RGM INTRODUCING – WE INTERVIEW CANADIAN ARTIST KAT BRYAN
Hiya Kat thanks for joining us in the virtual RGM lounge today, grab a brew and take a seat.
What made you decide to become a soloist?
I’ve been singing most of my life, starting with choirs in school. As I got older I got more into creating music and learned piano and guitar and started taking private voice lessons, and then playing in cafes and at small festivals. When I was 19 I had rock star dreams, but honestly I wasn’t ready for the pressure and I ran from any success as soon as it became real. 15 years later and I’m miserable in my office job, in therapy for anxiety and wondering where life went. The pandemic changed a lot of things for me, because suddenly the pressures of daily life were lessened. I was working from home where I was relaxed and without having to commute I had time to explore what was missing from my life. Turned out it was making music. When I lost my job to COVID at the end of 2020, I made the decision to lean in and give music a real shot because I didn’t know when else I’d have the chance. I also knew that if I found myself at 90 having never put music at the centre of my life, I would feel like I had failed somehow.
Introduce us to you and your musical history?
When I first started writing songs, I was about 14 and it was the 90s so I was heavily inspired by the female songwriters of the time, like Sarah McLachlan and Jewel, but that folk aesthetic never really sat right for me. When I rediscovered music making a couple of years ago, I ended up setting up a home studio and learning how to produce my own music which was a game-changer. I’d always had this dream of creating something dark and heavy and vibe-y and now I had this box full of noises and hundreds of midi instruments at my disposal. My traditional training in voice and piano come in handy, but a lot of what I do now is instinctual and an effort to get the weird noises in my head out into the world.
We get a lot of artists at the minute submitting their tunes from Canada, so we started rgm Canada to share music between both countries, good idea?
Definitely. Canada has a lot of really amazing artists, and I know in Vancouver where I am, it is full to the brim with incredible talent. However, the infrastructure to support Canadian artists could be better and a lot of what finds commercial support sounds the same. My personal experience has been that the UK is more open and ready for diversity in music and is more embracing of things that are a little outside the standard, so anything that bridges that gap can really help Canadian artists find their audience and grow with them.
What’s the best piece of advice you have received?
Stop telling yourself who you aren’t. When I was first learning to program drums, I jokingly said to a friend that I was a musician without rhythm. She responded with “you really like to tell yourself that, don’t you”. It was like this bolt of lightning from the sky moment, because I had spent my life identifying as an awkward person and by forcing myself into that box I had decided that certain things weren’t for me before really giving myself a chance to learn them. I am so grateful to her blunt delivery because it changed the way I look at all aspects of my life, not just music.
Did you buy anything you don’t need in the pandemic? If so what?
I actually did the opposite. When I was miserable doing the 9 to 5 thing I spent a lot of my income on things and stuff in an effort to make myself happy. About a year in to the pandemic, when I was making music all the time and finally rediscovering myself, I realized how much stuff I had and how most of it was just collecting dust or clogging up my closets. I ended up clearing out about half of my possessions, which felt so good.
What’s a typical view in Canada of the UK music scene?
I think that’s really specific to the genre you’re in and your personal experience. I’ve had conversations with other electronic artists in Vancouver, and the general consensus is that the UK and Europe at large is more accepting of weird music. I have some friends who make some really strange stuff and there are small labels in the UK not only willing to sign it, but are actively hunting for it. Here, it can be hard to find a place to play that kind of music, and the community to embrace it, never mind support to keep making it.
Do you sign up to any conspiracy theories?
I don’t know if I want to admit this, BUT, I saw this thing a while back I think they call it the Higgs-Boson theory. I may not get this exactly right, but the basic theory is some version of the world ending in 2012, and we’re now either in a simulation, or an altered timeline or an parallel universe etc. I’ve seen a few different variations, but there is all this “evidence” of things that a lot of people remember from pre-2012 that research and science now say aren’t actually true. Sort of that mandela effect, like everyone debating whether Sinbad was the star of Shazam. It’s a crazy theory, but once you go down that rabbit hole it can be hard not to think…maybe? Haha, I don’t know if I believe it for sure. And yet….
What was the most fun you have had on stage?
Being on stage is always fun, but when you get a good room of people who just want to support you and love on you, that’s the best. There’s a lot of pressure to being a good performer, so when you find those magical spaces where it feels like we’re all just having a good time…I love that.
What was the worst experience on stage?
My worst experiences were all tech related. There was one festival where the monitors weren’t working and I couldn’t hear myself at all. I was also young and nervous, so the sounds I made were pitchy and awful and I didn’t know how to make it better. It felt humiliating at the time, because I knew I could do so much better, but I chalk it up to experience and move on.
If you could choose, would you prefer to time travel to the past or go forward in time? And why?
That’s a hard one, because I love old things. I can’t stop myself from going into thrift shops and I love historic architecture and learning about history, but socially historic times are not great. Going back in time as a woman means giving up your rights and the further back you go, the worse your experience is going to be. I’d like to think we’re making strides in that department but we are not where we need to be. So if there is a future where we can all just exist without being defined by our gender or sexuality or skin colour, then I’d like to go there.
Tell us something about you that you think people would be surprised about?
I’m actually a rather good dressmaker and seamstress. I’ve been sewing since I was a kid, and I’ve even made a red carpet gown that a friend wore to an adult entertainment awards show in LA. Actually, my tie to the adult entertainment community might also be surprising…
Name a four piece band made up of legends – who would be in it? (drummer, bass, lead singer etc)
Butch Vig on drums, Nils Frahm on keys, Bootsy Collins on bass and if I can’t be the singer, then Debbie Harry on vocals.
What makes you stand out as a artist?
My gothic tendencies really come out in my music. I’m a product of 90s grunge and childhood trauma so dark and angsty are a comfortable place for me. The music I create is haunting and ghostly with a lot of deep bass and heavy low end, and lyrically I sing a lot about deep emotions and complex feelings. So I like to think that my dark heart is my signature. If I could one day be crowned music’s Queen of the Underworld, I would be extremely happy.
Right now, what is annoying pissing you off the most?
I was trying to think of a light-hearted answer, but honestly the things that annoy me the most are things like casual sexism, systemic racism, people still having an issue with the LGBTQ+ community just living and wanting basic human rights, the way governments still want to control women’s bodies…just wide-spread intolerance and injustices based on personal opinions. Most of which we have been fighting for a very long time and I feel we should be done with by now. In 2022, it shouldn’t be controversial to want to just allow people who aren’t harming anyone to simply exist.
I hear you have a new single brewing, what can you tell us about it?
I’ve been really excited to share “Circus of the Living” with the world. It is my first release with AnalogueTrash who have been so supportive of me and my career. The next one is coming up in July and is called “Devil’s Curse”. It builds on the dark and brooding tone of Circus which will continue to be seen throughout the album (which will be released this fall). Where “Circus of the Living” was about our collective experience and the strangeness of the world we live in, “Devil’s Curse” is a more personal exploration of the thin line between passion and obsession. It has serious vampire love story vibes and I adore it.
Talk me through the thought process of the single?
“Circus of the Living” was written in a couple of hours during the summer of 2021. I was playing with the tape warp effect heard in the intro and it created an instantly foreboding vibe so I knew exactly where it was going. Lyrically, we’d reached that part of the pandemic where things were still weird, with restrictions in place and daily infection rate updates and a general sense of ill-ease, but we had all just accepted it as normal. So the words that popped into my head were about how weird it was that the world around us was in a bizarre state of turmoil, and yet our daily lives and interactions were relatively normal. Humans have this ability to just adapt and make do, seen previously in war times, or in our case during a global pandemic. I think the thing I will always remember about 2020-21 was how we heard the word “unprecedented” so many times that it became boring.
What was the recording process like?
It was a bit odd actually because I currently work out of my living room in Vancouver. I live in a 1918 converted house with terrible windows on the corner of a busy intersection so cutting background noise is always a struggle. So here I am in the middle of a heatwave singing this ominous-sounding song that would make far more sense in the autumn or at Halloween or something. I had to close all the windows and turn off any fans, so it was sweaty and uncomfortable, but I loved the song so much I knew I had to push on. I usually do several vocal takes and then comp and edit it until I’m happy, but this one was actually a single take, and that first take stayed as the final almost until the end. I ended up re-recording the vocals for this particular release because I changed the background vocals, and a couple of notes didn’t fit anymore. But that first vocal take had a good long run and the song is still one of my favourite songs that I’ve ever written.
What was the biggest learning curve in writing the single?
My biggest learning curve in this single, and all others, has been the endless number of things to learn about production. For me the writing and arranging happens really quickly, usually within a couple of hours I have the song and all it’s instrumentation created. However, when it comes to production and mixing and adding effects and all of that, there are just so many options and so many tricks to learn. When I began writing electronic music, concepts like compression and negative EQ and panning were all new to me, so that was a steep hill to climb. Honestly, I’m still climbing it and I feel like it’s the kind of skill that will never stop changing. There will always be new things to learn, new techniques to master, new technology to attempt to understand.
Would you change anything now it’s finished?
I mean, there are always things I will pick at. I have perfectionist tendencies that I work really hard to ignore, so there will always be things that I think could be better. But I love “Circus of the Living” as it is now. I think it has such a strong, unique vibe all its own and every time I hear that crunchy, distorted bass come in for the first time, I get such a rush of joy.
Is there anything else you would like to share with the world?
I am so grateful to have the opportunity to do what I’m doing now, including interviews like this one. For a long time I thought I’d missed my chance to pursue music. I thought I was too old and that my ship had sailed, but I see now that everyone has their own pathway and their own timing. There were things I had to experience and had to go through in order to be who I am now. So if there is something in your life that you feel called to do, and are stopping yourself because it isn’t practical, or you feel that you’re too old now, or it’s too risky or whatever…I say go for it. As long as you’re not hurting anyone of course. We are drawn to certain things for a reason, and who knows what doors will open if you just embrace the things that are true to who you really are.
Thank you for giving me this chance to talk about my self and my work and to share the things that are in my brain.