They say no one person is bigger than any band, and while that may be true to an extent, Katy Steele couldn’t have existed with anyone else at the helm. As front woman and focal point of Little Birdy, she was, and remains, strewn throughout the pop charts as an influential driving force for aspiring Australian female musicians. Finding herself amongst some of the most successful unique and enduring female voices in indie rock, she is also one of the most down to earth, sincere and goal minded musicians around, and while that may bear a note of condensation, it’s more a case of stating the facts.
“I want to stay true to what I believe in. Which is honest, memorable, moving melodic and classic good songs,” tells Katy. “But I want to experiment more with rhythm and the basic power of language. I've never really stepped outside of my square, which is to naturally write on piano or guitar. I want to push to more of a darker place.”
That honesty runs deep through Katy’s discography of work, ploughing the familiar furrows of love, heartbreak and loss. But unlike so many before her (and, for that matter, after) Katy’s way with words doesn’t necessarily come from years of hard relationships.
“The way I write best is when I'm blank. Its usually feels like there is someone else in your body for a small amount of time, they take over and certain things come out of your mouth,” says Katy. “I usually find that I'll sing about preemptive things. Like for example, at first I won't know what a certain lyric means, then a month later it appears and all makes sense. But it could also be that I’m just more aware of it. Either way...it makes sense all in good time. ”
“I tend to sit and observe a lot, I just need to find a way to fit that into my songs, because I do feel a lot for strangers,” Katy continues, “I’ll just spend so much of my day observing. I think there is such beauty in things being untouched – not as diluted.”
Needing a break from the distractions of city life in Melbourne, Katy's unique world view has a lot to do with her relocation to New York to settle and pursue new directions. The move proved remarkably fruitful – so much so that she’s already begun writing and recording another albums worth of solo material.
“I’ve always loved the idea of NYC. The largeness, the intensity, the struggle. A lot of my idols have either come from New York or moved there at some point, so it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. There has never really been a chance in my life before now to have a break, or to pursue other directions. [Little Birdy] have always been so flat out either touring or working on something so once we had almost finished with our last record ‘Confetti’, I knew it was time to make a change. It is quite overwhelming at first- the sheer size, so I have to give myself some time to get adjusted. There are people everywhere!”
So, what keeps Katy inspired away from home? “Nina Simone, Joan Baez, Aretha Franklin and Björk. Lately I’ve realized that I have a lot more power and strength – my voice is getting deeper and developing more 'timber'. I'm getting older and becoming more experienced,” she explains, before hazarding a guess about the future.
“I’m still in the early stages of writing for this album. I came to New York to write and eventually record. There is nothing more pure than a song that is written, sung, played and produced by the same person. I can’t wait to come home again for a fleeting visit and play some of my new songs and celebrate the beauty of the audience around me. Over the years I have been so blessed to have such great people at my shows, and I cant wait to see them all again.”
Katy Steele is playing one show in Sydney this Saturday at NOTES on Enmore road with Mark Lang of Skipping Girl Vinegar. Tickets for this very intimate show are almost sold out, however the remaining few can be picked up online at Oztix for $34.70, or $58.20 with dinner.
words: Jacinda Fermanis