INTERVIEW: Katrina from Katrina and the Waves Talks New Album ‘Hearts, Loves, and Babys’, Europe Shine a Light, and a Potential ‘American Song Contest’

We had the absolute pleasure of talking to iconic pop star and Eurovision legend Katrina from Katrina and the Waves about her new album ‘Hearts, Loves, and Babys’ which arrives on August 28th. The Love Shine a Light and Walking on Sunshine hitmaker spoke to us about the process and inspirations behind the new album, being an independent artist, Britain’s Eurovision future, Europe Shine a Light, and a potential American Song Contest.

Read our review of the album here.

Which songs on the album came first and did they direct the general sound and  themes of Hearts, Loves & Babys?

Drive came first. I went to the Lower East Side to work with my friend Jimmy Bones in Manhattan – who’d played with Blondie – and I wanted to make a New York sounding record with loads of energy that was really rough and recorded with the band in one take. I went over there and did all the pre-production and started off with Drive. You can tell it has a bit of a Blondie feel to it – it starts very much like Maria. Then I brought the album home – these ten songs – and thought “Oh my God, it’s completely unlistenable.” I like vocals to in time, in tune and to hear the melody – the voice is the most important thing and if you can’t hear it clearly or it doesn’t sound nice as it is scrappy then it just won’t do. You’d feel nervous listening to it. So I had to dash that dream of being a 23 year old kid knocking about the Lower East Side, making music and scruffing around like the Ramones and make a more grown up record. [Jokingly] More befitting for the sixty year old woman that I am.

I write things to keep myself amused. For example a song like Crazy Mama, which is obviously a slight exaggeration – but not that far off of my mother. There are also songs like Move On inspired by mother’s struggle with cancer for two years – an awful two years with constant non-stop pain where she just did not want to go. I wrote it as a deathbed lullaby, just to say it’s ok to go. It’s a very difficult thing to write about without seeming crass and ugly, so it has to be written poetically which is why I decided it would be focussed on the idea that love is all that matters and written as a love poem.

That’s kind of the reason behind calling the album Hearts, Loves and Babys. Since you have to write out the lyrics for Spotify, I noticed these three words kept showing up – heart, love and baby. The song, I Can’t Give You Anything But Love has about eleven ‘babys’ in it alone. Ever since people come to me and ask ‘Can’t you spell babies? What’s the matter with you?” It’s a term of endearment!

Which tracks are your personal favourites and why?

For very personal reasons, it’s Move On. I’ve never written a track like that – it’s so deep and so meaningful and it was very tricky to let myself write that as it was quite painful. I also think my next single I Want to Love Again which has a europop beat and feel about it. It was a song that I had originally written for Samantha Fox who was going through the drama, trauma and heartbreak of losing her partner. I really wanted to put myself in her place and get in touch with those feelings as she wanted to love again. It was so poppy and fun that I submitted it for the 2020 Eurovision selection and it was shortlisted by BMG until they found James Newman who was going to write and sing his own song. This was before I decided to record my own album, but when I decided I would I thought “That’s got to go on there” because it’s really fun and people seem to like it.

With the track, I’m having to be a little more creative in these COVID-19 times and make my own videos and I’m having to make them at home. You can see that the video for Drive involves a poodle and now the poodle has become part of all the videos. In the new one for I Want to Love Again she is actually flying in a monkey costume from The Wizard of Oz. I put on a green screen suit from head to toe and had her flying through the air, through woods and blue skies. I’m dressed as a Tin Man Elvis covered in silver paint and dancing around with an axe, dancing like I’m in a discotheque. You have to see it to believe it. I can’t wait for everyone to see it. I’ve never had so much fun making videos, for example the one for Walking on Sunshine – it was so just so painful. It was in February and it was freezing. They would say “Walk along and hold in your breath as we can see the steam coming out!” We had about £200 to make the whole video.

How does releasing Hearts, Loves & Babys as an independent artist feel?

 I considered taking a deal with BMG for this album and because I’ve always had my own label for so long, it really started to stick in my craw that I was going to relinquish my control on things. Like the song Drive which says “Total control, feeling alive” that is me. I like total control – at the end of the day if it all goes wrong then it’s all on me. I can only blame myself instead of thinking “Why aren’t BMG doing something, they’re releasing the wrong single, or this video is terrible.” Doing it all on my own is so fun, getting to be creative. It’ so important to be creative and I think it’s a missing link for a lot of people. When I finally talked myself into making and recording an album – it’s a hard thing to commit to, but when it’s done your self-esteem improves about 25-30% Sometimes it’s like the hand of God when you write something and you think “Where did that come from?” It’s the magic of creativity.

Have you had the chance to test any of these tracks with a live audience?

Yes, I did an eighties cruise that went from Florida around some of the Caribbean islands. It was hell on the high seas – it felt like everybody on it had COVID-19. That’s where I caught it – it wasn’t life threatening or anything, just a very irritating cough, massive headache, and fatigue for about four days. On that ship I did Drive, Holiday, and I Want to Love Again and it was really surprising how well they were going down – and really encouraging to all of us as that tested the waters, excuse the pun. We also recently played a gig at Alvaston Hall in Nantwich and we did a couple of the new songs that went down well. With something catchy like Drive with three hooks, you can’t fail!

Holiday is a standout track, can you tell us a little about the inspiration behind that?

It’s tongue in cheek, a little bit Christmassy. We put some bells in there and then thought we better take them out as it’s too Christmassy but the track lost some of its energy. So put the bells back in and are resigned to releasing it round about Christmas. So there, the bells dictate the release date! It’s a very sarcastic, ironic track as it’s not a great holiday with the things mentioned ‘polar freeze’ and ‘nine billion candles burning hot as well’ about us setting the planet on fire.

Your current single I Want to Love Again is a massive highlight for me, but you initially wrote it for Samantha Fox. How did it end up on the album?

She never got around to recording it, I knew the heartbreak she was going through and she planned to go into the studio and record a dance album. By the time I finished it and gave it to her, she had decided to make a rock album and was going to park the song. I said “Sorry Sam, I’m making an album and have to stick this on it,” so I took it back from her like the little Indian giver that I am.

Britain has tried something new last year with internal selection through a partnership with the record BMG were you happy with their choice?

I was very happy with BMG’s selection, it was solid and still had the necessary cheese to it. I think James did a really good job and I think it was a great song selection. I think he would have done quite well – apart from Brexit. But Brexit will scupper it – as if it wasn’t hard enough already to win the bloody thing!

It was a truly emotional moment as an audience member watching all the ESC 2020 artists sing Love Shine a Light in Eurovision: Europe Shine a Light. Can you sum up the feeling of seeing the track still have such resonance over twenty years on?

You all have a great expression ‘gobsmacked’ which Americans aren’t aware of, and that’s how I felt watching that back. I couldn’t believe it, I was astonished hearing the orchestra play it with all the artists. I thought “Oh my God, Love Shine a Light is working better in 2020 than it was in 1997.” It’s almost like it’s found its home. There was less fanfare winning the contest in 1997 winning the contest, more fanfare in 2020 when it was on that show. It was so poignant. It was so perfect and meaningful for the time. “Love shine a light in every corner of the world,” as we are in the midst of a serious crisis with lockdown and lives being lost and it just shone like a lovely little beacon into people’s hearts. It was just perfect – I couldn’t have been happier about it.  

Eurovision: Europe Shine a Light really helped me a lot because there are a lot of people that weren’t really aware of Love Shine a Light. You talk about Eurovision and the UK and people automatically think about Bucks Fizz and Brotherhood of Man, I don’t think I’m the first person that comes to mind. That put me back in the frame, which I really appreciated. It’s nice to be liked!

The American Song Contest is expected to debut in 2021, do you think the platform will translate to US audiences?

Americans are going to want to have “I’m doing the song for my dead grandmother” and sentimentalise the format. Americans are also very competitive and you will lose the fun. How are you going to differentiate? The beautiful thing about the Eurovision Song Contest is the differentiation between the countries – they bring their own flavour, they bring the grannies, they bring the Polish milkmaids. They’re not going to be able to pull that off in America. It’s going to be 1D and tedious with 50 songs: “Here’s Idaho with their song Home on the Range.” I can’t see it. I’d be kind of surprised if it even happens to be honest – [jokingly] unless the whole thing goes incredibly gay that would be one way of resurrecting it for America.  

Interviewed by Andrew McArthur

Hearts, Loves & Babys is available from August 28th. You can pre-order the album here. The singles, Drive and I Want to Love Again, are available to stream and download now. You can order physical copies of the CD from Katrina’s online store.

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