Kate Boy's Kate Akhurst performing live in Copenhagen. Photo credit: Sebastian-Alexander Stamatis
Throw a copy of Ableton into a busy Stockholm street and you'll hit somebody with 10,000 followers on Soundcloud. Music is one of Sweden's largest exports besides shoddily built furniture and dynamite. The list of famous groups from Sverige is forever and I won't bore you. The point is that IAMSOUND Records' recent signee, Kate Boy, will soon be added to that list.
Kate Boy is not a boy. It is the moniker of the Australian-born Kate Akhurst and Swedes Markus Dextegen, Oskar Sikow Engström, and Hampus Nordgren Hemlin. The title track off their Northern Lights EP has a groove that will snap your neck and drums that hammer harder than Thor, with vocals that beg for Kate Bush comparisons. They'll be supporting fellow Scandies, The Knife, this summer on the European festival circuit. We recently caught up with them in Copenhagen to have them shed a little light on the Aurora Borealis and being too weird for the techno stage (but too techno for the live stage).
Thump: How does an Aussie meet three Swedes?
Kate: I hunted these guys down. I was living in London and, I guess being from Australia, the thought of going to Sweden was scary. From Australia, it's 30 hours. From London it was only two hours, so I thought I might as well go and see if I could meet some musicians and writers. One of the writers I met said, "You should meet with Rocket Boy."
Markus: That's the name we were using at the time. It wasn't a band; we worked in the studio and produced.
K: That's kind of what brought me to Sweden. I wondered how all of these people were making and producing such good music.
What were you doing before?
K: I was writing music for other people in LA. I wanted a change and gave London a try.
What was the first encounter like?
K: It was fun. I got a call asking just to meet up for a drink. Sometimes those are so formal—that's why I left LA. I was so sick of that "machine." We got a drink and talked about music and laughed. That night, we went to their studio and wrote "Northern Lights." Our encounter was so instant.
What was the impetus behind "Northern Lights?"
K: It's the experience of being in Sweden and seeing the Northern Lights.
Have you actually seen them?
K: Haha, no.
M: We had spoken about them and Kate was fascinated.
K: The Northern Lights are kind of this magical thing—I thought I would see them on my first trip; I was so fascinated with it. Our conversation inspired the idea of discovering something really rare and precious.
Have any of you Swedes actually seen the Northern Lights?
Hampus: I have. In winter as long as there's no clouds you can see them in the right places.
What's your process for a song?
K: Normally, we start with the bassline. With "Northern Lights" it all started with the bassline. It's the heart of every song, for me at least; it inspires the melody. A lot of the time we come up with visuals at the same time as well.
H: What eventually becomes our whole song in the end is usually a small thing that we made at the start, and then it appears again in the end.
What's the group dynamic like?
K: Dynamic-wise, I think we all have our turn with the song, or our turn with the visuals, or to say what we think should happen. By the time we've all had our say, it's definitely a collective effort.
Oskar: Democracy! If somebody has a very strong opinion—if someone says "I don't feel that way"—then we probably wouldn't take the next step with that. Everyone needs to eventually say it sounds good, then we take it to the next step.
K: We have a good editing system. If it doesn't reach that bar it won't see the light of day.
How do you maintain your sound but still keep it fresh?
M: When there's one concept in an album and it's consistent in every song, it's good. We do have a list of rules. Limitations can be good.
K: Rules. Sometimes those limitations get a little crazy but that's what keeps it fresh. You have to challenge yourself instead of following every whim .
Will there be an album soon?
K: Yeah, we're working on that now. There'll probably be twelve tracks. But that's a ways away.
H: Even "Northern Lights" took a while to get out. It had to be perfect.
How do you create those sweeping drums?
O: Our studio's down in the basement of a house built in the 1700s—it has kind of a wine cellar design. The sound down there makes for the most beautiful studio ever.
K: It's like going inside an igloo.
What makes you different from other female-fronted groups?
K: When we play at festivals, we don't really fit in a dance arena but we're also sometimes too electronic for some stages. We don't have a drummer. I think it's kind of special that we're not 100% electronic and we're not 100% a "band." We're not stuck. We're a hybrid.
O: Someone told us at one of our gigs that they couldn't tell who was playing what.
K: That's kind of cool. We all play drums. We are different from most female-fronted things, that's why we picked the image we use for our releases—it looks like a boy and girl.
So you're gender-bending in a way?
K: We love not just focusing on gender. That's what put us in the in-between ground, not here or there.
H: Two years ago, if you went to a record label to explain what we are (which we did), that wouldn't interest them, because they needed to define us in some genre or niche or to compare us to someone. For us, the fun part has actually been to not be compared to someone or feel that we're the same as someone else.
What's next for Kate Boy?
K: We're going on tour in the US soon. Looking forward to that.