INTERVIEW: Kathryn Joseph | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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When Hits the Fan Records issued a limited run CD and newspaper bundle back in January 2015, there was little sense this obscure Scottish label had uncovered one of the nation’s most devastating songwriting talents.

A mere five months on, Kathryn Joseph stood before Glasgow’s O2 ABC accepting the Scottish Album of the Year Award – a breakthrough all the more remarkable considering the debut in question, Bones You Have Thrown Me and Blood I’ve Spilled, wasn’t released until shortly after her 40th birthday. Previously crippled by fears of image, paranoia and unworthiness, it’s a rise with which the hitherto reclusive artist is still coming to terms:  “It doesn’t make sense in my head,” says admits. “It’s lovely that people liked the record, but I know people who have written absolutely beautiful songs and they get nothing. It just seems unfair. It’s about taste. It’s just 10 people who decide you’ve made the best record… it’s bullshit.”

This unrepentant potty mouth is one of many delights in conversing with Kathryn, whose inexorable momentum continued as one-third of Out Lines – a community-inspired project which paired her and silent musical partner Marcus McKay alongside The Twilight Sad’s James Graham. That record was issued through Mogwai’s esteemed Rock Action, and it was via the same imprint that she unveiled last year’s spellbinding sophomore, From When I Wake the Want Is.

“Rock Action is a beautiful label,” she glows. “A lot of my paranoia before was about how long it took me to write and how nothing came quickly. The thought of writing an album or signing a record deal which meant that I’d then have to write another was terrifying to me. I didn’t think I’d be able to deliver anything within a time limit. But Rock Action let you do whatever you want. That’s really important to me; to not feel that there’s something I should be doing.”

The thought of writing an album or signing a record deal which meant that I’d then have to write another was terrifying to me

Having already touched upon tragedy (the name Joseph is adopted from her infant son, who died back in 2010 following a premature birth), the numbing, heart-stopping songs of From When I Wake… were predominantly penned during a period of depression following the breakdown of her relationship. “It wasn’t enjoyable to write, but I knew that that was the only way to make sense of it all – to make something out of feeling that shit… it almost made it feel as though there was a point to it.”

For all that the words and emotions are her own, Kathryn is also quick to credit Marcus – not only for his musical contributions, but also his overall influence on her ascent: “Working with collaborators has definitely helped me to feel more confident about what I’m doing. That was a big part of it all… the fear of not being good enough – but it’s really hard to be negative about something when someone else has made it as well!” Beyond a mere partnership of convenience (they met when Kathryn moved next door to Marcus and his wife Claire, who runs Hits the Fan), the pair share a creative chemistry which seemingly borders on telepathy. “It’s just total luck, really beautiful luck,” Kathryn reveals. “We never discuss things. I want him to be in a situation where he’s doing exactly what he wants. With this record, though, I found it weird that all the noises that I wanted in my head were there. He’s amazing – I feel very lucky that our brains are similar and think the same!

“Performing is the part which I seem to find easy, which is a bit weird!” she laughs, as our focus turns to her first extensive UK tour – including a maiden North East date at The Sage Gateshead. “The rest of life I stress about all the time, but playing a gig in front of people and singing about how someone broke my heart and I begged him to get back with me and fuck me… that’s not stressful at all!”

Now a full-time musician, Kathryn enters 2019 facing an entirely new challenge: having indeed reunited with her partner, how does she approach the novelty of creating from a place of contentment? “That is a bit of a worry! I definitely do not write when I’m happy… but then I’m also very good at thinking of things to be unhappy about, so I’ll be okay!”

Kathryn Joseph plays Sage Gateshead on Tuesday 26th February.

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