“The desktop of my mind has been cleared. Now it’s time to clutter it up again.”
A founding member of the band Sky Larkin, Katie Harkin has just released her debut self-titled solo album. In the intervening years she’s toured and recorded with some of the most successful and acclaimed indie rock acts in the business, including Kurt Vile, Courtney Barnett, Waxahatchee and Wild Beasts, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that Harkin is an absolute gem of an album: urgent, expressive, affecting.
I’m incredibly grateful to Katie for taking the time to answer some questions for The Predatory Wasp… and if you haven’t yet listened to the album, I highly recommend you do so.
Congratulations on the release of your debut album – it’s brilliant. When did you start recording it, and was the process generally positive, stressful, invigorating, a combination of all of these… or something else entirely?
Well thanks! I felt a huge amount of growth through the process. I recorded it without a label (we founded our own to release it- Hand Mirror), and though organising everything and clinging onto hard drives as I moved between studios in different time zones was stressful, it was thrilling to do it all on my own terms.
I’ve seen your album various described as pop, rock and indie in different places. For me it seems like there’s been a relaxing of the sometimes rigorously enforced genre barriers over the last few years, and that in general people are more open to music that straddles multiple genres. Is that something you’ve noticed? Or do you still get asked to “describe your sound”?
I suppose when CDs cost twenty quid, staying within your chosen favourite genre was risk management, it was an expensive privilege to step out of your comfort zone. Someone called me post-goth, as a Leeds lass I appreciate that one.
My personal album highlight is Decade. It’s just incredible: progressive, epic and with that note of melancholy running through it that makes it especially affecting. Without delving into your inspirations too much, does the ‘decade’ in question reference anything specific in your life, or is it more general than that?
Thanks, that’s a song about shame, love and time. It’s definitely a collage of things that have happened in my life and to people I know. I wanted the sounds to convey the weight of shame distorting and (sometimes) dissipating in time.
Did you write with anyone else for the album?
I wrote all the songs but I was lucky enough to have the supernaturally talented Jenn Wasner and Stella Mozgawa contribute bass and drums respectively, I value their friendship and our enduring text chain greatly.
You toured with some amazing acts over the years including probably my favourite ever band, Wild Beasts. What did you learn from touring and playing with so many different artists?
Being given the keys to wander around in someone else’s record is such a pleasure. It’s taught me that there are many ways to be inspired, from the small gestures to the broad philosophies. I’m a self-taught musician in the formal respect, I don’t have a GCSE in it or anything, but I’ve loved working in creative environments, skill sharing with friends is always way more fun.
How much has coronavirus directly affected you as an artist? Was there a tour planned around the release of the album?
Yeah my album came out on the 24th of April so all the tours and in-stores have been shelved, though I’ve been so grateful to have a postcard to send out to everyone right now.
There’s been a lot of discussion about what the industry will look like in a years’ time, and what changes could be implemented as a result of coronavirus… what changes would you personally like to see?
Streaming royalty reform, government support for small venues, so many!
You’ve previously said you struggled with the regurgitative nature of music education when you were younger. As someone with young kids, I’m interested in how you would like to see young people encouraged to take an interest in music or the arts in general that doesn’t involve forcing them to learn an instrument. Is it just a case of exposing them to music early on?
I think that I gravitated to art not music in school as the music education I was exposed to was focused on performance rather than creativity. I think there needs to be a balance of the two or if not else it can just be really stressful! I’m not interested in replicating my own songs microscopically perfectly live, let alone someone else’s, ha.
What’s some of the music you’ve had on repeat so far this year?
Helado Negro, Nnamdi, Yves Tumor, Little Simz, J.R. Bohannon, Los Zafiros, Charlotte Adigery.
Finally, now that a project that’s been so personal to you for so long is out there for everyone to listen to, how do you feel?
Like the desktop of my mind has been cleared and it’s time to clutter it up again.
Harkin’s self-titled debut album is out now