Editor’s Note: The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Katey Brooks is no stranger to hardship. Growing up inside a cult and grieving the loss of two loved ones early on, Brooks finds refuge in song. Over the years, the artist has also struggled to come to terms with her sexuality, only now being able to sing directly about women. Brooks’ song “All of Me,” from her new album Revolute, is a perfect example of her honest and emotional music. Based on a personal experience, “All of Me” narrates a turning point in a relationship.
I sat down with Brooks to talk about the cathartic powers of music and how she uses pain to inspire creativity.
Ariel Zedric: The inspiration behind your single “All of Me” is very personal. Walk me through your writing process for this song.
Katey Brooks: It was a process that spanned across a few years. I started it when I was dating someone totally unpredictable. One minute she’d be traveling across the country to see me play for half an hour and telling me she’d fallen for me, and the next, she’d disappear. We had had one of those instant connections when we met, which had taken me back so much that, in hindsight, I held on for longer than was self-respectful. That feeling doesn’t come around every day, and I think I hoped it would just eventually come together.
Then fast forward two years, and I’m in the studio recording my new album Revolute, and I’m in a situation with a similar level of ambivalence. Different behavior and situation though – this was an ex who had always been completely doting and dedicated when we were together, but after a split and her attempt to rekindle, her behavior became unpredictable and incongruent.
At that time I remembered the song I had started to write and knew it was time to finish it. I felt I finally had the inspiration to do it justice. I love the way songs do that to you. They decide when and where they want to be written, whether it takes 15 minutes or 15 years. They are their own world.
Were there parts you found difficult?
Absolutely. And I still feel it when I listen to it. To have been treated in that way (and the song doesn’t tell half the story) is painful. However, the gems I’ve taken from those situations and that song are priceless because I allowed myself to be treated in that way. That’s the lesson to take forward. What we allow, we encourage and we’re telling ourselves we deserve. Being confronted with that has been a game changer for me.
Overall, did writing about your experience prove to be cathartic?
Yes. Like I said, “All of Me” and other songs I’ve written, have been massively cathartic. I learn so much from the words that come out of my pen, which is funny. It’s like someone else is writing it for me and expressing what I need to express even when I have no idea what that is. My songs teach me what I need to learn.
Do you have a favorite line from the track? Maybe something that sums up all your feelings?
Probably the whole first verse. Mainly because it feels like it sums up that feeling we’ve all had when we meet someone. In that time, however long it lasts, it’s like “ohhh, THIS is how it’s supposed to feel.” Those lines feel almost palpable.
Congrats on recently releasing the music video for “All of Me!” Walk me through that process!
Thank you! Wow, it was quite something making that video. Everyone in the room felt the same level of intensity – we all had to take a breather between takes! Fleur (the leading lady) did a phenomenal job. She made it so easy to relax and be real. Neither of us is an actress, so there was always a concern in the back of my mind that it could be awkward or “wooden,” but we just had fun and didn’t take ourselves too seriously. I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out. Props to Michael Sides, the director, total pro!
Tell me about the hardships that came to you early in life and how they influence your music today.
Well, it’s been a trip! There was the cult in early childhood, followed by a serious illness in my teens, illness in my immediate family, then the death of my mother and the death of my best friend. It’s definitely never been boring!
But I’m by no means playing a tiny violin. A lot of other people in the world have had it harder than me, and I count myself as enormously lucky for the life I have. And that’s not just something you say, I really mean that. I have so much to be thankful for, music being one of them. I think all this has made my music pretty intense in parts, emotional in others, and hopefully, beautiful and real for the listener. I just say how I’m feeling when I write and hope it will connect with people.
If you could change the past, would you? Or do you believe you wouldn’t be the person you are today without that experience?
I always find that question difficult to answer. It almost depends on which day you catch me on. There are still many things I am yet to reconcile within myself, and traits I would love to just shake off, and yet, it’s not quite that easy. However, there is also a plethora of things I’m enormously grateful for. I’d say on balance I wouldn’t change it. I’m glad life has been an adventure so far, and if you want ‘the ride’ you have to accept the fact that there will be both highs and lows.
Can you recall the moment you fell in love with music?
Yes. I was five/six-years-old, and I had just bought a record player for £2 at a car boot sale. The player came with a couple of records (I had no idea what they were) and when I got home, I blasted them out in my room and out of the window for everyone to hear (poor neighbors). I remember feeling something so exquisite inside of me. I felt pure joy running through my veins. It was the best feeling I’ve ever had, I’m tearing up just writing about it. God f**cking bless music.
You once said, “Pain just reminds me why I sing.” What has been the hardest thing for you to write and sing about? Has it changed over the years?
My mother’s and my best friend’s death. Again, tearing up, haha. You’ve clearly caught me on an open day, I’m not usually a crier! Grief, that heavy pounding waterfall inside of your chest that feels like it’ll never gush out and leave for good. Singing soothes and releases it and turns into something beautiful and transformative for you, and (hopefully) those who listen.
Being a rising female in the music industry, have you had any obstacles thus far related to your gender and sexuality?
Oh yes, haha. I think as a woman you get so used to everything from casual sexism to sexual harassment that you don’t even notice it at times. Crazy hey. I’m learning to stand up for myself more instead of either placidly accepting it or blowing up and losing my sh*t. It’s a real process learning where your boundaries are, and how to assert them healthily, but it’s worth it. Where my sexuality is concerned again, yes. I have been told to keep it quiet on several occasions: “Don’t talk about it because you’ll get pigeonholed,” and these days I just feel like well “so be it,” but I’m not keeping quiet for fear of that. It’ll be what it’ll be.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone undergoing hardships in their life, what would it be?
Keep going, you’ll come through. We always do if we do our very best, it just doesn’t feel like it at the time. Go give yourself some love, whatever that looks like to you. That is THE most important thing, bar none, because without you being okay, what is there? Life is pretty lonely and hard if you don’t have your own back. I learned that the hard way. Oh, and go check out some Jason Stephenson meditations on Youtube, they’re incredibly powerful and transformative.
Any last thoughts?
Thank you for the support and I hope you all enjoy the new album, Revolute!
Feature image credit John Morgan, courtesy of Katey Brooks