Katie MF – All you need is three or four chords and the truth

Katie MF deliver a classy genre crossing punk / folk / country style of bar rock. With two powerful EPs and an album on the way, this was a band about which we wanted to know more.

2019 was a pretty awesome year for Londoner Katie MF. Her contagious, punch-the-air folk/punk has gone from strength to strength, including the mid-year highlight of supporting Frank Turner at his No Man’s Land album release show.

Together with her band, Tobias (drums) and Ben (bass), she’s been creating a groove and getting noticed. The band (also called Katie MF, but they’re working on that, so they say) also embarked on their first tour to Scotland in support of second EP, Everything Trouble Meant.

Their raucous, energetic and thoughtful live set is not to be missed, from the all out punk of Apocalypse to the Clash-inspired Leather Jacket, with a sprinkling of political comment in-between: Brexit and break-ups go well together.

With two EPs now out there in the world as well as a follow-up single (including a b-side because well, why not), Katie and the band were scheming on the next steps – a UK tour in spring 2020 was planned, but, well, guess what? Covid put paid to the planned album release as well.

We caught up with Katie on Zoom for a chat.

NOTE:

We should make it clear, this interview took place before the discovery of the remains of Sarah Everard in London and the events at the vigil on 13 March 2021. In that regard, we gave Katie the chance to rethink and / or amend any of her responses where we spoke about equality issues. She accepted that offer.

P3dro: Where are you and what are you doing?

Katie: I am in my flat and having a well earned Friday beer. I’ve been trying not to drink in the week during this lockdown. So, 6pm on Friday is absolutely my time.

P3dro: Well, you’re not the only one, so cheers.

Katie: Yeah, I’m in this room, where I have been spending a significant amount of time for the last year or so.

P3dro: How have the last 12 months been?

Katie: Up and down, which I think has been the same for a lot of people. I’ve been quite lucky as I have a job outside music and I’ve kept that. I haven’t got sick. So, things were good from that perspective. Otherwise, frustrating, boring and I just can’t wait to be able to play again to a room full of people without feeling anxious about it.

I managed to get a couple of gigs in last summer, reduced cap and outside kind of thing. Which was awesome. But, yeah, I’m really excited, hopefully for some form of normality towards the end of this year.

It’s just about a year since our last full band gig. And that’s pretty much the last time I saw those guys as well.

I think I’ve seen Tobias and Ben once each. We certainly haven’t rehearsed.

P3dro: Looking at your website, you had quite big plans for last year. A tour booked and an album due to be released.

Katie: Yeah. That was to have been our first proper tour and I think we were going to start on 19 March last year. So, really great timing, just as everything imploded.

And, then we were really hoping to build on the back of that. We’d also been hoping to get over to Germany at the end of the summer, as well. But hopefully all these things can happen.

P3dro: Well, going to Europe will be tricky?

Katie: I know. I think it’ll be a case of getting a cheap plane ticket and then renting [gear], or buying a cheap guitar over there and try to sell it off at the end.

P3dro: And the album plans?

Katie: Ha! Yeah, it’s still very much due. I’ve been using the time to demo an album. Which I hadn’t had the opportunity to do before. I’ve been able to work through the songs and try and improve them. Seeing what works live and what works on record.

So, I’ve been doing that for the last six months. I’m coming to the end of that process now, which is good timing, because hopefully we’ll be able to get the guys back in a room in the summer. And then we start working on those songs and then, hopefully, have something recorded, at least, by the end of the year. If not released.

P3dro: So have you been able to swap files and tracks with the other two?

Katie: Yes, it’s an interesting one, though. Because, we’re less of a band and more me as singer / songwriter with a band. I do the writing and suggest parts for them. But they are much, much better musicians than I am, so anything they add is always better than anything I can suggest.

To start with, we did try and do a bit of track swapping and the like, but without the three of us together in a room, there’s just not the same kind of energy. So I’ve done a lot myself, with the help of Garageband, and then once we can get back in a room we can use those as the foundation and then see what the guys come up with on top of that. Which will definitely make it better.

P3dro: Yeah, some bands have been able to work quite well remotely, but there are others who say they really need to be in a studio, even if they go in without any pre-conceived ideas.

Katie: It depends on the set up, jobs, where you live, how much noise you can make, how good your internet is and all that. But we thrive off being in a room together and feeding off each other, which is quite difficult to do when you’re connecting like this.

The first two EPs we released were more organic in a sense. We’d played the songs live and hadn’t really rehearsed with a studio in mind. So we just went in for a day and tried to thrash out four / five songs in a day.

So, for the first one we just ended up taking all the vocals I’d done that day, with no overdubs or anything. So that gave it a bit of “a different” quality.

But this time I’d like to be a bit more prepared and a bit more sophisticated about it.

P3dro: What do you think is the attraction of a full length album as against the EPs you’ve released so far?

Katie: To be honest, my ego! I really wanted to release an album. I’ve grown up listening to albums and I think there’s a lot of value in an LP. I know a lot of marketing people say you shouldn’t bother and you should just release singes. But I’d really like to have a body of work, even if it were the last thing I ever did. I could look back and think: “That felt good”.

It also feels like a progression as well. And, I’ve got the songs, so why not?

P3dro: We first came across you from Colin’s Punk Rock World. How did that come about?

Katie: We played a gig at The New Cross Inn, I think in 2018, as a late minute thing when the promoter put a call out for someone to come and support a touring band. We were around, so we thought: “Brilliant, let’s do it”. It was a Monday night, in October, so it wasn’t the most heavily attended gig, but two of the people there were Colin and Emma. We had a chat and they liked what they’d heard. Then Emma wrote a review of the first EP and we just kept in touch, saw each other at gigs.

The work they do for the punk community in UK is amazing.

P3dro: The compilation I first heard you on is the ‘To The Front’ comp which is the one that concentrates on people of colour, LGBTQ+ and female fronted bands. Is that something that’s to the fore in your mind?

Katie: Yes, definitely. Any way we can help with equality in the punk scene and the UK in general. The scene is just a microcosm of wider societal issues here. I’m quite privileged as a white cis woman, but anything we can do to help marginalised genders or sexualities or anything. I know that sounds a bit Miss Congeniality, and world peace would be great, and we just want everyone to love each other and get along. But I think that’s an ethos the punk community buys into.

Quite a lot of the gigs I go to, or play at, there’s a whole spectrum of people there. It’s just so interesting, chatting to people, getting to know people who have different world views and experiences. It’s great.

P3dro: As the singer in a band, you have a voice and you’re in a position to shout at a wall.

Katie: I haven’t written about issues affecting women so far because a lot of us have grown up thinking that e.g. being flashed in the street, or groped at a show, or being condescended to at sound check, is ‘just something to put up with’ and a necessary part of a woman’s existence.

I think this has been reinforced strongly and consistently by the UK media, global governments and the insidious nature of a patriarchal society, and it’s only fairly recently that the narrative has started to shift to reflect the reality that actually, no, this is not OK and should not just be part of being a woman – especially because of what these microagressions can, and do, lead to.

But, honestly, I’m not sure that I have fully internalised that yet, which just goes to show the pervasiveness of the media and society I grew up surrounded by. I know that it’s wrong to be shouted at in the street simply because I’m a woman, but, for a very long time, pointing out that wrongness was considered to be complaining about nothing. So I didn’t want to write about it. That sounds cowardly, and it probably is, but I also exist in a cis male dominated space (musically) and don’t feel that I can speak for all women. But I definitely can and should do more to add my voice to the growing clamour.

Bands like The Menstrual Cramps, amongst others, have been saying all of this loudly for longer than it’s been accepted as true, and so do it more eloquently than I could. And Byenary are another good example because women are part of a spectrum of marginalised genders, and the harassment and violence usually perpetrated by cis men is not limited to being against cis women.

P3dro: What kind of subject matter do you think you are drawn towards?

Katie: Definitely political, personal. Basically anything that makes me feel something. I’ll often not realise there’s a song in there until I sit down and write it. Or sometimes, I won’t know how I feel about something until I’ve written a song about it and there’s my opinion.

But politics in the last few years has definitely made me feel so angry and so impotent, which has been the case for lots of people. And when you feel like you can’t fix something, then for me, writing about it is the next best thing. It’s a catharsis for me and hopefully for other people as well.

P3dro: We noticed on Facebook you posted, a while back, on the anniversary of your single ‘Apocalypse’, describing it as the song you wish you hadn’t written.

Katie: Ha! There’s a line in it which is: ‘You can’t feel sad and directionless if your whole fucking planet is dead’. At the time, I wrote that song when I had basically been in bed for about three days. I wasn’t feeling well and I hated my job so I was just checking out. But at the end of that three days I thought: “This is ridiculous and I need to get my shit together”. So, I ended up writing that song because I’d been focusing inwards and I felt I needed something big to happen to get me out of this insular mindset. And that just turned into ‘Apocalypse’.

And then a year later, the apocalypse pretty much did happen. So, the timing was pretty bad. The song came out about five months before all this happened. So, yeah, it hasn’t aged too well. And I can confirm it is still possible to feel sad and directionless while everything is burning around you. I’d got that bit wrong as well!

If only I’d known at the time, I could have monetized it.

P3dro: Where do you think you get your musical influences from? We get a bit of country and Americana from you.

Katie: Oh, absolutely. I am a massive country fan – thank you for giving me the opportunity to come clean. I mean, I like all music, really. The only things I can’t really get on with are things like hardcore dance and trance. Generally speaking, anything with a melody and lyrics I can get on board with.

I grew up listening to quite a lot of blues. I went through a massive classic rock phase as well. But I think punk is basically country music sped up. There are very similar chord sequences, very similar attitudes. All you need is three or four chords and the truth.

They way I write songs is on my acoustic guitar and they tend to be quite slow country songs, but then I speed them up and speed them up in a room with the guys and we try and punkify them.

I’ve definitely got a country album on the back burner – a proper Americana one, as a side project.

Although, I guess it does depend on which bits of country music you look at. There are bits of alt-country and country rock that have a quite misogynistic reputation and are very tied in with Republican ideals – country singers for Trump and all that kind of thing. But then there are parts of the punk scene with a bad reputation as well.

In the last four or five years there have been quite a few female country singers coming through, telling their truth, which makes me happy to hear. They’re not all boots and pick up trucks. They’re more sensitive than that.

Someone like Jason Isbell – that’s the side [of country] for me.

P3dro: Recommend a band or an album you think we should be listening to right now.

Katie: Ooh. This is my favourite album of all time. Not a punk album, but an incredible, sprawling monstrosity. It’s ‘Go Farther in Lightness’ by Gang of Youths. It’s an epic album. The level of songwriting is phenomenal, the lyrics are amazing. The musicality and the arrangements … I love it.

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