We talk to electro-pop duo about their debut album, the Swedish music scene and writing songs for Disney
Sarah Sweeting

07:00 30th November 2015

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Two striking silhouettes stand on stage with a piercing presence, decked in black and white, as an unmistakably dramatic blast of electro-noir overcomes you. A cinematic experience unfolds as you lose yourself in the execution of something so artfully crafted, but ultimately quite human and primal. You need to see Kate Boy live at all costs. 

A Swedish trio who specialise in pounding electro and menacing, bone-shaking vocals, we've long tipped Kate Boy for great things. If you like The Knife and larger than life techno-pop odysseys, then this is the band for you. Now at long last, their debut album One has dropped, and they're coming to claim what's theirs which what's sure to be a totally out-of-body show at London's Oslo. 

In the midst of the whirlwind, we got under the skin of Kate Boy with an in-depth chat with Kate Arkhurst and Markus Dextegen to talk over evolution, the Swedish music scene, writing for Disney, and how they came by their look. 

- One by Kate Boy is out now. The band play Oslo in London on 2 December. For tickets and information, visit here

So how was the North American Tour?

Kate: We got back yesterday! It was so much fun, way more fun than we anticipated. We always know that tours are going to be fun but we are also really aware that they are going to be hard as well because it's constantly late flight, early night and you keep doing the same thing on repeat but we got time to see some of the cities. All the places we went to were really intimate little kind of clubs so afterwards we got to speak to everybody… there were late nights and early flights still but I think we got so much enjoyment out of it that we are only maybe feeling the tiredness right now. It was definitely our favourite one we've ever done, it was really great.

What was your favourite city to go to?

Markus: All of them were awesome but I think my favourite city this time was probably Chicago. It's always been fun there and we got one day off there as well so I think maybe in that context we were really relaxed and it was perfect weather and everything was pretty much awesome so I really appreciated Chicago.

Kate: I couldn't choose to be honest, I know that’s a really boring answer but that’s just why I enjoyed the whole tour so much. Every show was really cool in its own way and for me just picking one I'd almost feel bad for the other shows because they were all so nice. We got really lucky with the weather in Chicago because on the way home we stopped back in Chicago and it was snowing! It went from sun the week before to completely covered in snow. Then it was thirty degrees in LA and in San Diego it was about the same - it was so hot! It was amazing; I could go on about it forever.

Let's talk about your debut album, which was released earlier this month. When did you first start working on the album or was it more of a gradual thing that just kind of came together over the past few years?

Markus: It's been more of a gradual thing. We’ve done a fair bit of touring so it's been a constant process in between our travelling. In the last two/three years we have constantly been trying to fit more and more time in to write the album, but since we've been touring I think we've done about 150 shows during the same period that we've been writing the album. It's been taking way longer than we hoped but we never felt like we wanted to say no to any shows and stuff. We've been able to try out a lot of songs live though and some of them have gone through different shapes for a couple of months so its been an important part of the recording process… recording them live before they actually ended up on the record.

Kate: We kind of wanted it to be our whole journey from the very beginning. We included 'Northern Lights' on our album and that was the first song we wrote when we first met each other so, that was from day one really and then we've included up until the most recent work that we've done. We wanted to choose the songs that would represent the very beginning and some key moments in our life from the day we met and so the album is the whole journey of Kate Boy from the very beginning.

So talk me through the creative progress of creating your songs, like do the lyrics come first or the music?

Kate: We normally do everything at the same time but we usually come up with the music first.

Markus: Mostly it's some sort of... maybe a beat or sound or a bass line or something that then inspires the mood and then the melody would start to fall on top.

Kate: Sometimes it's the concept or something we've experienced, whether it's been on the road or… That will inspire a song and it would normally start then, we wouldn't have the lyrics yet, we'd just have an idea or start with the beat.

Do you write the lyrics together as well?

Markus: It's mostly Kate but we definitely go through a process of writing it together as well but you definitely have the main...

Kate: I think sometimes it depends, I guess being the English speaker of the band it's like I'm trusted with a bit more of that sometimes but at the same time it's very much... how we make our music, everything we do it quite a joint venture, we don't really take too much on our own.

I've noticed the lyrics are quite different from the “standard” pop lyrics.

Kate: I guess that’s the thing, if you're not that inner rock star person where you just want to get out there and perform - which I don't think we really are - if we need to find a deeper meaning to why we do this then... i don't know maybe it was the first forty shows or something when we got more conscious about writing lyrics. We were like, why are we doing this? I need to feel like there is a reason no matter what to get up and feel inspired by something. Once we'd written one song - actually I think it was a song we'd written before - 'The Way We Are' is one song that we'd written early on and people started coming up to us after the shows and explaining what that song meant to them and the different things that had happened in their life and how that affected them and we'd realised it had become this kind of anthem in our set.

Markus: There are a bunch of people who really soak the lyrics in and will pay attention to every single word and I think we just realised how much of an opportunity it is to say something important. I think after the first two tours we thought this is an opportunity that is way too important to waste on maybe a lyric about having fun in a club.

Kate: Yeah exactly, when people start trying to write a song that is going to be successful or that everyone can enjoy, you just go down those routes and we didn't want to do that. We just wanted to make pop music a bit more deep. We love pop and I love a sing-a-long chorus but I also like it to be a bit different and I also like the sound to not be like everything else. So that's where our inspiration comes from, trying to find that balance between everything that feels good but maybe is saying something with a bit more of a conscience.

Swedish pop influenced you quite a lot Kate when you were starting out?

Kate: Yeah I love Swedish Music!

What kinds of bands/artists were you listening to that influenced you the most?

Kate: Well the reason why I came over here were for the bands. I realised that so much of my musical collection was Swedish music. Little Dragon and Robin. Mike Snow was another band that I really really loved; I didn't even realised they were two thirds Swedish until I came here. I love Niki & The Dove, there are so many artists that I think are really brilliant. That was one thing I wanted, I wanted to just get over to Sweden and just see does everybody make music that sounds so good or… what is it?

I realised that there are so many people writing music here, it's not that everybody sounds the same, it's just such a thriving art here. So yeah, that was a big inspiration for me to come to Sweden. Then when I met the guys and when I met Markus, I guess they didn't have those influences as much and then we got to talking about other influences that we shared, people who were older. Maybe a lot of these Swedish artists that I like also have those older influences from the eighties and stuff like that.

Like Kate Bush?

Kate: Exactly, Peter Gabriel is also a favourite. The first night we met we were speaking about those artists more than the Swedish ones because I think when you are in Sweden and from Sweden you don't really think about the people who are in that circle so much, you think about the bigger heroes and pioneers of electronic music.

Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush both used synthesizers in their music at some point or other, do you think they have influence your music in that sense too?

Kate: It's more the mentality of what they would do.

Markus: When you speak about being inspired by eighties electronic musicians they usually manifest themselves in music that maybe sounds like that or is trying to hint at that. I think the way we're inspired by them is how they would embrace new technology, not necessarily sound like anything that came before.

Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush were really pushing the envelope back then with modern ways of making music and they ended up sounding like nothing else before at that time and I think that's what is really inspiring about them. It's not necessarily what came out but the way they worked with it. But of course there is going to be an eighties influence in it as well but we're trying to grab on to the way of thinking than the result of how their music sounded.

How’s the band evolved and shifted since starting out? You guys originally started off as a four-piece band.

Markus: We started out as a four piece and then Oscar left… When we started the band we didn't know how it would turn out and after a year of constant touring Oscar just missed being home and he wanted to write music for other people the way he had done before we formed Kate Boy. There was no time at all for anything else on tour so he made that decision. Hampus left recently. That had been the main band for two years but he pretty much got exhausted because it is seven days work, twenty-four seven for four years and it takes its toll.

As much as it's super fun and inspiring it can be a lot a pressure because touring worldwide doesn't actually mean we are making money, we are a niche pop band and we've chosen to go in that directed because that is what we want to do. I think the pressure of that over a long period made him not able to do it, he's just burnt out so for now he'd stopped working with music and he's actually pursuing to become a chef which has always been his passion on the side. Maybe one day he will change his mind and reach back to music again.

Kate: I think that’s why Markus and I surprisingly enjoyed this last tour too because when we hit that point and he told us that he just can't keep going anymore we were devastated and it was such a hard thing to adjust to. What do we do so close to everything? Do we just put the breaks on and try to figure it all out? Or do we keep going and rebuild our lives as a duo? We chose to continue as a duo and so then we were working even harder. We were like we have to do this!

Markus: It was really hard emotionally to start doing shows without our third band member because we've done so many shows with him and we started this together with him so we expected it to be really emotionally draining and it has been but at the same time I think we've realised, since we made the music together, he's still in there so in one way he is still on stage with us and we're trying to honour his part of the songs by keeping on. It's been working out good anyway.

I wanted to talk a little bit about when you both started out in the music industry, Kate I understand you were writing songs for other people at one point?

Kate: I have kind of done that my whole life. I got signed to write for other people when I was sixteen and I was always writing for all different types of artists. I’ve written for a lot of Australian artists and then that took me to LA where I then started writing for American pop artists. I’ve also done things for Disney movies.

Oh. My. God.

Kate: It’s like as a small girl I would have been like; I'd love to write for Disney! So I had that experience of really learning how to write a pop song and I've done that my whole life until I got a bit sick of it to be honest. I felt like I knew that world now and I felt like I was just regurgitating the same thing over and over again and I needed to keep exploring. Songwriting is really the core of my passion but I just got tired. I wanted to explore different kinds of music and that took me to London. I feel like in London the boundaries were not so set, at least in the field I was working in and so that really took me into writing in a different way. It's been my whole life and I'd still be interested in writing songs for other people… when we get a day off.

Now that we've done this album, we've actually been meeting so many artists on on tours and through festivals and talking about collaborations so that’s really exciting for us! I feel like we've done our first album now and it was really important to us that we did that ourselves to show that this is the blue print of what we do, so people can understand our sound. It's really exciting that now we get to open up the door to collaborating with different people or writing for different people.

What about you Markus, have you always been based in Sweden? When did you begin producing?

Markus: I've been here my whole life but before I met Kate I had a studio for a couple of years and would have different people come down. I worked with a publishing label and we were working with Swedish artists. There is an artist called Leo Leoson who is about to drop his debut album and most of those songs were written the time before I met Kate and then I worked with artists like Icona Pop. Sweden is a small scene and everyone knows each other, everyone pretty much works with each other.

What are your views on pop at the moment?

Markus: I think it's really exciting, it feels like pop is so versatile nowadays. A genre that is quite niche or alternative can become the most poppy sound out there overnight. An Album like ‘Currents’ by Tame Impala is one of the most successful pop albums right now but if you actually listen to it and compare that to what is traditionally called pop, I think it's quite far left from that. That’s an interesting and fun sort of direction that everything is taking and I think that is probably because of the Internet. The big labels don't necessarily have much of a power anymore because everyone is sharing music more than ever.

Kate: That kind of surprises me when you say that that album is the biggest pop album, for me I don't actually hear it like that, it's so popular in that way… that’s pop but what is pop? It feels like it's just everything but maybe we are just completely out of the loop and Ariana Grande is only pop.

Markus: I think where Scandinavian pop fits in isn't necessarily Ariana Grande, it would be more of a left field pop industry unless you are talking about Max Martin who writes number ones all the time but that’s the American Taylor Swift. I think it's cool that people can go from the extremely unknown to getting huge amounts of success in very shorts amount of time, that's definitely a good evolution of the music scene.

Like you said, the Internet has a lot to do with that success and you guys released one of your first tracks quite a few years ago and that travel quite far across the Internet. It's amazing that that can happen now.

Kate: Yeah it is, I didn't even think we would exist without the Internet. Even some of the music that I listened to before coming to Sweden... it's not like that music was taking over the charts in Australia or LA, it's not in the top twenty or top ten anywhere... discovering this kind of underbelly of pop through the internet. I don't think I would have even known about Swedish music if it hadn't have been for the Internet and then I probably wouldn't have wanted to come here as much. Although I always wanted to come because my great great Grandfather was Swedish and I’ve always heard about it in my family, that older generation were on some lighthouse here in Sweden. Me and my Mum and Dad just recently went to visit it and that was really special.

What process do you go through to make your unique sound? Like an onion, there are so many layers to it.

Markus: Discovering and designing new sounds is something that we constantly do as we go. Our main sort of method is to find two opposites and try to combine them and layer them on top of each other in a way they fit together and become something new together. That could be an old seventies electronic bass which we combine with a really modern synth bass. We try and mold them together as much as possible and that will then be something new.

We do that with most of our sounds, even if we are trying to take something that sounds really hard, cold and percussive that really jumps out of the speakers, and putting that together with something really soft that doesn't grab your attention as much. That’s pretty much how we look at making music and sounds. It's been a couple of years doing that, we've really wanted to make every sound ourselves.

The visuals are really important to you guys as well aren’t they? I remember watching the music video for 'Higher' and I felt that had a slight Let Me In-esque vibe to it, which I thought was really cool.

Markus: Visuals are really important part of communicating music. A song won't be the same without its visuals and it's very important to get the right type of visuals because if it’s wrong it will just throw the music into another direction. Normally we've always made our own music videos because we just want to be in control of each and every frame. We’ve actually worked with directors in the past on videos but we've ended up not using the final thing because we just thought, this is not this song - I think we are little control freaks in that way.

However, the video for 'Higher' we worked with a director Ben Strebel. We really wanted to make something that was up in the North of Sweden which had that landscape and Ben was experienced enough to put that together because he had an enormous team. In the other videos it's just a cameraman and us but this one required a massive crew and production and a director that had been working with more cinematic videos before.

Kate: Like Markus said about getting the direction of at least the mood of what the video is, I think with the song, Higher is about equality and being together and trying to make that into a video that doesn't come across super cheesy.

So who or what inspires your visuals?

Markus: It's pretty much what we subconsciously like. The feeling of having something very human but having an element that is quite surreal or virtual maybe always inspires us. When you put a human inside of a virtual world it becomes something different, it taps into imagination and everyone starts having different ideas of what it is and that's sort of where we like to put our music, in a world where there are maybe not so many boundaries. It's mainly what we like or it could be so many things that inspire us like movies or visual artists.

I think an important thing for us is to take time to actually experience other arts because if we've been working for too much for such a long time and haven't been able to do anything else other than out own music then you aren't able to get inspiration from somewhere else and it's really important to take time and do that. Even if it's travelling and doing festivals where we get to listen to other music. Even if it's a rock band, most of our inspiration doesn't come from the genre that we are in, they usually come from something else quite different.

Kate: I think what Markus was saying before about how we create sound by choosing opposite things and trying to make something new, I think that comes through in our visuals as well. We like to take these opposite worlds and smash them together, we don't realise that that is how we look at everything. Even when we are talking about our name Kate Boy, it's like we like that name because it's a girl and a boy and a character but a band. We like things that could be many things. I think it's that multifaceted kind of obsession to different worlds.

Do you find that filmmakers sometimes influence your videos, like David Lynch or anyone like that?

Kate: Yeah, sometimes you can appreciate music like, I love Prince, I love Stevie Wonder and when I listen to them I think this is incredible! But that doesn't mean I know how to do what they do. It's the same with these filmmakers, David Lynch or Stanley Kubrick for example who are just these iconic and inspirational directors. I've noticed it's more of the mood that these people can create. We are really inspired by artists, there is one artist I really like called Franz Klein he does these big broad black abstracts.

Within the first few seconds of just looking at one of his paintings it just captures me in some way and I don't know why that is. I don't try and look too deep into it, I just see what I like and think about how it made me feel and instead of trying to replicate what this artist has done I try to make the same feeling with the skills that I have.

For more on Kate Boy, find them on:
Official website

Kate Boy's remaining tour dates are below. For tickets and more information, visit here.  

Kate Boy will play:
Dec 2 Oslo, London
Dec 4 Tollhuis, Amsterdam
Dec 6 Artheater, Cologne
Dec 7 Kantine am Berghain, Berlin
Dec 10 Göta Källare,Stockholm
Dec 11 John Dee, Oslo
Dec 13 Vega, Copenhagen

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