs from songwriters in the area, but Christian in particular really pushed me to include some of my own originals into the mix. I'm really glad he did, because they were five out of the album's eleven songs! All the songs were chosen by the end of December, we rehearsed in January 2012, and had recorded the full band sessions by February. Then came instrumental and vocal overdubs with Ryan Fitch at his Brooklyn studio. It was great working in such an intimate space because I really started to feel more comfortable and myself. Ryan and Christian got some great stuff out of me. I'd say all of the overdubs were done by the end of September and October was for mixing and mastering. It was definitely an ordeal, but I'm extremely proud of the final product.
Is 'Old School' a statement on current trends in music or strictly nostalgia-based?
‘Old School’ is mainly supposed to make you think of Summer BBQs, family reunions, cruising at the beach, pretty much anything positive and grooving. It's mainly a nostalgic, feel-good song than a statement on the current trends in music. But I feel my desire to stick with live instruments and keep a strong hold of the soul and R&B influences in my music is enough of an indication on how I feel about current music trends.
Who would be a dream collaboration for you?
There was a time when I felt like the highest musical achievement would be to be Jill Scott's backup singer. She is just that amazing. I would love to work with her, even if I'm sure I'd be super intimidated. I also really enjoy Erykah Badu, because of her strong jazz roots. She is a bit darker and has more of a psychedelic edge than I do, but I admire her for her incredible lyrics and she is clearly so comfortable in herself that it's hard not to be in awe.
What song from your last two albums would you play to introduce a prospective new fan to your music?
Hmmm. That's a tough one. I would have to say either ‘Waver’, ‘Good to Me’ or ‘Can't Stop Thinkin Bout You’. They include the full band feel that I always strive for, they are really popular among my current listeners, and they show off the deep soul and jazz roots of my background. I hope everyone enjoys them and picks a favourite!
What's been a notable career highlight for Kat Webb?
I'd say the period I'm in right now is the highlight. My songs are huge in the UK. I just got physical distribution in Japan. I'm in some major NYC showcases and people are asking for interviews, etc. Even ‘An Old Soul’ is popular again with the popularity of ‘A Better Picture’. It feels amazing and I am beyond grateful. None of this is possible without all of the listeners across the globe, and I'm hoping it continues to snowball. Hopefully I can come over soon and perform in person for fans in the UK!