Katy J Pearson is like a character in a book: she’s the perfect conduit for storytelling and setting the scene, all experienced from the comfort of your favorite reading nook. She makes music to reflect who she is, but it’s not just for her. It’s for anyone who decides to pick it up.
When I meet with Pearson (via Zoom) to talk about her recently released sophomore record, SOUND OF THE MORNING, she exudes a soft but powerful presence. Wearing a bright red jacket, she speaks to me in a voice just as warm and vibrant as her outfit. Her large and engaged eyes hold me entranced, just as her hands wildly flourish with each delicate point she makes. She doesn’t overpower the conversation, it’s actually quite the opposite—more of a soft and lovely chat. Later that day, I couldn’t help but insert her likeness and her voice into whatever I was reading; the words on the page seemed to come from her, the main female character.
That omnipresence exists throughout listening to SOUND OF THE MORNING. You’ve heard its ethos in country, folk, Americana, rock. The first listen washes over you, and you don’t realize it until hours later that the imprint has stuck with you, rattling inside your head. Pearson’s sound has that effect on you—from the tap of your foot, to your mood, to your imagination. She is a hushed presence, whose power you might not realize immediately. Eventually, though, you learn you can’t ignore it.
Katy J Pearson knows her power. Over our call, we spoke at length about her growth as an artist, and what it’s like to create a bridge: across generations, genres, expectations, and, of course, the momentous decisions around creating a second album. And even when she talks, she’s building a small bridge just for me, to walk into the English countryside with her under the morning sun, snuggle up into a patchwork quilt, and listen to the birds.
She’s been described as a mash-up of “Dolly Parton and Kate Bush,” building that bridge over the Atlantic in terms of ‘70s influences. When prompted with that oft parroted comparison, she responds, “there’s a part of me that takes inspiration from them, but I wouldn’t say that when I make records I am trying to bridge a gap, I just want to do something that feels right for me. And sometimes it ends up sounding like a mixture of something more pastiche and more contemporary. It’s not what I aim to do, but it is something that I kind of love, so it trickles in anyway.”
I can’t help but right away gush to her about the first single on the record, “Talk Over Town,” a pretty powerful step forward after RETURN. She can’t exactly recall when she wrote it— just that she knew it would be a part of her next release, her next era as an artist. “The first record was more (…) commenting on others, or talking at people, whereas on this record, ‘Talk Over Town’ especially, it’s more inward. I wanted to be a bit more brave, and more vulnerable. You can tell that it’s about me, growing as a person, and the things that happen as you get older,” she explains. It’s a natural introduction to the new music, given that you can recognize her signature pastiche-but-contemporary sound evolving
Ali Chant joined Dan Carey (who produced Fontaines D.C.’s DOGREL, and runs Speedy Wunderground records) to help produce the new album, one that diverts away from some of the whimsical Americana of the debut. “For me, the first record was really special to do with just one person,” she says. “On RETURN, I was with Ali from the start, we did the whole process together. I think it was meant to be that way, and was the right thing to have done.” She had met with Carey over time though, and wanted to work with him. “His sonic style is really exciting, but you know, I’m wary,” she recalls. “I didn’t want it to sound too Speedy Wunderground because I feel like I’m quite separate from that, but when I work with Dan I just feel like he just brings a different perspective. Dan and Ali are both terrific producers in their own right, and they both work in different ways. Ali has a more holistic approach, a lot of it is live tracks where we see what we have in the room and add slowly, but with Dan I loved the craziness where we just threw a bunch of stuff at it, and he just encourages me to be more adventurous.”
With both producers on the project, SOUND OF THE MORNING was able to feel more like a sonic progression. “I didn’t want people to be like ‘ooh, where is she going with this, this is a bit too far,’ I wanted to make sure that there was a consistency that people can recognize where I’ve come from but also can see where I’m going,” Pearson explains. “I wanted it to be a bit heavier… so Dan brought that little bit of something new to the table and it made it refreshing for me, because second records are hard. Working out what you want to say sonically can be a challenge. So to add some fresh meat in there was helpful.”
I admit to her that I had only known Carey’s name through DOGREL, a record I would only associate with SOUND OF THE MORNING in that they sonically can (or will) cross over well here in the States by my American ears. However, the similarities pretty much end there. She enthusiastically agrees. “That’s the thing, and what has been nice—people who have heard the new music and not been able to say that it sounds just like any other release… it’s important for me to not be looped right into a scene, especially one that I don’t feel sonically a part of. So when people listen to the new tracks, I don’t think that people are going to recognize Dan or those influences, just that something has sonically shifted for me, and that’s been really nice.”
The album covers a lot of sonic ground, so it’s no wonder Pearson’s been chasing strong visual representations in her videos. Everything combines a slight country twang, a yearning hook, and a playful melodic drive; that style has become her signature, regardless of if you consider her a modern folk artist, a timeless rock star, or a ‘70s-inspired singer-songwriter. It shines in “Talk Over Town,” as well as the opening title track on the new record. The variations in tempo, energy, and vocal power, however, are what sets this album apart from anything else she’s done before.
To listen from start to finish to SOUND OF THE MORNING is to experience a therapeutic indie pop journey, transitioning through melancholic tracks like “The Hour” to the effusive energy of “Float” or “Game of Cards,” eventually moving to the quiet optimism of “Storm to Pass.” Sure, at times it’s easy listening, but it’s made more beautiful by the bittersweet moments that pass through like a cool breeze. The depth of feeling found on the record is anything but one-note, delivered with the nonchalance melancholy of someone who works outside the boundaries of genre, or time.
As the heroine of her own story, I asked Pearson what her favorite morning looks like.
“I have a family relative, she’s in her ‘80s, and I go and stay with her in between tours,” Pearson answers. “She’s an amazing woman, she lives in this cottage in the countryside. When I’ve stayed at her house, just over the weekend and hung out with her, the mornings there are just the best. She has chickens and even peacocks. It’s so crazy, all these sounds, but within this beautifully quiet village. And I usually visit her in the spring, when it’s sunny and calm. So I feel like an ideal morning would be waking up in that cottage. It’s very woodland, picture patchwork quilts, and just a really magical place. But most mornings where I had a nice sleep and am feeling chipper are alright as well.”
We laugh over the peacocks. It adds a bit of whimsy to Katy J Pearson’s already unique character, which is still being written. SOUND OF THE MORNING is just the latest version of her, and it brings the magic of early morning melancholy to the rest of your day.
You can check out SOUND OF THE MORNING over on Bandcamp!