There are few finer things than unexpectedly stumbling on a favourite new artist. Katherine Priddy wasn’t the headline act of Saturday at Glastonbury, but a mid-afternoon BBC slot catapulted her in front of the nation.
When SNACK learned Katherine was coming to Glasgow, we couldn’t wait to chat with her, covering an extensive range of topics including suncream, routing, Eigg’s independence and at times, music!
Hi, Katherine. We are talking in the middle of a heat wave and you’re in a stretch of summer festival shows. How’s it all going?
So far, so good. I think everyone’s just really happy to be back in the fields and enjoying live music again because it still feels like a bit of a novelty post-pandemic. I’m never going to complain about sunny weather or a festival, but I am quite glad that I haven’t got a festival this weekend, I think I might be a bit too pale.
I get sunburn when I open the fridge door at night, I need Factor 50. Not many people talk about this when they plan festival shows!
Maybe I should start selling sun cream on my merch table.
Priddy Hot sun cream, these things sell themselves! Everyone who wants a tote bag has a tote bag by now.
That’s true. Yeah.
I’ll have the tote bag mafia coming after me for saying that, but of course, up here, the heatwave lasts two days, so it’s a limited market.
That’s true. Yeah. It might not be in quite high demand for the rest of the year, possibly.
It’s great the summer festival circuit has been going well, but it won’t be long until you’re back out on the road and indoors. You’re next in Glasgow supporting Loudon Wainwright III.
I am indeed.
How does preparing for support shows differ from planning for your own tour?
I guess in some ways it’s nice because you’re not necessarily doing all the routing and I think it’s quite nerve-wracking because a lot of these venues are bigger venues than I would play on my own headline tour. So, it’s just trying to work out how best to sum up yourself in a short set and present the best version of yourself in quite a short period of time. But really it’s just about getting very excited and looking forward to it, which I’m already doing.
Excellent. You’ve supported some great names over the years. Have you had any big stories or maybe even horror stories of supporting acts before?
I don’t think so. I think being a support act is a really wonderful opportunity to reach a new audience because you are playing for people who might not have come and seen you before or who may well have never heard of you. So, really, it’s a great way to get in front of a new audience and show them what you can do.
I haven’t had a bad time yet, and I’ve always enjoyed support tours in the past. I think they’re just a great opportunity to play in venues you might otherwise not have an opportunity to play in.
It’s going to be at the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow. There’s a great folk scene up here, do you look forward to playing in places that are known for the folk scene?
Yeah, for sure. I’ve played in Glasgow before and other place in Scotland and it’s always been a really wonderful reception. I think as you say, there’s a really great audience for folk music up there and it’s always been really good craic, and I’ve had a great time.
It’s always exciting and I definitely don’t feel like I play in Scotland enough. So, I’m looking forward to coming back to Glasgow, seeing a few of the same faces and also seeing lots of new ones, and it should be really good fun.
Well, I won’t pull you up for the November tour not featuring any Scottish shows…
That was something I was really frustrated about actually because I do really want to play! I was hoping we could make work for the November tour but it wasn’t possible logistically and with dates at this time, but hopefully on my next headline tour where I’m choosing the dates and places, I will be back in Scotland as soon as possible.
I feel quite bad for artists because as soon as you announce that tour, the first 50 or so responses are ‘why are you not playing my town’, ‘why aren’t you gigging on my street’?
If I could play in every town I would, but it’s just not possible, unfortunately. And there’s a lot that goes into, particularly with fuel and stuff now. Working out what’s the practical way to do it is hard, and, all the venues are busy now that music is back on.
So, I am just trying to make everything work when you’re not driving seven hours a day. But yeah, we’re all doing our best aren’t we?
Absolutely. I think as fans, we have to take what we’re given at the moment. Returning to folk music, do you think there’s a national scene, or does every region have something different?
I mean it’s hard to say, I think there’s definitely a big folk scene as a whole, but I think breaking down even smaller, particular cities or little areas around the UK have their own scene and lovely close-knit communities and fan bases, which is really special.
I don’t know if I’ve noticed a particular difference in terms of sounds and styles, but I suppose I don’t play traditional English, Scottish or Irish kinds of music. So, maybe I wouldn’t notice it as much as those who do. I imagine if I played some traditional Scottish songs, they may go down better in Glasgow than they would in my hometown of Birmingham. But it’s very hard to say, I think as a whole, I think we’ve just got a wonderful scene throughout the whole of the UK, and it’s great to see that people are so keen to get out and enjoy music again post-pandemic.
Certainly, the gigs I’ve done in Scotland in the past have always had a really lively audience, which I really enjoy, it’s an audience that tends to answer back when you talk on stage which is always good fun.
Lastly on the Scottish angle, on your debut album, The Eternal Rocks Beneath, you have a song called ‘The Isle of Eigg’. It comes across as a love letter to the island, did you enjoy your time there?
It’s actually somewhere I only went once, almost by accident, but obviously it had a big impact on me because I felt the need to write a song about it. I was with some friends near Aberdeen and we heard that there was going to be a big independence party, because it’s an independent island. I think the locals bought it.
So, we drove across and went to the Eigg for this party.
And yeah, it was wild. It felt like a really lawless place, but bear in mind, we didn’t know anyone, we just turned up, but it was so welcoming and so much fun and so silly that I thought I had to try to immortalize it in song. So, that’s what ‘The Isle of Eigg’ is all about.
You covered the boozing and partying side of it well! Moving on to your November shows, which is a joint tour with John Smith, how did that come about?
I supported John Smith a few years ago actually, and we reconnected again in Kansas City back in May. We were both at Folk Alliance International, which is a big international conference and we were just hanging out in the lobby chatting and I think we’re both big admirers of each other’s work.
We thought it’d be really fun to do a tour together where we’ll be joining each other on stage and playing along with each other and we may or may not have something else as well, which will come clear in good time, but it should be really good fun to be on the road with him.
Excellent, I was going to ask about that as one of the gig venues hinted there’s something else coming out featuring you two?
All will be revealed.
So, even for the people who can’t make the tour, there will likely be something to look forward to then?
Yes, I would say so.
What will the set up of the tour be? Will it be your own songs, a combination of songs or do you know how the sets will work?
We’re still kind of working through that at the moment, but I think the idea is that we’ll each be playing our own songs, but joining each other on stage to add some harmonies or guitar to each other’s songs. So, instead of it being one artist followed by another artist, we’re hoping it’ll be a bit more collaborative, which is something that is new to me and I think fairly new to John. We’ve never done this type of playing together before, so it’ll be a new experience for everyone and they’re really lovely small intimate venues, which is a really nice place to try out new stuff.
So, I think it’ll be really special and it’ll be a new experience for all of us.
Brilliant. That sounds really good. And then looking at your tour dates schedule, it appears after November, you’ve got the rest of the year off. Are you looking forward to the break?
It’ll be nice. I think it’s obvious I absolutely love what I do and I feel so lucky that my job is doing music but equally, I think the last couple of Decembers I’ve been touring so it will be quite nice to have a month where I can enjoy some of the lead up to Christmas and see some friends and family.
Being a musician is quite anti-social, which is not necessarily something you’d expect, but obviously most weekends over the summer I’m busy and most of my friends work during the week. So, it’ll be nice to see some people over the winter, possibly keep writing and maybe get into the recording studio as well and see what happens.
That doesn’t sound like much of a break but it sounds exciting.
Yeah, I’m looking forward to it.
Not to dwell on the pandemic, but is there anything you learned or did as an artist you’ll take forward?
Yeah, being stuck at home and not being able to go out and reach audiences in person, it really made me think about moving onto the online thing and building more of an online audience. And that turned out to be a good thing because you don’t realise the kind of the international audience that you already have or could have who can’t come and see you live when you’re playing in Glasgow or London or wherever.
Being able to do online gigs and focus on online content meant I was able to build on that international audience, which has been really beneficial. And whilst I hope that I’ll be able to get out and see them in person now that things are opening up again, I think it’s reiterated the importance of online stuff for me and staying connected with fans because they were honestly the biggest support through all of that time and losing work. It was just so vital. So, I think, nurture your fan base and make sure that everyone has something, even if they’re not based in the UK.
You recently played at the Glastonbury Festival, how was the experience for you?
Oh, it was absolutely bonkers, I was there from Wednesday anyways, we had a really great time. It’s always risky getting to a festival three or four days before you are due to perform, a lot can happen but we behaved ourselves.
The set was at the acoustic stage which was a lot bigger than I thought it would be. So, it was a big old big top and that was amazing. And then we went and did the live session on BBC Two television, which is my first time doing any kind of live telly. So, that was very nerve-wracking, but the whole thing was just such a big thrill and we had so much fun.
I stumbled across the performance of ‘Letters From A Travelling Man’ as it went out live, and it was brilliant. How has the reaction been from that?
Amazing. Again you can’t put a price on that kind of exposure and being able to reach new fans. So, that was brilliant, and it’s been really nice to have lots of new folks chiming in and asking about albums and tickets and stuff.
So, it’s been really great to reach new people and I think it was also really nice for me on a personal level. Glastonbury has always been The Festival in some ways, so to have my friends and family tuning in, seeing me perform was a dream come true moment. It was so special, and definitely not something I’ll forget for a long time.
No matter what happens, and hopefully you’ve more great things ahead, but that is always there to look back on?
I’ve always said with the way things have gone with the album and the gigs and tours, even if I stopped music, and it ended tomorrow for me, I’d be really, really proud and really happy with everything I’ve done.
I wouldn’t have any regrets. Obviously, I hope that that isn’t the case, but if it did, I already feel like I’ve done myself proud, so that’s a nice feeling.
Are you an artist that pays much attention to streaming numbers or viewing figures? In the two weeks since ‘Letters From A Travelling Man’ launched on the BBC YouTube page, it’s had more than 106,000 views. (As of late August, it has received over 210,000 views.)
Has it? I hadn’t noticed that, that’s really cool, blimey! I didn’t know that, so thank you, that’s really cool. Gosh.
Streaming numbers is vital in the industry these days, is it something you think or worry about a lot?
I wouldn’t say I worry about it. I think Spotify and streaming has its place, and it’s a really great way to build an audience and reach new people. Certainly, the algorithms when they suggest songs, it’s a great way to build an audience. It’s not going to pay the bills, but I think it’s a wonderful way to reach new ears.
And then, you’ve got to try and get new ears to some concerts or get them to your merch stall. I’m really pleased for anyone who streams and downloads and enjoys it.
As I said, it’s a great way to expand your sound and expand your audience. And while I wouldn’t stress about it, in the new age of digital music, I think it’s important for artists to, whether they want to or not. keep an eye on it and see what you can do to help there.
You’re not one of the artists who have been forced to do Tik Tok dances are you?
[Laughs]I don’t think anyone could force me to do that. I also don’t think anyone would really want to watch it.
No, that’s fair enough. On a similar, slightly fun angle, your album title, and ‘Wolf’ from your debut EP, were inspired by Wuthering Heights. Have you contemplated re-releasing them to try and tap into the Kate Bush revival?
That’s a very smart thing. No, I hadn’t. I’m not sure I’d be able to tap into that, I think people are just absolutely loving Kate Bush at the moment, which I’m all for, but yeah, maybe I should?
It certainly is one of my favourite books, I love the Kate Bush ‘Wuthering Heights’ song as well, but the book is one of my all-time favorite books. So, maybe when that makes a big revival, I’ll put those songs out again.
As an English literature graduate, do you, or maybe even your parents, feel a sense of relief that you’re using your degree in some way?
I don’t know if my parents do, I think they genuinely, and I know this sounds really cliché, but they just want me to be happy, and I think they’re just pleased that I’m doing something which is making me happy.
Certainly, it does feel nice to be using the degree in some way. I learned a lot, during that degree, about music. I read a lot of books and poetry, which has gone on to inspire songs. I think reading is always good if you are looking to do some songwriting, but I think it has taught me to be more analytical and a bit more careful with the way I express things, which is always useful when songwriting I suppose.
An English degree and music, it’s two things that people don’t ever think is going to lead to a good job, so it’s quite nice to be proving that both can lead to something, if you work hard and get a bit of a lucky break every now and then.
You’ve clearly combined talent with hard work along the way, and that helps to get a lucky break at times. Anyways, you also dip into Greek mythology for some songs (‘Icarus’ and ‘Eurydice’), is that a style of storytelling you’ve always enjoyed as well?
Yeah. I loved Greek myths growing up. I used to have a book called Atticus’s 100 Greek myths or something (Atticus The Storyteller: 100 Stories From Greece).
And I think they’re just really great stories. I really liked the people in them. I like the fact that the gods aren’t always good and they kind of misbehave and they’re great for the imagination and a great basis for song writing as well because there are lots of kinds of morals and metaphors there, which can be applied to us now in modern times as well. So, I think they’re just brilliant stories for stimulating the imagination.
Do you have any other favorite stories of that ilk that you’ve not turned into a song yet, but you think might be ripe at some point?
I really like the story of Echo and Narcissus and from a musical perspective, I think the idea of an echo might be good fun, so maybe that’s something I’ll work on next.
Excellent. ‘Eurydice’ is a phenomenal song. How did the sound of that song come about?
I’ve nearly always played solo before going into the studio, and written for solo performances, but ‘Eurydice’ was one of the only songs that I’d written with a bigger sound in mind. I remember when I wrote it, I knew where I wanted it to go. And because it’s a story rooted in the underworld, I wanted it to have that kind of dark and ghostly feel to it.
When I got into the studio, we were looking at inspiration, myself and Simon Weaver, our producer, and then Radiohead’s ‘Nude’ really stood out to me. I liked how it plays with space.
The whole point of the story is that she’s both there and not there, and he doesn’t really know which one. I wanted to get that sense of real close intimacy with the vocals and then some real spacey sounds to give distance and play with both of them, so we had a lot of fun with that one layering up the sounds.
Is that something you might do more of going forward, and experiment a bit more with?
Yeah, definitely. I’ve always liked experimental production and layering with a kind of glitchy sound effect and reversing strings and stuff, is really good fun to play. And particularly again for someone who often plays solo, the studio is such a great opportunity to do that and to get other musicians in and create a bigger sound.
I think ‘Eurydice’ is my favourite from the debut album as well, so, it’d be nice if I got to kind of do a bit more stuff like that in the future.
You mentioned Radiohead. Is there any sort of bands or artists that people might not expect you to like, but they’re a big influence on you or one that you always turn to?
Possibly. When I was younger, I was absolutely obsessed with Tool, particularly the songwriting and lyricism. When I first started songwriting, when I was about 15, a lot of my lyrics and imagery was that kind of progressive metal and rock, like the lyrics and the way that the songs move. They’re not just verse chorus, verse chorus. I think I’ve always really liked that, but growing up I was into a whole lot of stuff.
Obviously, there were the more obvious ones like Nick Drake and John Renbourn, Joni Mitchell, and stuff like that, but certainly a lot of progressive rock, Frank Zappa, and more recently I love Alt-J as well, with their production. I really like the way they layer stuff up and use their voices almost as percussion, sometimes. I think it’s a really interesting production.
Is there a typical songwriting process for you?
Not really. I tend to make lots and lots and lots of notes on my phone or in notebooks about lyrics and words and phrases as they pop into my head. Eventually they will come together. The lyrics often start to come first and then I start playing around on the guitar and then start to change them both to fit together. I wish I had a better, more efficient way of writing songs, but I seem to have to wait for the right ideas to come along. I’m not very good at just sitting down and going right, I’m going to write a song, but maybe that’s something I need to work on.
There are different schools of thought, some people can treat it like a 9 to 5, whereas you have the Keith Richards view that songs are in the air, and you have to grab them.
There is definitely that, and I think you have to create the space and opportunity to actually write songs in the first place. If you never stop and try, it’s never going to come. It’s a bit of a mix for me. I think I have to sit down and just keep playing, eventually something starts to make sense and a song will start to appear.
On songwriting, how many years did the writing process take for your EP and album?
Yeah, a long time, because some of the songs on the album and on the EP, are songs I wrote when I was 15, 16 up until, you know, 22, 23, whatever. So, quite a long time.
The first album’s a real treat because no one’s expecting it and there are no expectations. You can just take as much time as you want to do it and work out exactly what you want. I see now why they call the second album a difficult album because that changes and now there’s expectation. And there’s a desire to keep the momentum going. So, it changes slightly, but I’m determined that the second album will have just as much thought, and I’ll be just as happy with it as the first one.
You’re quoted as saying recording ‘Indigo’ for the album, one of the earliest songs you wrote, helped you fall back in love with the song. You’ve now played the album for some time, have any other songs changed over time?
Yeah, I would say so. I mean, it’s hard to say really. I think some of the songs, it’s easy to get a bit blasé about when you play the same songs again and again. But certainly, ‘Icarus’ is one I wasn’t so sure about before going into the studio, but now I really enjoy playing that one.
Maybe the recording and playing gigs keep things fresh sometimes.
But certainly, there’s couple of old songs, which I haven’t released that I’ve been digging back into, and I can see the same sort of thing happening as did with ‘Indigo’ where you have to give it some space and rediscover it and realise that actually it does have potential.
You should never throw away ideas, just park them, and maybe you’ll come back to them at some point.
The life of an album rolls on, and you’re releasing a new vinyl version of the debut album.
Yeah, there is going to be a limited-edition, coloured vinyl of the album, which has been a long time coming. I wanted to do it when it was first released last year, but there’s been a few setbacks. So, it’s coming out at the end of August and it’ll be limited to 500 copies. We’ve sold quite a lot of pre-orders already, but I’m going to keep a few back to take on tour with me in September, so I’ll have some in Glasgow, which will be good.
Are you the sort of person where music is a physical thing you like to hold in your hands?
Yeah, I am. Vinyl, and CDs to some extent, but particularly vinyl, is a really great format because I think it’s how, as an artist, you write an album. You listen, and you pick the order of the songs deliberately and it’s designed to be listened to from start to finish in order to fully appreciate the album. Vinyl really allows for that because you just put it on and you have to just sit and listen. So, I think it’s quite an important format for me.
Even though you’re a good bit into the album cycle, there’s still a lot of new things and things to look forward to.
Yeah, definitely, keeping things rolling. There’s a lot of life in an album, I think it’s nice to keep momentum going. I’m glad to see people are still enjoying it. It’s still in the UK folk charts as well, I think it’s number 10 this month (July), which is just nuts. It shows people are still enjoying it, so as long as people are still enjoying it. I’ll keep doing things.
The pressure of when you’re in the studio is very different from the situation where you’re playing live, and you’re seeing people react to a song, that must change your thoughts too.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. For sure. Yeah, definitely, because some songs which I know go down better with audiences, and so you start to see them through the audience, well hear them through the audience’s ears a bit more.
You briefly touched on ‘Icarus’, and I think there’s a great sense of humor in that, was that the aim?
Oh no, that’s really interesting. I don’t see that one as funny, but I can see how it could be, so that’s nice.
Maybe I’ve just got a darker sense of humor. I feel there’s humor in the exasperation on behalf of the other character.
Yeah, definitely exasperation, because I think we all know someone doesn’t know when to stop and is never quite satisfied.
There’s a worry that comes with that, but also knowing that you can’t really change them and that it’s just the way they are. So, you just have to either stick it out with them or, yeah… So, I guess that’s what it is about.
Obviously, there are a lot of hardships and tough times as an artist, but overall, are you having fun?
Yeah, I wouldn’t change anything. I really, really enjoy it. There are moments when, say at Glastonbury or at any festival gig, there’s always a bit where I’m sitting there thinking this is my job, and I can’t really believe that. I feel incredibly lucky, and then obviously those times make up for all the admin, because there is a lot of admin, promotion and planning. Planning is so important, but it does take up a lot of time and it can be stressful.
I see my mates with their houses and their nine to five, and I sometimes think maybe I should have gone down that route and maybe I’d now be in a nice house and have settled down or whatever, but then you go to festivals and gigs and you meet all these amazing people who are doing the same thing as you. I think the grass is always greener. But I wouldn’t change anything. I enjoy every minute of it, honestly.
You mention it is a job, and with a job, something always comes next. We talked about it briefly, but how do you feel about the next Katherine Priddy album?
I’m really excited. I think it’s trickier than the first one because there is a bit of expectation now, but at the same time, that’s good because it pushes you, and it challenges you and I think it’ll be a new chapter.
And I’m quite excited to start the cycle again and see what happens because things keep surprising me at the moment. If you’d asked me last year, or the year before, if I’d be at Glastonbury or supporting Loudon Wainwright, you’d never think that was going to happen. So, I have no idea what’s going to come off the back of next year, but I’m excited to see what does.
You’ve been road testing some new material on Instagram.
Yes, I have, I have some new songs which seem to be going down well, so that’s always good.
Is it good getting instant feedback on new material?
Yeah. I mean, you can kind of suss the response sometimes, and for me personally, if I write a new song, I have to play it a few times live in order for it to bed in and find its place.
Sometimes I’ll be playing a new song and realise that I’ve been changing the lyrics slightly each time, and so at the end of a tour, the song you start you end with might not be quite the same as the one you start with, but it usually means that you’ve found the right version. It’s a really useful process for me in terms of deciding where a song needs to go. But if people are coming up saying they really liked that one, then you know you’re onto something.
In addition to your own songs, you’ve covered some fantastic artists, including Nick Drake, Daniel Johnston, Bert Jansch, Bon Iver, and many more. What is your thought process for selecting covers?
I have to love the song to begin with. I also like songs which you could do something a bit different with, like that Daniel Johnson one (‘True Love Will Find You In The End’).
Obviously, he’s the king of lo-fi, his music is so lo-fi, raw and stripped back. For me, that felt like a really nice opportunity to take a song and do something really different with it, put my own spin on it.
I think that’s key with covers, in my opinion, there is no point doing a cover that sounds exactly like the original. It’s really good fun to take a song, put your own spin on it and make your own mark with it. It’s a fun opportunity to do something different, so that’s always important to me when choosing a song. I have to think, could I do something a bit different with this or is there an element in this which speaks to me that I’d want to kind of emphasize more?
You’ve nailed ‘True Love Will Find You In The End’. It’s a great song, and artists like Beck and Spiritualized have covered it, and yours is up there, in its own way.
Yeah. Yeah. I think it’s nice to make a cover your own sort of thing. Otherwise, there’s no point making it just like the original, otherwise, you might as well listen to the original, but I think when song writing’s good, as it is in that song, it stands up to being covered and you can take it in all sorts of directions and it’s still a good song at the root of it. So, I think that’s important as well.
Any songs or artists you’d like to cover, but maybe you’ve not got a hang of yet or you feel there’s something you can do there?
That’s a good question actually. There’s a Sibylle Baier song that I’d really like to cover at some point, but we’ll see if that happens. There are other songs I’d like to do, I just need to find the time to sit down and then have the time to record it as well, but we’ll see.
What comes next for you?
Certainly, the second album, but then I’d really like to go and do some international gigs. I’ve always wanted to go and perform in Canada and America, and Europe is long overdue. I’d like to start building more of an international audience because obviously, it would also be really fun to travel and sing to new people.
So, I think that’s a big thing but, and I know this sounds really cliché, I hope I keep enjoying it and keep meeting amazing people, and if that’s happening, then I don’t really mind what happens.
Well, that’s great and we’re looking forward to you coming up to Glasgow in September. And then obviously next year or whenever you get back on the road, we’ll have a place for you.
Oh, thank you. Yeah, I’m looking forward to it, it would be fun.