- Mon, 2007-12-03 09:40
Kat Vipers has just released her second EP Hot Air Balloon, a dizzy collaboration of many instruments, classical piano and a voice that sweeps the scales. Kat Vipers confirms herself as one of the most exciting, charismatic and unique artists today, refusing to fit into any pre-conceived mould. I Like Music caught up with Kat to chat about her songwriting process, plans for 2008 and her musical journey so far.
''I Like Music because… there's not many other things to like.” Kat Vipers
ILM: Your new EP Hot Air Balloon is released now, can you describe your recording process and how the album came about?
Kat: Dr Donald Bousted heard my stuff and loved it and he invited me in to record at Kingston where he teaches. I had the pleasure to work with Ebby Acquah, who is Head of Music Technology there; he's obviously a top commercial engineer too. He has worked with every major name from Bowie to Nick Cave and Depeche Mode . I think we made the most of our time, which was about 5 days. We were so organised thanks to Donald, who is really obsessive with lists and day planners and just so completely on the ball.
Because there were so many musicians involved, there were moments of madness and I have to publicly apologise to my brass players who suffered the most and also to any who might have been caught in the middle of the craziness. I learned so much of course and I am delighted I was given the opportunity to work with such an amazing and supportive team.
I mixed with my friend Alecs Redes at Alchemea in London, then did the final mixes with Dominique Brethes in Brixton and we mastered everything together too. He's another excellent guy. He works with the Tiger Lillies and does all their live mixes. There are things I would redo probably if I had more time and a bigger budget, but I am quite happy with what I've got.
ILM: Which track did you enjoy recording the most and why?
Kat: Probably Get A New Dog Blues. The piano part was quite easy to play so it left me more time to work with the other players and guide them through their parts and explain what I wanted. There was supposed to be a gospel choir, but two cancelled on me at the very last minute, so I thought it's not meant to be yet.
ILM: You recorded in studios at Kingston University. I read that, in exchange, you provided song-writing workshops. How do you approach your song-writing and what advice do you offer to students in these workshops?
Kat: To give advice on songwriting is not easy. Songs are personal for whoever writes them; they tell stories. They are like skin, they wrinkle with time and sometimes, after a long time, they no longer represent you. You have to live fully in the moment as a songwriter, especially if you are the performer of your own music, which is twice as hard as just covering other people's stuff or being handed music to sing. For me music is first, then come lyrics and ideas. That's when I write my own material.
Recently I've been working on a project which is just now taking shape, and it's all about setting words to music, so the process can and must be reversed. There are no hard and fast rules. You can follow a certain structure, especially when you write pop/commercial stuff, you know 'verse/chorus/bridge-middle 8th/verse'. We could get really technical over this, but let's not! Or you can just go and turn rules on their head and not follow any and see what happens, which is often what I do. Although, I also enjoy working on forms and just tweaking them a bit.
Each songwriter is different, so, if I went and said this is the way then that would be wrong. You can give options and ideas, you can work on structure, but ultimately you are telling your story and that should be reflected in the lyric, the choice of instrumentation, the form, the presentation/delivery. I enjoy talking a lot about orchestration, which I believe is my strength, but ultimately I can't and won't tell people how to sing their songs or deliver their lines. There's magic in songwriting and performing and no matter how hard you try, you can't teach that.
ILM: You have been described as 'at the forefront of the cult underground arts scene' how does it feel to be given an accolade such as this? Does it affect your perception of yourself and your music?
Kat: I'm learning the hard way to not believe my own press. That's kind of essential, otherwise you lose all sense of reality. I am myself and, when I look in the mirror, there's no illusion. A press release is just that and sometimes you have to be flamboyant ,but mostly you have to be humble. This probably isn't a direct answer but it still gives you a lot to think about.
ILM: Can you describe your musical influences? How have they evolved and developed over time?
Kat: I think my answer to this is probably very similar to my answer for your next question! Stuff that my mum and dad would play on the home stereo, stuff I listened to at the Conservatoire, records of classical music which we had, some rock. I think, as I got older, I started exploring more of the modern rock scene, really trying hard to fit in and belong. Which I never could of course. As a 5-year old kid I liked Culture Club and Madonna, I then went into a grungy phase as a teenager and discovered Nirvana, then eventually it starting getting darker and weirder with time and age.
God Speed You Black Emperor, Les Joyeux de la princesse, Einzurstende Neubauten, Marc Almond, Tiger Lillies, etc. I think about 3-4 years ago I would only listen to experimental/avant garde music. I had no interest for anything but improvised jazz and industrial/noise and would spend a lot of time in jazz clubs and rehearsal rooms, listening to big bands. I think I'm a bit more open now and I am discovering and loving The Czars!
ILM: What is your first musical memory?
Kat: I grew up in a musical family, my mother was a singer and most of my family were professional pianists and singers, so music was always kind of there, in the background or the forefront depending on the time of the day! I've been playing from a very young age so I suppose the first things I played were lots of scales and technical exercises. My dad was completely in love with exotic female vocalists, women like Amalia Rodrigues, Yma Sumac, Edith Piaf and he would often call me come dear, listen to this.
My mother was more into jazz so, when dad wasn't around, she would put on Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra. The first record I got given was Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring which remains one of my all time favourites up to this day. And Pink Floyd too; my first rock record was The Wall. I suppose I was exposed to so many different things and sounds, that it's no wonder I ended up doing what I do.
ILM: What are you listening to for pleasure at the moment? Do you have any hot musical tips for 2008?
Kat: I am really the last person you should ask for tips! I like what I've always liked, classical, jazz, some alternative, I have always been a niche person and so probably all the obscurities you've never heard of before!
ILM: What do you look forward to most about playing live?
Kat: I'm not really a big live person… It probably sounds surprising, but for me music has been a hideaway all my life, something I've spent endless hours improving on, and so sharing it has always felt a bit like selling out. I know this sounds awkward! I much prefer the studio process, it's more fun for me when I can control things more. I suppose, what is really important in live shows is the buzz, the right atmosphere and, unfortunately, it has never really been there in my shows. I don't think I have tapped my audience yet.
ILM: What's your advice to young people on following their dream career?
Kat: I am in need of advice and guidance as much as anyone else really! If I had to say something it would be to persevere if you have substantial evidence that you are good! And don't be stupidly modest.
ILM: What are your plans for 2008? Will you be playing more live shows?
Kat: I hope to record more music, collaborate with many interesting people and continue being active as an artist. I hope to play more live, but it's got to be done properly, otherwise it hinders rather than helps the objective, which is to get the music out there to as many people as possible.
ILM: What has been the highlight of your year (2007)?
Kat: I've got three: finishing my EP Hot Air Balloon, meeting Michael Nyman and performing with Lemn Sissay.