When I was a kid, growing up in a house with Cat Stevens, Neil Diamond, and Simon and Garfunkel, the first time I ever heard Kiss's "Detroit Rock City," it was a moment of musical epiphany. It was just so vicious, aggressive and mean. It changed the way I listened to music. I've had a few minor epiphany's since then, when you come across a band that just brings something new and revolutionary to your ears.
What have been your musical epiphany moments?
I can think of two distinct moments that shaped my appreciation for music. The first being when I was really young and went to go see a live performance of Prokofiev’s ballet, Romeo and Juliet. This performance was the first time I was so affected by hearing an orchestra play - as I kid I never understood how music gave people goosebumps until that very moment, and I knew I had to be a musician. The second musical moment was another live concert. It was a live performance of Orphée by the late film composer, Jóhann Jóhannsson. What I love about his music is the simplicity of layers and themes, yet immense intimacy and complexity in depth and repetition. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such a visceral connection with cinematic music as with this album. It’s also special to me because I was lucky to see Jóhannsson on tour with this album a few months before he passed away. It was a live, 2 hour set without intermission - I remember moments where I was staring into the ceiling of the concert hall, completely transformed.
Talk to us about the song-writing process for you. What comes first, the idea? A riff? The lyrics? How does it all fall into place?
I usually start improvising at a piano, playing with various sounds in my studio, or recording layers of vocals and seeing what sticks. Sometimes my music is influenced directly by what I’ve been listening to. But I generally approach each project - whether it be a film score or a song - as its own entity, so the process is a little different each time. I would say that most of my music is naturally cinematic and emotive, and I like focusing on certain elements for each piece. I’m super into minimalist textures and vocal loops, and sometimes a whole piece is about exploring that. Other times, my jazz piano background kicks in and I find myself prioritizing melody and harmony.
In my most recent electrojazz release, Left From Write, the musical process was especially driven by the narrative, which is new for me. It was a dance collaboration with a choreographer, aiming to sonically reinterpret dyslexia. For me that meant creating an entirely new language for the piece, and completely disregarding traditional musical phrasing. I looked at it in terms of sound design, production, and experimenting with the stereo space as if it were someone’s inner monologue - playing with moments of musical saturation and focus. I’ve never interacted with something so thematically before!
Who has influenced you the most?
My background spans electronic, jazz, and classical, so I’m influenced by a lot of different music! Film scores, probably more than any other type of music, remind me why I decided to become a musician:The Curious Case of Benjamin Button by Alexandre Desplat is one of my favorites.
Classically, I’m influenced by minimalist composers like John Adams and Phillip Glass, and the electronic aspects of my music are largely inspired by the jazz-fusion in Flying Lotus’ work and the tactile, synthesized sound design of SOPHIE. As a composer, I aim to combine all of these influences in my work. A hybrid artist I really look up to right now is Isobel Waller-Bridge. I love how her recent score to Vita and Virginia (2018) showcases grungy electronics and traditional strings to both romanticize and modernize the 1920s. I think it’s super cool when genres collide, especially in a film score medium, and that balance is something I really aspire towards.
Where do you look for continuing inspiration? New ideas, new motivation?
I’m inspired by various forms of art - whether it be dance, poetry, or film - and ambitious people and collaborators. As a creator, I’m very tactile, so I either need to be at a piano playing out ideas, doodling words or drawings in a sketchbook, or walking in a new city. That’s one way I try to solve writer’s block, is by still being creative but not limiting myself to one outlet.
We're all a product of our environment. Tell us about the band's hometown and how that reflects in the music?
I am based out of Los Angeles, California. LA is a great hub for all sorts of music, and live music is so easy to find, from acoustic sets on rooftops or summer concerts at the Hollywood Bowl. Being the epicentre of the film industry, the abundance of movie theaters and film music culture in LA has definitely been a large influence on me and the type of work I create.LA is a very diverse and progressive city, and I think my combining of influences of both urban and classical music reflects that.
Where'd the band name come from?
I use my own name as my artist name.
You have one chance, what movie are you going to write the soundtrack for?
I’d love to score a drama or thriller with grungy electronics. I could never top Johannsson’s iconic score, but probably Sicario.
You now write for a music publication (The Ripple Effect?). You're going to write a 1,000 word essay on one song. Which would it be and why?
I would write an essay on “Life on Mars?” by David Bowie. It’s one of my favorite songs. Something about the lyrics and instrumentation is so cinematic and theatrical, yet intimate and timeless. It’s one of those songs that transports me to another era.
Come on, share with us a couple of your great, Spinal Tap, rock and roll moments?
Tell us about playing live and the live experience for you and for your fans?
Most of the music I make is usually pre-recorded and produced, but I hope to adapt a live synth and vocal set soon.
What makes a great song?
A good melody, original vocals, and meaningful lyrics are important - but I think a great song is the kind where instrumentation doesn’t really matter, and it can sound just as good fully produced out as it would on solo piano.
Tell us about the first song you ever wrote?
My father is a jazz musician, so the first piece I wrote was a duet for trumpet and piano so we could jam together.
What piece of your music are particularly proud of?
Left From Write is my first release as an artist and my first time properly combining all of my musical influences of classical, electronica, and jazz. So I think it really encompasses me as an artist. Almost a year in the making, I mixed, recorded, and produced everything, and it is probably my most detailed and extensive project to date. Musically, it is far more experimental than my film score work, but was such a blast to make! I loved recording my friend on sax, myself on vocals, collaborating with a choreographer, and creating beats from samples of everyday objects. It’s not every day that I get to write music that’s groovy and fun.
Who today, writes great songs? Who just kicks your ass? Why?
Billie Eilish and Finneas. Her whispery voice is so original and Finneas’beats are super unconventional. It’s refreshing to hear something raw and intimate in a sea of over-produced pop songs, and I think the grungy nature of her music redefines and questions what it means to produce a hit song. It’s crazy to me how DIY their setup is too - really goes to show that you don’t need much to create something great.
Vinyl, CD, or digital? What's your format of choice?
There’s nothing like listening to your favorite tunes on vinyl. The grain adds so much ambiance and warmth that I miss in digital formats.
Whiskey or beer? And defend your choice
Whiskey - much more versatile and full-bodied than beer.
We, at the Ripple Effect, are constantly looking for new music. What's your home town, and when we get there, what's the best record store to lose ourselves in?
The best record shop in LA is Amoeba Music!
What's next for the band?
I am currently scoring an experimental dance film about plastic pollution in our oceans, and I’m excited to release that very soon! I’m scoring and singing on a number of other projects, but in the next year, I plan to develop a classical album and record with a string quartet.
Any final comments or thoughts you'd like to share with our readers, the waveriders?
You can stream my new album here:
Left From Write EP: https://open.spotify.com/album/0KNJa0wQm7ezIkgPmASCHY?si=Bfy0ZY8qQWGiorApveg0bg
And follow me on Instagram for photos from the release:
Instagram: @katya.richardson https://www.instagram.com/katya.richardson/?hl=en
Thanks for having me!