Katy Hurt is still in her very early 20s and yet she’s got her life and career set out before her like a map. With an early childhood on Long Island, New York, before returning to the UK, Katy’s love of American culture, and in particular their classic country artists and their storytelling style, has been evident from her youngest days.
Spending the past two years touring and performing all over the UK, she’s just released her latest EP, the five track ‘Unfinished Business’, which she recorded in Canada.
Described by BBC Radio 2’s Paul Sexton as “One of the most exciting prospects on the burgeoning country scene”, Katy has supported many high profile artists over her career to date, including opening or Liam Gallagher at Pilton Party, and supporting Jools Holland at Kimbolton Castle. She has also played alongside the likes of Jose Feliciano, Mac McAnally, and Toploader.
Nominations and awards are plenty as well. She was nominated for “Best Country/Folk Act” at the Unsigned Music Awards last year, nominated in the category of Female Vocalist Of The Year at the British Country Music Awards (BCMA) in 2016 and 2017 (as well as nominated for Song Of The Year in 2016, and New Horizon Act in 2015), nominated as Best Solo Female Artist at GSMA 2016, and many more. Katy won the Battle of the Bands at Rockfield Country Music Festival in 2014.
Lisa caught up with Katy at this weekend’s Cornbury Music Festival, in Oxfordshire.
So Katy Hurt! I have just caught you up on the Songbird Stage – and BOY you’ve got a voice!
Thank you very much!
Such a good voice [thank you]! I was looking up your bio, and your father described you as “the child that never slept”‘. What’s the story with that?
So you know how you hear about babies that just scream all night? I was one of those! [So you sang back then?] Yeah I was attempting to sing I think! And then my Dad realised that if I put Patsy Cline on, or Jim Reeves, or Glenn Campbell, those sort of solid country crooners, I would just instantly be enamoured with them and go to sleep. So from a very young age, music was very present in our household, it’s just always there, and then as I was growing up – I was living in the States, so it made sense that that would be the direction I would go in – and I’ve been in love with them since forever.
That’s what I was going to ask! You were born in London, and then you moved to Long Island…but you came back here.
We moved to Long Island with my Dad’s job. Both my parents have lived in a whole bunch of different countries, and they’ve travelled around a lot, and at the time, I think I was just about to turn one, and my Dad got moved to the New York office. So we moved over there, and we lived on the beach until I was seven. I was not happy about coming back, because we came back just before I was about to start [going to] school on the yellow bus, and we’d been planning for it, and all my friends started going on the yellow bus and I didn’t, so I remember being annoyed about it, but I got over it.
We came back, and I’ve lived over here ever since. But it’s weird, because when people ask, “where are you from” I never know what to say. I’m not from London, I’m not from the States, and I’m not from where I live now. It’s very complicated!
You’re a woman of the world, a global citizen!
I’ll take it!
You mentioned Patsy Cline, and Jim Reeves, so who are your musical influences these days?
I still love that traditional stuff, I still like, like all the way here in the car I was listening to Dolly Parton’s ‘Heartbreaker’ album – 70s Dolly is my go-to! But these days I listen to Brothers Osborne, Maren Morris…
I saw Maren Morris at the Royal Albert Hall…
…she said Happy Birthday to me from the stage! A friend of mine held up a sign, and I freaked out, I lost my cool! [YES! OH MY GOSH!] It was amazing! That was the best birthday ever!
So you were there – were you in the standing area?
Yes I was in the pit!
Oh my gosh!
Who else – Aubrie Sellers, I’m a massive fan of hers, Leroy Mack, Caitlin Smith…but I also listen to a whole lot of stuff that isn’t country as well, I listen to a lot of bands like Eagles, John Mayer, and there’s a new band called The Night Game, who are they doing an 80s synth pop thing, but it’s the best summer music you’ll ever listen to. Basically anything I can sing along to, or dance to, I’ll be listening to it.
So what’s your songwriting process?
Well most of my songs over the past two years I’ve co-written with my guitarist Gab Zsapka, who is incredible. We met because I was opening for an artist he was playing with, and he asked me if we could write the next week, so that’s how we got the band together. And it’s interesting, because at the time I didn’t really even play an instrument, I’ve only been playing guitar for the past two years…
Really! I would never have guessed that!
I know! It terrifies me! Because I’m like, constantly afraid! I’ve just got that white guitar as well, I bought that for my birthday for myself. It’s my “I think I’ve earned this over two years” present, I’m going to spend a stupid amount on a guitar I don’t know how to play, but I’ll learn! And yeah, so either I’ll come up with a lyric and I’ll take it to him, or he’ll send me – we’re together a lot of the time anyway because we’re always on the road – we’ve done over a hundred shows this year so far. [We’re only halfway through the year!] It’s pretty intense! We already have another show booked as well! So most of the time we’re already together when we come up with an idea, or he’ll send me a riff, or go, “this is a cool groove tell me what words go on this” and I’ll write the words, or I’ll sing something to him and say, “what chords am I singing?” – it’s a bit of a weird thing. But usually it’s overhearing a friend’s conversation, or personal emotions and stuff.
Do the friends ever identify themselves?
One of the songs I do is called ‘See You Later’, and my friend Leah, who that song is heavily inspired by, is actually here, and she loves it. That song is inspired by when we were on a night out together, I think it was for her birthday, and some guy kept pestering us, and she without thinking got her hand up in his face and said, “Walk away just walk away”. And it was the sassiest thing I’ve ever seen, and I thought, oh my goodness, the poor guy hadn’t a chance. And the title came from a street sign. There was a road called Abyssinia Close, and we were standing outside the club afterwards, and I noticed the sign, we started messing around, “Abyssinia”, “I’ll be seeing ya” oh we have a song! So it was what happens when girls get drunk basically…
They write songs!
They write songs!
Yeah well that seems legit. So okay – what’s your dream gig? Cornbury!
Cornbury! A headline at Cornbury! This is our third year now, so it’s getting pretty crazy.
Have you been working your way up?
Yeah we started by applying for the Jack FM competition, we played the Riverside Stage, and last year we came back and played the Caffe Nero coffee tent, and then this year we got to play on the Songbird Stage. So it’s been like the highlight of my summer every year. My dream gig – on a very personal level – it would be the Grand Ole Opry. Since I was four I’ve wanted to play there. That’s my endgame, I want to be playing that stage. But when it comes to the size and spectacle of it all, there are a lot of stadiums that I have my eye set on, and places like Red Rocks in the States, where you play in a canyon. Anything like that would work. Anywhere they’ll let me play.
Do you prefer a big gig where there’s lots of people or an intimate gig where there’s people that you know there?
We have two different songwriting styles. We have all these sad songs, country ballads, and then we have these make you want to stand up and dance rocky pop songs. We’ve done a lot of intimate shows this year, and I’ve brought out all these ballads that no-one else normally gets to hear, and it’s been incredibly fun, and to get to tell the story behind those songs to that sort of crowd is really great, but there’s really something magical about the size of the crowd, and everyone waving lights in the air; it really is magic. I love them both but for very different reasons.
Do you have to have go get into a different mindset?
Yes! I have my ritual that I do before stage, like warm-ups and all that; and we didn’t actually do it today, but we normally have a hands-in team meeting beforehand to hype ourselves up. I think today we were all hyped that we got here on time! Just before I go on, I do deep breathing and stuff like that, and I’m in the zone, I can go on. I do find it weird if I’ve missed those steps. It kind of distracts you and makes you lose focus.
And I have characters in my songs. I wouldn’t normally say “see you later” to someone I’ve never met, so I have to be in this sassy girl mode, or the sad girl mode, so I have to portray whatever it is that I want people to relate to.
So there’s a little bit of a correlation between being a singer on stage and being an actor?
Yeah for sure! I think you really have to be able to connect with the lyrics and connect with the song to get it across and be honest. Cos that’s the one thing I’ve always tried to do with my lyrics, I’ve never really said anything that I wouldn’t do or say myself, or haven’t believed or felt. If I tell a story that I haven’t actually been through, it’s because I’ve heard someone tell a story and I’ve been like, “oh that funny” or “I can relate to that”. So I want to make sure that happens with fans, and we build a connection.
Do you have a fanbase that follows you around and goes to all your shows?
I do! I have an incredible fanbase, they’re pretty dedicated, I have one guy who’s seen me 43 times!
43!! How long have you been going?
I’ve been performing since I was 4, but he’s only really started over the last year and a half.
He’s pretty diehard!
He’s got a spreadsheet, and each gig I get to tick off the next one in the tally. He goes and supports other artists, there’s ones he’s seen 20 and 30 times. Because the other artists and I all know each other we have a sort of competition to see who can get the most gigs for him to come to.
So he’s a music fan! Where are you going to be in five years?
Hopefully all over the world, preferably on arena stages. I have a very long-scale plan of what I want in my life, and I’m in this constant state of impatience, because I want to do the next thing. I have to keep reminding myself to appreciate the stages in between.
You have to appreciate where you are right now too.
Yes! I recorded my last album in Canada, and I want to go back and explore that avenue a little bit, because there’s a huge country scene over there, and I’ve been touring the UK since I was 13, so I want to start touring internationally, spend some more time in Canada, spend some more time in the States, and then come back. I don’t know what the future will hold!
Do you have a US passport or just a UK one?
Just a UK! Which makes it frustrating, because it’s hard to get a visa as a musician. I looked into it the other day and the minimum it was going to cost was £10,000, so that’s going to have to wait, as I don’t have that kind of money.
You’re an unsigned artist?
Unsigned, completely independent, we release all our music ourselves, and we book everything ourselves. I have no management, nothing. I’m not saying no to it, I just don’t have any. We’ve just been doing it ourselves.
You’ve learned every aspect of the business.
One thing I want to make sure is I’m never put in the position where someone could take away everything, or lead me down the wrong path. When I started, my Mum went everywhere with me, because I was too young to drive, and then when I got the band, it was like suddenly I have these three brothers and we’re all in it together, so having that family element – they’re not my actual brothers, but they’re my best friends.
And they are the best up and coming unsigned country band, is that how you put it?
Haha! Before we went on, the guy asked how we’d like to be introduced, and we said, “the greatest country band you don’t know” – so I think I might have to steal that for some press!
What are the names of the guys in your band?
So there’s Gab Zsapka on guitar, Steve Matthews on drums, and currently Joe Trescott on the bass. Joe is filling in at the moment, I had a change of bass players recently, but he’s been doing a fantastic job, so hopefully I get to keep him.
One last question, which is – what question do you wish someone would ask you in an interview, but nobody ever does?
Oh my goodness!
Basically what is your dream question, and you’re always like, why don’t they ever ask me that?
I don’t know! I’ve never thought of it!
Do you know what, that is the best question right there! Maybe…what are you wearing?
What ARE you wearing?
This is an outfit that I ordered online. OH and new shoes!
Show me your shoes!
They’re all white, and they’re very hard to walk in! But no I spend a lot of time trying to work out what I’m going to wear on stage, but nobody ever talks about it, so that may be.
For the record, I saw you on stage, and I thought, I couldn’t wear that myself (because I’m not the right age/shape whatever) and you’re doing very well!
I saw Carrie Underwood playing at Wembley last night, and she was wearing a jumpsuit and I was wondering how she managed that because it was so hot!
One of our writers went there last night, and he was like, it was glittery and it was…
Covered in rhinestones!
All the glitter and all the pleather and I was like, damn where do I get one of those?
Well there’s the question! Carrie Underwood, where do you get your clothes!
Thanks for talking to us Katy!
‘Unfinished Business’ is out now. You can find out more about Katy Hurt, her music, and touring dates, from her official website.