Art & Design


Chatting to Little Birdy’s Katy Steele

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Little Birdy were the darlings of the Australian music scene when the group disbanded in 2010, and former lead singer Katy Steele moved to New York to find herself as a solo artist.

Three years on, Katy has just released her debut single Fire Me Up via Bandcamp, with an album recorded by Joel Hamilton (Tom Waits, Mos Def) due for release mid-year. Recently back in Australia for a run of solo gigs showcasing the forthcoming album, Milk Bar spoke to Katy about making music as a DIY artist.

Milk Bar: We hear you just sold out a gig in your hometown of Perth. How’s it been being back in Australia?

Katy Steele: That was really cool, it was at the Art Gallery of Western Australia and there was a big crowd. I’m playing the new album so it’s basically twelve songs that no one has heard before. I went in with a really positive attitude…the reaction has been really great and I’ve only played two Little Birdy songs.

MB: What does your new material sound like?

KS: They’re all really different songs and I think that’s why the shows have been pretty interesting. It covers a lot of ground, there’s some really pumping electro, almost like Georgio Moroder, full on 80s and upbeat and in your face.

There’s a bunch of other stuff that’s heavily rhythmic so I play a floor tom down the front, I smash that quite a lot. There are a few where I really sing, really melodic stuff – it’s a bit all over the place really.

MB: When you were recording the album did you do a lot of the instrumentation yourself?

KS: Some of it was collaboration, like ‘Fire Me Up’. I did a lot of that at home and then I went into a studio with an Australian guy Andy Baldwin and we rehashed it. I got this amazing drummer, this young guy Nick Brown, to play too.

A lot of the initial ideas though, the drum programming and the weird synths and vocal harmonies I did myself, before going into a studio in Brooklyn to work with Joel Hamilton. He took all my weird midi stuff and put it through a bunch of his really warm, amazing, vintage analogue gear, that’s how the album was recorded. I got a real drummer and real bass player so I also tried to make it like a band!

It’s amazing what you can do in a proper studio compared to what you do at home, but I also think it’s amazing what you can achieve now by yourself just with ProTools. I hadn’t previously experimented a lot with midi and how easy it is to just write synth and bass lines; it’s crazy.

MB: You’ve been living in New York for a few years now. Did that shift in location have a noticeable effect on your music?

KS: I think so, it took me quite a while to do this album. There are so many reasons why and when I first got there it was pretty hard, I went through a lot of ups and downs.

I was in New York writing what I would normally write on an acoustic guitar and piano and I thought “I’m not really doing anything different than I normally do’” So I had to go outside the square, I went and, you know, bought a Mac with some money from my label at the time.

MB: Do you think placing yourself in unfamiliar territory in terms of the instruments you were using almost forced you to think different creatively?

KS: Yeah, and that’s exactly what I wanted. The whole purpose of moving was that I wanted to be challenged.  I’d been doing Little Birdy since I was nineteen; it was seven years of my life.

We achieved a lot, but I want to do more, I want to be more of an artist in my own right. I felt perhaps a little held back, and I kind of was – I look at what I’m doing now and I love being a DIY artist.

This is my life and I just want to be able to keep doing it forever, and I think I will. You get by and you work hard.

To listen to Katy’s new single Fire Me Up click here.

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