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December 2nd - Katie Phelan

Sitting down with Katie Phelan

Having gathered more than 50k streams in less than a month, Katie Phelan appears to be one of the most exciting, fresh, Irish artists on the music scene right now. Coloured in poetry and youthful sound, Katie embodies the music she makes, sitting down across from me in a dusty cafe that is all too jaded for the like of her. Nevertheless, we settle in, bonding over warm drinks in the freezing cold, and talk about the madness outside. She’s playing a gig tonight in The Workmans' Cellar, accompanying David O’Brien on backing vocals, and she’s nervous. Nervous as if she wasn’t herself on the cusp of her own debut headline show in a couple of weeks…

Interview Questions

KT: So first of all, I have to congratulate you on your debut single, For Good, I’ve been listening to it on repeat!

KP: Yeah thank you it’s been awesome to watch it blossom over the last few weeks, I’ve been seeing it pop up on Spotify playlists and hearing that there’s a good buzz around it is all just super exciting.

KT: I read in a Hot Press article not too long ago about your emergence onto the Dublin music scene and couldn't help but laugh at this perception of anonymity surrounding you. I was wondering if this was something you intended or if it just so happened to be a mere byproduct of the ‘fresh new face’ condition?

KP: Yeah I think it’s just like first tune syndrome. I definitely didn't mean for it to happen but I kind of liked it *laughs*, I wouldn’t mind it kind of continuing for a little bit.

KT: So you enjoy the idea of being brand new. Does it make things harder at all?

KP: I definitely liked it in relation to how the song was received. I liked that anyone hearing it was only interpreting the song for what it was, without any preconceptions. It definitely makes things harder in the sense that people don’t know me and it's harder to convince people to give me a chance, but it's a fresh slate to create who I want to be as an artist and so I wouldn’t trade it.

KT: So bringing it back to the single itself for a moment, obviously having moved through the same circles as you over the last few years, I know this release hasn’t just been highly anticipated, but it’s also been a long time coming. I suppose the question I’m asking you is why now? And why ‘For Good’?

KP: Oh it just felt right! I never wanted to rush anything, but I was also conscious not to put things off. I have a tendency to do that a lot. So with For Good I wrote it in November and we recorded it in January. I had Sean [Price] producing it and it was the first song we had done together that made me think “yes, this is the exact sound that I want.” We spent an entire day on it, recording it and then piecing all the bits together in production and by the end of the day we were like “oh yeah, we love this.” It was just a moment where we both felt like: “Well why wouldn’t we release it?”

KT: it’s a heartwarming concept, and a familiar one at that too, but it doesn't feel tired. I’ve noticed how you’ve somehow managed to revitalise what could have been quite a standard love song into something really enthralling. How did you do that?

KP: Yeah thank you, I suppose the lyric is very concerned with the seasons, you know each verse has a season. I guess I like to take cliches and twisting them into different shapes. In For Good I talk a lot about the passing of time and how I want to spend that time, but I don't think I ever once said the word “love.” I think that was always going to be up to the listeners to piece together.

KT: Yes, this touches off something I wanted to ask you. There’s definitely a clear youthfulness to your vocal, metaphors, and aesthetic. In a song like for good, the lyrical quality felt like the driving force of this. The overriding message could easily be remarked as intense, declaring a love that you want to last forever, but it’s constantly being softened with terms like ‘for good’ as opposed to ‘always’. How did you do it?

KP: So yes I was saying this to Sean before that I didn’t want to say anything like “always” or “forever” because it’s so much pressure. “For good” just felt lighter and more fun. The lack of gravity to it really leaves room for the feeling of being young and just happy.

KF: Do you prefer writing happy or sad songs?

KP: Hmm… actually probably sad, and then there’s this one which is happy and it’s my first release so that’s funny. I think like I said for me my songs come from personal experience and usually when I’m in my feels a song pops out. I probably write way more sad songs but I like that my first release was a happy one.

KT: They don’t know what's coming. *Laughs*But for anyone who does know your music, they would know that you have a pretty neat knack for waxing lyricism. I would assume it’s the thing that comes most naturally to you in the songwriting process, am I correct?

KP: Yeah, it’s definitely my favourite part but I'm lucky that most times when I sit down to write, everything will kind of come at once. Sometimes if I hear something cool or see something poetic I’ll make a little note of it and I feel like those little snippets of real life inspire the world of the song that's built around it.

KT: you’re prone to a good metaphor, however For Good is quite a literal piece compared to some of your other works. Was that down to a particular influence you had at the time of writing or was it just how the story demanded to be shared?

KP: I think it was down to how the story wanted to be shared to be quite honest. Yeah, I do use a lot of metaphors but for good never felt like it needed that. The message is very direct and so I wanted the story-telling to match that.

KT: So you have your first headline show in Whelan's on the 7th of December, how do you plan to translate the concepts you've been building in your lyrics and design to a live setting?

KP: I definitely am nervous, especially because my songs are quite quiet and soft. I still want to get through to people, I still want the music to connect to people even though they won't be dancing and connecting in that way. I’m just going to be myself as much as possible and people will naturally connect to the songs if they’re going to.

KT: And I notice you’ve announced your show under the banner of Fifth Strike Promotions. What’s it been like coinciding your debut headline with the debut of this kickstarter promotions company? Has it been a marriage of interests or were there setbacks?

KP: No I love it, especially ‘cause we’re both getting each other off the ground at the same time, it makes sense for us to want to work together and I can trust he [Cam Teehan] has my best interests at heart. Like I said, I needed a kick. I probably wouldn’t be doing a show in December if it weren't for Fifth Strike because, like I said, I was nervous. It’s great working with someone you can be close to, I’d be scared if it were with anyone else.

KT: No need! Still It is nice knowing you’re in safe hands while starting out. I suppose that’s what the project is all about. Anyway, you mentioned the word “ seasons” earlier and it made me think of the way your writing is very depictive of the phases or “seasons” of your life. How do you build a set list out of this without running the risk of being too personal?

KP: I don’t ever feel like I’m being too personal. Usually if something feels too personal I won't put it in my songs in the first place. There will be an element of weirdness because my friends and family are all going to be listening and sometimes of course people will try to make connections like “oh I wonder if this song is about that.” But ultimately I don't mind that, people are always going to interpret songs in their own way and that's what I want.

KT: Do you think your songs take on new meanings over time or do you find playing old songs propel you backwards?

KP: Yeah that’s a good question, wow I have to think. I’d say, for the most part, when I play a song I think of memories, I think of the times that I wrote them, what they’re about and they bring me back but I do think there are one or two songs that have changed with time because obviously I’m changing with time. Sometimes I’ll look back at something I wrote and be like: “What did I even do there?” Revisiting them, I sometimes have to assign new meanings but it's fun exploring something sort of familiar like that.

KT: Are there any songs you can’t touch anymore?

KP: Not so much that I can’t touch but there are songs that I don’t even like.

KT: That makes sense I suppose because as much as your emotional perspectives will shift, so will your music tastes. So focusing on the new, what are you most looking forward to about the new year?

KP: Probably releasing again. I must say I really enjoyed releasing For Good. It's been really nice, a lot nicer than I thought. Honestly I was very scared to release because I didn’t know what to expect but now that I’ve gone through it, I’ve kind of learned that once I’m happy with the song, it is actually just nice to sit back and let the world enjoy it.

KT: Can you give us a hint as to anything exciting that Katie Phelan fans can expect from you soon?

KP: I don’t want to set anything in stone but another release may be on the cards for February, maybe. I have some demos done and an exact song in mind so we’ll see…

KT: Ohhh exciting, can you give us a rhyme for the song title?

KP: Honestly no it’s too obvious *laughs*

KT: Okay well in that case I’ll leave the crowd hanging. Treat ‘em mean and keep ‘em keen. Katie, thank you so much for talking with me today! Have an amazing show and best of luck with the mystery song in the new year!

KP: Thank you too, this was so much fun. See you at the show!

Katie Phelan headlines Whelan's Upstairs with support from Nessa McHugh on December 7th. Pick up your tickets from the link here be sure to follow Fifth Strike Promotions for more exclusive content and coverage.

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