An album inspired by the work of Sylvia Plath might be the toughest sell Kathryn Williams has ever had to make to her record label. Bet they’re glad they humoured her now, though.
Mercury Music Prize-nominated singer songwriter Kathryn Williams released her 12th album in June. Hypoxia – meaning a deficiency in the amount of oxygen reaching the tissues (bodily ones, not Kleenex) – was an extension of an open commission she’d been given in 2013 by Durham Book Festival, to help celebrate the life and work of Sylvia Plath.
Having spent weeks wrestling with how to ‘get in’, the Liverpudlian singer, who has made Newcastle her home for the past two decades, re-read Plath’s only novel, The Bell Jar, and the commission took off.
The resulting album has received back-of-the-net reviews from all over the shop, which has both thrilled and surprised the 41-year-old, who lives on Tyneside with her husband Neil and two young sons.
Having just finished a UK tour and a boatload of live radio sessions to promote the album, Kathryn agreed to answer some questions from Standard Issue. We would imagine she was happy to have something to sit down for, for five minutes.
Yes, I had her poems, Ariel, and I had read The Bell Jar as a teen.
When researching it, did you find any common ground between you and Sylvia?
Yes. Trying to have a creative job and be a mother. Being typecast as morbid or melancholic.
The album has been welcomed with open ears all over the shop. Did its success surprise you?
Yes. Who would have thought a nine-track record inspired by The Bell Jar would be of interest?
Were you nervous about people hearing the songs?
Massively. I wanted to do her justice. I didn’t want people thinking I was using her.
What’s your ambition for the record?
To become a karaoke hit.
Which song on the album came easiest?
Part of Us. I wrote it with David Saw in a few hours.
Which is your favourite track on the record?
Tell us a bit about the video for Mirrors.
It was made by a north-east artist called Lesley Ann Rose. I can’t believe what an amazing job she did in getting to the seed of the song.
When you’re writing for other people, do you use a different process than when you’re writing for yourself?
Yes. I have to be nice… and shower!
You used to suffer from crippling stage fright. How did you get over it?
I got up the duff and that seemed to help when I was on tour with Ray Lamontagne… not thinking of just me. I still get nervous but not the paralysing time I used to have.
Whose opinion do you value the most when it comes to your music?
Apart from Alan Partridge… the people I surround myself with. People I love and trust but who also tell the truth. But ultimately I will serve the song.
When it comes to musical heroes, who are your top three?
Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon.
What track do you play when you need:
Cheering up: So Long Marianne by Leonard Cohen
Calming down: Time (The Revelator) by Gillian Welch
A shot in the arm: Heroin by Lou Reed/The Velvet Underground
Inspiration: Anything off Astral Weeks by Van Morrison
To dance: Push It by Salt-N-Pepa
To go to sleep: You Send Me by Sam Cooke.
How do you balance family life with your music career?
The answer is wide and long but mainly it involves teamwork, stress, hard work and no balance whatsoever, mixed with a lot of guilt.
Garden and drink.
What has been your proudest creative moment to date?
Pushing kids out and realising I’ve accidentally made 12 records.
What would you like to erase from your past?
What brings you the most joy?
Incongruous moments where I have full contentment and peace… usually night drives singing to music.
Injustice, ignorance, racism and people not paying for music.
Which performer has been your biggest inspiration?
Do you have career ambitions outside of music?
Yes. I want my own tea towel range.
Have you ever met someone who made you go weak at the knees?
A doctor with a hammer. And Mark Ruffalo.
What advice would you give a woman who wants a career in music?
Just create. Fuck the hair styling.
What does fame mean to you?
Having to make more effort physically than I can be arsed to.
How do you define success?
By failing just enough to have a decent life.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever had?
Buy a house with your publishing deal.
Where did you go on your favourite holiday?
My mum and dad’s caravan in Wales.
What can’t you live without?
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Still being in the music industry 16 years in.
The Wombles [The Wombling Song].
What would constitute your favourite three course meal?
Mozzarella and tomato. Grilled chicken and pomegranate salad. Crack pie.
What’s the best thing about being you?
I make myself laugh all the time and I’ve got a friendly face.
Hypoxia is out now on One Little Indian. Visit http://kathrynwilliams.co.uk/ to get yours and find out where you can next see Kathryn in the flesh.903 Views