Popping Up: Kate Boy
Popping Up is our recurring look at new artists making noise on the music landscape. Because, hey — Madonna and Britney were once unknown, too.
Kate Boy‘s pristine pop is the result of an astounding balance between Australia’s glossy vigor and Sweden’s electronic wizardy. Aussie singer Kate Akhurst and Swedish instrumentalists-knobturners Hampus Nordgren Hemlin, Markus Dextegen and Oskar Sikow Engström deal in icy synths, acrobatic vocals and bright hooks, all while maintaining a typically Scandinavian sense of cultivated mystery. They don’t exactly choose anonymity, but rather subsume their identities into the music. In fact, the way they describe the band sounds like how those cartoon kids’ powers combined to form Captain Planet. “We’re such a team, it’s this real mix. The four of us together are just one thing,” they told us over the phone. “Even the name Kate Boy, it’s this kind of androgynous thing we loved, a person who isn’t female or male and who’s the fifth member of the band.”
Their debut video for “Northern Lights” took this concept further, featuring the members’ four faces amalgamated into a melty, morphing bust. “The sum of us is better than each of us individually. We like that as a symoblic thing, and for that video we blended ourselves together to make the new person/entity.” The concept even spreads to their songwriting (“Everybody’s playing all the instruments and working with lyrics, production”) and interviewing (they were majorly on the same wavelength when we chatted, at times finishing each others’ sentences).
On June 8, they’re opening for HAIM at a Governors Ball After-Party for one of their first US shows, meaning they’ve made the jump from buzz-mongers to actual touring act. Head below to learn more about the band’s journey.
(By the way, to keep the collective agency thing going, we’ve credited all quotes to Kate Boy, not to individual members.)
HEADQUARTERS: Stockholm, Sweden
SOUNDS LIKE: “We mix an electronic synth base with organic sounds. We do love the beginning of the ’80s, when they started sampling, when the sound is destroyed, in a way. And that makes it organic more than digital,” Kate Boy told us. “When we work with sounds, we always try to combine these two elements, organic and electronic. Wood and steel. Some sort of hybrid between these, So, organic digital is a good description.”
HOW KATE MET THE BOYS: Akhurst was in London writing for some other projects at the end of 2011, and during her last two days on the trip, she met the other three would-be members of the band. The four new acquaintances began writing songs right away. “‘Northern Lights’ was the first thing we ever wrote, written the night we met.” Akhurst was eager to move to Sweden to continue the project, since she had always loved the country’s music.
SWEDEN’S POP SPELL: The band speculates that Sweden is such a pop factory because it’s a small country. “When someone is successful in music, that makes others here think it’s possible. Plus, it’s snowing outside and it’s so cold, so you wanna be in the studio. It’s cozy to be inside working.”
KNIFE POINTS: Like Scotland’s Chvrches, Kate Boy take the elements of minimal wave and augment them with pop maximalism. But when you throw in the richness of Akhurst’s voice plus their Stockholm roots, then you’re bound to see comparisons to early The Knife. “We love The Knife, but also The Knife and Kate Boy love the same things. So, being inspired by some of the same stuff as they are, and being from the same place — plus we try to be a bit mysterious, and not give away too much. Ya know, Scandinavian electro band, girl singing, that all makes for an easy comparison,” they said. “We do love them, so it’s a huge compliment. But we’ve never really spoken about them or referenced them. We have other, much older references.”
THE JOE JONAS BUMP: Back in February, the middle Jonas Brother tweeted praise for Kate Boy’s debut track out to his 5.6 million followers.
— joe jonas (@joejonas) February 4, 2013
The social media shout-out gave the video a solid boost, but it’s also a testament to the accessibility of their synth-pop. “We’re all real pop heads, but we listen to a lot of alternative music. One of the underlying goals with our music is to combine this in the best way, the freshest way. We want to combine weird and interesting with really strong pop. Because the stuff that really hits your heart, it’s usually those big pop songs.”
DREAM COLLABORATION: “We’d love to do some sort of feature with Peter Gabriel, we’re trying right now. If he reads this, we’re out there and ready! We try to keep everything within the band, but Peter would be nice. We actually spoke about that today, we could do a cover of his ‘In Your Eyes’ and he could do ours!”
WHAT’S NEXT: “Touring, writing, releasing some new songs before the album comes out. We don’t have a date for the album yet, but we’re on it. We’re writing today. In fact, we’re in the studio right now.”