Interview: Kathryn Williams
“I don’t like people knowing what they’re going to get. I like to mess with that.” Kathryn Williams’ new project is unpredictable to say the least. You’ll be happy to know that it’s just as brilliant as her previous work – featuring that luscious voice that seems to mould itself into your brain – her hypnotic style is still very much in focus here, but with The Pond, Kathryn has unleashed an album filled with world music rhythms, dark soundscapes and even rapping.
The Pond is a collaboration between Kathryn and old friends Simon Edwards and Ginny Clee, a married couple who she’s worked with on numerous occasions in the past. The project’s been two years in the making, with Kathryn commuting from her North East home to work in Simon and Ginny’s London studio. “It’s been a slow process on each song, it’s been more of a layering process. We had a clear idea of what we wanted.” Being in a democratic band obviously suits her. “It’s the first time I’ve ever felt cool,” she jokes, “now I can say I’m in a band!”
The direction The Pond have taken themselves in may surprise Kathryn’s hardcore fans. She admits that she’s been shunned by the folk world because she doesn’t do ‘traditional’ folk songs, but also concedes that her style doesn’t really fit any other niche either, and never has this been truer with her new project.
Her fans will still enjoy the shades of light, ethereal vocals and lush instrumentation, but the world music vibes and darker shadows of some tracks are a world away from some of her previous work. What made her branch out in this direction? “My music and my songs always have a theme running through them – that’s just how I write; quietly with a guitar. But these other projects help me work out ways of making different music and making it better. I don’t want to make the same music all the time.”
It’s the darker side of The Pond that has provoked the most comments so far, but it’s by no means a bleak record. First track, Carved, with its spooky opening, meandering background vocals and flecks of gritty electric guitar jar deliciously with the following Circle Round A Tree, with its laidback bouncy rhythms and lovely vocals. Simon’s world music influences come to the fore on The River; while Memory Let Down’s bleak, sonorous piano add an entirely different edge. Tracks like Hard Shoulder, where Ginny’s deeper, seductive voice matches perfectly to Kathryn’s lusher higher pitch and Bebop, which features rapper Kirsch, are absolute highlights – showcasing the realised potential and gracefulness of this record.
“I like the light and shade of this album.” Kathryn admits. “The main thing for me was having satisfying imagery and songs that crept up on you and created pictures in your head. They don’t have to have a linear narrative, but you can feel where you are.”
The surprising End Of The Pier is the most successful example of this vivid storytelling. With distorted vocals, ominous percussion and disturbing lyrics that sound faintly threatening, it’s creepily infectious and my personal favourite. “The darker songs on the record were more difficult for people I work with. For End Of The Pier my manager said we shouldn’t put it near the beginning of the album. ‘You need to warm people up before you hit them with something as desolate as that’ he said. I quite like powerful images that take you towards something darker.”
It’s this unexpected edge that makes The Pond as astonishing as it is – the rawness of the songwriting, the power of the instrumentation and the solid feel of the album as an entire, lovingly created thing. “I’ve been doing this a long time now,” Kathryn says, “I know my own creative processes and when things are working and aren’t. If I start writing a dark song, I can feel the lyrics are happening, I know it’s right. Sometimes I can feel embarrassed at the rawness of something, then I know it’s good.”
This project is very much a collaborative affair though, and now she’s in a band, she’s learning to delegate. “It’s very democratic. We left a lot of the mixing and production side to Simon, it’s quite nice separating and giving responsibility to other people. I did most of the writing – the lyrics and melodies – and then we created the soundscapes around that.”
It’s not just the band that have had creative control. With the project naturally lending itself to the remix treatment, several producers and artists have got their hands on the songs, with interesting results. “When we’ve given things to remixers we’ve told them to absolutely go for it. Sometimes I can tell they’ve been a bit polite, but I’ve told them to be braver and really go for it! It’s amazing to hear what other people can do with the same components.”
Look out for versions of Art Of Doing Nothing by experimental film soundtrack composer Biggi Hillmars, Memory Let Down and Circle Round A Tree by Faithless collaborator Marky Bates and Andy Jenks’ take on Carved, a particular favourite of Kathryn’s. “It’s quite mad, he’s chopped my voice up, slowed it down and sped it up – it sounds quite mental.”
If anything, The Pond – with its collection of rappers, remixers and raw emotion – serves to pose the question; what else can we expect from Kathryn’s future projects? Perhaps that’s the beauty of it… let go of your expectations, and dive in.
Kathryn Williams presents The Pond, the eponymous debut released on 28th May via One Little Indian. The band play the Sage Gateshead on Thursday 4th of October.