interview conducted by Molly Gorelick
Kate Epps is a 21 year old singer and songwriter from London who released her first EP, soft pink in October. Now we’re premiering her new song, “Pandora” with a lil lyric video here on Pop Culture Puke! Kate’s music is sweet but haunting, like a sonic version of the movie Heathers. She makes all of her music in her bedroom, which is appropriate because it’s the type of music I want to listen to in my teenage bedroom when I want to feel my emotions as fully as possible. I talked to Kate about how turning 21 reminds her of Priscilla Presley, that gross “take your girl swimming on the first date” meme, what we can look forward to hearing in her next EP, and the importance of saying “I am a songwriter.”
You record all of your music in your bedroom. What’s that like for you? Do you feel like it makes your music more personal?
It’s very freeing that I am able to record my music in my bedroom. I feel very liberated from any sense of embarrassment about early ideas. I think anyone who makes anything is usually embarrassed by their first drafts. But I enjoy building on them and taking my own time to do that in a comfortable judgement-free space.
I do feel like it makes the music more personal because everything you hear is a labour of love from my side of things. Not that I wouldn’t trust someone else not to put a labour of love into my music but part of the reason I make music is because I love making music – you know, the process of actually sitting down and making the music. So I really hope that comes across because I get really excited when I make something and it turns out nice.
Who or what inspires your music? Do you listen to any artists in particular for inspiration?
I am inspired by fragility and vulnerability, and especially how it relates to identity. It had a strong influence on soft pink – even a whole song named after it! – but it’s influence lingers. I’m interested in how we can sometimes harness those facets of our personality – that we might be someone who is a little more vulnerable than others – and use them to strong advantages. I think being vulnerable and embracing it means that you are also capable of a much stronger love and empathy for others. Experiencing being hurt because of your vulnerability teaches you a lot about your own reactions to, and your own treatment of, others. I think a lot of people share this opinion and I have a feeling that we’re going to see it being discussed more in the future, especially amongst men; that actually, there is nothing inherently wrong about feeling things. So largely, I am inspired by those concepts. I am inspired by things that go on around me, by psychology and self- analysis, feminism and girl power. I recently wrote a song called “Trust Issues” that I hope will be on the next EP which was inspired by the idea that the “reason” men claim to have “trust issues” is because girls wear makeup and act in other such deceitful ways – the “this is why you go swimming on the first date” kind of jokes – whereas women’s “trust issues” are arguably often more justified based on messages from the society we live in. Plus it drew on my own experiences of times I have felt physically threatened or unsafe because of deliberate actions of men, which is something that I think it’s important to try and cleanse from your system by getting it out. So I’m inspired by a mix of topical conversations as well as personal experiences and those experiences of my friends.
In terms of artists I listen to for inspiration, I have been listening to a lot of female singer- songwriters, especially from the 60s and 70s when it was even harder to be a female singer- songwriter. Women like Bobbie Gentry and Dolly Parton inspire me so much because I am inspired by (and thankful for) women who have pushed trails that current artists walk down with comparative ease. Another obvious example of that would be Madonna. I always try and listen to people who do their own thing and are a voice for those who often don’t have one. Last year I was inspired a lot by people like Babeo Baggins, who really inspired me to be as DIY as I possibly can, and who I love so so much for having such a positive (duh) outlook and impact on making music from a pure love place. Other than that I love a lot of iconic singers and songwriters who pour a lot of emotion into what they do, like Courtney Love, PJ Harvey or Amy Winehouse.
Regarding your EP soft pink you say on your Bandcamp that it “sounds like me turning 21 and learning to accept that.” What was it about turning 21 that made you feel especially inspired to write music?
I think specifically turning 21 is relevant because I feel like I’m making up for lost time, but also I feel like I’m at a good balance between being wise enough to be able to give advice or comfort but at the same time not too old to have lost touch with what it’s like to struggle being a girl. For my graduation project at university I wrote a feature film about the life of Priscilla Presley who is a particular idol of mine, and when I pitched it I pointed out that I am the same age as Priscilla was when she was getting ready to marry Elvis. I guess I was just looking at how much of a milestone it is to turn 21 and have a little wisdom under your belt for the first time although still be naive about a few things – but to know that you can handle whatever comes your way. It’s why it was so important for me to reach out to people like you guys at Pop Culture Puke. I’m fairly certain there will be teenagers that are in your audience who maybe feel they don’t have the confidence or aren’t important enough to pursue their dreams but trust me, you are. I want to be someone who boosts people in a positive way, the way I wish I had been boosted as a teenager. When I was 17 I wrote and recorded most of an EP that I was just too shy and embarrassed to do anything about it. I judge myself way harsher than I judge others and I still do it today. I hear music that was made my 17 year olds and I think, “thats amazing! They must not stop!” And maybe someone would have said that to me if I had been brave. I think only two or three songs remain from that and I think one day I’d like to share them. In the last couple of years there have been lots more positive role models for teenagers I think.
Also, every time I finish a song I send it to my best friend and she almost always tells me that it makes her burst into tears which is actually a good reaction. She says, “I burst into tears of happiness because I connect,” which means so much to me because I have such vivid memories of being in the exact same situation with songs and artists that I love; important emotional moments in my life that are rooted around hearing a particular song. That boosts me a lot. It inspires me to keep going because it means I might be onto something in terms of expressing things that have been deep inside for many years which I know others struggle with too. And being 21 is being a little more on the other side of the storm of it all. I’d like to make music that comforts people in some way, similar to how I needed to be comforted and I guess that’s a lot of what inspires me.
When did you start playing the piano? Did that inspire you to start writing lyrics or was it the other way around?
I started learning to play the piano when I was about 15 (I’m still very much learning). I’ve never been taught and everything I know is from my basic music theory knowledge that I have from school. I bought a keyboard online and started learning pop songs so I could cover them. The sole reason I learned to play it was because I hated asking people to play instruments for me and singing in front of them. So I thought, well if I could accompany myself that means I can practice whenever I want and without other people there! And really it was because I had the burning desire to write lyrics but no way of turning them into actual songs. I also tried the guitar but I absolutely sucked at it and still do. I’d love to learn to play one day but almost all of what I do is midi-based anyway for which I use a keyboard so I’m glad I picked learning the keyboard and getting comfortable with music that way!
What was it like working on this new music for Pop Culture Puke? The theme for the month was “Comeback,” so how do you feel this specific work connects to that?
It was so great!!!! Thank you guys sooooo much for debuting this new song, I’m really excited for everyone to hear it. “Pandora” is about a dysfunctional relationship about someone you think you love who is truly terrible for you and how you should reflect on the damage their actions are doing to you before it’s too late.
It was quite liberating to work on this because I very rarely think in terms of single releases, I always think in terms of EPs. So it was great to sit down and focus. It’s my first release since soft pink, so it’s a comeback of sorts! And it’s the beginning of a new direction for me. (I’d recommend listening with headphones because I tried some things out in the production that are new to me – see if you can spot them and let me know!) So it definitely feels like getting back in the game after three months of just thinking about soft pink.
You’re currently working on your second EP! What can we expect from that?
I’m trying to move in a new direction musically. With soft pink, I wasn’t very brave because I was still nervous and neurotic about people hearing the fact I made music in the first place, so I held back a lot from allowing myself to actually experiment and do what I wanted to do because I felt like it was cool. I was quite focused on what I thought other people might think. But on the other hand, soft pink allowed me to meet so many people who were so supportive and excited about my music and it got such a positive reaction from people whose opinions I really valued and continue to value. People have said such unexpectedly kind things about it which has really motivated me – not because I’m entirely driven by what others think (although sometimes it might seem that way) but rather because the reason I enjoy putting out music is because I enjoy connecting with others and reaching out to others. I’ll hopefully be able to express more of what I want to say in the next EP through the music as well as the lyrics, whereas with soft pink I was still getting comfortable with even saying out loud “I am a songwriter” instead of just mumbling something vague about having a hobby of “writing little songs.”
Do you have any sort of “Comeback” goals for 2016?
My main goal for 2016 is to get the second EP out there and to reach a wider audience, and part of the strategy for that is working out more cohesive visual elements – e.g. I’ve never done a music video that featured my own face, so that’s another way in which the video I made for “Pandora” is a new thing for me – and also of course, getting out and playing it. I’ve been really inspired by a lot of women of the ‘60s, from political figures to singers to actresses to women who did all three! So that will make an appearance somehow too. It will be a “comeback” in a sense that I’ll also hopefully be returning to the stage with more positivity and more material and more love than ever before!
Molly Gorelick is a student and writer from Pennsylvania. She edits Pop Culture Puke, usually while wearing a faux fur jacket and listening to Carly Rae Jepsen. Find her on Twitter @mollygorelick.